In 2022, it’s different. Walk into any phone store and pick up a flagship Android phone, and you’ll find something different. From the choice of materials to colors, there’s a lot of variety that you wouldn’t find before. The time Android phone makers used to slavishly follow the iPhone has gone. A lot of companies are striking out on their own and leaning unapologetically into their own novel designs.
Regardless of how many people criticise cellphones for being boring and drab, one thing remains true: smartphones introduced in the last year seem significantly more unique than they have in the past. High-end Android phones have never looked more unusual, whether it’s because of crazy colours, crazy cameras, or just crazy materials. It’s a long way from the days when Samsung wanted to be Apple or when HTC released a smartphone that looked exactly like the then-new iPhone, and it reveals the myth that all smartphones look the same.
If you want a phone that looks like it could double as a gaming PC with odd lights, buttons, and weird patterns, there’s one for you, notably from Xiaomi or Asus. If you want status and to look refined and important, Samsung has this market on lockdown, but Oppo’s most expensive phones sit here too. You want everyone to know you’re a serious mobile photographer? You’ve got the newest Vivo phones with camera bumps that out camera bump other camera bumps.
You may call some gaudy, and to be fair, some of them are. Xiaomi’s ginormous camera bump in the 11 Ultra could double as a parody of ever-swelling camera bumps, the racing stripes on Realme’s GT phones are in-your-face, and Google’s camera bump would certainly do double duty as face-wear for a member of the X-Men. These designs come as a result of phones being so ubiquitous and so good that for companies to convince you to separate from your money, they need to signal that their phones are worth the cost. A first impression is hard to shake, and these phones certainly do leave first impressions.
Most importantly, the persistence of smartphone companies going their own way in terms of design is a pretty good indicator of which companies you should support. If a brand goes out of its way to craft a distinct, well-conceived, unapologetically flagship design, you can expect that they plan to stay around for the long term. At the same time, if a brand is pumping out generic-looking phones, slapping generic parts inside, and launching the next “Pro Plus Max” phone, you pretty much know what you’re going to get when buying it.
You’d never confuse these phones for any other. In a market where there are safe phones, the abundance of choice from refined to excessive is something that should reassure a person who is concerned about the increasingly dull smartphone market. You can still see some iPhone influence in lower-end models such as the Vivo V23, where selling as many phones as quickly as possible remains the name of the game, but individual, recognizable designs rule the high-end.
At the same time, even as hardware evolves to be more distinct, the software is sliding into conformity. Far from adopting Google’s wild ideas of what an Android phone should look like with Material You, the vast majority of Android phones sold have yet to shake their habit of designing their software to be an iOS-clone. Sure, Samsung and Google stand somewhat apart, but the majority of Android phones sold around the world come from Xiaomi, Oppo, Realme, OnePlus, Vivo, and soon maybe even Honor if the company plays its cards right.