Zit Seng's Blog

A Singaporean's technology and lifestyle blog

Smartphones vs Standalone Gadgets

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I was reading an article on GadgetReview about how smartphones have caused a doom of a bunch of standalone devices. Indeed our smartphones are getting really smart, replacing many of our other gadgets in a single all-in-one package of technology wonder. But have we really abandoned those standalone gadgets? From where I stand, I still seem to see plentiful usefulness in some of those gadgets, because they do what they were designed to do better.

The article listed 6 categories of devices, namely: GPS devices, point-and-shoot cameras, USB flash drives, MP3 players, voice recorders and portable gaming consoles.

Let’s talk about point-and-shoot camera. This could be a huge contentious point. Many people take photos on their smartphones, and, for some of these people, the smartphone might be the only camera they own. Smartphones take pretty good photos nowadays. But, are they good enough?

I suppose if you fall into the category of the kind of person who just needs a photo that’s reasonably good enough for sharing on the web, and don’t care much at all for image quality, then a smartphone camera would probably do. After all, truly, a $100 point-and-shoot probably wouldn’t do appreciably better than flagship smartphones, particularly those touted to be stellar in their image capturing capabilities.

But, suppose you do care about image quality, and care about composing great photos, I don’t think any smartphone camera is anywhere yet just as capable. Of course, we might disagree on the definition of what counts as a point-and-shoot camera. I wouldn’t leave home without my Sony compact camera.

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So, here, there’s no chance any smartphone camera is going to come even slightly close to even make a meaningful comparison.

Yeah, I can just hear some readers saying, this camera doesn’t count. I do contend, however, that there are plenty other lower end point-and-shoots that are still significantly more capable.

Nevermind cameras. How about MP3 players? I also contend that standalone music players are better than the audio capabilities of smartphones. It’s not about the software, which granted, on the smartphones are pretty capable. It’s about the actual production of audio signals, the conversion from digital to analog, and the amplification of the analog signals for reproduction on earphones or headphones.

DSC09289Like in the case with cameras, if you’re the kind that will be happy with any working audio coming out of your smartphone, then perhaps there’s no need at all to bother with a dedicated music player.

However, if you are passionate about great music, and you can tell the difference like night and day, you’d know that some dedicated music players are capable of really excellent audio production capabilities.

Certainly, some smartphones may be better than other smartphones. For example, the well regarded Wolfson DAC chips used in some great music players are also featured in some smartphones. However, how many people will select smartphones based on the embedded audio hardware?

I don’t use voice recorders, but I’d imagine the audio pickup and background noise suppression of dedicated gadgets would be superior to that of smartphones. I suppose if you had to regularly record a meeting, you’d prefer to go with a dedicated voice recorder.

It’s also easy to understand why standalone GPS devices might be more preferred for in-car use.

That basically leaves two remaining categories, USB flash drives and portable gaming consoles, which I’ll agree are dying. USB flash drives, particularly, given their functionality can be mimic’ed with USB on-the-go compatible smartphones.

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What about combination contraptions, the likes of the Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom, which is both a smartphone and a sort-of dedicated camera? The Galaxy S4 Zoom, in fact, actually looks like the Galaxy S4 has been glued together with a Galaxy Camera. It’s quite an unwieldy beast, to say the least. Honestly, I thought the two products were much better separate on their own.

As great as the latest flagship smartphones may be, I don’t see them replacing some types of standalone devices. Manufacturers of those standalone devices will try to differentiate their products, otherwise they are killing themselves.

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