iPhone X, Note8, Pixel 2: Australian phone buying guide 2017

iPhone X, Note8, Pixel 2: Australian phone buying guide 2017

Matt Blowes October 31, 2017 Technology, Hardware, IT Trends

If you're looking to purchase a new phone, now is a good time. Apple, Samsung & Google have all recently announced and released new flagship handsets. 

There is no shortage of new phone options but if it's been a few years since you've last upgraded your phone, you may be shocked by today's increased prices. Besides price rises, another stand out difference this year are phones with large displays combined with smaller bezels (the space around the screen). Leaving users with larger displays without making a phone noticeably bigger in physical size. 

Here is our phone buying guide for 2017:

Apple iPhone

Apple have somewhat changed their line-up this year by launching two new phones, the iPhone X (pronounced ten) and the iPhone 8. Each previous iPhone had always brought a premium price tag, but Apple has once again pushed prices higher, with the iPhone X starting at $1,579. While the iPhone X is grabbing headlines, it's worth noting that Apple is now selling five separate editions of the iPhone, with the iPhone 6s still available.

iPhone X

The iPhone X sits above the new iPhone 8 in both new features and price. A near bezel-less display, except for a notch containing the front facing camera array, is the stand-out feature. The home button and Touch ID finger-print scanner have been removed; replaced with on-screen touch gestures and Face ID. Early reviews suggest Face ID works reasonably well. With new swiping gestures to replace the home button, and getting used to Face ID, there is a greater learning curve with the iPhone X compared to previous upgrades. 

iPhone X first look reviews: Gizmodo AustraliaThe Verge, Engadget

Release date - November 3
Pros - 
Better display to bezel ratio compared to other models, first iPhone with an OLED display, improved speeds
Cons - Expensive (including accessories), no included wireless or fast charger (each sold separately)
Unsure -
Face ID accuracy, no Home button/Touch ID, how quickly apps will be updated to use the extra screen area

iPhone X supplies are expected to be constrained until the new year, with only 3 million units available worldwide at launch. Orders from Apple already have a 5-6 week wait time. 

iPhone 8 

iPhone 8The new iPhone 8 will be immediately familiar to anyone who has owned or used an iPhone in the past four years. It retains the same basic design used since the iPhone 6, however it now has a glass back. The glass allows the iPhone to have wireless charging for the first time.

The iPhone 8 is arguably more like a minor iPhone 7s upgrade, rather than a more feature-complete number upgrade. Compared to the iPhone 7, the iPhone 8 is faster, includes an improved rear camera and a True Tone display. However it's difficult to argue these new features offer a leap forward. Unless you're upgrading from an iPhone 6s or older, you're unlikely to notice significant differences. 

iPhone 8 reviews: Gizmodo Australia, The Verge, Engadget

Release date - September 22
Pros - 
Faster, improved camera (particularly in low light), wireless charging enabled
Cons - Slight price increase over iPhone 7, no included wireless or fast charger (each sold separately), same design since 2014

Device 64GB 256GB Colours
iPhone X $1,579 $1,829 Silver, Space Grey
iPhone 8 Plus $1,229 $1,479 Silver, Gold, Space Grey
iPhone 8  $1,079 $1,329 Silver, Gold, Space Grey
iPhone 7 $849 (32GB) $999 (128GB) Silver, Gold, Rose Gold, Black, Jet Black

 

The iPhone 6s and SE models also continue to remain available.

Samsung Galaxy S & Note

Samsung S8After a rough 2016 following the Note 7 battery combustion issues, Samsung returned to form in 2017. The Galaxy S8 and Note8 are reliable, well reviewed phones. Both include several new innovative features. Some are hits, like the near bezel-less display, and some are misses, like the dedicated Bixby AI button

The favourable reviews have highlighted that the phones excel at getting the basics right, particularly the large display and more than capable cameras. 

Galaxy S8 Reviews: Gizmodo Australia, The Verge, Engadget
Galaxy Note8 Reviews: Gizmodo Australia, The Verge, Engadget

As with the other phones in this guide, the increased price of Samsung's flagship phones is alienating some potential buyers. Below is the RRP pricing for the Samsung Galaxy range, however you will frequently find discounts for the older S8 devices. 

Release date - April 28 (S8), August 23 (Note8)
Pros -
S8 is the lowest cost of the top 3 phones, larger display, Iris/facial recognition, improved camera (particularly in low light) 
Cons - Bixby AI assistant poor quality compared to competitors, S8 is over 6 months old, custom Android software could be refined further, Note8 is expensive 

Device 64GB Colours
Galaxy S8 $1,199 Midnight Black, Maple Gold, Coral Blue, Orchid Gray
Galaxy S8+ $1,349 Midnight Black, Maple Gold, Coral Blue, Orchid Gray
Note 8 $1,499 Midnight Black, Maple Gold, Deepsea Blue (Blue available from Samsung direct only)

 

Google Pixel 

The first units of Google's new Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL phone are starting to be shipped to customers. After years building up Android software, Google is now branding their own hardware devices. Last year saw the first Google Pixel, which included the best camera in the phone market. 

Pixel 2

We're seeing similar feedback for the Pixel 2 camera, particularly the portrait mode, which reportedly produces better results than its Apple and Samsung rivals. However the phone's design has been criticised as boring and that the bezels around the screen to be too large. Particularly on the smaller model. However anyone with a phone that is over a year old, or happy with the look of the iPhone 8, won't notice a difference. 

The Verge's review points out that some have called the screen on the Google Pixel 2 as "dull". However Google says this is because the display has been calibrated to show natural colours. Compared to the Samsung range of phones with are oversaturated by default. 

We're also seeing reports of display issues with the Pixel 2 XL. These include burn-in issues, where it appears like shadows of the menu items are stuck on the screen. At this stage, Google say they are investigating the reports but that it should not impact the user experience. 

Pixel 2 Reviews: Gizmodo AustraliaThe Verge, Engadget

Release date - October 19, though some models only available at a later date
Pros - 
S8 is lowest cost of the top 3 phones, larger display, Iris/facial recognition, improved camera (particularly in low light) 
Cons - Potentially serious display issues on the larger XL model, expensive, largely same design as first Pixel, no 3.5mm headphone jack (like the iPhone)

Device 64GB 128GB Colours
Pixel 2 $1,079 $1,299 Just Black, Clearly White, Kinda Blue
Pixel 2 XL $1,399 $1,549 Just Black, Black & White
Wildcard: OnePlus

OnePlus is a phone manufacturer that has steadily built up a reputation as an alternative smartphone manufacturer. Their current phone is the OnePlus 5, however it will soon be replaced by the OnePlus 5T in November. 

OnePlus phones are not cutting edge and sourcing them can be difficult, yet they are highly attractive phones, offering comparable performance at a much lower cost. The OnePlus may prove an appealing alternative for anyone not feeling enthusiastic about the other options available. If you're curious about the current OnePlus 5, see Gizmodo Australia's review here.

If you're interested in a OnePlus phone, we recommend waiting for the OnePlus 5T, and paying attention to tech news websites for how to purchase. 

[Update 22/11/2017] 

The OnePlus 5T has now been announced with several reviews available. The general consensus is that it fixes many of the common complaints about the OnePlus 5's shortcomings. See The Verge's review here

Our view

For several years now, our attitude toward smartphone purchases have been changing. While many continue to replace their phone every two years with a new contract, others are holding on to their phones for longer. Performance on flagship phones has improved to the point that their practical lifespans are closer to three or four years, compared to the previous standard of one or two years.

Spending $1,200-$1,800 on a phone to last two years appears like a luxury purchase. However buying a phone with the intention of holding onto it for 3-4 makes the purchase somewhat more reasonable. Considering the speed of our devices and their powerful cameras, if you're not looking for a new device, you might not want to. It's now more likely that your phone battery will need replacing before the phone starts slowing down.

Here are some questions that may help you decide your next phone:

  1. Do you want to stick with the same software environment? E.g. Apple's iOS, Google's native Android, Samsung's Experience (customised Android). 
  2. What size screen do you want? 
  3. What is your budget? (and, how long do you intend to keep the phone?)

Remember, don't underestimate the value of going into a shop and trying a few of these options out. In 2017, deciding on a new phone largely rests on personal preference instead of a clear, stand-out performer. And you may end up holding onto your next phone for a long time.  

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