Back in May, we reported on a survey that claims 106% of the smartphone profit pie (not a typo) is eaten up by Apple and Samsung. It’s true that most consumers think of Sammy or Apple when it comes to smartphones, but there are a variety of different manufacturers out there, particularly in the world of Android OEMs.
In a time where specs are necessarily as important as they once were, manufacturers have instead turned to other angles to set themselves apart from the competition, such as loading up on special software features or focusing on pricing, design or even marketing.
With this in mind, which manufacturer deserves our praise, respect and — most importantly — our hard earned cash? While many of us probably already have a device maker in mind, let’s jump in and take a brief look at the biggest players in the mobile tech business.
It’s great to be the king, right? It’s true that Samsung is still a powerhouse in the mobile world, but some would say that the Korean giant has seen rosier days.
Recently the company has come under attack for its unwillingness to break away from tradition when it comes to its build materials and device design language. The brand has also come under fire for its Touchwiz interface, which some feel sacrifices performance for a truck load of unneeded features and apps. As a result of these complaint points and increased global competition, Samsung’s Q2 2014 earnings report shows that Samsung’s mobile division has taken a noticeable hit.
Samsung creates some of the best Android devices available such as the Galaxy S5 and the Note series
Of course, it’s not all doom and gloom, and honestly Samsung really shouldn’t be all that worried. The company still has many fiercely loyal supporters and creates some of the best Android devices available such as the Galaxy S5 and the Note series. The company also looks to be making some very big moves this year that could satisfy some of its critics and turn the tide fully back in its favor, including the possibility of a mid-to-high-end device with a metal frame called the Galaxy Alpha and, of course, the release of the upcoming Note 4.
Really though, what matters most is what the consumer thinks. So let’s weigh in:
Sony might not be the most popular player in the Android game, but they still have a lot going for them including stellar build quality, water/dust proofing, ever-improving displays and so much more. Equally important, Sony has been very cooperative when it comes to supporting the Android developer community.
Unfortunately, Sony has dropped the ball when it comes to bringing its phones to the North American market, with the Sony Xperia Z2 very hard to come by and not sold at all through any of the four major U.S. carriers. Sony has also long be attacked for its massive bezels, though the Xperia Z3 is said to improve upon this situation at least a little.
Looking into the future, we expect a few new goodies from Samsung at IFA, including the announcement of the Z3 and Z3 Compact. However, it’s unclear if we’ll ever see the company take a more aggressive stance when it comes to the North American market.
Check out our review of Sony’s current flagship device, the Sony Xperia Z2.
A lot has changed for Motorola over the last year or so. Not only is the company currently in a transitional phase that will eventually see it officially become part of Lenovo, they have also found a great deal of recent success with budget devices like the Moto G and Moto E. In fact, Motorola says that the Moto G is the most successful smartphone in the company’s history.
The reason for the company’s recent success centers around their focus on user experiences. The Moto X traded high-end flagship specs in favor of meaningful user experience improvements, and the Moto G and E brought excellent customer experiences to rock bottom pricing.
Ultimately, Motorola is on the rise globally, but it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. Motorola might have found success and positive praise for its recent efforts, but fiscally it is still very much struggling to turn around its sinking ship. It’s still unclear whether Lenovo will be the final push that sinks the company or the needed change to fully bring it back to life.
HTC was once one of the kings of the Android world, largely because it was one of the first players in the game. Since then, the shine on their star has worn off considerably, and the company’s fiscal situation continues to be fairly bleak. On the positive side, devices like the HTC One M7 and M8 have slowly started bringing the company back into our good graces, even if they have a long ways to go before they reclaim their former glory.
There’s a lot of reasons to like HTC these days, including their continued push towards bringing us premium build qualities in both metal and non-metal forms
There’s a lot of reasons to like HTC these days, including their continued push towards bringing us premium build qualities in both metal and non-metal forms, excellent reputation for sound quality, and there’s the fact that they are really one of the only companies in the smartphone game that exclusively produces mobile devices.
As for what’s next for HTC? With their latest flagship out, we can expect mostly mid and low-end devices for the rest of the year, though the rumor mill suggest we may also see a Nexus-branded tablet!
LG continues to raise the bar internally, as it has been doing consistently since at least the arrival of the LG Nexus 4. With the recent launch of the LG G3, the company has this year’s flagship out and ready, and the handset has been well received at that.
In many ways the LG G3 is worlds above the competition, with features like laser auto focus and a QHD display highlighting the company’s dedication to bleeding edge specs and features. On the downside, LG seems to be releasing more variants of their devices as of late, with the announcement of the LG G3 Beat (S), LG G3 with LTE-A and the LG G3 A. Not to mention the rumored LG G3 Stylus. All these devices give consumers more options, but they can also cloud the brand and add to consumer confusion.
LG has certainly laid the groundwork for a good year, but the company will need to continue to work on improving its marketing and global reputation if it ever wants to reach true Samsung-levels of success in the Android world.
Be sure to check out our review of the LG G3.
Less than a year ago OnePlus didn’t even officially exist, and yet today it is one of the most talked about handsets in the tech community, though admittedly the brand is virtually unheard of when it comes to mainstream non-techie users. Part of OnePlus rise to fame had to do with its impressive marketing campaign that relied on minor teasers and hints to generate word-of-mouth advertising for the device. OnePlus promised to deliver a handset that was different from the rest, and rallied folks behind its “never settle” branding.
Less than a year ago OnePlus didn't even officially exist, and yet today it is one of the most talked about handsets in the tech community
Now that the dust has settled a bit, the company seems to generate mostly mixed opinions these days. While most reviews have been positive and some folks remain enamored with the brand and its OnePlus One handset, others have expressed frustration over its strange invite system and relative lack of availability for those that haven’t been lucky enough to snag an invite. There’s also been confusion over the company’s association with Oppo and several other PR issues that have cast the company in a not-so-great light.
It’s still unclear what OnePlus’ future holds, though there’s no denying that the brand has really shaken things up by giving us a device with high-end flagship specs and Nexus-level pricing.
Let’s be honest here, there’s probably no need for a weakness poll as almost everyone would say the invite system (and/or PR missteps). As for strength, price/value ratio would be the obvious answer as well. If you have another opinion on OnePlus’ biggest strength or weakness, be sure to share it with us in the comments.
Be sure to check out our full review of the OnePlus One.
Outside of laptops and some of its tablets, Lenovo isn’t very well known in North America and its presence in the Europe isn’t that much better. That said, the company is one of the biggest sellers of smartphones in China and continues to grow rapidly throughout Asia. Additionally Lenovo has received quite a bit of attention in 2014 after Google announced its plans to sell Motorola to the Chinese company.
For now, Lenovo remains a sleeping giant for most of the world, though this may eventually change. Lenovo has expressed its desire to spread its brand to new parts of the globe many times in the past and it is very likely that Motorola will play a role in this strategy going forward.
Be sure to check out Lenovo’s most recently announced flagship, the 6-inch QHD Vibe Pro Z2.
Similar to Lenovo, Xiaomi is massively popular in Asia but virtually unheard (outside of the tech community) in North America and Europe. Xiaomi has quickly risen to fame in recent years due to its extremely low prices, great build quality and excellent ecosystem. Most recently the company even managed to dethrown Samsung, becoming the most popular smartphone brand in all of China.
Just how popular is Xiaomi? The company is known for selling out its entire initial stocks in under a few minutes flat in several markets including China and Malaysia. Recently the company broke this ultra-quick record with the Redmi Note, which managed to sell out a batch of 10,000 units in just a second.
For those outside of Asia, you might be wondering why you should even care about the brand. While the company continues to focus primarily on Asia, it does have big plans for global expansion in the future. According to Xiaomi’s Hugo Baro (formerly of Google fame), the first devices that will be compatible with US networks should be produced sometime in 2015, though they haven’t set a date on when exactly they’ll begin marketing over the pond.
For more details on what to expect when it comes to phones from the brand, be sure to check out our coverage of the Mi4’s announcement.
The other guys
Oppo was once known primarily for its high-quality BluRay players, but more recently the brand has been internationally releasing its handsets as well, starting with the Oppo Find 5, followed more recently by the Oppo N1 and Oppo Find 7. Probably one of the most impressive things about Oppo is their willingness to pack the most bleeding edge specs possible into price points that put non-Chinese OEMs to shame. On the downside, the brand also has little marketing weight behind it, though its sister-company OnePlus has managed to garner quite a bit international attention among the tech community this year.
To get an even better idea of what to expect from Oppo, be sure to check out our reviews of the Oppo N1 and their most recent flagship, the Find 7.
Huawei is actually among the list of most successful smartphone vendors, at least in terms of devices shipped. That said, the company has a fairly poor reputation in North America, largely due to how the brand has been demonized in the media for its alleged connections tothe Chinese government. For those looking for decent devices that are also extremely value oriented, Huawei continues to be a solid brand.
To check a better idea of what to expect from the company, be sure to check out our review of the Ascend P7.
Pantech is a Korean company that is best known in their own home country, which is a shame because they actually produce some pretty solid devices and their Vega flagship line has consistently pushed advanced technologies ahead of bigger Korean brands like Samsung and LG. Most of the Pantech devices that do make their way into Europe or the United States, tend to be of the budget variety. For that reason, it is often considered a second-rate alternative to bigger brands in the United States.
Kyocera is a brand that’s actually pretty common even in the United States, but it is also one that is generally associated with the budge-end. Similar to Pantech’s position, the company is often billed as a “cheaper” alternative to bigger brands like Samsung, Motorola, HTC and LG. On the plus side, they also have built a fairly decent reputation when it comes to their waterproof Hydro line. For Kyocera, marketing is probably the biggest thing holding the brand back internationally.
Once again, ZTE tends to be a brand that you find in the virtual “budget” aisle, despite the fact that they do have some decent flagship devices. ZTE tends to be extremely popular in the U.S. prepaid market, since they build devices with reasonably decent specs and killer price tags. ZTE also is often used as an OEM for carriers.
ZTE has a very mixed reputation when it comes to quality, so this would probably be one of their biggest weaknesses. Marketing could also use a big push if they ever want to be recognized as more than just a “value brand”. On a positive note, the company did recently announce plans to push Google’s Now Launcher as the default for its flagship devices.
Who deserves your support?
So, which Android manufacturer deserves your dollars? Which one deserves to be the market leader?
Now that you’ve cast your vote and lent your opinions on these companies strengths and weaknesses, tell us what it is about your favorite OEM that keeps you coming back for more? Conversely, if you don’t tie yourself down to one brand, what do you look for when purchasing a new mobile device?