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What are Android OEMs doing right, and what can they improve upon?

In the Android world there are a few brands that stand out above the rest, but none of them are perfect. What are each of the major OEMs doing right, and what could they potentially do better at? Join us as we take a look! Be sure to vote in our poll, too.
May 26, 2014
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One of the great things about Android is the sheer number of options out there. Want a big screen? No problem. Prefer something a bit smaller, there’s (some) options there, too. The same goes for whether you prefer stock Android or want all the OEM add-ons. And the list goes on.

Even though there’s literally dozens of Android manufacturers across the globe, there are a few OEMs that have risen above the rest of the pack and are considered the most popular brands in the world.

Obviously to climb to the top, these manufacturers had to work hard and were able to do a number of things right in order to win over customers. That said, no Android OEM is perfect. So what are the strengths and weaknesses of each of the major Android manufacturers out there today? Let’s jump in and take a look.

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Considering Samsung is the only company in the Android world actively making a profit, it’s clear that Sammy knows what it takes to win over a fanbase. More recently, however, Samsung has also come under fire for a number of reasons.

The Good:

Marketing. Let’s be honest, Samsung knows how to market. Sure, some of its video ads are really cheesy, some slightly odd, but ultimately they stick in your head and leave a positive impression — unlike LG and its ultra-creepy hand-mutant ad earlier this year. Beyond this you can’t hardly open a magazine, web browser or look at a billboard without seeing Samsung’s name plastered everywhere. You can have the world’s best product, but without solid marketing, few will actually buy it.

Some of the best specs in town. Samsung’s Galaxy S5 might not have been a massive jump from the Galaxy Note 3 or even the Galaxy S4, but that really has more to do with the slow down of hardware advancement and less to do with Samsung’s hardware choices. At least on the high-end, Samsung is nearly always on or near the cutting-edge when it comes to processor choice, display resolution and more.

Removable battery and expandable storage. While most Android manufacturers began moving away from removable batteries and expandable storage, Samsung has been one of the few brands that have stayed strongly behind the idea. Interestingly enough, though, we’re now starting to see other manufacturers return to including microSD and/or removable batteries.

Good ole’ buttons. This point obviously comes down to a matter of preference. While folks like myself prefer on-screen keys, there are users out there in the world of Android that still appreciate physical and/or capacitive buttons. Most manufacturers, including even HTC, have moved over to on-screen keys, leaving Samsung one of the few choices for those that prefer more traditional keys.

Something for everyone. Want a stylus and big screen? There’s the Note family. Want a solid device with good specs in a moderate yet still sizable package? There’s the Galaxy S line. Then there’s the Mega for those that like massive screens, the Mini series for those that want something smaller, there’s budget lines, there’s tons of tablet lines — you get the idea. Regardless of your size/spec preference, Samsung probably has something that will fit the bill.

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The Bad:

An endless sea of plastic. Samsung just can’t get over plastic, can it? To be fair, Samsung has at least switched things up a little recently going with faux leather for the Note series and a dimpled plastic back for the GS5. That’s still not enough to get many haters off their backs though, as these folks apparently take offense when it comes to the type/style/feel of plastic Samsung use, often citing Motorola as an example of plastic done right.

Gimmicks abound. Starting with the Galaxy S5, Samsung has done a reasonably good job of dialing back some of the gimmicks found in smartphones. That said, there are still many folks that feel Samsung has just too many gimmicky software/hardware (heart rate sensor?) elements shoved in.

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The Ugly:

Touchwiz Bloat.Tying in with the high level of software gimmicks comes TouchWiz, the heart of Samsung’s Galaxy experience. Although many Samsung faithful will tell you that Samsung’s features are the bees knees (okay.. they probably won’t use that phrase), others feel that there’s just too much bloat. In fact, a fellow by the name of Tom Rich recently hoped to illustrate just how much “TouchBloat” can slow down a phone when he compared the Moto E to the Samsung Galaxy S5.

They’re ruling Android with an iron fist.Okay, this isn’t necessarily a weakness or something Samsung should improve on, but recently a survey concluded that Apple and Samsung control 106% of the smartphone profit pie (not a typo). It makes us wonder how much longer the rest of the OEMs can last with Samsung ruling the roost.

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HTC’s position in the mobile market has been steadily declining over the years, but starting with the HTC One, the company came into the spotlight for pushing build quality and premium design to whole new levels.

The Good:

Some of the best specs in town. Like Samsung with the GS5, the HTC One M8 might not be a major jump from the One M7, but it’s still a noticeable improvement with hardware upgrades all across the board, even if the camera might not have seen as big of an upgrade as some would like. Ultimately, if you’re looking for a high-end smartphone, HTC can deliver.

Beautiful, premium design. While Samsung continues to release plastic phone after plastic phone, many of HTC’s flagship devices have made the switch over to award-winning aluminum designs. Even HTC devices made of plastic — like the rumored HTC Ace M8 — are generally considered to have a more premium style to them them comparable Samsung products.

Speedy updates to Android. This wasn’t always something that we could credit HTC with, but as of late, the company has done a wonderful job of updating its core devices. On the downside, they have left some of there 1-2 year old devices out in the dark, but for the most part they’ve kept their commitments to providing timely updates starting with last year’s HTC One M7.

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The Bad:

Marketing. HTC has invested heavily in marketing in the last year or so, but ultimately hasn’t done much with the money it spent. For instance, they paid a sizable amount of money to get Robert Downey Junior as a spokesperson in their ads only for us to see any great ads taking advantage of this.

Too many trade-offs. This ‘weakness’ is very subjective, but many of HTC’s critics say there are too many trade-offs involved when you pick up an HTC device, such as the lack of a removable battery and even the lack of microSD in some of their devices (not a problem with the One M8). Another major trade-off is the camera, which supposedly is better than the competition, but has come under fire for its low 4MP “UltraPixel” shooter.
Production issues. In the past HTC has had significant problems when it comes to production issues, particularly with the HTC One M7 and HTC One Mini. Additionally, it took the carrier six months to get the original One over to Verizon. Thankfully, this problem seems to be fading away if the launch of the HTC One M8 is any indication.

The Ugly:

The mighty has fallen. HTC was once a king in the mobile world, and even with their positive changes over the last year or so, they continue to lose executives left and right. HTC is also constantly bleeding money leaving some of us wondering how much longer they can hang on if their luck doesn’t change soon.

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Will LG end the G Pro line in favor of simplifying its product line?

LG is often considered the “number 3” guy in the smartphone wars, though there is really a pretty massive gap between LG and Apple/Samsung. Still, LG has received a lot of attention in recent years thanks to the Nexus 4, Nexus 5 and unique devices like the LG G2. LG still has a long ways to go before it can fully catch up, but it’s hard not to be at least a little impressed by how far they’ve come.

The Good:

Best specs in town. While Samsung and HTC both offer great specs on the high-end, LG positions its releases in a way that it often “one-ups” the competition in terms of resolutions, processors and the list goes on. If the rumored specs for the LG G3 prove correct, this tradition will continue in 2014, with the G3 being the first major handset to feature a QHD display.

Dem’ Bezels. When the LG G2 was first introduced, it was met with mixed reception. While not everyone loves LG’s rear-mounted button setup, doing so has allowed LG to pack a massive display in as small of a body as possible. Even if you don’t want to utilize the back buttons, features like Knock-On mean you can pretty much skip using the volume/power button altogether if you so wish.

Learning on its feet. LG seems to have a pretty solid grasp of where the market is heading and isn’t afraid to make changes to accommodate. With the LG G2, that meant thin bezels to provide the largest screen possible, and with the LG G3 it seems that they may be making even more changes in the name of pleasing customers: rumored UI changes, a metallic finish back (though probably still plastic…), and the inclusion of a removable battery and possibly even microSD.

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The Bad:

Copycat software. Okay, some of you probably will believe this should have been listed as a Samsung weakness as well, though arguably Samsung seems to be moving to the beat of its own drum more and more. As for LG? On the hardware side of things, the rear-mounted button trend shows they know how to think on their own, but they’ve also been called out more than once for essentially copying many of TouchWiz’s features in the software department.

Rear mounted buttons. Rear mounted buttons seem to be a sort of double-edged sword for LG. Sure, they allow for thin bezels that provide a gorgeous front for some of LG’s most recent devices, but there are many folks out there that simply don’t like the rear design.

Bad rep. Simply put, the weakness here is that LG has a bad rep. Many of the things that earned it such a rep have been its reluctance to provide timely Android updates and build quality issues with earlier Android devices. LG seems to be moving in the right direction here at least on the hardware end of things, and even their software update frequency is improving a little bit.

The Ugly:

Mutant hands. It had to be said. Even after months have passed, I still wake up from nightmares caused by the evil LG mutant hand. Okay, not really– but it’s still really creepy to think about.

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There’s a lot up in the air right now when it comes to Motorola’s future, especially with the upcoming Lenovo acquisition. Although we’ve been intrigued by the company’s direction in recent years, it’s still uncertain whether Motorola can return to relevance in the mobile world.

The Good:

Low, low prices and excellent customer experience. Motorola’s Moto X saw a shift in focus for the company away from high-end specs, with the primarily goal being to simply improve the customer experience. The Moto G and Moto E took this “customer experience” angle and brought it to the low end, giving us two sub-$200 handsets that offer specs and performance that are light years ahead of their competition.

Stock-like Android. Part of what allows Motorola to provide such a fast, fluid user experience without pushing high-end specs is its reliance on a near-stock Android experience. Without all the bloat, Android simply performs better.

Excellent build quality. Motorola’s phones might be of the plastic variety, but they are built to last and are still arguably better feeling and more premium looking than devices from Samsung. If durability is important to you but you don’t necessarily want/need a ruggedized device, Motorola handsets are an excellent choice.

Speedy updates to Android. While HTC has done a great job with updates, Motorola has done even better. All of Motorola’s most recent devices rock KitKat, and the Moto X actually received the update ahead of many Nexus devices.

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The Bad:

Lacking availability. When the Moto X launched, it did so almost exclusively in the United States, and its coolest (customization) features were even initially reserved for AT&T only. On the bright side, as time has passed the Moto X has made its way to Europe, and many of Motorola’s budget handsets have reasonably decent global reach as well.

Ignoring the high-end. Sure, it’s great that Motorola is focusing on the user experience, but it’s also leaving out those folks that care about the highest possible resolution, fastest processors and ever-increasing amounts of RAM. Again, whether this is a true ‘weakness’ is probably a matter of opinion.

The Ugly:

Sinking ship. Motorola continues to bleed money. In Google’s Q1 2014 results the company  brought in $1.45 billion in revenues but sawa  loss of $198 million, compared with an $182 million loss in Q1 2013. It remains unseen whether Lenovo has a plan that can turn the ship, though the company remains confident.

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When it comes to pushing build quality, Sony is easily one of the kings of the Android world. While companies like Samsung are now starting to bring dust/water resistance to their flagship devices, this has been standard practice over at Sony for a while now. Overall, there’s a lot to like about Sony, but unfortunately, they are a rather minor player outside of Asia and parts of Europe.

The Good:

Excellent build quality. From dust/water resistance to an overall durable design, Sony knows how to build a handset that lasts. On top of this, Sony devices are also very attractive, even if the big bezels can be a turn off for some.

Not so much bloat. While Sony adds its own custom skin and apps, they don’t go nearly as overboard as HTC, Samsung or LG. The end result is that most of Sony’s software features feel genuinely useful and don’t bog down the OS resources in the same way that TouchWiz does.

Big specs at any size. Sony is one of the few major manufacturers that seems to understand that some folks want ‘big specs’ but don’t necessarily want them in a big package. With that in mind, Sony offers screen sizes that will fit everyone’s needs, from the massive Z Ultra series down to all the way to the Z1 Compact.

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The Bad:

Lacking availability. While the Sony Xperia Z2 and the Z1 Compact were announced months ago now, good luck finding them in the North American market. Even when they do arrive stateside, they often are sold either completely unlocked or only through T-Mobile.

Marketing. Not only are Sony handsets hard to come by in many major markets, particularly in North America, there’s also virtually no TV or print advertising for them. If Sony wants to expand their market presence, they need to up their game here.

The Ugly:

Dem’ Bezels. While Sony fans say that the bezels aren’t so bad, it’s hard to deny that these things are HUGE and so 2011. Whether or not that’s a deal breaker is up to you.

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As you can see, some of the positive/negative points mentioned above are rather subjective. In the long run, all the brands above have a lot of good things going for them, and ultimately it’s about finding the handset manufacturer with the philosophy that best fits into what you’re looking for from a phone.

What manufacturer do you prefer, and what is it about them that keeps you coming back for more? Vote in our poll and sound off in the comments.

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