10 Smartphone Features that Should Be Mandatory

Amber Bouman

Since our recent review of the iPhone 4, we've been doing a lot of thinking about smartphones. They've come a long way from their humble beginings, but we're still not satisfied. There are still features that are either present in only some smartphones, or none at all, that we think are absolutely vital. Here's our quick list of 10 features that should be completely mandatory in every phone.

Check it out, and when you're done hit the comments and let us know what you think. Did we miss a big one? Is one of ours dumb?  We want to hear about it.

Front Facing Camera

The fourth incarnation of Apple’s iPhone garnered cred for including a front facing camera, however like most things Apple chooses to put in its hardware, its old news. Front facing cameras have been seen in RIM and Nokia handsets (and in European hardware) for a while now. Also found on the HTC EVO 4g, a front facing camera allows for functionalities and capabilities that have not yet been fully adopted or developed. The video conferencing capabilities afforded by a front facing camera are particularly useful for business users and Skype fans, but there is potential to further extend its usefulness – from photography to facial recognition software, we expect to see this become an increasingly utilized feature hence making it increasingly essential as well.

Replaceable Battery

As we demand ever more mobility and functionality out of our handsets, from running applications and games to watching movies and streaming music, battery life becomes a critical detail. Being stuck away from a power source with a dying battery is no one’s idea of fun. And while many users would rather not carry around additional batteries, like most of our tech, we’d rather have the option.  With a plethora of battery options on the market -  from battery boosters and cases with battery packs - to tips on how to conserve the most juice possible demonstrate an obvious need to extend a handsets life that is being overlooked. An option to pop in an extra battery instead of frantically searching for a power supply sounds like an easy way to solve this dilemma.

Expandable Storage/microSD

eBooks, apps, photos, videos, movies, music, pictures. It all adds up. While you should always overestimate how much storage you’ll need – especially on a smartphone handset - it seems nearly inevitable that the day will come when you’ll need more space. So it’s not only nice to have the option to attach more space via a microSD slot or expansion slot, but essential. Many of Nokia’s handsets feature this capability, and BlackBerry has been providing this for its business-heavy fan base for a while now but it would be great to see this extend to all handsets as smartphones increase their functionalities.

Find Me Function

Let’s be real – phones get lost and while your carrier’s insurance might help replace the handset, it’s not going to help you get your data and contacts back. While there are plenty of third-party applications that perform varying locate/lock/wipe functions, they all fall short in one way or another. Either they’re costly (Apple’s MobileMe service is $99), provide limited abilities (Sprint’s Family Locator will give you real time info on family members’ locations, but doesn’t allow you to lock the phone or wipe it clean), or only work when the phone is on. We’d like to see a full-featured Find Me function offered natively – one that could find your phone, lock it, wipe it clean, and like BlackBerry’s LookOut service, get our phone to “scream” at us when we’ve lost it in couch cushions – whether its turned on or not.

Print/Fax:

Again, there are plenty of third-party solutions filling the gap here – most noteably Cortado or Hubcast – which use the cloud or Bluetooth to allow users to contact a printer, send any document to a fax machine/printer of your choice and create faxes. Kodak has released the  Kodak Pic Flick App,which lets you print stored pictures to a Kodak printer or digital picture frame.  HP’s CloudPrint service can email photos, documents, maps, tickets, etc to a home printer and Google is also developing a CloudPrint service. HP remains a step ahead by manufacturing a series of All-in-One printers designed to work with smartphones, allowing the user to print anything to anywhere. Anything, anywhere? Isn’t that what mobile is supposed to accomplish anyways? We say if there’s enough demand to change printer manufacturing, then there’s enough demand to include the feature natively on a handset.

Wi-Fi Sync



Between Edge, 3G, 4G, and Wi-Fi networks, you’ve got a lot of options for getting data on and off, wirelessly. Want to download an app? Go for it, anywhere! Want to watch an entire movie in decent resolution, fire up the NetFlix app and stream it over 3G. Want to sync your address book to your computer? Just—oh wait. You’re gonna have to actually whip out the old USB connector cable and plug it in for that. Why? We don’t know, but we wish phone companies would cut it out. Smartphones are mobile, wireless data machines, and it’s just ridiculous that there are basic phone capabilities that can’t be done over your Wi-Fi network. Make it stop.

Standard Charger/Connector

Alright, maybe a completely wireless standard is a little too much to ask for (we don’t think it is), but can we at least have a single, standard connector for data and power? Mini USB works pretty well for a lot of phones, why not use that? Or maybe they’re worried about some of the limitations of USB. That’s cool—slam a USB 3.0 chip into that sucker and call it a day. Either way, it’s time to ditch the incredible array of proprietary charger/data transfer cables out there and settle on a single solution. It’s more convenient for consumers, greener (fewer chargers have to be produced if your old one works on your new phone) and probably even cheaper for phone manufacturers. There’s been some talk of a standard charger [http://www.maximumpc.com/article/news/universal_microusb_mobile_phone_charger_standard_approved] but we want to see real results.

Tethering

We’re here to ask you a question. If a man buys a data plan, is he not entitled to use that data for whatever he wants?

“No,” says the man at Verizon, “He must pay $20 for an additional 2 GB of data to use on his computer.”

“No,” says the man at AT&T, “He must pay $20, with no additional data.”

We rejected those answers. Instead, we chose something different. We chose the impossible. We chose… Free tethering.

Unified Inbox

Email was one of the first functions that really made a “smartphone” smart. Why is it, then, that it’s one of the slowest to innovate? At the very minimum, every smartphone email client should provide for a single, unified email inbox for ALL of your accounts, if you want it. Most people don’t have a separate phone for work and their personal life, so why make it unnecessarily difficult to manage both at once?

Fortunately, this one’s finally catching on. Apple’s iPhone recently got the long-overdue feature as part of the iOS4 update, and most Android phones have been able to do it for a while now. Still, until it’s as standard as a web browser, this one’s staying on our list.

Speech to text / Text to speech

Alright, so maybe this one’s a little pie-in-the-sky at this point, but we’ll be surprised if this don’t look very different in just 5 years. Phones are already integrating speech-to-text and speech-recognition technology in some aspects of their interface, like voice dialing or virtual assistant app Siri, but it’s not enough for us. We think that every time you need to enter text in your phone, you should be able to do it by speaking, whether that’s in a Google search bar, a text message or a note-taking app. Typing is frequently faster, of course, but there are times when you’re carrying something, driving a car, or just feeling lazy, and want to use voice to fill out a field.

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