2022 feels like a turning point – foldables are finding their feet, camera phones have reached a major milestone, brands are developing their unique identities. Here are five of the phones that impressed me the most this year, phones that will be used as yardsticks for what is to come in 2023.
Google Pixel 7 Pro
I’m not sure what is more surprising – that Google is still making phones or that it actually made a good one this time. The Pixel 6 series was close, but some hardware issues left it in the “maybe not” pile. Most issues have been fixed in the 2022 generation and here we are.
The smaller Pixel 7 would be here instead of the Pro had Google been kind enough to supply it with a telephoto camera and a 120Hz LTPO panel. This is a trend in the industry that bugs me – only large phones get the tele cameras and good screens – but I’ll spare you the rant.
The Google Pixel 7 Pro is built with a vision, which can’t be said of many brands. The Pixel series has its own distinct hardware look and timely Feature Drops routinely enable cool new features that keep the phones feeling fresh.
I’m not bothered by the fact that the Tensor G2 is slower than other 2022 flagships’ chipsets. To be honest, at one point I had forgotten what chipset there was in my personal phone – performance stopped mattering a while ago. Power efficiency has not, however, and Google and Samsung still have some work to do on that front.
AI is progressing at a stunning pace, I’ve played around with ChatGPT and Stable Diffusion and it feels like I’m in a sci-fi movie. This only makes me more excited about Google’s approach to building phones – mind over matter, software over hardware.
Oppo Find N2
While pondering which phones should be in my Top 5 I thought of the Galaxy Z Flip4. I like small phones and always liked the flip form factor, perfect, right? But when I sat down to put my argument into words I couldn’t. Did Samsung really upgrade the phone enough since the Z Flip3 (which I only had a passing interest in) or is it my perspective that changed? The latter, probably, I’m slowly warming up to foldables.
But out of all 2022 releases I think that it is the Oppo Find N2 that deserves this spot. The original Find N was quite interesting too, but at 275g and 15.9mm thick (folded) it was pretty chunky. Oppo engineers did impressive work and shaved off 42g of weight – the N2 weighs 233g, lighter than any horizontal foldable. They shaved off some of the thickness too.
Seeing how the bulk was my primary complaint about the N, the Find N2 nails just everything else – an LTPO internal panel, wide + ultrawide + tele camera setup, large battery (for its size) and so on. Again, I’m not bothered that it comes with a Snapdragon 8+ Gen 1 chipset instead of the Gen 2. Removing the wireless charging does bug me a bit, but I guess that’s partly why the new model is thinner.
Oppo Find N on the left, Find N2 on the right
Now for the best part – the cover display still has a pretty sane aspect ratio (17.7:9) and with a 5.54” diagonal and slim bezels that makes for a phone only 72.6mm wide and 132.2mm tall, perfectly usable single-handed. Even more so now that it weighs less than an iPhone 14 Pro Max.
Finally, a complaint about availability. That is not the phone’s fault, of course, but if the Oppo Find N2 Flip can have a global launch why can’t the Find N2?
Asus Zenfone 9
I always liked smaller phones, more so than the average Joe it seems, based on how poorly they do on the market. Sony gave up on the Compacts a few years ago, Apple pulled the plug on the iPhone mini (a move that it may be regretting, seeing how the Plus is doing).
The Asus Zenfone 9 is one of very few properly small Androids and the only one from a major brand. I know there a few offerings from up-and-coming brands, though these mostly seem to launch through Kickstarter (or similar services), but I prefer to go through a retailer or carrier instead.
Anyway, I will once again complain about the lack of a telephoto camera on a small phone, but I lived for years without one and I could live without one now… probably. The one major issue I have with the Zenfone is that Asus won’t commit to more than 2 OS updates – I go a long time between switching phones and paying €800 for a phone is only justified if that phone will last several years. The Zenfone 9 is built well and the hardware will last, the software will be left behind by the end of next year, though.
Realme GT2 Pro
I have used my fair share of OnePlus phones and loved them – coincidentally, they were all T-models. But the 8T was a bit of a disappointment, the 10T isn’t what I’m looking for either. These are starting to feel like Xiaomi’s T-phones, which are a separate line instead of a mid-season upgrade to the flagship. I still have hope that Nothing will carry on from where OnePlus left off after going mainstream, but the Phone (1) isn’t it.
This brings us to Realme, the latest branch in the BBK tree. There is a litter of number series phones that make for fine budget picks, but they are not for me. The GT series, however, feels like the golden days of OnePlus.
The OnePlus GT2 Pro in particular stood out. It launched globally at €750 in February, but has since come down in price significantly. It is frequently featured when we write about smartphone deals and with good reason – it offers a lot of bang for your buck.
There is a premium-looking Paper-like option if you want it. The 10-bit QHD LTPO display is flagship-grade or even better, considering that the likes of the Galaxy S22+ and Xiaomi 13 have FHD+ displays while costing more than the GT2 Pro.
The cameras aren’t quite on OnePlus level, but they are close enough considering the price difference. The next round – Realme GT3 Pro vs. OnePlus 11 – is weeks away (probably, the 2022 models launched in January), and that is a sibling rivalry that I will watch closely.
Xiaomi 12S Ultra
I remember my first phone with a camera, the Nokia 6230i, I still have photos (and even videos) from it. It was good for its day, but two decades of progress have improved phone cameras to a level that is hard to believe sometimes. And I think that the Xiaomi 12S Ultra is the best example of that from 2022. Sony’s variable focal length camera is one to watch out for as well, though the Xiaomi package is overall more impressive.
The age of 1” sensors in smartphones is officially upon us and with help from Leica Xiaomi managed to extract excellent results from 12S Ultra’s IMX989. And while dedicated digital cameras – some of them at least – have larger sensors, the computational photography, on-device editing and sharing options that smartphones offer are unmatched.
Realistically, it should be the Xiaomi 13 Pro here, which is basically the same phone except for the newer chipset and more boring look. Okay, “boring” is harsh, I actually like the clean design of the 13 series. It does look pretty plain next to the 12S Ultra, though, that one leaves no uncertainty about being a beastly cameraphone. I picked the 12S Ultra over the 13 Pro for its ambition, launching months ahead of its primary competition.
I should also mention the concept device with a Leica M mount for lenses. This breaks down the final wall between smartphones and mirrorless cameras and while such a device will probably never make it to market, it shows that Xiaomi can shake up the camera world if it really wanted to.
…. to be continued
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