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(Yes — this post is a review — and a departure from what I usually write.  Hope you enjoy this “end of the year” evaluation of devices that we all use!)

I have a friend, Mark, who always has the latest and greatest when it comes to golf clubs.  If you read of any innovation in that sport – you can count that he has already played a couple of rounds with it.

Another pal, Larry, is crazy about the Food Network.  You can ask him everything about anything when it comes to chefs, restaurants, or recipes and he has it down cold.

If you asked those who know me where I am their “go to” person on some field outside my profession, I would wager the almost universal answer would be:  smartphones.  Just like Mark with his golf clubs, I make having the latest, greatest, most innovative smartphone in my pocket to be one of my pleasures and missions.

  • Yeah, it’s crazy – I know.  But, we all have our quirks, right?

I currently have all five of the major smartphones – and, as I’ll be getting rid of at least a couple of them in the next few days, I thought I would pass along this review.  This is just one user’s opinion.  It comes with all the bias and individual preferences that wrap around that.  Your mileage may vary, based on your previous experience and personal choice.  You can find all the technical specifications in reviews that others have posted.  What follows is just my take on the “look and feel” – as well as the performance – of the five models.

  • (And, to be clear, I personally paid for each of these devices – and have no investment in any of the companies, nor am I compensated for my mention.  Apple is a client of mine for speaking engagements.)

Samsung Note 5

After the fiasco with the previous version, Samsung really had to deliver with their next model in the Note series…and, they did.  Gorgeous screen, great size, and very capable phone.  The problem I have with it is twofold: first, I just don’t like Samsung’s version of Android.  They have added so many features – for example, all the ways you can unlock your phone – that it’s borderline overwhelming.  My guess is that most users never use the vast majority of all of the attributes that Samsung has built into this device.

One of the primary aspects that Samsung touts is the ability to use the stylus and make handwritten notes on the phone.  I tried this a few times – and found it to be clunky and ridiculous.  If I wanted to make a note that I could use, it was easier and more convenient in almost every case to either type it with the keyboard, or dictate it into the phone.  In other words, the feature that the manufacturer was attempting to persuade me that made this smartphone distinctive is one that I would rarely use in the real world.

Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus

Basically, this is the same phone as the Note 5 – just a bit smaller and without the stylus and note-taking feature.  I’m just not a Samsung fan when it comes to their smartphones.  Too much bloat – but, again, gorgeous screen and very capable smartphone, if their product fits your preferences.

One more problem: Bixby – Samsung’s effort at a voice assistant – is even less reliable than Siri.  (And, if you frequently use Siri, you know what a damning statement that is.)

LG v30

The real sleeper in this group. If the Samsung models suffer from inflated features, the v30 delivers what you need…packaged in a way that you’ll use it.  It feels much more solid than the Samsung smartphones in your hand.  My experience has been that it works flawlessly – maybe because it does less…and what it does, it does well.

I’ve recommended this phone to friends – especially the ones on the T-Mobile, as the LG v30 is the first major smartphone to access a new band on their network that will (supposedly/hopefully) improve T-Mobile’s reception and performance in rural areas where their coverage has been decidedly lacking.  For those of you that think the decision of what smartphone you select to be a fight exclusively between Samsung and Apple, I would strongly advise you check this one out, as well.  It might have been my favorite…until…

Google Pixel 2 XL

I love this device.  It’s the first one I’ve used that made me seriously consider moving away from an iPhone.  I’ve seen many reviews that say this phone is “plainly great” – meaning that the look and feel of the phone is very basic, but the execution of what we use a smartphone for is extraordinary.

Because Google makes this phone, you get instant updates to the latest, most secure version of Android – unlike with Samsung or LG which often have significant delays.  The camera is the best in low-light situations – great if you’re trying to take a picture at a restaurant or concert.

Here’s one aspect that I love: the Google Assistant.  When you squeeze the lower part of the phone, Google’s excellent voice app, Assistant, pops up and says, “Hi, how can I help?”  Frankly, I anticipated this was going to be like the Note 5’s stylus – a feature that sounds good, but seldom used. It has been just the opposite.  I use it all the time – for directions (from Google Maps), for information, and more.  I’ve found Google Assistant to be the best of the smartphone voice assistants – and on par with Amazon’s excellent Alexa.

  • I highly recommend this smartphone – especially if you’re on Verizon, which is offering special deals on the Pixel 2.

Apple iPhone X

If you follow me on Facebook, you may have seen the pictures where I got in line just after 4 AM in Honolulu to get the iPhone X on the morning of its release. (Yeah, that’s how “smartphone crazy” I am!)  I really want to be in love with this version of iPhone – but, honestly, I’m not.  I like it – but, I don’t LOVE it.

Apple posted recently about the “eleven intuitive gestures” that you use on the new, home-button deprived, iPhone X.  I posted that you cannot have ELEVEN “intuitive” gestures.  If there are that many, it’s going to be like playing a musical instrument – you are required to learn and practice.  And, that’s more investment than I want to make to use my iPhone.

The iPhone X suffers from the same problem as my Apple Watch. “Let’s see: do I swipe up, down, left, or right?  Do I press the button here?”  In other words, it has lost the very aspect that made it most appealing in the first place – simplicity.

Don’t get me wrong – I much prefer iOS to Android.  However, I am worried about the future of Apple.  I know it’s cliché to compare the present-day Apple to the one of the past, yet I find myself wondering:

Would Steve Jobs have spent resources on creating a poop emoji, or on making the device easier and better to use?

There’s no doubt that the iPhone is absolutely gorgeous – and feels like the best-made of all of these devices when you hold it in your hand. But, the notch on the screen is distracting and a flaw.

I’ve always been an Apple fan-boy.  When family members don’t know what to give me on a birthday or for Christmas, they always just give an Apple gift card – and it does not last long in my pocket.  For quite a while, I would see someone with an Android phone and think to myself, “They would be so much happier if they only had an iPhone.”

And, if you held a gun to my head and said, “Pick just ONE!” it would still be the iPhone X – because of my commitment to the Apple eco-system. With an office filled with Macs and iPads, I have the ability to use the software cross-platform.  I can review the slides I created in Keynote on my Mac on my iPhone X as I fly to the speech – I love that.

My problem is that there’s so much here that needs to be better.

  • Siri isn’t of the quality of Alexa – and it’s hard for me to wrap my head around technology from Amazon that outperforms technology from Apple.  That should never have happened.
  • Using my Pixel 2 is, in many respects, easier and simpler than the iPhone.  That should never be the case, especially if you’re devoted to Apple.

What’s the best smartphone for you?  That all depends upon your personal preferences.

For me, the answer is that I carry two phones.

One is my business phone – the iPhone X – that I’ve loaded down with all the business software, documents, videos, and apps that keep me going on the road.  The other is a more personal smartphone – the Pixel 2 XL – that I use for everything else.  I have the two phones on different networks – one AT&T, because their deal with DirecTV and free HBO saved me significant money over what I was paying for cable – the other is on Verizon, which is still (in my experience) the most reliable network in the US.

By the way – a couple of years ago, I used to get all kinds of questions about, “Why in the world do you need TWO phones?”  I get that less and less now – as more are doing it to separate their business line (with the phone frequently provided by their company’s IT department) from their personal smartphone with private information they want to keep away from their organization’s systems.

In previous times, we just assumed you’d have an office phone at work – and a personal phone at home.  Maybe we’re getting to that point with smartphones, as well.

Or – maybe that’s just my excuse to not have to make a choice between the two!

Here’s hoping you find EXACTLY the right device for your needs…