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Opinion: The ten most overrated phone features

There’s an awful lot of phones around these days, with some dizzying specification sheets. I could recite paragraph after paragraph of initials, abbreviations and hyphenated technical terms.

Some features may develop at some point into an essential feature, but currently, due to lack of interest or limited appeal, really aren’t really delivering what they promised. Sadly, there’s plenty of features on your shiny new toy that you may never use.

1. DLNA and HDMI connections: I don’t know HDM-why

HDMI and high-definition content go hand-in-hand, but how many people utilise their HDMI port on the likes of the Optimus 2X and Nokia N8? It ends up as another port to break or fill with pocket fluff, unless it’s covered by a fiddly dust-protecting plug.

A more subtle option for phone makers is to include MHL inside the microUSB charging port. MHL gives the HDMI-out goodness without another unsightly hole, but again it’s hard to guess to what degree these HDMI connections are used.

At least we have gadgets, computers and TVs with HDMI inputs and outputs; DLNA (Digital Living Network Alliance) is a different beast altogether. My friends with high-end DLNA-friendly TVs tire of my visits- just to test the latest smartphone boasting DLNA features.

It’s a nice idea; wirelessly connecting your phone to TVs, PCs, your game console and more. You could even get your phone to act as a remote for other DLNA devices- but I haven’t seen it in enough things to make it a viable option just yet.

2. Video-calling and front-facing cameras. No more pretending to listen to calls.

Apple made a great effort at pushing video-calling as a viable feature; Wi-Fi provided a strong stable data connection, and sickly sweet adverts pushed it as a sentimental way to “feel the moment.”

Sadly, it’s still a very limited option; though you can attempt calls on third-party video-calling apps, unless it’s Skype and you’re in an area with a strong 3G signal, you’re going to be met with a hiccoughing video-stream that often won’t connect to begin with.

Aside from ‘wuvvy’ birthday messages that make me scream that the feckless parent should make an effort to get home in time for their daughter’s birthday, I can’t think of any strong reason to own a phone with a front-facing camera. That is, unless you’re massively into moody self-portraits. And we know there’s an audience for that

3. Not NFC-ing the point

We do love a bit of NFC action. Sadly, whilst the networks join forces to push the intriguing contactless payment technology onto customers, we’re still not biting. Currently, the only phone offering contactless payments is the dated, and underwhelming Samsung Tocco QuickTap.

We’re not sure whether the handful of terms for the technology is offputting to customers; NFC sounds cold, and contactless payment doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue. Nor has either the phone networks or banks addressed the security concerns many have about the payment system.

This is a shame as NFC has the potential to be a really useful extension of your phone’s functions. We’d love to see the ability to ‘tap in’ for train journeys and flight check-ins, get our hotel room key programmed into our phone, bin our pile of business cards with the ability to ‘tap’ across contact details.

Japan has really latched onto this technology with infrastructure that stretches from the train station to your local corner shop- the UK is lagging.

Until it’s available on a wide range of phones- and accepted in a similarly wide range of shops- it’s still pointless, and phone networks and manufacturers are going to have to work hard to convince us otherwise.

4. Megapixel chest-beating. Bigger isn’t necessarily better.

As recent phones now stand side-by-side with point and shoot digital cameras megapixel-wise, it’s worth considering more than just the number emblazoned next to the lens on the back of your phone.

Whilst phones like the Nokia N8 trumpet big megapixel numbers, they also pair them with a Carl Zeiss optics, and a larger f/2.8 lens aperture, meaning better pictures in low-light conditions.

Similarly, Sony Ericsson’s Xperia Arc and Xperia Neo both have Sony’s Exmor R sensor that improves photo quality. Again, the lens has a f/2.4 aperture, smaller is better, for quality photos even in the dingiest pubs.

5. Full HD video-recording; how good are your eyes?

If you’re going to be sharing some great footage of world events, have an amazingly cute kitten or giggling toddler, you may want to make the most of your YouTube uploads, or any files you send to family members to be shared on the big screen.

If all your videos are going to be displayed on the very phone they were captured on, then you’re not going to see a massive difference between 1080p and 720p definition video. Some screens, in fact, won’t be able to show a difference.

Many high-end smartphones may trumpet their “full HD video” credentials, but you could be better off with a cheaper 720p HD-recording phone.

6. Dual-core processors. Dual-bore?

Another contentious entry. Although the dual-core juggernauts show a visible difference to web-page loading, app installation and loading times, we’re yet to see many apps exploiting the full power of the likes of the LG Optimus 2X, Samsung’s Galaxy S2, and the Motorola Atrix.

If you’re forking out that much money for a dual-core phone, you may expect to see a hugely sped-up phone experience- but we’re not there just yet. Processor speeds themselves can also fall into this category; would you be able to spot the difference between an 800MHz and 1GHz processor? Probably not.

7. Phones ‘built for Facebook’.

The great thing about smartphones is that you can now visit and use most websites – like Facebook. If the site’s big and clever enough, they’ll create an app for the site, which typically cleans up the way the site’s information is displayed.

But for the likes of Android handsets, these apps look the same across devices- you’re not going go get any extra features; though you may get some clever interlinking, joining phonebook contacts with friend’s profile pictures and status updates.

It’s hard to see why, aside from desperately appealing towards younger audiences that use social networks heavily, some phones would push connectivity with Facebook and the like as a selling point.

Nearly all phone manufacturers add their own iffy Twitter apps to their Android phone, ready as soon as you turn it on. Sadly, the official Twitter app is nearly always better and logging into both adds confusing double updates to your status bar… Whilst I loved the HTC ChaCha as a phone, I often found the use of the heavily-publicised context-sensitive FaceBook button quite confusing.

8. 4G capability, not 4Getting we can’t use it.

When sniffing around for new phone news, Recombu often bumps into US-only handsets, capable of connecting to  high-speed 4G networks that make our current 3G download speeds look like a snail riding a sloth.

HTC’s 3D-rrific Evo 3D arrived in the US in this 4G guise, whilst the UK will receive a phone that works on our more limited phone networks. Many US users have noted  that 4G speeds and even reception can vary massively depending on where you are.

For the UK, eager 4G customers will have to wait a few more years before getting a sniff of the high-speed future; ‘auctioning’ of the next generation spectrum is penned for 2012, with testing also set to begin this year, it’ll take a while to push out the network. Until next year, any 4G phones remains off the Recombu radar.

9. Adobe Flash

Keep it to the comments, everyone. Whilst the iPhone 4 does a lot of things, one thing it doesn’t is Adobe Flash. The stuff that makes video-streaming and the appropriately-named Flash games work, many grumble that Apple has locked down half of the cool stuff on the web, forcing many into developing apps for the iPhone.

Complaints about Apple aside, they have tried to work around the Flash Player issue; there’s the dedicated YouTube player, arguably the centre of the streaming video universe.

The BBC iPlayer also plays on iPhones through its own QuickTime video and audio player. There’s also plenty of free games available from the app store, though some games free to play online are only available in a paid-for guise. With the forthcoming HTML 5 set to rewrite the rules on how websites will look and behave on many phones, Flash could well be one in the pan.

10. 3D phoning it in.

Too early? Like we said in our LG Optimus 3D review, its 3D function won’t be for everyone, but we’re finding it hard to see the appeal of a portable 3D screen. Despite having a screen that’s respectably large by phone standards, we’d struggle to become immersed in any cinematic offering, and the drain on the battery is astounding.

Many Nintendo 3DS users have also complained that the 3D effect tires their eyes during use – worrying when these glasses-free smartphones use similar screen technology.

Any of our choices ruffle your collective feathers? Can’t stand touchscreens? Have no need for LED flash? Let us know in the comments below.


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