Smartphones have become inescapable in our modern life. They are everywhere, and they come with a myriad functions thanks to the millions of app developers around the world. Also, smartphones have become “smarter” over their decade-plus existence, with their performance matching that of a cheaper desktop computer or laptop, and their screen size rivalling that of tablet computers from a few years ago.
Smartphones are now good for everything between keeping up with your favourite celebrity on social media to hitting a million-dollar jackpot online. There are, in turn, a few features that not all smartphones have – but you should look for them in your next one. Here they are.
IR blaster – or infrared blaster – is a small device that emulates the way a remote control works by emitting infrared light. It was routinely used in VCRs and similar devices to change the channel on an external tuner, like a satellite received. By the early 2010s, it found its way to smartphones, too – unfortunately, though, it’s used less and less as an option by manufacturers. Still, you should look for a phone that has it.
In short, an IR blaster – plus the right app, like SURE or the Mi Remote – can turn your phone into a remote for your TV or other devices. No more looking for the missing remote control – simply grab your phone and get the job done.
While this is another older feature that was present on a variety of phones over the years, it is hardware-supported so it never hurts to check for it before switching to a new one.
In short, USB On-The-Go (OTG for short) allows you to connect external USB devices to your phone. And this can be extremely useful these days.
The obvious use for OTG is to store your movies and music on an external USB drive and connecting it to your phone when you want to watch or listen (and you don’t have network coverage to stream). But there is another situation when it’s very useful: gaming.
Cloud gaming services like Stadia and Geforce Now do have an on-screen controller but when you are used to playing your favourite games with a controller, the experience is simply not the same. With OTG, you can connect a compatible controller to your phone and have a much better gaming experience than with the on-screen controls.
Finally, one thing that may seem obvious for some: try to find a phone with stock Android on it.
Smartphone makers almost always deliver their phones with their own take on the Android operating system. While this often means attractive features and extra functions, these are almost always bundled with third-party apps that the manufacturer has deals with – in short, bloatware.
The phones equipped with Android One are a worthy alternative. Google’s stock Android comes with all the functions you may need and none of the apps you don’t want. What you get is a “clean” Android that you’ll be able to customize as you see fit with third-party launchers, lock screens, icon packs, and apps – you’ll find plenty of those online. But you won’t get any apps that you won’t be able to uninstall without root access to your phone.