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Why do Android smartphones suck?

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It overheats.

It runs out of charge fast.

The camera sucks.

It hangs.

Why do Android smartphones suck?

Many iPhone users say they won’t return to Android, and wonder why Android users are stuck with what they consider a subpar experience.

Alternatively, many Android users have many a time found themselves having to settle with a shortcoming on their phone.

The same predicament comes up when you are shopping for an Android device. Finding the perfect,  or near perfect phone seems impossible. You have to pick a shortcoming.

So why is this the case? Why can’t the thousands of Android smartphone manufacturers make the perfect device?


The answer boils down to how Android phones are made.

When cooking, a chef envisions to deliver a certain experience - flavour, aroma, colour,  texture.

There’s, however, another way of cooking. You can open your kitchen cabinets and your fridge, look at what you have, then decide what to cook based on your limitations.

How Android smartphones are made is closer to the second way of cooking with what you have.

Manufacturers will start with a budget and a target selling price,  say Kshs. 10,000. From this, they may look at making KSh. 2,000 per device,  meaning their costs have to be limited to KSh. 8,000.

The next consideration is numbers, with KSh. 8,000,  what processor with the highest number of cores can we buy (quadcore, octa-core), how much RAM can we throw in,  what’s the biggest display we can have and many other superlatives.

This process is called “bill of materials”, or BOM.

The objective of picking parts that sound larger or faster is to entice buyers who compare numbers, given they have little experience of how the devices will perform. A buyer will assume that a phone with 8 processor cores (octa-core) outperforms one with 4 (quad core) since many lack the information on how each has been made. Alternatively,  they may have the details,  but they may be too complicated to decipher.

The result is a smartphone that has been put together not because of its ability to deliver a particular experience, but with the objective of meeting a certain price point, yet make it as attractive as possible to a buyer.

The screen is as large as possible, but not clear.

The processor is fast and has cores that you need more than one hand to count,  but overheats.

The manufacturer threw in a lot of parts, but had to skimp on the battery, or did not optimise the experience for battery life.

Contributing to this experience is Qualcomm, the company that dominates the middle to high-end market for smartphones. Qualcomm makes the processor that powers many Android phones. They too have been in a rush to deliver faster and smaller processors (smaller processors consume lesser power).

At the same time, there is pressure for processors to support high definition cameras and videos,  gaming,  but not exceed a certain price. The result is processors that on paper provide certain advanced capabilities, but in practice only do so for a few minutes before overheating.

Why, then, don’t a few Android manufacturers break from this pattern?

Well, a few do, mostly high-end devices like the S7 Edge.

Standing out is, however, costly. First, most of the supply chain is designed to follow the BOM format.

Secondly, many phone makers calculate that breaking the ranks would more of cost them than benefit them. Given that many buyers lack the information to tell oranges from lemons, they are likely to go with that is bigger, faster and cheaper.

This is why Google has finally decided to make its Pixel smartphones - to influence the smartphone market to break from a race of delivering bigger and faster,  to one that hopefully focuses on offering experiences, and innovation.


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