Smartphones evolve like any other device, but their evolution can sometimes bring changes that make your life more difficult instead of easier.
In this list, we take a look at seven hardware features that are rarely seen in smartphones, but are very useful and should make a comeback.
1. Fingerprint sensor on the back
Today’s smartphones use in-display fingerprint sensors, either optical or ultrasonic. But a capacitive fingerprint sensor on the back makes more sense because it’s easier to spot, since it’s located where your finger would naturally rest when holding the phone.
This means you can unlock your phone while taking it out of your pocket; by the time you are in front of the device, you will be on the home screen. It’s fast, simple and easy. A side-mounted capacitive fingerprint sensor like the one on the Asus Zenfone 9 can also achieve the same result.
By comparison, an in-screen fingerprint scanner requires you to take out your phone, turn on the screen, look at the fingerprint icon on the lock screen, and then press your finger on it. It is slow and not so intuitive. And if you place your finger slightly above or below the icon, your phone may not even recognize your fingerprint.
2. Headphone jack
We’re still mad that Apple convinced the entire tech industry to kill off headphone jacks. We’ve already written extensively about why wired headphones are better than wireless headphones, but the lack of a 3.5mm audio jack makes shopping for the former much more difficult.
Although wired headphones are cheaper, sound better, last longer, and are less harmful to the environment, the absence of a jack makes wireless headphones a convenient alternative. After all, you don’t want to have to carry an adapter with you everywhere.
Fortunately, there are still some phones that come with a headphone jack, like the Asus Zenfone 9, Asus ROG Phone 6, and Sony Xperia 1 IV. You must have noticed that dedicated gaming phones never bypass the headphone jack, that’s because wired headsets face no latency issues and never need to be charged.
3. Notification LED
Notification LEDs were a simple but useful feature that modern phones don’t have. On some phones, you can even customize the color of the LED; For example, you can have a blue light appear for SMS text messages, red for missed calls, green for WhatsApp messages, etc.
Notification LEDs were one of the hurdles manufacturers faced in the quest to minimize bezels and maximize screen size, so the feature had to go. There are apps you can download that replicate the effect, but hardly any manufacturers make smartphones with built-in notification LEDs.
4. Expandable storage
Like headphone jacks, modern flagships no longer come with a dedicated microSD slot for expandable storage. Because of this, you need to figure out how much storage you need beforehand, or you risk running out of space.
With expandable storage, you can simply buy a new microSD card if you need more storage. Today’s budget and mid-range Android phones still come with expandable storage, but we wouldn’t be surprised to see the feature disappear in a few years.
By removing the microSD card slot, the brands invite you to upgrade to a higher storage variant and thus spend more money. For context, a 128GB microSD card costs less than $20, but choosing a 256GB variant of a flagship (as opposed to the base 128GB) will add about $100 more to the total price.
5. Infrared blast
Smartphones used to come with an Infrared Blaster, or IR Blaster, which allowed your phone to double as a TV remote. Some budget phones still offer it, but the feature has long been discontinued on flagship phones, mainly due to the rise of smart TVs using Wi-Fi to execute commands.
In other words, having an IR blaster went from a necessity to an optional feature as more people switched to smart TVs. But if you have a regular TV instead, it’s nice to have an IR blaster built into your phone for added convenience.
6. Compressible sides
The Google Pixel 2 introduced a unique feature that was discontinued with the Pixel 5: Active Edge. The feature allowed you to physically squeeze the sides of your device to perform actions. Having the ability to silently and quickly perform an action on your phone with a simple squeeze is not only novel but also very practical.
For example, if you’re out in public and want to activate the Google Assistant, you don’t have to say the keyword and risk embarrassing yourself, just squeeze your phone and ask your question. You can also use it to silence alarms, turn on the flashlight, turn on Do Not Disturb, or open an app of your choice.
We’re not entirely sure why Google decided to remove the Active Edge feature, but we assume it has something to do with the internal space of the device. Installing pressure sensitive panels may have taken up valuable space that could otherwise be used to accommodate a larger battery.
7. Front speakers
The front speakers are also dying out. Although they sound better and are more immersive, they take up a lot of space and therefore require huge bezels, making the phone look outdated. After all, most people would rather have a bigger screen than better speakers.
The next logical step here is to move the speakers behind the screen to further minimize the bezels, and there are some phones that do this. The problem is that under-display speakers have significantly worse sound quality than regular ones and are therefore still not a good alternative.
Not all smartphone updates are improvements
Sometimes smartphone features are discontinued to allow enhancements to other features that consumers prioritize more. Other times, they are discontinued simply because doing so is somehow more profitable for the tech industry.
For example, the front-facing speakers and notification LEDs had to go because people preferred a bigger screen. But headphone jacks and expandable storage were discontinued so manufacturers could sell you expensive wireless headphones and more internal storage.