My top 5 phones of 2022 – Peter

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2022 feels like a turning point – foldable models are finding their feet, camera phones have reached a major milestone, brands are developing their unique identities. Here are five of the phones that impressed me the most this year, phones that will be used as benchmarks for what’s to come in 2023.

Google Pixel 7 Pro

I’m not sure what’s more surprising—that Google still makes phones, or that it was actually a good one this time. The Pixel 6 series was close, but some hardware issues left it in the “maybe not” pile. Most of the issues have been fixed in the 2022 generation and here we are.

The smaller Pixel 7 would be here instead of the Pro if Google had been kind enough to equip it with a telephoto camera and a 120Hz LTPO panel. This is an industry trend that annoys me – only big phones get telephoto cameras and good screens – but I’ll spare you the rant.

The Google Pixel 7 Pro is built with a vision that can’t be said of many brands. The Pixel series has its own distinct hardware look and timely Feature Drops routinely enable cool new features that keep the phones fresh.

I’m not bothered by the Tensor G2 being slower than other 2022 flagship chipsets. To be honest, at one point I’d forgotten which chipset was in my personal phone – performance stopped mattering a while ago. Power efficiency has not, however, and Google and Samsung still have some work to do on that front.

AI is progressing at an amazing pace, I’ve been playing with ChatGPT and Stable Diffusion and it feels like I’m in a sci-fi movie. This only makes me more excited about Google’s approach to building phones – mind over matter, software over hardware.

Oppo Find N2

While considering which phones should be in my Top 5, I thought of the Galaxy Z Flip4. I like small phones and always liked the flip form factor, perfect right? But when I sat down to put my argument into words, I couldn’t. Has Samsung really upgraded the phone enough since the Z Flip3 (which I only had a passing interest in) or is it my perspective that changed? The latter I am probably slowly warming up to foldables.

But out of all the 2022 releases, I think it’s the Oppo Find N2 that deserves this spot. The original Find N was also quite interesting, but at 275g and 15.9mm thick (folded) it was quite thick. Oppo engineers did an impressive job shaving 42g off the weight – the N2 weighs 233g, lighter than any horizontal foldable. They also shaved off some of the thickness.

Seeing how the bulk was my main complaint about the N, the Find N2 nails just everything else – an LTPO internal panel, wide + ultra-wide + tele camera setup, large battery (for its size) and so on. Again, I’m not bothered that it comes with a Snapdragon 8+ Gen 1 chipset instead of Gen 2. The removal of wireless charging bothers me a bit, but I guess that’s partly why the new model is thinner.

Oppo Find N on the left, Find N2 on the right
Oppo Find N on the left, Find N2 on the right

Oppo Find N on the left, Find N2 on the right

Now for the best part – the cover screen still has a fairly reasonable aspect ratio (17.7:9) and with a 5.54” diagonal and slim bezels that make for a phone that is only 72.6mm wide and 132.2mm tall , perfectly usable with one hand. Even more now that it weighs less than an iPhone 14 Pro Max.

Finally, a complaint about accessibility. It’s not the phone’s fault of course, but if the Oppo Find N2 Flip can get a global launch, why can’t the Find N2?

Asus Zenfone 9

I’ve always liked smaller phones, more than the average Joe it seems, based on how poorly they do in the market. Sony gave up on Compacts a few years ago, Apple pulled the plug on the iPhone mini (a move it may regret when you see how the Plus fares).

The Asus Zenfone 9 is one of very few properly small Androids and the only one from a major brand. I know of a few deals from upcoming brands, although these seem to be mostly launched through Kickstarter (or similar services), but I’d prefer to go through a retailer or carrier instead.

Asus Zenfone 9

Anyway, I’m going to complain again about the lack of a telephoto camera on a small phone, but I lived for years without one and I could live without one now… probably. The only big issue I have with the Zenfone is that Asus won’t commit to more than 2 OS updates – I’m going a long time between changing phones and paying €800 for a phone is only justified if that phone will last for several years. The Zenfone 9 is built well and the hardware will last, however the software will be left behind by the end of next year.

Realme GT2 Pro

I’ve used my fair share of OnePlus phones and loved them – they all happened to be T models. But the 8T was a bit of a disappointment, the 10T isn’t what I’m looking for either. These are starting to feel like Xiaomi’s T phones, which are a separate line rather than a mid-season upgrade to the flagship. I still have hope that nothing will pick up where OnePlus left off after going mainstream, but the phone (1) is not.

This brings us to Realme, the latest branch in the BBK tree. There are a litter of phones in number ranges that make good budget choices, but they’re not for me. However, the GT series feels like the golden days of OnePlus.

Realme GT2 Pro

The Realme GT2 Pro in particular stood out. It launched globally at €750 in February, but has since dropped significantly in price. It is often mentioned when we write about smartphone offers, and for good reason – it offers a lot of bang for the buck.

There is a paper-like option that looks premium if you want it. The 10-bit QHD LTPO display is flagship quality or even better, considering the Galaxy S22+ and Xiaomi 13 have FHD+ displays while costing more than the GT2 Pro.

The cameras aren’t quite at OnePlus level, but they’re close enough considering the price difference. Next round – Realme GT3 Pro vs. OnePlus 11 – is weeks away (likely the 2022 models launch in January) and it’s a sibling rivalry that I’ll be watching closely.

Xiaomi 12S Ultra

I remember my first phone with a camera, the Nokia 6230i, I still have pictures (and even videos) from it. It was good for its time, but two decades of progress have improved phone cameras to a level that is sometimes hard to believe. And I think the Xiaomi 12S Ultra is the best example of that from 2022. Sony’s variable focal length camera is also one to keep an eye on, although the Xiaomi package is generally more impressive.

The age of 1” sensors in smartphones is officially upon us and with the help of Leica, Xiaomi managed to extract excellent results from the 12S Ultra’s IMX989. And while dedicated digital cameras – at least some of them – have larger sensors, the on-device computational photography, editing and sharing capabilities offered by smartphones are unmatched.

Xiaomi 12S Ultra

Realistically, it should be the Xiaomi 13 Pro here, which it is basically the same phone except for the newer chipset and duller looks. Okay, “boring” is harsh, I actually like the clean design of the 13 series. However, it looks quite ordinary next to the 12S Ultra, but that one leaves no uncertainty of being an expensive camera phone. I chose the 12S Ultra over the 13 Pro for its ambition, launching months before its main competition.

I should also mention the concept unit with a Leica M lens mount. This breaks down the final wall between smartphones and mirrorless cameras, and while such a device will likely never hit the market, it shows that Xiaomi can shake up the camera world if it really wanted to.

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