Looking for a smart phone with a good camera, long term support
August 11, 2018 11:14 PM   Subscribe

After 6 years I'm finally looking for a new smart phone. I'm really not interested in getting a new phone every couple of years but I'm well aware that's where most products are aimed. Are there any mainstream manufacturers that are guaranteeing long term support for their phones, or at least making things easy for open source or community development? Searching is resulting in a lot of irrelevant results and nothing clear emerging.

Some other notes:
1. A good camera is needed and is the primary driver for this upgrade.
2. I can't really afford a Fairphone and it is in any case not available (or warrantied?) in my country. Otherwise I would be very interested in such a thing.
3. I'm technically literate. I'm capable of flashing custom ROMs etc. What I'm struggling with is working out which phone I can currently buy will still have anything to flash onto it in five years. My current phone is semi-well supported by community software but there are older phones that are better and more easily supported and that appears to be down to the vagaries of the manufacturer. Who is making a point of this being easy?
4. No Apple please. Either Android or some weird open source phone and operating system that runs Android apps (99.9% sure this doesn't exist in functional form but I'd be up for it).

Basically I want the smart phone equivalent of an old Nokia brick with a decent camera tacked on that I can use for years.
posted by deadwax to Computers & Internet (13 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
That has been my HTC One which at 6 years old still works fine and loads new apps fine. I haven't even replaced the battery. They pushed major updates for years and I think I got the last update last winter maybe? When it does die I will mourn appropriately then adopt another HTC.
posted by fshgrl at 11:59 PM on August 11, 2018

I happily switched to Android last year, but unfortunately Apple is the best at this right now—the cameras are always great and my old iPhone 5s, which I bought in 2013, is getting another software update later this year.

That said! Google has an explicit policy in place for their current line of Pixels, and I imagine their next set will have one too. (I think the next ones are coming pretty soon, so it might be worth waiting.) Here's their policy:
Pixel 2 (2017) phones get Android version updates for at least 3 years from when the device first became available on the Google Store. After 3 years, we can't guarantee more updates
It looks like OnePlus adopted a two year promise + one year of security updates.

The new Nokia has a great reputation for fast Android updates (and I know a lot of people like the phones, too), but I couldn't find an explicit policy that says how long they'll put out updates for today's phones.

I haven't been in the community update game in a while (RIP webOS), so I don't know who's making it easiest, but demographically I think all three of those brands are likelier than average to attract the kind of people who build and share custom ROMs for older devices.

For what it's worth, I have always been really impressed by the cameras on the Pixel phones—I think those would be my choice if I were picking now, based on your criteria (and probably mine, too, though I didn't buy one myself).
posted by Polycarp at 12:26 AM on August 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

OnePlus is my phone. It is supported well. Great camera. They have community forums with a lot of support from other users. Lineage OS supports the phone too if you want a custom ROM. I have both a 6 and the original, One. My one is 3 yo and going strong. I flashed lineage to it and continue to get the weeklies update.
posted by AugustWest at 12:47 AM on August 12, 2018

My Pixel 2 XL's camera is so good I just sold my Sony RX-100, I no longer have a need for a dedicated camera.

That having been said, Apple is still much better at long term device support.
posted by Cosine at 1:18 AM on August 12, 2018

I can't really afford a Fairphone and it is in any case not available (or warrantied?) in my country.

It looks like the Fairphone is about $600 USD and if this is out of reach then you're also looking at probably not being able to afford the flagship phones--even the smaller Pixel 2 is more than this, at least in the US. Can you be a little more clear about your budget? Trying to do this on $250 USD is going to be a very different picture than trying to do it on $750 USD, though honestly right now, with my not-yet-three-year-old Nexus 6P on the verge of death, I'm not feeling super confident about any of the flagship phones, either.
posted by Sequence at 1:27 AM on August 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I don't know why Apple's out. Is there another manufacturer with a store in every city that you can walk into after dropping your phone and get a new one, often for free? Or that will spend hours with you, also for free, trying to get data off your 10 year old product?

(I mean I saw them with a Mac Classic on the bench the other day, helping grandma retrieve her old documents. That's a twenty-five year old computer. I am amazed it started up at all.)

That said, if you're stuck with Android, I don't think you can get both long-term support and a no-name quirky product. It's going to be the Big Guys if there's any hope of support at all.
posted by rokusan at 1:54 AM on August 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

A couple of answers:
I don't want Apple because I have precisely zero experience with either iOS, OSX or Apple hardware. Apart from a small amount of forced exposure to itunes on Windows, which, what the hell? I know Android pretty well and am a Linux user when I'm not on my laptop, which is Windows. Apple provides an ecosystem that makes me uncomfortable, more than any other feeling.

A Fairphone is $850 AUD, plus working out how to get it here, plus rigmarole if something goes wrong. So I should have been clearer, part of that reluctance to afford it is driven by the potential logistical difficulties, small company difficulties, warranty in a non-supported country, etc, etc. It's not simply a monetary can't afford it, it's a complete package can't afford it. That said the $850 price tag is probably as big as I would want to go for any phone.
posted by deadwax at 2:12 AM on August 12, 2018

As an iPhone user who had many of the same reservations as you, I find it's really not so bad. You don't have to use it as part of an ecosystem—I don't have any other Apple devices, I don't even use iCloud—and there's not much of a learning curve. It took me about three days after switching from Android before I was comfortable in iOS. And if you care about these things, iPhones are better about user privacy than Androids are—less tracking, and more granularity in terms of permissions. Not that any phone is exactly great in that regard.

Anyway, if a great camera is your primary motivator I would probably get a Pixel 2 or Pixel 2 XL. The XLs had some pretty bad issues with screen color cast and viewing angle when they first came out, but perhaps that is fixed now. Their cameras are stellar—the HDR+ mode in particular is really nice and allows you to get pleasing, natural-looking shots even in very high contrast lighting. The iPhone X is also excellent. There's also the Huawei P20 which currently has the best camera of any phone, but for political reasons it's not officially supported by any US phone carriers so I don't know as much about it—you are in Australia though so maybe you should take a look.

As for longevity, I dunno. Androids tend to stop getting updates after three years or so, and I don't know of any that are better about that. iPhones get updates for a bit longer, sometimes. But fundamentaly I don't know of any phone manufacturer who doesn't treat their phones as essentially disposable. It sucks, but it seems to be a universal paradigm.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 3:53 AM on August 12, 2018 [2 favorites]

I'd consider the phones most popular with Android developers right now. There's more than a decent chance that these devices will be supported a good while after they stop getting official updates. For example, the Nexus 4 is getting Android 8.0 updates with Lineage OS right now, when official support stopped at 5 (I think). I would be looking into which are the hot development models right now.
posted by Juso No Thankyou at 4:08 AM on August 12, 2018

Could you get a camera and an old Nokia brick? That's more or less what I did.
posted by aniola at 11:41 AM on August 12, 2018 [2 favorites]

Start with GSMArena, search for Android handsets that meet the spec you want and the range of years you want. Once you have that list, cross-reference against the handsets on the Lineage website.

At which point you'll have a list of candidates, although I suspect it won't be a very large number.
posted by mr_silver at 12:40 AM on August 13, 2018

I'm fairly pleased with my Nokia 7 Plus (after using a Nexus 6 for 3.5 years). Just got the August security update this morning. I can't say for certain the Pie upgrade is coming in a timely manner, but there's good reason to believe it should be along within the next month or two.

It doesn't have the greatest camera, but it's also only $350 and it's as good as anything in that price bracket.

My only complaint is that while HMD has said they will make the bootloader officially unlockable at some point it hasn't happened yet, so unlocking requires you send $5 to some guy who has whatever service tools are necessary to generate the certificate you have to have to unlock it.

Also, it's an Android One phone, so the update period is part of their contractual obligation to Google. At least two years of feature updates and three for security, IIRC.
posted by wierdo at 10:40 AM on August 14, 2018

Something to consider: Xiaomi has recently announced the Poco F1 (review) - a mid-price phone with Snapdragon 845. Dual rear camera - main one has Sony IMX363 sensor. Xiaomi will allow unlocking the bootloader.

I'm in the market for a new phone myself, and till yesterday, my first choice was the Nokia 7 Plus but this one is slightly cheaper so can't ignore it. Will wait for a week or two after sales start of the F1 (29th Aug in India) and see how the real world user reviews stack up.
posted by Gyan at 12:23 PM on August 23, 2018

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