2017 is shaping up to be a pretty remarkable year for first-generation smartphones. Android creator Andy Rubin debuted his new company’s Essential Phone, which uses embedded magnets to connect to gadgets such as 360-degree cameras and charging docks. Gaming accessory company Razer announced its entertainment-centric Razer Phone, the spiritual successor to another first-generation smartphone, the cloud-connected Nextbit Robin.
You might be intrigued by the idea of trying out one of these brand new smartphones. But you should consider what goes into purchasing what is essentially an indie smartphone before you take the leap into untested waters. Phones with modular accessories or high-performance displays are definitely worth a look, but you should be prepared to deal with potential obstacles.
Image credit: Razer
First, Know What You’re Getting Into
When buying a first-generation smartphone from a new company, know this: You’re in it for a good time, not a long time.
Phones from startups such as The Essential Company and Nextbit are full of innovative ideas and new methods of interaction you probably won’t see in more mainstream devices. The game-friendly Razer Phone, for example, features a display with a 120Hz refresh rate – perfect for fast-paced gaming, and unheard of in a smartphone.
Unfortunately, they’re also prone to losing support faster than products from more established smartphone makers for a variety of reasons. Chalk it up to poor sales (Amazon Fire Phone), mismanagement (HP Pre 3), or acquisitions from other corporations (Nextbit Robin).
Every first-generation smartphone also runs the risk of being the last phone from a company. Take Nextbit’s Robin, a Kickstarter project that ended with an acquisition by Razer after only making a single phone. Or Canonical’s Ubuntu Edge, which never saw the light of day after reaching 40 per cent of its $US32 million ($41.5 million) crowdfunding goal. HP (via its acquisition of Palm) launched its first WebOS smartphone, the HP Pre 3, only to discontinue the entire WebOS line of devices the very next day. If you aren’t the betting type, you should stick with what you know.
Read the Warranty
If you’re buying a first-generation smartphone, there are bound to be a few kinks that haven’t been worked out. Should you run into any issues with your device, your warranty is your friend. While companies such as Apple have tried-and-true repair services such as the accident-friendly Applecare+, newer companies lacking the same infrastructure mean you’ll be mailing your smartphone in and waiting a few days rather than taking it to a retail store for a quick replacement.
And making repairs on your own is a lot more difficult than it is with a more popular phone. You can buy repair parts for popular iOS and Android devices on sites such as iFixit, but parts for new phones are near-impossible to come by. If you can, spring for whatever extended warranty or insurance you can get from the device’s manufacturer or your wireless carrier. The investment will spare you from worrying about how to replace a cracked screen.
Take it For a Test Run
While getting a first-generation smartphone is a gamble, you don’t have to stick with it if you feel it’s not for you. Take advantage of your retail store’s or mobile carrier’s return policy. If you’re buying from the manufacturer itself, read the return policy fine print. Some companies offer a 14-day return policy, and a few companies and mobile carriers charge a restocking fee for the privilege. You might be out a few bucks, but at least you won’t be stuck with a phone that only appeals to you because it’s different.
Third-Party Support Isn’t Really an Option
Brand new phones aren’t exactly money makers for anyone besides the phone maker. That means you probably won’t find many compatible accessories from popular accessory manufacturers. Don’t count on walking into a JB Hi-Fi and snagging an extra case or screen protector. Your best bet is buying accessories straight from the manufacturer, the only company that cares enough to make accessories that may or may not sell well.
You’re Supporting Innovation (Until Support Ends)
While it may feel like you’re signing up to get short-changed, take solace in the fact that you’re supporting innovation. Looking at it as an investment in competition is one way to spin it, both to yourself and to friends asking why you didn’t buy an iPhone. After all, if no one purchased the Nextbit Robin, Razer’s new game-focused smartphone would probably still be a glimmer in CEO Min-Liang Tan’s eye.
Purchasing a first-generation smartphone is necessary to stimulate the spirit of competition. Diversity among competitors is one of many ways to increase the quality of products released. After all, if you’re a company that’s on top year after year, why bother pushing the envelope unless someone else is gaining on you?