Android isn’t even trying to design interesting phones anymore

This isn't the iPhone X. It's the Noa N10, an Android phone that's so clearly a ripoff of Apple's $1,000 flagship.
Image: stan schroeder/mashable

We’re barely two months into 2018, and one thing’s already very clear: Most new Android phone released this year will be iPhone X knockoffs.

Looking at the crop of news phones, Android manufacturers aren’t even trying to make devices that look different from Apple’s $1,000 flagship. Some are are even treating the iPhone X as the only benchmark that matters, boasting about how much better their Android-powered iPhone lookalikes are than the real deal.

I’m sure Apple is simultaneously flattered and annoyed by all the copying, but from where I’m standing it’s just embarrassing for Android because that side of the mobile camp has run out of fresh ideas.

I noticed this unfortunate trend while at Mobile World Congress this past week. After a decade of Android phone makers collectively going out of their way to design devices that are distinctly different from the iPhone, most of them seem to have tossed in the towel and and given in to making iPhone X clones.

Shameless copying from brands big and small

Most of the copies were from obscure brands you’ve probably never heard of, like Noa, Doogee, or Leagoo. Noa unveiled their N10 (pictured at top) and Doogee announced its V (below). Both devices look like the iPhone X at first glance, but upon closer inspection you can see there’s not much beyond that.

The Doogee V is another iPhone X ripoff. However, it does come with one thing the iPhone X doesn’t have: an in-display fingerprint sensor.

Image: raymond wong/mashable

Cloning the iPhone is not unusual, especially when it’s from an unknown Asian brand. There are so many fakes released before and after a new iPhone’s launch that they’re not even worth writing about anymore, even if they’re exquisitely-made clones.

What is unusual is an established tech company coming out and shamelessly boasting about how it made an iPhone X clone that runs Android.

Such was the case when Asus announced its ZenFone 5. Just see if you can even spot the difference in the photo below. Which one is the iPhone X and which one is the ZenFone 5?

Which one is the Asus ZenFone 5 and which one is the iPhone X?

Image: stan schroeder/mashable

Not sure? OK, I’ll tell you. The left is the ZenFone 5 and the right is the iPhone X. Asus was incredibly proud to brag that that the ZenFone 5’s notch is 26 percent smaller than “Fruit Phone X” (I can’t even).

But unless you’re a phone nerd like I am, how are you going to know the ZenFone 5 has a smaller notch? And do you even care? I doubt anyone’s obsessed with having a smaller notch. If that was the case, the Essential Phone, which has the smallest notch of any major smartphone, should have been way more popular than it was.

Flip the ZenPhone 5 over and the backside is another copy of the iPhone X. Look at how the dual cameras are oriented vertically. You’d think Asus would at least make the iPhone X’s least attractive details like the huge camera bump less of an eyesore, but nah, they just copied it, compromises and all.

Asus even copied the iPhone X’s vertically-positioned dual camera bump.

Image: stan schroeder/mashable

Like, come onnnn. At least try to make something that looks a little bit different. Sure, little things like the fingerprint sensor, USB-C port and Asus logo give it away that this is not, in fact, an iPhone X. But if you rock this guy, everyone’s gonna know what you really wished you had.

Asus isn’t alone with all this iPhone X cloning business, either. Other big-name phone makers are rumored to be following Apple into notch hell.

Leaked photos for the purported OnePlus 6 and LG G7 (there’s a short video of the alleged phone included) suggest both phones might have displays that sport a notch cutout as well.

And it’s not just the notch that everyone’s copying from Apple’s playbook. Many new Android phones like Sony’s Xperia XZ2 and the Nokia 8 Sirocco have ditched the headphone jack just as Apple did two years ago with the iPhone X. 

The only company that seems to be firmly not copying the iPhone X’s design is Samsung. The Galaxy S9 and S9+ are two of the few major flagships announced so far that stick to their own design aesthetic instead of stealing Apple’s. They don’t have notches and they have a headphone jack. Thank you, Samsung.

Message received: Buy an iPhone X

Of course, design-wise, there are only so many ways to make a rectangular slab of glass and metal. But even taking into account the desire for edge-to-edge displays, there are demonstrably more options than just sticking on a modest forehead notch and taking out the headphone jack. Android smartphone manufacturers shouldn’t just give up on creating designs and features that make them stand out from the crowd. 

Remember when HTC gave us front-facing BoomSound stereo speakers before anyone else did? Or when phone makers started adding wireless charging, water resistance, and expandable storage? These were the features that gave Android phones something worth lusting for.

Looking at the upcoming herd of Androids, I’m not seeing anything that inspires. All I see are unimaginative iPhone X clones that, despite running iOS’s chief rival, send the smartphone-buying public a simple message: “Go buy an iPhone. It’s what you really want, anyway.”

And if that’s the case, then all of these Android makers might as well pack things up and close up shop. It’s going to be a very depressing year if all I’m doing is reviewing Android flagships that are iPhone X wannabes.

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