Students taking a selfie. Students taking a selfie. The all-important selfie can have varying degrees of photo quality, depending on the camera or the editing app you're using. (Photo: Lighthunter / Shutterstock)

3 ideas for a smarter smartphone

Better cameras, faster charges and weather-proofing on the drawing board.

Wouldn't it be great if one day, someone built a phone that lasted for days, charged in a flash, and took photos as crisp and vibrant as a professional digital camera?

Technology is getting closer, with developments that promise to improve the most frustrating phone features. Here are three of the biggest complaints, with practical solutions on how to overcome them:

1. Camera quality

An example of the new technologyOn the left, a photo taken with digital zoom. At right, a photo taken with optical zoom, the technology in Corephotonics' dual image camera module. (Photo: Corephotonics)

Many users want to snap a good picture with minimal effort and share with little editing involved. CNET rated the Samsung Galaxy S6 the best camera phone of 2015, but if you're still locked into a contract or can't afford a new device just yet, the best avenue is a top-notch editing app that sharpens mediocre camera photos to professional grade. Enlight, an image-editing tool from the Israeli company Lightricks, specializes in portraits and selfies using an advanced visual processing technology to improve skin tone and texture, fix messy hair, apply makeup, and even thin out faces.

Another company, Corephotonics, promises to vastly improve smartphone camera quality using a dual-image fusion technology. The secret is the use of two lenses, each with a different focal length – one wide angle, the other 3X zoom. The two are combined to a single image using the algorithms of its accompanying software. The result: A clean, crisp image that requires little to no editing, even when using the camera's zoom function. Reviews from CNET and Engadget both tout the technology's potential to change the face of the camera industry.

2. Charging time

phone chargingStoreDot claims its FlashBattery can charge a phone 100 times faster than regular chargers. (Photo: baloon111/Shutterstock)

The scenarios are endless. Stuck at the airport and all the outlets are taken. Car chargers won't work. You fell asleep without plugging in your phone. Portable chargers are great, but they, too, have to be charged, and it's usually not practical (or physically possible) to keep your phone in your pocket while it's charging. You need a fast, hassle-free charge so you can get on your way. 

An Israeli startup called StoreDot debuted its FlashBattery at the Consumer Electronics Show earlier this year, claiming it charges a phone 100 times faster than traditional chargers. StoreDot's secret is a cheaper, non-toxic alternative to the cadmium in today's batteries. StoreDot says a fully functioning prototype of the cell phone battery should be ready by the end of 2016, and on the market in 2017.

Stanford University is producing an aluminum cell phone battery that can charge in a minute. The traditional lithium-ion battery used in most smartphones on the market today is overdue for an upgrade, and with the Stanford team's discovery, it looks like a viable alternative is in the offing. The aluminum battery is more durable, less expensive and more flexible than the lithium, but the super-fast charging time is the ultimate draw. Once scientists figure out how to improve their power and energy density – so they're able to hold that one-minute charge longer – you may start seeing these batteries enter the market as the next wave in smartphone battery tech.

3. Protection from the elements

Cracked smartphone screenWhy do so many smartphone screens crack? Because they're made of glass. (Photo: Jan Faukner/Shutterstock)

With most smartphone glitches – overheating, apps quitting unexpectedly, sound not working – the solution can usually be achieved simply by shutting down and restarting the phone. But it's another story entirely if the phone itself incurs damage from water or a fall.

"About half the time someone wants to show me something on their phone, there's a crack running down the middle of the screen, but it's not their fault," said Donald Bell of CNET. "Most phones are designed to be thin and fast, not durable."

Water damage is largely irreparable, and if the screen cracks, the choices are limited: replace the phone, which is expensive; or replace the screen, which can cost almost as much as a new phone. Quite the Catch-22! That's why it's so important to safeguard the innards of the phone from conditions on the outside. After all, what good is a smartphone if it's not smart enough to withstand a little wear and tear?

It all comes down to personality. If you're the rugged type, you might feel more secure with a phone that's cloaked in Kevlar. Yes, that's right, DuPont's signature material comprises the frame of Motorola's Droid Turbo, along with a scratch-resistant Corning Gorilla Glass 3 screen for fortified strength. 

If you live in an especially wet climate, or you just seem to find yourself near water more often than not, there's a phone that's so confident in its ability to withstand water damage, it's even got "hydro" in its name. The Kyocera Hydro Elite can be submerged in water for up to 30 minutes without dying. No Lifeproof case or Otter box needed. "If you're a dolphin trainer or a careless toilet texter, this could be the phone for you," Bell said.


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3 ideas for a smarter smartphone
Better cameras, faster charges and weather-proofing on the drawing board.