Here's my justification for the speaker criteria, from the original article:
So why is having a decent speaker important - I hear you ask? After all, HTC have sold tens of millions of Android smartphones with only one acceptable speaker among the whole range. I suspect that people who bought those devices have just had to live with ear piercing tinniness since day one - they really would have been better off with a different manufacturer in this regard!
Here then are the use cases, direct from my own daily experience:
- Listening to podcasts while doing chores around the house - washing up, cooking, and so on, even gardening. All are somewhat tedious and podcasts make the time go much more quickly. Listening on headphones is an option, but then you're locked away from sounds you need to hear in the world around you - doorbells, landline ringing, children calling out, over timers pinging, and so on. I just put my phone down on a safe surface, playing away, and enjoy...
- Listening to internet radio, under similar circumstances. When I've run out of new podcasts to listen to, essentially...!
- Making phone calls in 'speakerphone' mode. I don't make all calls this way, but it's very handy a) because I irradiate my brain a lot less, b) because I can get on with something else while chatting, with both hands free, and c) I'll often have other family members who want to chip in on the call!
- Making video calls, where a really clear speaker is nigh-on essential, if only to avoid distortion effects and leak back into the microphone, confusing the audio for the other party.
- Driving with sat-nav instructions guiding me to a destination. For most cars, especially at speed (e.g. on a motorway), it's very hard to hear audio instructions from most smartphone navigation packages.
- Hearing an incoming/ringing call. I've lost count of the number of calls I've missed because I've not heard the phone ringing because I'm in a busy shop or pub or club.
There are two distinct attributes for a speaker (well, three if you count whether there are one or two speakers!): volume and quality. It's no good having a really great sounding speaker, tonally, if it's so quiet that you can hardly hear it. And it's no good having a really loud speaker if it's so tinny that it hurts the ears.
I can't believe I'm alone in prizing a phone for its speaker for most of the reasons above. And, happily, we've seen some cracking successes in this regard over the last decade, prompting this feature in, if you will, celebration - plus a few audio disaster stories. The Nokia N97 must surely be classed in the latter list - for an Nseries flagship, its speakers were quite horribly tinny, quiet and harsh, as I recounted here, back in 2009.
In order then, in my estimation, here are the top 10 best sounding Symbian-powered smartphones of the last decade, in reverse order:
The N8 had to be in this list somewhere, of course, but you may be surprised to see it at no. 10. Just the single speaker cone and a horrible location flush on the camera island, but there's a dedicated power amp chip behind it and speaker audio from the N8 is crisp and decently loud - though playing music on it is probably beyond its remit.
You've probably forgotten about the E61 and E61i by now, two of the earliest S60 3rd Edition devices and full-on qwerty candybars. As smartphones they were slow and clunky, though did very well for messaging and basic email, as you might expect. But they each had something of a monster (mono) loudspeaker tucked into their side. No, we'd never thought of the E61i as a boom-box, either, but it served very well for speakerphone calls and the like, back in 2007/2008.
8. Nokia X7
In theory, the followup to the phone at the number two spot, below, in practice the X7 was an abject failure on almost all counts. Despite having four huge speaker 'grilles', the included stereo speakers were actually mounted internally facing at 90 degrees to the two bottom grilles - meaning that most of the crispness of their sound was lost inside the plastic body. Just terrible - the phone could have been so much more....
7. Nokia N82
Armed with the same meaty stereo speakers as the N95 (below), the N82 produced a surprisingly good sound for such a small device. The only complaint was that space was so tight in the phone that the miniature speakers had no 'reflex' space to breathe and this dampened the sound being produced.
6. Nokia 3250
With a unique 'twisting' bottom, to let you choose between T9 keypad and music controls, the 3250 was a great 'music phone', not least because it had a really meaty speaker on its bottom. I never owned one, but estimate it would fit into this 'top 10' around this position, from all accounts.
(image from Nokiandtech)
5. Nokia E90
As with the E61i (above), the enterprise focus of the E90 didn't stop the designers putting in the best music speakers they could find. Probably the same units as on the N8 and N95 (below). Presented as a stereo pair, they were very close together and mounted on the E90's bottom, so zero stereo effect, but the volume and clarity was often astonishing.
4. N95, N95 8GB
Not one device, but two, both classics, with same design and same components. The side-mounted stereo speakers on the N95 range were legendary, I often used to use my N95 to provide music for my (then) six year old daughter to dance to!
We're now coming to the 'creme de la creme', the X6 was pitched as a 'music phone' and really lived up to the term. OK, there were no handy music controls, but the sound coming out of the side-mounted speakers (complete with mesh grilles, as shown below) was amazingly loud and crisp. And even a hint of bass. Wth capacitive touchscreen, the X6 is still a viable smartphone even today in 2012, in my opinion, and I often get tempted to switch back to it, just to get those great speakers all over again.
2. Nokia 5800
I suspect that the speaker components were the same as in the X6 that followed it, but the 5800 gets the nod at no. 2 because it arrived first, by a good year or so and because it was always cheaper. Admittedly, the resistive touchscreen somewhat dates the 5800 in today's world, but on the plus side, the 5800 was extremely robust. And a boombox for an awful lot of smartphone fans of the day.
1. Samsung i8910 HD
Something not made by Nokia, at last, and straight in at no. 1. The i8910 was almost a 'proof of concept' by Samsung back in 2009, with next gen OLED screen, the best camera Samsung could find... and the best speakers they could find too. With stereo speakers top and bottom, in landscape mode (e.g. watching videos), there was even a decent stereo separation effect, plus MASSES of volume.
Comments welcome if I've missed out your speaker favourite or you think I've mis-positioned one of the top 10 above!