Smartphone Design: Innovation or Stagnation Part 2

Smartphone Design: Innovation or Stagnation Part 2

Yesterday, I compared the design development of three manufacturers (Samsung, HTC, and Sony) in respect of their current flagship device to their previous one. It had nothing to do with software or hardware behind the devices, but only to the design changes between the two models. Today, we look at Google, Apple, and Huawei.

nexus iphone ascend
Google, Apple, and Huawei. Who dares to change the most? / © Google/Apple/Huawei/AndroidPIT

Samsung Galaxy Nexus – LG Nexus 4

But now that I’ve been playing around with the device all day, I can assure you that the sparkle effect is very subtle and can only be seen in direct light. I really like it, and it is certainly a more interesting design than a continuously black backing.T he other details do not disappoint. The edges of the device are slightly rubberized, keeping the Nexus 4 firmly centered in the palm of your hand. The buttons on the sides have a silver finish which lend the device an elegance, even if everything is made out of plastic.

Nico Hesiter in his Nexus 4 review

Samsung Galaxy Nexus small
The Samsung Galaxy Nexus. / © Google / AndroidPIT

The previous Nexus flagship was built by Samsung and was a little bit different from what we were expected to seeing in devices when it was released. In particular, the slight curvature of the display, the rubberized texture of the battery cover, and a both a curve on the bottom pushing out and a one at top pushing it made the Galaxy Nexus a device that stood out. At the time, it was very nicely designed smartphone and from the looks of it, the Moto X is taking some notes out of their playbook.

lg nexus 4 small
The Google Nexus 4 from LG./ © Google / AndroidPIT

It’s important to note that between the two models there are also two different manufacturers. However, because Google had the final say in the design of the device, I think it’s fair to compare them from a design perspective. Not much has changed to the front of the Nexus 4, however, the changes show mostly on the back and sides of the device. Gone is the rubberized back and replaced with an almost glossy “sparkle” backing, but that’s about this biggest change. The new Nexus 4 has gone a more traditionally route from its predecessor and there really is nothing that jumps out as unique, while still retaining a sleek and professional look.

iPhone 4 – iPhone 5

The design is unmistakably based on the predecessor. The casing is again made ​​of aluminum and glass, but the frame shimmers now in the same dark [color] sound like the back. It is thus not as strongly distinguished from the rest of the housing so that the iPhone 5 looks like cast from a single mold.

Andreas Seeger in his iPhone 5 review

iPhone 4
Apple iPhone 4 / © Apple/AndroidPIT

While we don’t have a review for the iPhone 4 handy, I’m not too sure it would really be required to compare the two models. Similarly to our contrast of the Samsung Galaxy S3 and S4 in yesterday’s article, it is a well known fact that Apple likes to stick to the tried and true method of design: if it is working, why should we change it? This should not be misunderstood as making it seem like Apple doesn’t care about the design as they had initially broken the ground with their release of the iPhone, but over the past few years it has seemed like they are getting lazier and less innovative when it comes to their products. The changes from the iPhone 4 to the iPhone 5 are minimal, with the iPhone 5 being a slightly taller device (a 4-inch display versus a previous 3.5-inch display) and incorporating a small change in color and material.

iPhone 5
...and the iPhone 5. © Apple/AndroidPIT

Huawei Ascend P1/G615 – Ascend P6

The Ascend P6 was coined the name of iPhone killer right of the get-go and it looks now that Huawei actually did produce something that is remarkably close to Apple's premium design. The sides and back of the device are made of an anodized aluminum like the iPhone 5 which doesn't only look elegant, it feels great too according to Andreas. Not only that, the Ascend P6 is a design gold-mine: the Chinese company has set itself apart with a rounded bottom part: a very subtle yet interesting design choice. Up until this point in time, no one has ever managed to make a smartphone as thin as the Ascend P6. Here's a record for the thinnest smartphone the world has ever seen.

Loie Favre in her Huawei Ascend P6 review

ascend g615
The Ascend G615 (P1) / © Huawei/AndroidPIT

For Huawei, it’s really hard to figure out what the clear predecessor for the Ascend P6 is. The Chinese company has thrown out so many models of different devices between their release of the Ascend P6, never really indicating what their flagship model would be. In this case, I have chosen to use the Ascend P1 in the comparison, as it is the closest device in the Huawei line-up that resembles the P6.

ascend p6
The Ascend P6./ © Huawei/AndroidPIT

As you can see though, the design of the P6 was probably one of the biggest driving forces for Huawei. While their attempting to market their device as an “iPhone killer”, they’ve certainly taken some ideas from Apple in their design process, creating a more sleek and professional looking device from the Ascend P6. Everything is flush and in line with the case of the device and they have reduced the thickness to an almost ridiculous level.


Like the last time, it’s important to note that this is not a matter of taste but just an objective overview of the change in design from device to device. It should come as no surprise that Apple is much like Samsung in terms of the design aspect, sticking with what is working and making small subtle changes.  As for Google, they have made some changes but also swap between manufacturers for each iteration of the Nexus device. They moved towards a more professional looking device with LG…but what will the next step bring for the Nexus 5? Huawei seems to be the one making the most stride in terms of their design, but is it in the right direction? They’re definitely trying to break into different markets and are doing so by piggy backing on top of a tried and true design that has been honed by Apple. Will this turn around and end up biting them or should they continue down this route until they are an established player in the smartphone market?

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  • Just came across this comment @CJ after the Nexus 5 has appeared and you were right - the Nexus 5 by LG is a bit more square again and also thinner. Well prophesized!

  • a larger screen, better audio, improved processors - I suppose those are thee main design improvements (changes) .... If LG remains working with Google on a Nexus 5, will this version be more square in design (like their Optimus line of Android Smart Phones?) and thinner?