The schoolyard bully who makes his mediocre rap music for the entire school to hear – at least here in Germany – remains a well-known cliché that is very well illustrated by smartphone speakers. In my private life, however, I admit that I enjoy using my smartphone speakers, especially when scrubbing myself off after a particularly difficult day at the office. Not only do they work as intended, but some of them provide a pretty compelling user experience too!
But is there no more for smartphone speakers? Should we ignore it when a manufacturer like Asus equips the ROG Phone 5 with very good speakers? Antoine would nod violently at this sentence because he believes smartphone speakers should only be used in extreme circumstances, such as an emergency.
Can you smell it in the air too? Smoking keyboards while sweaty fingers dance over the keys and type opinions faster than the speed of thought. Creaky internet cables that transmit entire kilobytes of text data across continents. That’s right, we’re calling for the next Slack fight, so we invite you to take part! At the end of each round there is a short poll where you can exercise your rights and tell us who is right.
Round 1: Smartphone speakers are too practical to be ignored
Ben: Hey Antoine, did you watch the ROG Phone 5 win the silver medal for audio quality on Dx0Mark? Have you tested the speakers yet?
Antoine: (Mind you without a greeting) How I give af ** k!
Seriously, I understand that better speakers can be a selling point to some extent and in the eyes of some users, but in my opinion it doesn’t matter with smartphones.
When it comes to listening to music on the go or at home, most of the users have primarily headphones and / or true wireless headsets. I live in an apartment with other tenants, so I almost never remove my headphones from the computer when I’m watching a movie in my room or on my smartphone. Not even when I’m playing cell phone games late into the night, rocking to my favorite songs, or just listening to a podcast while cooking.
And I did the same thing when I lived alone in Paris! I didn’t want to disturb my neighbors so I had my headphones or earphones on most of the time. Is it really worth it for a manufacturer to invest a bit of money in a smartphone speaker? I do not believe that. The final cost is still passed on to consumers in the end, with a bit of profit going into the mix as well.
Ben: Jesus Christ, that’s such a narrow view! : DI also live alone and I also take care of my neighbors. But there are moments when I take a shower or come home after work and just want nothing other than to let myself fall on my bed. At this point, it’s a lot easier to listen to videos or music on my smartphone without the hassle of plugging in headphones (a huge benefit when showering) or connecting them to bluetooth speakers that may need charging. It should be noted that the audio quality is a bit decent on newer smartphones. In fact, I think they are doing reasonable enough for me to understand what is being said and I really think that because of such popular use cases, there is a pent-up demand for high quality smartphone speakers.
Antoine: Okay, I agree that there are some cases, even many, where you would use smartphone speakers. And I’m not saying we should get rid of the speakers entirely. We generally don’t talk about smartphone speakers, do we? We are talking about high quality speakers with stereo sound and Dolby HD support. Do you really need such a high quality speaker when listening to music while in the shower?
To me, listening to music through a smartphone speaker is just as idiotic as watching a 4K movie on a 6-inch smartphone display. It’s cool that you can do this, but I really don’t think you need the optimal hardware to enjoy something that already doesn’t really work very well physically in practice.
Ben: Phew! I really thought you were going to disassemble the new smartphone and unplug the speaker from the motherboard, Antoine!
But back to the topic: when I listen to videos in bed, I often wish for better audio quality. And I get really mad when I review a smartphone that costs less than $ 200 and only has one mono speaker that you cover up when you hold it horizontally. It’s just disappointing.
But it is even more so when you buy (or review) an expensive smartphone and the sound quality of the built-in speaker completely sucks. It just ruins the whole premium feel. And they are good speakers that always offer advantages. Finally, smartphones make noises or sounds to warn you unless you are in permanent mute mode.
Perhaps a randomly selected group of objective observers could draw a reasonable conclusion, especially if there was something else I would like to address.
Antoine: Wait, not so fast, you little one! I would prefer manufacturers to bring back the 3.5mm audio connectors with a Quad DAC that lets you plug in high quality headphones recommended by audiophiles and listen to FLAC audio rather than investing a lot of money in speakers no one will quit enjoy it anyway.
If quality is important, why is anyone even interested in smartphone speakers?
Ben: I guess you need to think a bit more like a “normal user” buddy. Someone who calls themselves an audiophile would never use smartphone speakers. I totally understand that.
But any 20-year-old who just wants to listen to their favorite music would love improvements to their smartphone speakers. Because that’s what makes smartphones so great: a multitude of functions performed in a single portable device!
Antoine: But that’s exactly my point!
The argument for better smartphone speakers is only something that audiophiles care about!
The average user doesn’t want better speakers, they just want them to be louder and nothing more. But audio quality isn’t a huge issue at all for most users, at least in my opinion. It is really a completely “niche” problem.
Round 2: Bluetooth speakers and smartphones need to be merged!
Ben: Although they have never really been successful, I really liked the basic concept of Motorola’s Moto Mods. Practical additions to your smartphone that basically involve connecting a bluetooth speaker to your smartphone.
If smartphones had audio quality similar to bluetooth speakers, possibly via a case add-on or accessory, would you theoretically use them more often? Maybe when you meet friends in the park and just need background music?
Antoine: It really depends on the situation. I’m talking about high-end audio here! We’ll likely have to wait a while before the tiny real estate area in the smartphone also allows us to incorporate components that are good enough to deliver decent performance and good speakers.
When it comes to sound, size matters! I don’t see anyone wanting to walk around with a clunky BoomBox inspired smartphone just to have drivers big enough for better sound quality, lol!
But yes, if smartphone speaker audio quality can eliminate another product from our consumer electronics ecosystem, then I’m all for it!
Ben: Who knows what the future will bring? For example, Noveto’s sound beam technology could one day be small enough to fit in smartphones. Then you have a similar headphone quality audio quality through smartphone speakers that requires big drivers and other sacrifices.
This could be one of the most important future improvements to smartphones, especially when you factor in the streaming and podcast trends.
Round 3: Better hardware integration as a compromise?
Ben: A good compromise could be the bundle deals that companies like Samsung or Oppo offer when new smartphones are introduced.
I tested the Galaxy Buds Pro alongside the Galaxy S21 +, and the two products within the same ecosystem made connecting extremely easy. I was able to charge them from my smartphone and they had far better connectivity compared to other models. Samsung even offered multi-pairing between devices. I also noticed that I used them more often instead of listening through the smartphone speakers as the overall integration was done better.
This could be a future approach to integrating headphones into smartphones or being somehow connected to them. Xiaomi once applied for a patent on this – they’re basically in-ear headphones that end up in the phone in a similar way to how Samsung integrated the S Pen into its Note line of phablets. Not a good point for smartphone speakers, but it could be a compromise to enjoy better audio quality with little effort.
Antoine: To be honest, I think you’re stumbling right now!
Dedicated headphones for a dedicated device can improve the user experience in terms of seamless connectivity and reliability, yes!
But how would that improve the sound? The real wireless earbuds themselves should have been better, and right now that’s not really an issue we’re facing. After all, you can already find great sounding earbuds.
Integration with a particular brand of device only affects operation (pairing, etc.), not sound.
However, my point is that it all depends on how you see a smartphone. Do I see it as the primary device for consuming media or as the command center of an already existing ecosystem that will contain more powerful devices?
Do I need better speakers on my smartphone if I use my headphones / headphones most of the time? No!
Do I need better speakers when I watch movies on my smartphone instead of my smart TV at night? Yes, possibly. But will that really improve the overall experience when it’s so limited on its own?
For example, do I really need a 144 Hz display to play a mobile game at 30 FPS? Immersion and user experience are already severely limited due to the small viewing area. Will a hardware upgrade improve this significantly? I do not believe that! It’s just about falling returns.
And so we pulled our opponents apart before they exchanged further fatal blows. That doesn’t apply to you in the comments, of course, and when Antoine and Ben have recovered they are sure to defend their respective points of view in the comments section!
We look forward to your discussion and hope you enjoyed this edition of Slack Fight too!