The iPhone 13 Pro Max is already our best phone for a number of reasons: its cameras, its mighty CPU, its long-lasting battery. But I've come to appreciate another feature that helps the iPhone stand out that doesn't get mentioned enough. And that's the stereo speakers.
If I'm by myself, I'll often put away my AirPods Pro and listen to YouTube videos or Netflix through the iPhone's speakers. Also, as part of my phone testing, I'll usually listen to a phone's speakers while watching video or playing games to try and judge the display. And time and time again, the speaker systems of the best Android phones just can't match up to what the iPhone offers.
Whether you're talking about the most luxurious flagship phones like the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra or the Harmon/Kardon-tuned Xiaomi 12 Pro, nothing compares to the iPhone from what I've tried. The closest device I've found is the Black Shark 4 Pro gaming phone, but even that doesn't quite match up, as we'll get into.
Basically every Android phone, no matter how pricey it is, offers tinny sound, with too little bass and too much treble and percussion. Even though these are sophisticated modern devices, you wouldn't tell that from listening to them.
The iPhone, on the other hand, while hardly as powerful as the best Bluetooth speakers or even the best wireless earbuds, offers something just as important: a balance between the different elements that makes tracks sound how they ought to. The Black Shark phone does better than most Android phones by providing a decent amount of bass, but the top end is still not as well controlled as it is on the iPhone.
Smartphones aren't meant to be dedicated speakers, of course. They have a lot of other jobs to perform, and speakers are technically part of the phone function of smartphones that has become less important over the years. But this makes Apple's achievements all the more notable.
I'm looking forward to the iPhone 14 and iPhone 14 Pro later this year for things like the rumored new chips, new camera sensors and the new display cutouts for Face ID and the selfie camera. While I won't be looking out for what Apple says about the phones' speakers (and I doubt it mention it for more than a sentence, if that), I'll be interested when I eventually get my hands on one of the new iPhones to hear how the speakers have changed.
And I'll also be interested in testing more Android phones over the coming months too, to find out if Apple's lead is really unassailable.
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Richard is based in London, covering news, reviews and how-tos for phones, tablets, gaming, and whatever else people need advice on. Following on from his MA in Magazine Journalism at the University of Sheffield, he's also written for WIRED U.K., The Register and Creative Bloq. When not at work, he's likely thinking about how to brew the perfect cup of specialty coffee.