There’s no shortage of gimmicks when it comes to smartphones. Manufacturers are known to make interesting attempts to standout from the crowd, and occasionally they do get a hit. One such case was with the HTC One M7. It was the first major Android smartphone player with dual front-facing speakers. This was in an age where the inefficient rear mono speaker prevalent.
M7 users, which included myself, immediately realized how much better the smartphone multimedia experience was with full, stereo audio. I personally had a real hard time going back to anything less.
Fast forward to today and we don’t have the wide-spread adoption that one may have expected the feature to spark. A handful of manufacturers have come to swear by it, while most others continue to put precedence on smartphone design instead.
For the many of us who refuse to let go of this important feature, here’s today’s options for smartphones with the best external audio.
Google Pixel 2 and 2 XL
Google is on-board with the notion of exceptional external audio on a smartphone. We’ve seen the software giant make a push for the feature back when the Nexus program was a thing, with the Motorola Nexus 6 and Huawei Nexus 6P. Google kinda took a break with the first Pixel phone, still opting for dual speakers but with one front-facing atop and the other bottom firing.
With the Pixel 2 duo a couple months ago, we gladly saw the return of the two front-facing speakers. And they sound great – plainly loud and a well balanced sound.
We got a pleasant surprise late last year when out of nowhere Razer threw down its first smartphone. The company is known for top-notch gaming hardware, and the Razer phone brings nothing less. In fact, it’s a beast by today’s standards, and even one-ups the top-end competition in a couple ways.
One of those features is the two large, front-firing speakers. Their audio is far from run-of-the-mill, as not only does each speaker has its own dedicated amplifier but the system sports Dolby ATMOS tech for a more expansive sound. This is the most powerful speaker setup we’ve seen on a smartphone.
Sony Xperia XZ1
Another manufacturer that has cemented its stance on superior smartphone audio is Sony. It hasn’t strayed from front stereo speakers since the early Xperia Z days. This was even despite being one of the first manufacturers to waterproof their smartphones.
Fast-forward to today and we have the Xperia XZ1, which despite the nomenclature change, is actually minimally different in design. This isn’t so good for progressions like improved screen-to-body ratio, but commendable through the maintenance of valued features like a dedicated camera button, long battery life, and of course, dual front speakers – which can’t be said for many of the competition.
As we discussed at the start, HTC’s debut of the dual, front-facing speakers (aka BoomSound) was memorable. Even as others followed suit, like Sony and Motorola, no one could match BoomSound’s quality and loudness (the competition sounded tinny in comparison). HTC held the external audio crown through the M9. Unfortunately for the HTC 10, the company took a slight step back by moving the lower speaker to a bottom-firing position.
Today, the latest U11 flagship continues that earpiece tweeter and bottom low-end combo. It still sounds great, and gets darn loud, but the dual front-facing positioning is still the better method. We can only hope HTC will revert back to its roots, but this is still miles ahead of those plain mono speakers from Samsung and LG.
ZTE Axon 7
Due to its age, the ZTE Axon 7 is more-so the most budget-friendly item on our list. It’s not usual to consider an Android phone that’s over a year old, but in this discussion, a buyer may put priority on things like sound and price. Especially since from an audio perspective, the Axon 7 can still be considered a beast, not only having great sounding front stereo speakers but also a dedicated 32-bit headphone DAC by AKM (well-known audio chip maker).
You can find the Axon 7 these days unlocked for around $400, which is significantly less than the other phones on this list (but keeps up with them from an audio perspective). It has a still capable Snapdragon 820 chipset and 4GB of RAM.
What do you think about today’s options of smartphones with notable external audio. Are there too little or is this feature not important to you? We’d like to hear your thoughts in the comments section below!