Any smartphone from the last couple of years will have a good speaker. And if you spent some more money, it probably has a pair of really good speakers — with tuning and optimization that makes it sound great. I regularly use my phone's speakers to listen to podcasts and music around the house when I don't want to bother with a Bluetooth speaker. But that's where my usage ends: those speakers are for media, not for ringtones and notification sounds.
Please do us all a favor and put your phone on vibrate, because nobody needs to hear your phone. If you're in public, the people around you really don't want to know that you just got a Facebook message or an email, or your Ring camera saw motion at your front door. Much like not every app on your phone deserves the highest priority when it comes to notifications of any sort, very few deserve to actually intrude on you — and everyone around you — audibly. We're thankfully well past the era of Samsung's whistles and bloops, with ringtones and notification sounds that are much easier on the ears of everyone. But it's still no replacement for being courteous and silencing your phone.
The situations in which you're within earshot of your phone and also in a scenario when you can't tell that the phone is vibrating are few and far between. The phone's probably in your pocket or on a table, and if it isn't (like in a bag) then you probably aren't thinking whatever notifications that are coming in are that important in the first place. And if they really are, then you can deal with that in software in a way that doesn't have your phone making noise every 2 minutes.
Many phones let you un-link the phone call and notification sound volumes, so you can have a proper ringtone for phone calls (which may still be important to you) while leaving every other sort of notification on silent. You can adjust the vibration intensity for notifications. You can set Do Not Disturb rules with exceptions for certain callers and apps. And if you really want to get deep into it, on Android 9 and later you can adjust every single type of notification from each app to be silent or make noise. At the very least, you can un-link your media and notification volumes so that when you adjust sound for media it doesn't turn everything else up.
Or, you can skip all of that configuration and just put your phone on vibrate and leave it there. Your contribution to a calmer society will be appreciated.
The great thing is that while smartphone speakers have improved over the years, so have vibration motors. They're no longer rattly and annoying to the point where you'd turn vibration off — they're solid and vibrate with conviction. With the combination of vastly improved vibration motors, all of these software features that customize alerts, and the increasing popularity of wearables that bring notifications to our wrist, there are fewer and fewer reasons to ever have your phone's volume up.
My disdain for hearing people's phones alerting them for no reason is the basis for my appreciation of Apple's continued use of a physical mute switch; even as it has dropped components like a physical home button. OnePlus has stuck with its Alert Slider for years as well, but there are sadly very few phones hanging on to this hardware feature. Google has a decent alternative with the option to quickly press power and volume down at the same time to throw the phone in vibrate mode, and you'll find some sort of "flip to mute" option on most phones.
I feel things are trending in the right direction. A lot of people I know keep their phone in vibrate (or heck, even fully silent) 100% of the time, even at home. My phone has been on vibrate for months. Let's hope the trend continues; and maybe when the situation arises, you can nudge someone to mute their phone too. This is to say nothing of the people who have conversations on speakerphone in public ... I fear there's no saving them.
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Andrew was an Executive Editor, U.S. at Android Central between 2012 and 2020.