Tech innovations have taken over reigns since the past decade. Apple’s iPads (2010), Apple Watch (2015), Airpods (2016) created entire new segment in computing and accessory market. Uber (2011) disrupted transportation and Slack (2012) disrupted messaging ecosystem. Emerging trends turned into norms with new attributes permeating the industry so regularly, 4G and USB-C being some of them.
However, full blown Smartphone innovations in the industry seem to have stagnated a bit over the past few years. Only a few incremental changes could separate smartphone models 1 or even 2-3 years apart. The common pattern, however, was of one brand, most notably Apple, adding an off-the-charts feature, and others following suit – the notorious smartphone notch, facial unlock, etc.
2019 gave us a glimpse of the tide changing in the upcoming new decade. AI and IoT set new benchmarks, new gadgets transformed lifestyle. In addition, folding screens are in, moving parts in smartphones are making a comeback with pop-up cameras.
Let us have a look at what 2020 has in store for us:
1. Folding Phones:
The future of smartphones will not be limited by its form factor. Folding phones address that by technically giving a bigger display than the phone’s actual footprint. It sure does sound cool, but practically, we are far from folding a tablet into the size of a phone and slipping it in our back pocket. Flexible displays can be folded only to a certain degree, and even lesser for the mechanism powering them. While I am a big believer in never discouraging innovation, foldable phones are even more far-fetched than 5G phones. They will bring in more problems than add practical use cases, which is not what one would prefer for an exorbitant price tag.
Microsoft’s surface duo phone surfaced in 2019 which is to be released in 2020. It folds, but the screen is not foldable. It sort of fits in your pocket. It has a camera. And it makes phone calls—but do not dare to call it a phone.
Microsoft is still a dominant player on the desktop, but the company famously failed at mobile. That may be stating the obvious, but it’s necessary context if you’re going to try to understand what this new dual-screened device is. (Even then, I make no promises that you’re going to understand it.)
The pocket-sized phablet or a smartphone has worked on the Android platform surprisingly. Microsoft has created a new version of Windows 10 specifically for dual-screen and folding phones like Microsoft Neo. A boon for business professionals, this can be used for note-taking, presentations, all-in-one (you can use it as a laptop by opening it like a book) and reading.
The Surface Neo and Surface Duo are not “foldable,” the parlance used for an emerging wave of devices with flexible polymer displays. Samsung has shipped one of these foldable, the Galaxy Fold, although its initial launch was deemed an embarrassment. Huawei is supposedly shipping one soon. Lenovo has even shown off a prototype for a 13-inch foldable PC.
Microsoft has absolutely been exploring this technology. But at some point, the value of a screen merely unfolding—a single app jumping up in size to fill a suddenly larger screen—didn’t intrigue the same way that two structured screens did.
The tablet-like Surface Neo is exactly that: two screens, together. Each individual screen measures 9 inches diagonally, and when it’s extended it has a 13.1-inch diagonal display. It folds all the way back, giving the hinge a 360-degree range of motion. It has a metal and polycarbonate frame, but both the front and back are covered in strengthened glass. A giant Surface logo is stamped on its cover.
It looks sleek, but like the dual-screened Duo phone, the Neo tablet isn’t done. They’ll both ship late next year, and Microsoft isn’t even beginning to suggest how much each device will cost.
Certain elements are pretty much set in stone (or glass): The Neo will support a stylus pen, like other Surfaces, and it will have a magnetic accessory keyboard attached to it. This trackpad-less Bluetooth keyboard can be magnetically attached to the outside cover of the Neo when you are using it as a tablet, and when you crease the gadget you can slap the keyboard onto one of its displays and use it as a standard laptop keyboard.
The Windows blog post explicitly says the Duo takes phone calls, though that doesn’t tell us whether it will pack SIM cards and be sold by carriers as smartphone-categorized devices, so we’ll have to wait and see how Microsoft further explains the Duo’s role – and whether Windows phones are making a triumphant return.
Microsoft has been tight-lipped about what the pocket-sized Surface Duo will cost. We expect it to a high-end premium smartphone, however.
2. 21:9 Display:
In the last 2 years, we have seen phone manufacturers finally break the 16:9 threshold and opt for taller displays on their phones. 18:9 (and 19:9 for the notched ones) was actually the standard for 2019. Now that most apps are better optimized to make use of the extra screen real estate, Sony is going all-in with a crazy 21:9 display for their upcoming flagship. And no, it’s not just a tall display but is said to pack in some of the BEST specifications ever seen on a smartphone.
The leaks suggest that the new device will sport a 6.5-inch QHD+ OLED display with a resolution of 3360 x 1440 with support for HDR10 media playback.
If these new renders are accurate, Sony looks set to shun the increasingly popular notched display design trend, popularised by the iPhone X last year. This sees manufacturers house the front-facing camera, speaker grill, and various other sensors in a curved cut-out at the top of the display to allow the panel to bleed to the very edge of every corner on the handset.
However, despite the omnipresence of the notch, it looks like Sony is sticking with its tried-and-tested bezels above and below the display. As such, next-generation Xperia looks likely to keep a very similar screen-to-body ratio as the Xperia XZ3.
The Xperia XZ4 will sport a 6.5-inch display with a 21:9 aspect ratio. Sony recently trademarked the brand name “CinemaWide” for use with its smartphones – believed to be further evidence of its plans to adopt a wider 21:9 aspect ratio display on its next-generation flagship. A 6.5-inch AMOLED panel would be a pretty sizeable increase from the 6.0-inch on the Xperia XZ3.
But it’s the back of the new Sony smartphone where things get seriously interesting. Sony looks set to include a triple-camera system – a first for its main Xperia XZ line.
According to a leaked photograph from an internal briefing document, the new rear-mounted camera will pack some serious grunt. First up, the Xperia XZ4 will seemingly have a 52-megapixel main lens, which would be much higher than most of its rivals. That lens is also said to have an f/1.6 aperture, which would enable it to let in a lot of light flood in – and make it a competent camera in tough low-light conditions.
Next up is a 16-megapixel telephoto lens, which would allow for optical zoom. This looks set to have an f/2.6 aperture. Huawei P20 Pro offers 3x optical zoom, and rival Oppo has confirmed that it’s developing a smartphone camera capable of 10x zoom.
Sony is calling this technology DepthSense!
The new footage shows DepthSense being used to add layers of augmented reality over everyday objects in the home. However, Sony also shows how DepthSense could be used to improve online shopping. For example, a store would be able to photograph an object – a red handbag is used in the video, which DepthSense would then accurately measure the dimensions of – and then a recipient could view that object as an AR overlay (on their coffee table, for example) in their own surroundings, holding up objects against it to see how they look together.
Unfortunately, there is no word on what the front-facing camera will look like, but it’s certainly not going to be a step backward from the 13-megapixel wide-angle lens included on the Sony Xperia XZ3.
Disappointingly, there’s no sign of a 3.5mm headphone port. Sony is not doing anything extraordinary by moving away from the 3.5mm audio port in favor of USB-C and Bluetooth connections, but keeping the 3.5mm intact could’ve been a nice differentiator for the firm.
It is worth noting that this will purportedly be a flat screen, not curved.
3. The Camera:
The recent wave of multi-camera devices has proven that phone cameras can be more versatile, without adding any bulk. The optics and sensors are small enough as is, which allows engineers to cram multiple cameras with different focal lengths, while the software is getting better at using them all in tandem and further improving results digitally. So, it comes as no surprise that the LG G9 ThinQ will have four cameras on its back.
LG has become an underdog over the past few years, but that hasn’t stopped them from trying out something crazy. This is a big change from the LG G8, as that phone only had two rear lenses and they were all flush with the body. It’s possible LG needed to make the camera module thicker to accommodate the extra lenses.
LG recently sort of unveiled the next version of its UX Android skin (yep, it’s called UX) and it seemed to address many of the issues that we’ve had with previous iterations. In a now-deleted teaser trailer for the update, the company showed off what looked like a total redesign of the interface, packing a lot of new features, such as system-wide night mode.
4. 5-Camera Array:
Nokia is planning to finally launch the Nokia 9.2 Pureview, the spiritual successor to the legendary Nokia 9 PureView. The 9.2 Pureview will be the world’s first phone to sport a 5-camera array on the back. A little early to comment if that’s practical, but it’s surely exciting. If the leaked design and specs are to be believed, then this phone will pose no risk to the latest flagships with its 2018 spec sheet and 2017 design. This phone will most likely have Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 865 SoC, which means it will be a 5G smartphone since this SoC is being bundled with the X55 5G modem only. Nokia is a company that I genuinely want to see succeed, and this is their golden opportunity.
The phone won’t come with Light camera technology, citing post-launch support of the Nokia 9 PureView as one possible hurdle.
The Nokia 9 PureView used five 12MP cameras (three monochrome sensors and two RGB sensors) powered by multi-lens camera company Light. This enabled better HDR and low-light snaps, and more granular depth effects. Several people praised the phone’s HDR snaps and color reproduction in his Nokia 9 camera review but lamented the lack of detail and slow camera performance.
Hopefully, this means the Nokia 9.2 has a more conventional normal/wide/telephoto camera layout. In fact, the outlet says it will have a “great camera” with a big sensor.
As for other details, the Nokia 9.2 PureView might have a bezel-less display with a 32MP or 48MP selfie camera, wireless charging, and no 3.5mm port.
None of these details are officially confirmed though, so you might not want to hold your breath just yet. But it definitely seems like the Nokia 9.2 PureView could be a return to form for the company if true.
5. Energizer unveiling 26 phones:
Energizer was originally a battery company that has only recently started making smartphones. Last year, they showed off a phone with a giant 18,000 mAh battery (yes, those are 3 zeroes). While it was a brick, I think it will be useful for some people who are off the grid for whatever reason. But this year, they are launching 26 phones at once (that’s more than the number of iPhones and OnePlus phones ever made). Why? Because why not! They have phones ranging from giant batteries to pop-up cameras and everything in between. One feature of note is a dual-lens, pop-up front-facing camera on the U620S Pop and U630S Pop models, which means no need for a notch on the display, and probably some fancy wide-angle trickery for those all-important selfie shots. You’ll also see how when the camera is raised on the U620S Pop and U630S Pop models, the phones look like the shape of a battery – clever, huh?
Energizer Mobile will also launch a trio of notch-toting smartphones later this month viz. the Energizer Ultimate U650S, Energizer Ultimate U620S, and the Energizer Ultimate U570S, with all three featuring a teardrop notch with a V-shaped and U-shaped design. The Energizer Ultimate U620S features triple rear cameras, is powered by the MediaTek MT6765 SoC and will be available in two gradient color options. The Energizer Ultimate U650S and the Energizer Ultimate U570S both feature dual rear cameras with a 16-megapixel primary sensor and a 2-megapixel depth sensor.
Apparently the specs of these phones are still subject to change, but MediaTek Helio chipsets, 720p screens, 4GB-6GB of RAM and 64GB-128GB of on-board storage are said to be on the way. The rear-facing camera setups are a mix of dual-lens and triple-lens cameras, with battery sizes topping out at 4,000mAh.
There will also be a couple of “Ultimate” models without the “Pop” moniker, meaning they have a waterdrop notch for the selfie camera instead of the pop-up system. The most interesting of these is the 6.5-inch Energizer Ultimate U650S, with a 16/2-megapixel dual rear camera, a 16-megapixel selfie camera, 4GB of RAM, 128GB of storage and a 3,500mAh battery.
Energizer – which has briefly dabbled in smartphones before – has also said it’s readying a foldable phone and a phone with a gigantic 18,000mAh battery for MWC 2019, so consider our appetite for our Barcelona trip well and truly whetted.
The full range, prices, and availability are yet to be announced, but we’d venture that these will need to come in at bargain basement prices if they’re to stand any chance of shouting amongst the din of this year’s offerings
I expect after-sales service to be non-existent across the board with that wide a product portfolio. I legit feel that this was the only way they could have gathered attention in the sea of other Chinese smartphones.
Over to you
With all these new smartphone trends to look forward to, let us just wait and watch which ones are worth spending on! Which one are you going to buy?
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