2019 was a great year for smartphones; we saw the advent of foldable phones, sharper screens, and camera improvements. We also saw a variety of creative alternatives to having an unsightly notch at the front of the phone, in the form of cut-outs, pop-ups, and twisting mechanisms (we’ll explain them all below). This was arguably the biggest smartphone industry trend and what 2019 will be remembered for in the world of phones.
As it stands, the groundwork has been laid for making 2020 the biggest year in smartphones in recent memory. A number of features that were rather exclusive in 2019 are going to become commonplace across many of the smartphones you’re likely to purchase. Here’s our guide to the latest trends in smartphones for 2020.
While being able to fold your mobile phone is nothing new – folding phone dominated the late 1990s and early 2000s – being able to fold your smartphone screen is revolutionary. Over the last 10 years, smartphone industry trends have led to bigger and bigger screens – the first iPhone had a 3.5-inch screen with 320 x 480 pixel resolution. The latest in the Apple family, the iPhone 11 Pro Max, has a 6.5-inch display with a resolution of 2688 x 1242 pixels. This is nearing a full-size tablet in your pocket, but since pocket sizes don’t seem to be adjusting with this trend in smartphone design, it was only a matter of time before foldable phones came back on the scene.
Foldable phones haven’t had the easiest of launches, with the Samsung Galaxy Fold having to be recalled, delayed, and fixed to address build-quality bugs, and the Royole FlexPai being a disappointing first attempt altogether (dubbed “awful” by some reviewers). Now that these first editions have been made, tested, and used by the general public, the next iterations are sure to be greatly improved.
We expect 2020 to be the year that foldable phones really take off with more established manufacturers getting on board. For instance, the Motorola Razr – an update on their original flip phone Razr from the early 2000s – is said to be hitting stores soon too. 2020 could be the year of the foldable smartphone.
Creative notch replacements
Notches (those little cut-outs in the top of many phones’ displays, such as the iPhone 11 or OnePlus 7T) have been a staple of most smartphones for a number of years now. We want bigger screens on our devices and therefore need to shrink the bezels (the borders of the screen), but we still need to make room for features like a speaker and a camera on the front of our phones. Notches are a compromise between the two, allowing us to have a front-facing camera and speaker while only eating into our screen real estate by a small amount.
However, they aren’t the most aesthetically pleasing feature, and a number of manufacturers have been experimenting with alternatives. For example, Samsung’s Galaxy S10 opted for a “hole-punch” design, where the selfie camera sits in a tiny hole at the top of the screen and the speaker is squeezed at the top.
The OnePlus 7 Pro achieved a bezel-less display by having their selfie camera pop up out of the top of the phone when needed. This elegant solution allows you to have a completely uninterrupted display. Perhaps the most intriguing comes from the Asus Zenfone 6, which doesn’t have a front-facing camera at all. Instead, the rear camera flips up and faces forward when you want to take a selfie.
Selfies continue to be an increasingly large part of our culture, with over 93 million selfies taken each year by Android users alone. As such, we expect the number of these selfie camera alternatives to grow throughout 2020 and we’re excited to see what manufacturers come up with.
5G steps forward
You might be thinking, is 5G actually going to make a difference? For many of us, it may feel like we still haven’t really got 4G data, despite the UK being virtually 100% covered. Webpages can take a while to load and maps services still seem to drop out when we need them most. 5G is the more powerful bigger brother to 4G, offering download speeds of up to 100 times faster. It’s still in its rudimentary stages, but 2020 could be the year that 5G takes off – in North America at least.
T-Mobile has invested $30 billion in nationwide network improvements to bring 5G data to 99% of the US. They’re planning to roll out the network during 2020 and are claiming that their users will notice a greatly improved mobile data experience, both in terms of speed and reliability.
Aside from T-Mobile’s huge initiative, 5G is still a fair way off for most of the rest of the world. That being said, expect 2020 to be the year that more 5G-capable phones are produced.
(Even) more cameras
2019 saw an explosion in the number of cameras on our smartphones. The iPhone 11 Pro has three cameras on the back, and the Samsung Galaxy s10 Plus has five cameras in total (including rear and front-facing)! While having multiple cameras on a phone may seem excessive, they all have particular functions and all contribute to a better photography experience. For example, we can take regular photos with one lens, take wide landscape photos with the ultra-wide lens, and take highly-detailed portrait photos with the telephoto lens. With services like Instagram and Snapchat growing from strength to strength, our love for bigger and better cameras is only increasing. We want our phones to be a professional camera in our pockets, and the big manufacturers certainly haven’t disappointed.
However, a common complaint about multiple cameras on a phone is how unattractive they are, but this may not be a problem in the near future. As we mentioned in our CES 2020 update, OnePlus showcased a prototype type of glass for the backs of phones. This glass changes its level of transparency, allowing you to fully hide the cameras on the phone until you actually use the camera, in which case the glass becomes transparent, revealing the cameras.
We fully expect this smartphone trend to continue in 2020, and we think we’ll see many more phones to have 3 (or more) cameras on their backs as our love for photography increases. With the aforementioned glass technology, we can have as many cameras as we like while hiding them and keeping our phones looking slick.
High refresh rate displays
This feature is a little nerdier than the others and is unlikely to make headlines to anyone who isn’t a tech-head – but it’s an attribute that will improve everyone’s smartphone user experience. Currently, most smartphone displays have a 60 Hz refresh rate, which means that the displays updates (or refreshes) 60 times per second. This has been the standard for many years, but in 2019, OnePlus became the first smartphone manufacturer to include a 90 Hz display in their OnePlus 7 Pro. The result is a far smoother experience – animations and scrolling all feel far smoother because the screen is more responsive and refreshing itself 90 times per second instead of 60. It’s hard to explain without seeing it, but a 90 Hz display makes other 60 Hz displays feel laggy and slow.
In 2020, we expect 90 Hz (or even 120 Hz) displays to become mainstream, with all the big players adopting them. We’re hoping that 2020 is the year that the likes of Apple, Samsung, Google, and others upgrade their screens to have a higher refresh rate. It’s a small feature, but one that affects our overall experience with our smartphones.
While we can’t say for sure what the future holds, we know that our smartphone and tablet stands will stand the test of time. They work with any device – whether Apple, Android, or something else – and allow you to enjoy your favourite games and movies in comfort. Our Pillow Stand, for example, attaches to any pillow or cushion, transforming it into a secure, elegant viewing station for your tablet or phone. For more stylish tech accessories, be sure to check out the rest of our products.