2017 was a fantastic year for phones. We got skinnier screen bezels than ever, cameras that took better pictures than dedicated compacts, and better-than-all-day battery life.
But we want more. And if the early rumours are any indication, that’s exactly what we’re going to get.
All eyes will of course be on Samsung at the beginning of this year, when the inevitable Galaxy S9 arrives, and Apple is sure to impress in September with a handful of new iPhones, but it’s not just a two horse race. Google and newly-acquired HTC will release their first official collaboration, Huawei is working on something special in the camera department, and Sony might finally be ready to mix things up in the design department.
Here’s what you can expect from all the major players, as well as when they might go on sale.
SAMSUNG: GALAXY S9, NOTE 9
Easily our favourite phone of 2017, the Galaxy S8 had it all: a stunning design, front-filling AMOLED screen and a superb camera, all wrapped up in a metal and glass chassis you couldn’t help but swoon over whenever you pulled it out of a pocket. Familiar features like waterproofing, wireless charging and expandable storage stuck around, as did the headphone jack – a refreshing change from the rest of the smartphone world.
That means the Galaxy S9 has a lot to live up to, and based on what we’ve heard so far, it may not mix up the formula all that much.
Expect a very similar design, with Samsung staples like the curved edge Infinity Display making a comeback. If the bezels don’t get any skinnier, screen size is probably going to stay the same too. Performance will be top notch, of course, with either a Snapdragon 845 CPU or one of Samsung’s own Exynos chips providing the power. The biggest difference will be the camera, which is rumoured to switch to a dual-lens setup like the Galaxy Note 8.
We’re betting on a March release for this one, with Samsung confirming a debut at the Mobile World Congress trade show in February.
The Galaxy Note 9 will almost certainly follow later in the year, potentially in late August or early September. This one is more of a mystery, but you can be sure Samsung will find a few new tricks for the S Pen stylus.
APPLE: IPHONE 9, IPHONE X 2?
The iPhone X is Apple’s most beautiful handset to date, and a nicely daring twist after a few years of diminishing returns on the same design – but it’s also incredibly expensive, putting it out of reach of a lot of prospective iPhone buyers.
What will happen in 2018? If one analyst is to be believed, Apple may extend the full-face screen approach – complete with that divisive notch – to the entire line. Ming Chi-Kuo of KGI Securities believes that Apple will launch an updated 5.8in OLED model, an “iPhone X 2” or whatever you want to call it, along with two other models.
One would be a larger model with a towering 6.5in OLED display, and the other would fall right in the middle of the two, purportedly carrying a 6.1in display. The difference is that it would be a lower-resolution LCD screen, with that version acting as the entry-level, slightly cheaper model under the iPhone X 2. That might be the new iPhone 9, essentially.
Confusing? Yeah, just a bit – but it does seem likely that the notch-centric, Face ID-packing design is the way of the future for Apple, and it’ll only be a matter of time before all of its phones scrap the old 16:9/Touch ID approach. Whether that will all happen this year remains to be seen, but we certainly expect some big developments from Apple this year. September is usually when we see these things, although the iPhone X didn’t actually release until November last year.
SONY: A NEW-LOOK XPERIA?
This has been a long time coming, but 2018 might finally see Sony shake things up and launch a radically redesigned Xperia flagship phone. The Xperia line has kept roughly the same look since the Xperia Z arrived in 2013, which is eons in smarpthone land. While everyone else has moved onto curvier creations made from glass, Sony has largely stuck with sharp angles and polycarbonate materials.
The latest rumours point to that changing next year, with specs for a possible Xperia XZ2 Premium spotted online. A 5.7in, 4K HDR display gets top billing, in a phone with smaller dimensions than the 5.5in XZ Premium – meaning the bezels must be getting some serious shrinkage. Other specs are still TBC, but a high-end Snapdragon CPU seems like a safe bet.
Sony tends to show off its mainstream phones at Mobile World Congress in February/March, but a top-spec Premium handset could be revealed at CES in January – we’ll have to wait a few weeks to find out if Las Vegas is indeed where Sony will make an announcement.
LG: G7, V40?
LG came so close in 2017, first with the G6 and later with the V30. The G6 managed to beat Samsung’s Galaxy S8 to the punch in March with an 18:9 aspect ratio screen, but without curvy screen edges it just didn’t have the wow factor. Its dual-lens camera is still pretty unique, with a wide-angle sensor for squeezing more into every frame, but image quality just wasn’t up to scratch.
When the V30 arrived in September, it looked like an absolute powerhouse, with a slicker design, improved camera and a dedicated DAC to give your music a boost. The fact it could shoot 4K videos in LOG format for colour correcting should have made it a filmmaker’s dream phone. Unfortunately the OLED panel had some serious issues, with HDR videos in particular looking dodgy in our review.
It means LG has everything to prove in 2018, but there’s been a surprising twist: The Korea Herald‘s site The Investor claims that LG’s CEO told the G7 team to scrap the project and start over, which reportedly means that we won’t see a G7 until April at the earliest. If true, that means that LG may show up empty-handed to Mobile World Congress in late February.
We’ve not heard much about the G7 yet, and even less about the V40 – so maybe it’s true that LG is taking more time to reevaluate their plans. Good on them, if so.
GOOGLE: PIXEL 3, HTC COLLABORATION?
Google took an interesting approach to 2017’s phones, with the Pixel 2 sticking to a tried-and-tested 16:9 screen and the larger Pixel 2 XL busting the bezels with an 18:9 aspect ratio. It didn’t necessarily pay off, with the smaller phone looking dated by comparison and the bigger one suffering from a few screen quality issues. They still had the best cameras you’ll find in a phone, though, as well as a pure Android Oreo operating system. But, as usual, you can’t buy ’em here. That doesn’t mean they’re not important.
Any sequel will need to address these issues by the time Google reveals them, most likely in early October. We’d like to see skinny bezels on both phones, but with OLED screens made by Samsung rather than LG. With Google’s clever algorithms constantly improving, you can expect the camera image quality to take another leap forward, and both phones should arrive with the first taste of Android P.
Google also bought out long-time collaborator HTC in 2017, so it’ll be interesting to see if it will be allowed to continue launching its own phones. The HTC U11 introduced Edge Sense squeezable sides, something Google then borrowed for the Pixel 2, and it took incredible photos without going down the dual-lens approach everyone else seems to be doing. If the two companies work together closely, the resulting phone could be epic.
HUAWEI: TRI-CAMERA P11?
Huawei was very busy last year, launching four high-profile phones: The P10 and P10 Plus, and the Mate 10 and Mate 10 Pro. The first two borrowed a lot of design inspiration from Apple’s iPhone, but the latter two showed what could be done with glass – and looked very pretty indeed, even if we only got one of ’em here in South Africa (the Pro, in case you were wondering).
This year looks to be more of the same, with the P11 apparently arriving in February or March – potentially at Mobile World Congress. Huawei’s Leica partnership looks on track, with the latest rumours suggesting a tri-lens, 40MP rear camera array for 5x hybrid zoom, a 20MP front selfie cam. Too good to be true? Maybe, but you can bet the camera will be a major part of the P11’s upgrades over this year’s phone, with AI assistance tweaking your settings to get the best photos possible from the hardware.
It’ll almost certainly arrive with a Kirin 970 CPU – Huawei tends to launch a chip in the Mate series, then port it to the mainstream P-series the year after. That means the Mate 100 should see the introduction of a new, more powerful CPU, but that won’t happen until September or October.
NOKIA: NOKIA 9
The bothie-snapping Nokia 8 is currently the resurrected phone brand’s premium phone, but that looks set to change in 2018. The latest rumours point to a Nokia 9, which would take its place above the 8 in mid-January, at least in China.
It’s expected to arrive with a 5.5in OLED display, possibly with curved sides like Samsung’s Galaxy S7 Edge. That should make it a lot less boxy than the Nokia 8, and hopefully it’ll come with the skinny bezels that are all the rage right now. Expect a dual-lens camera too, with Carl Zeiss optics – remember the 41MP 808 PureView? This could be the first phone to bring back that old partnership.
Performance should be top of the pack, with a barely-touched version of Android Oreo and 3,800mAh battery keeping the whole thing topped up with juice.
ONEPLUS: ONEPLUS 6
It may have taken quite a while to land on our shores but the OnePlus 5 proved OnePlus could still deliver top-spec features and performance for less cash than the rest of the smartphone world. OK, so prices did go up compared to the (international) OnePlus 3 and 3T, but the OnePlus 5 was still a great value phone.
How long will we have to wait for a new OnePlus? Based on previous launches, you can expect the OnePlus 6 to arrive in June or July (and a little later here — we’re not experience with local timing, yet), with whatever Snapdragon CPU is currently sitting on top of the benchmark leaderboards. Screen resolution might get bumped up to QHD, but the most likely candidate for upgrades is the camera.
Will the price stay the same, though? We’d like to see it go down, if anything, but with Apple pushing prices past the R20,000 mark, staying under R12,000 is still a big achievement.