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#265515 25-Jan-2020 02:55
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I'm going to be replacing my OnePlus 6 this year. I'm getting the battery replaced to get me through the next little while but it's time. The phone itself is still really fast but I really want a better camera and wireless charging.

I'm looking for great battery life, good screen, excellent camera and a very reliable fingerprint reader. Wireless charging is also an important feature for me.

I'm still unsure about the whole curved screen thing, my wife's very happy with her P30 Pro but it really is a slab. If the Mate 30 hadn't been crippled by Trump I think that would probably be my choice but now I'm very unsure what I'll buy.

What are others expecting to buy this year?

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  #2407371 27-Jan-2020 10:46

I do have some thoughts on the state of play for upcoming 2020 flagships.

 

There'll be some cool stuff to look forward to this year. Mostly fairly minor taken individually, but cumulatively it'll be a good run for incremental quality of life upgrades. Last year was quite interesting in that all sorts of new tech came out of Samsung's camp without debuting in Samsung phones, e.g. high refresh OLEDs, UFS 3.0 storage, waterfall displays.

 

A handful worth being aware of:

 

  • High refresh rates and displays

     

    • I predicted this would be massive in mobile as soon as the original Razer phone launched. Took ~3 years to go from low-brightness LCDs to high-brightness premium OLEDs with high refresh rates in mainstream devices. The tradeoff between resolution (1080p vs. 1440p) and refresh (60Hz-90Hz-120Hz) means we'll likely see devices which support both, just not at the same time, which may or may not represent a compromise to you.
    • 90Hz and 120Hz are very nice to have, but if you don't play games on your phone it's mostly constrained to 'looks and feels nice while scrolling around the UI'
    • What it's still missing at this stage is adaptive refresh rates ala Freesync and G-Sync which will make this tech less gimmicky and more useful.
    • Thankfully OLED displays had a major jump in efficiency with the S10's generation, although some vendors used wonky display controllers that consumed more power than desirable.
    • For what it's worth I have used both the 90Hz OnePlus 7 Pro and 7T, and the 120Hz ASUS ROG Phone II, and have not had a big issue switching back to 60Hz devices despite being bullish on the tech. Again, it's a nice-to-have.

 

 

  • 5G and 2020 smartphone chipsets

     

    • Whether you're on Spark, 2d, or sort-of able to enjoy it now-ish on Voda's limited N78 rollout, 5G is a fairly solid future-proofed spec to have if you're planning to keep a flagship handset for a few years and don't want to feel compelled to upgrade again when it becomes more widespread. The good news is that most flagship smartphone in 2020 will be 5G capable. The bad news is that this ups the cost, price, and has some compromises involved to get there.
    • In particular, this gets interesting when you dive deeper into what's happening with integrated vs. discrete cellular modems.
    • When LTE debuted, the initial batch of devices (mostly in the US) were crippled by terrible battery life until the discrete modems were integrated into the SoCs - interestingly Apple still uses discrete modems and is aiming to change that - and more interestingly we're about to see a whole generation of phones go backwards(ish) by moving from integrated 2G/3G/4G modems to separate modems including 5G.
    • A discrete modem will naturally chew through a lot more power than an integrated one.
    • Samsung's new Exynos 990 flagship chipset has a discrete modem, while they make a lower tier Exynos 980 with integrated 5G modem (debuted in the Vivo X30 Pro in China at the tail end of 2019), and similarly Qualcomm's new Snapdragon 865 has a discrete modem while they make a lower tier Snapdragon 765 with integrated modem.
    • Qualcomm in particular have done this so that its OEM partners can drop in the new 865 into existing board designs which were built around the Snapdragon 855 + discrete X55 5G modem, speeding up time to market.
    • This compromise of sorts of at the high-end means two things

       

      • Battery capacities, and therefore the weight and size of devices, will go up to counter the power draw from discrete modems (and high refresh rates) without necessarily increasing the battery life of the device while on mobile data
      • There is a new tier of devices emerging - the 'premium' tier that sits below the 'super-premium' flagships, and will sport these one-step-removed SoCs like the Exynos 980 and Snapdragon 785. They're not quite flagships but will still be very good and will likely occupy the $1000-$1500 space flagships previously sat at before they spiked to $1699-$2000+ space
      • See: Oppo Reno 3, Xiaomi Mi Note 10 among others
    • The final note here is that this leaves Huawei as the only vendor with integrated 5G in a flagship chipset, meaning on a technical level the Kirin 990 equipped devices like the Mate 30 Pro 5G will be the clear winners for efficiency for at least the next ~12 months

 

 

  • eSIM and Dual SIM

     

    • I have said it on here several times, eSIM will lead to Bad Times for consumers until a lot of work has been done to iron it out and competition has increased. Every time I see an article or well-intentioned individual praising it, I can't help see that view as short-sighted and improperly researched.
    • Anything that needs telcos to build self-service portals and makes the fundamentally simple SIM swapping process more complex with more telco control is bad for the open market, costs significant money that needs to be recouped, and allows all sorts of anticompetitive lock-in practices to flourish. Anyone who remembers the bad old days of CDMA can see the parallels here.
    • The AU telcos spent millions and millions rolling out eSIM. Consider the security and systems aspects of SIM cards - currently a comparatively straightforward and standardised pipeline with physical SIMs, significantly more complicated when introducing a device vendor's implementation into that pipeline, moreso when different vendors have different implementations (see: Samsung vs. Apple)
    • Salient example - I wanted to launch the new Motorola Razr in NZ, but it won't work here because Spark do not support open market eSIM at this stage, meaning it will be an iPod Touch style paperweight even if imported.
    • The counter to this is that despite the first wave of 5G devices being strictly single-SIM, operator-as-customer products, the second wave should be dual SIM, meaning you can safely ignore eSIM until it's relevant and still get the advantages of dual SIM - e.g. work + personal number, two different countries' SIMs in one device, network continuity for emergency services - it's a far cry from the old days of dual SIM being viewed as a way for low-value prepay users to game the system and something operators had sub-zero interest in subsidising.

 

 

  • Cameras

     

    • Everyone's trying to up their camera game, and Apple lifting theirs with the last refresh means even more R&D and competition in this space. As always it's a matter of whether you really need the best of the best and whether you want to spend for that. Everything will continue to have its strengths and weaknesses, and everything will still come with some form of compromise, but the midrange has grown in leaps and bounds - watch for this in that 'premium' sub-flagship space.
    • The new generation of 48MP, 64MP, and 108MP sensors is no joke, they're quad-bayer (so designed for pixel binning rather than actually outputting a ~108MP image), and combined with the industry push for computational photography, we're getting to a space where 'good enough' is available at lower price points and flagship features are mostly edge cases.
    • With Apple's focus on video, others will aim to play catch-up.
    • MOAR cameras is a metric which can be very good when it adds versatility, e.g. the push for telephoto + ultrawide + standard.

       

      • This gets better again when a fourth camera is added for an extra telephoto stop, e.g 2x/3x + 5x periscope zoom.
      • See: Mi Note 10 Pro
      • This gets messy in the midrange where a fourth or fifth camera may be a near-useless depth sensor for portrait mode, a questionable macro lens, or something that just isn't used very often and exists mainly to market the number of cameras.
      • Credit where it's due, Apple did a lot of work to make the white balance and dynamic range more consistent across its triple camera stack, where others have not, and it's quite obvious when switching between cameras.

 

 

  • DDR5 RAM

     

    • It's coming, the real-world impact beyond higher frequencies is TBC.

 

 

  • Faster charging

     

    • Those ever increasing battery capacities - from a standard of 3000mAh to 4000mAh to 5000mAh and beyond - take longer to charge, so there's a countering increase in charging speeds. For NZ this is actually a right pain, as AU and NZ have both a distinct design for wall chargers (only used elsewhere in some adjacent pacific islands and, strangely enough, as a secondary standard in China) plus very strict regulations around certification and safety. This means any vendor selling to AU/NZ needs to build and certify a specific charger, and those have very high minimum order quantities + each need certification.
    • In short, expect faster charging for some models in other markets - this has already occurred, it's just not often noticed.

 

 

  • Design elements

     

    • iPhone/Pixel style camera bumps - The rectangle will be everywhere this year.
    • S10 style hole-punch displays - Samsung kept that design in OLEDs to itself last year, expect it everywhere else this year.

 

 

  • Huawei

     

    • This is going to be very interesting to watch across MWC and beyond.
    • They continue to be the most vertically integrated Android vendor and to push the envelope in hardware.
    • It doesn't look like GMS will be resolved anytime soon, so expect them to make a big push for their own services - HMS - while continuing to undercut at the high end in the NZ market.
    • I do believe it's worth investigating and considering whether a device without GMS out of the box is acceptable rather than writing it off at first glance.
    • For what it's worth, I'm currently using a Mate 30 Pro as a daily driver. GMS can be loaded just fine, and the only compromises are Google Pay (doesn't work), OK Google detection (doesn't work), Netflix (can't download or watch in HD, needs a specific app version to be sideloaded) and Disney+ (can't stream on device, can still browse + use as cast controller). Everything else works as expected just like the P30 Pro, and the Mate 30 Pro delivers exceptional battery life, a stunning screen, and a very good camera indeed.
    • Come the next P-series, it will be worth considering the tradeoffs here, as if the above caveats are not dealbreakers, Huawei continue to make exceptional devices and will continue to push hard in NZ.

 

 

  • Foldables

     

    • Super-expensive for the next few years until the tech increases in yields and decreases in price.
    • Cool to see multiple form factors emerge outside of the now-standard candybar black rectangle.
    • I see two distinct ideas emerging here:

       

      • Folks who like big phones, use their phones for everything, and want an even bigger phone on-demand for productivity - see Galaxy Fold, Mate X
      • Folks who want to be less distracted by their phones, want to use them for communication more than involved computer-replacement work, and would prefer them to be normal phones on-demand and smaller/more pocketable otherwise - see Motorola Razr and other clamshell flip designs
    • Microsoft's end of year release for the Surface Duo should be one to watch, as will LG's continuing experimentation with dual screens.

 

 

  • Flagships to expect

     

    • Xiaomi usually have a Q1 flagship, presumably a Mi 10
    • Samsung of course have their first Unpacked event set for Feb 12th NZ time
    • OnePlus usually have a Q1 flagship (or two), presumably a OnePlus 8 series
    • LG are a bit unpredictable but should have something new at MWC
    • Sony don't play in this market or AU anymore, I'd expect them to have a successor to last year's Xperia 1
    • Motorola are making big movements for the first time in a few years, but timing for a flagship TBC
    • Nokia are an unknown after a year of missteps
    • Oppo will likely move to launch the Reno 3 series globally
    • Still unlikely to see Pixels available in NZ
    • Huawei are as above expected to have a P-series refresh at some point
    • Vivo are now available in AU/NZ and after a successful midrange launch in 2019, I would not be surprised to see a flagship or 'premium' tier device later on
    • Microsoft as above will re-enter the phone market with the Surface Duo towards the end of this year

 

 

  • To narrow down OP's choices

     

    • If you're looking for those specifics - the standard trio of screen+camera+battery life with wireless charging on top:

       

      • Wireless charging is still a 'premium' feature, which limits your scope to:
      • Samsung

         

        • S-series and Note-series
        • Rumours indicate a major and welcome upgrade to the camera stack this year
        • Watch for discounts on the S10 and Note10 series, although you may not like the ultrasonic fingerprint scanners
      • Huawei

         

        • The Pro variants of P-series and Mate-series
        • It is worth having another look at the Mate 30 Pro as above, especially on sale, but consider how long you'll keep it and if you'd like 5G for future-proofing
      • LG

         

        • G-series and V-series
        • TBC which if any will come to NZ in 2020
      • Xiaomi

         

        • The top-end Mi-series and Mix-series
        • Watch for a Q1 flagship announcement
      • Others

         

        • Pixel is a no-go in NZ for the stupidly high pricing + zero local warranty + the battery life writes it off
        • Sony more or less in the same place as Pixel for the same reasons
        • If OnePlus introduce wireless charging this year it could be your go-to
        • Could be wildcard entries from Nokia and Moto




Product Manager @ PB Tech

https://pbtech.co.nz/smartphones


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