At the start of this year we asked you what will be the most exciting features of 2020 smartphones. Now that the year is almost over it’s time to look back and see if makers delivered and to ponder what will be the highlight features of 2021 models.
The winning feature of the 2020 poll was under display selfie cameras. The first production phone with an UD camera is now a reality, but there’s just the one model and it’s just now becoming globally available (our review is coming up shortly, by the way).
The runner-up suggestion, cheaper foldable phones, also didn’t come to pass. Makers ironed out some of the kinks of the 2019 models, however prices remained out of reach for many.
At least the other options saw actual progress – 100+ megapixel cameras and periscopes have available for several models (including reasonably-priced ones), charging speeds (both wired and wireless) went through the roof, high refresh rate screens hit 144Hz in the premium market and 90Hz in the entry-level market.
If 2019 was the year of 5G, and 2020 was supposed to be the year of the UD camera, what will 2021 be about?
We’ll give the UD cameras and cheap foldables another shot as we’ve been hearing rumors that they may take another step forward next year. Here are some other suggestions about tech we can feasibly see next year that could prove to be the “next big thing”.
5x periscopes are quite common and there are a few 10x ones as well, but they all have a fixed focal length. Next year we may see periscopes capable of continuous zoom as O-Film and Oppo already announced modules with variable focal length. This will deliver a boost in image quality as digital zoom doesn’t work all that well with the small sensors and small apertures.
Smartphones broke the 100MP barrier this year and can go up to 600MP in the future – Samsung is reportedly working on such a sensor. Human eyes have resolution equivalent to around 500MP, so such a sensor will be unmatched in its ability to capture fine detail. If not 600MP, a 150MP 1” sensor would be a major upgrade over what we currently have as well.
Foldable phones – cheap or not – will get another round of improvements. But there are also rollable designs on the way. LG is supposed to unveil a rollable design as early as March and Oppo already impressed with a functioning prototype (though it said the tech isn’t ready for prime time). Samsung and Xiaomi (and probably others) are working on rollable designs as well.
Both foldable and rollable phones will benefit from a tougher protective material – ultra thin glass doesn’t cut it, we need something that can at least stand up to the regular scratches that happen in your pocked from keys and coins.
Nvidia acquired ARM this year and while we’re unlikely to see Tegra chipsets power smartphones again (other companies may see this as anti-competitive), the GPU maker has designed custom ARM cores in the past. And, of course, GPUs – would a GeForce GPU make for better gaming phones than the current Mali designs?
Ultra Wideband (UWB) is already available on phones, but they mostly use it as a faster Bluetooth for sending data between devices. However, UWB has another skill – it can determine the relative distance and bearing of other devices. This is a great way to find your keys, but more advanced uses include pointing at something with your phone and hitting “On”, the phone will use UWB to figure out which of your smart home gadgets you were pointing out.
Admittedly, some of these features are more likely to happen next year than others. But even announcing a prototype can be valuable as the smartphone ecosystem is too large to adapt instantaneously. Just think how long it took for Android to get to grips with the changing screen size of a foldable phone when you open it.