What happened in mobile tech in 2019: a month-by-month recap
As usual, the year started with the Consumer Electronics Show. We didn't get any major announcements but the expo set the stage for the year to come. We also saw the releases of budget smartphones from two of the biggest brands: Samsung and Xiaomi. Samsung’s Galaxy M series marked the first Samsung smartphones with a notch, albeit a sleeker teardrop one, and marked the first of many strong Samsung releases in 2019.
Xiaomi’s budget contender was a pretty good one as well. The Redmi Note 7 offered a great price-to-performance ratio and pretty much redefined what a budget phone should be.
Galaxy S10 family got the most attention, but other companies released their premium smartphones as well.
- LG announced the G8 with gimmicky air gestures and V50, its first 5G smartphone.
- Nokia released the Nokia 9 PureView sporting a unique five-camera setup that sadly ended up being a disappointment.
- Sony began a new design era with the Xperia 1, a slim and tall flagship.
- Motorola unleashed four Moto G7 variants upon the world, solidifying its budget-segment dominance.
Among those were also sprinkled the announcements of various less-than-exciting phones. Overall, February set the stage for 2019 and set the benchmarks for all upcoming smartphones.
March was a bit calmer but not uneventful by any means.
- Samsung switched gears and released the first phone of its revamped Galaxy A series, the A20.
- Apple's March event brought a new iPad Air, iPad Mini, AirPods with wireless charging case and perhaps most surprisingly, Apple Card. The company also announced a slew of new services.
- Things weren't going so well over at Sony. Its mobile division got merged with Sony's TV, audio and camera business to cover its losses.
- Huawei released the P30 Pro with an impressive camera and a very solid battery life.
April was rather boring. Samsung released the A70 and the A80 with its unique rotating camera. But that's not what the company got the most attention for. Samsung was preparing to launch the Galaxy Fold towards the end of the month and even started accepting reservations. Once the device reached the hands of reviewers, however, it became apparent that it's not ready for the public yet. Samsung delayed the release and got back to the drawing board.
- OnePlus released the OnePlus 7 and more importantly, the 7 Pro, a major step forward for OnePlus with its bezel-less 90Hz display with curved edges.
- Meanwhile, Google released its first set of budget Pixels, the 3a and 3a XL. They offered flagship-grade camera performance in the budget segment and a headphone jack!
- Nubia released a gaming-oriented smartphone with a striking aesthetic. The Red Magic 3 offered high-end specs for a price below $500, an admirable achievement.
As this year's summer began, the smartphone industry slipped into another lull. Xiaomi launched yet another subbrand, this time one focused on photography. The phones that came out with the CC moniker didn't really stand out with particularly amazing photography prowess.
Xiaomi was involved in something far more interesting, however, a showcase of under-display selfie camera. Both Xiaomi and OPPO released videos of that type of technology within days of each other, bringing high hopes that notches will be a thing of the past soon. Fingers crossed for 2020!
July was relatively boring as well. Samsung unveiled a flagship device but this time it was its latest Galaxy Tab S6 tablet. Definitely one of the best tablets on the Android side of the market. Meanwhile, LG released a cheaper version of the G8 ThinQ, the G8S ThinQ, which enjoyed even less attention than its expensive counterpart.
In the software world, FaceApp went viral overnight with millions of people suddenly posting pictures of themselves as old people. Luckily, the hype died down almost as quickly as it appeared.
Galaxy Note 10. For the first time, we got two Note devices, a Note 10 and a Note 10+. Naturally, the 10+ got the most attention and quickly became a contender for the best Android phone of 2019.
Samsung also released refreshes of its Galaxy A50 and A30 that came out just a few months prior. Meanwhile, Motorola launched the Motorola One Action, the first of multiple phones that focus on various camera features.
- Apple released the iPhone 11, 11 Pro and 11 Pro Max. Ultra-wide cameras, Night Mode and bigger batteries were the biggest changes in iPhones this year.
- iOS 13 was also released for all iPhones since the iPhone 6S.
- Apple Watch Series 5 was also released with always-on display as its standout feature.
- OnePlus released the OnePlus 7T and 7T Pro. The 7T got the 90Hz treatment and a triple-camera setup, making it even more similar to the Pro version.
- Android 10 was released without any dessert name but plenty of new features.
- Motorola released the Motorola One Zoom.
- Huawei announced the Mate 30 Pro but without any Google apps, so it never officially made it to international markets.
Pixel 4 and 4 XL. Sporting 90Hz displays, a new telephoto camera, a radar technology for motion gestures and relatively small batteries, the new Pixels were a mixed bag. It seems like this year there was even less excitement around them than previous years, which is disappointing considering Google is the one making them.
Motorola decided to release a couple of its Moto G8 phones early (but not in the US), with another couple likely coming in early 2020. The phones stick to their heritage of providing great value for money, which is always good to see.
What else? Well, we can't forget the release of the AirPods Pro. Apple's long-awaited earbuds with active noise canceling were finally released with a hefty price tag of $250. Still, so far the AirPods Pro appear to be enjoying success.
November had one big exciting event: the announcement of the Motorola Razr. A phone set to rekindle our love for flip phones. Or remind us what we didn't like about them. Either way, we were happy to see a device that looked just like the renders leaked months in advanced envisioned it. And while it's still too expensive for most people, it did show us what we can look for in the future.
We also saw something else that's from the future, the Galaxy S11. Or at least tons of leaks of it.
The last month of the year is usually slow on releases as manufacturers are looking to sell as many of their existing models as possible during the holiday season. What we did get, however, is the official announcement of Qualcomm's Snapdragon 865, the chip that will power most of the 2020 Android flagships.
Credible information about Apple's 2020 phones also came out, forecasting a release schedule like we've never seen before with a new iPhone coming out during the first half of the year and four(!) expected in September 2020.
With all major releases behind us, it was time to announce the PhoneArena awards. The competition was tough, but someone had to be on top, check which phones we deemed best below!