We got 5G, so what’s next for smartphones?

This article may contain personal views and opinion from the author.
We got 5G, so what’s next for smartphones?
2020 is pretty much a done deal when it comes to major smartphone releases. And if there’s one thing that stood out among flagships this year, it was 5G. From iPhones to Galaxies to Pixels, 5G was at the center of every presentation. It was the thing to get excited about this year.

But whether or not 5G is actually exciting isn’t what we’re going to talk about here. Instead, we’ll shift our sights into the future, more specifically 2021, and what smartphones will try to capture our attention (and money) next year.

Manufacturers know that they won’t be able to milk 5G for another year. Technological leaps like that might happen only once a decade but users are already getting tired of hearing about it.

So, let’s imagine it’s 2021 and Samsung, Apple and company are looking to sell us the next $1000 phone they’ve made. Do they have an ace up their sleeve, or are we about meet the releases with yawns and hold onto our phones for another year?

Under-display selfie cameras: fact or fiction in 2021?

Something many tech enthusiasts are looking forward to are true bezelless, notchless and homeless displays without motorized cameras and other gimmicks. We’ve been seeing prototypes and patents for under-display cameras for a while now, but if leaks are to be believed, Samsung’s Galaxy S21 flagships, some of the first premium phones to launch in 2021, are still going to have hole-punch displays. That leaves some home for the Galaxy Note 21, but not much.

Of course, it’s likely that one or more Chinese manufacturers might release a phone with an under-display camera, but that won’t matter much if you never see them in the flesh. Plus, from what we’ve seen so far, these come with a significant sacrifice in image quality.

So, if Samsung, the leading smartphone display manufacturer, isn’t ready yet, we should probably remove it from our list for now.

5nm chips, make battery life great again!

Yes, Apple already has phones on the market with 5nm chips but it paired them with smaller batteries, so we’re not sure what the true power-saving potential of the new architecture is yet. Qualcomm is set to announce its own 5nm flagship chip next month and it will surely power the most expensive Android phones. The good news is that on the Android side, reducing battery capacity is pretty much out of the question.

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And while this year, battery life improvements were somewhat negated by the high refresh rate displays, next year, the more efficient Snapdragon 875 and the Snapdragon X60 modem could easily add a few hours of battery life even without much bigger batteries.

Obviously, the new chip is expected to be much more powerful as well, but that’s not really something that impresses the average consumer these days.

Variable optical zoom cameras

Zoom cameras have become a major battleground for phone makers. And while we have periscope cameras that have 5X optical zoom capabilities and with the help of software even 10X images look quite good, the hardware itself isn’t very flexible. That might change next year as cameras with movable lenses are being developed, which will allow users to choose a focal length that suits their needs and take that perfect shot.

Oppo is developing variable zoom technology that can offer zoom levels between 3.3X and 5.4X, removing the need for two separate zoom cameras, which some phones have since 5X zoom is only useful on rare occasions. 

Unfortunately, such an intricate camera system will surely come with a price premium, which always tampers the excitement.

Even faster charging

The speed at which your phone charges is quite important and I’ve even argued before, that fast charging is better to have than a big battery, if you must choose only one of the two. But we’re already at a point where phones can charge 4,000+mAh batteries in less than 30 minutes. And while I’m sure manufacturers will keep pushing the limits and reduce charging times even more, it seems like now they’re doing it for bragging rights more than actual user convenience.

Wireless charging is also becoming quite fast but the issue there is that you have to spend even more money to upgrade your wireless charging ecosystem if you want to benefit from it.

Overall, fast charging isn’t exciting enough to make anyone upgrade their phone.

Is that it?

It’s possible that I’m missing something but unfortunately it’s more likely that next year we’ll see minor improvements across the board but nothing that will make you go “Whoa, I want that!” Apple will likely bring 120Hz displays to the iPhone lineup since it failed to do so this year but beyond that, I’m not seeing much to get excited about.

Foldable phones have a ton of room for improvement, so that’s something to look for, but with their high price tags, it’s doubtful how big of an impact they’ll have.

What do you think? Is 2021 going to be a snoozfest or are there legitimately exciting features that will become mainstream next year? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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