2019 is the very best, and the absolute worst, time to buy a new smartphone

samsung galaxy fold news new 16
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

I don’t envy anyone who absolutely needs to buy a new smartphone this year. It has long been a difficult task, but more than any other year, 2019 is the absolute hardest time to try and part with your hard-earned money in exchange for a new phone. Why? Because almost every single one on sale now is excellent, and worse yet there are plenty more to come, resulting in the impossible situation of not knowing what to buy, or when. Simply put, phone makers are spoiling us, and it’s forcing us to be even shrewder shoppers.

It’s great news for us, but bad news for them, because waiting until later this year to make your decision is a wise move.

Design

It’s not the first time we’ve been put in an awkward situation regarding which phone to buy. For the last couple of years the flagship smartphone line-up has been filled with great phones. From the iPhone 6S and the Galaxy S6 onwards, to the OnePlus 5, the Huawei P20 Pro, and the Google Pixel, you could pick any of these or their sequels and be very satisfied.

Oddly, during that time designs across manufacturers were consistent, and almost completely removed how the phone looked from the buying equation. Features and specification were also similar, without much to differentiate between them all. Throwing a dart at a series of pictures was a completely legitimate way of selecting your new smartphone.

Honor View 20 review
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

In 2018, design teams across the globe suddenly woke up, and began penning some of the most ambitious, attractive, and unusual smartphones we’ve ever seen. Phones have gained a personality. To go with the new looks, many phones now have unique features that separate them from the competition, tempting us into choosing one over another.

Instead of being simply universally good, we’re now forced to choose between good phones with interesting designs, and unique features that could enhance our lives. The impossible task has become, um, impossibler or something.

What are you talking about?

Time for some examples. The Galaxy S10 Plus is no longer the design template for the smartphone building world, but it’s still gorgeous and capable. The Huawei P30 Pro is subdued in its design, but has a feature-packed camera unlike any other. The Xiaomi Mi 9 matches the S10’s spec but lowers the price, while the Oppo Find X has a motorized camera and a design that’s so beautiful it makes our heart ache.

Sony has embraced the 21:9 aspect ratio screen for a unique look and in-hand feel, the Honor View 20 introduced the hole-punch screen and a 48-megapixel camera, and Motorola’s latest G7 along with the Nokia 7.1 show you don’t have to spend masses to get a pretty, but good phone. Nokia also surprised us with the unusual Nokia 9 with its five-lens camera.

If the Nokia 9 is the phone for photographers, with its deep image editing features, then other niches are being richly catered to as well. The Asus ROG Phone is brilliant for gamers, the Sirin Labs Finney is for blockchain addicts, and the BlackBerry Key2 is there for keyboard lovers. You can even buy the Punkt MP-02, which is for anyone who values design and simplicity over high-tech smartphone features.

That’s just a selection of what’s available. To illustrate just how varied and exciting the choice is, I haven’t mentioned the Apple iPhone XS or the Google Pixel 3. The reason? They look dull, comparatively, despite being equally technically capable in most areas, and even superior in others. What an astonishing year, when two of the very best phones available can be described as “lacking” in one department.

It gets worse

If you have bought any of these phones, congratulations, you made a good choice. If you didn’t because you’re holding out for what’s next, congratulations, you made a good choice. This year, and next, things are going to get exciting. Foldable phones are coming, and although the Galaxy Fold has been delayed and the Huawei Mate X isn’t out yet, the combined impact on the industry is going to be huge. More folding phones are on the way, and we’re staring at the biggest design shake-up in the mobile industry since the introduction of the capacitive touchscreen.

Huawei Mate X
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

Then we’ve got 5G. It’s mostly hype at the moment, and expectations need to be kept in check for the foreseeable future, but you will be able to buy a 5G phone this year. It’s a consideration if you want to keep the device you pick for a few years, and because phones are so excellent, we’re holding onto them for longer, so it makes sense to future-proof where possible.

That’s all before we see what the second half of the year brings. We know a new Galaxy Note will come, along with the Pixel 4, a new Huawei Mate series phone, and the big one — the next generation iPhone. Plus, it’s almost certain that we’ll see (at least) two new generations of OnePlus phones before the end of the year. Oh, and many that we don’t even know about yet.

Aside from likely being brilliant phones, all these will have special features and potentially interesting designs. It’s 2019, and there’s something in the water, because companies are trying mad things to entice us. From crazy hand gestures on the LG G8 ThinQ to motorized cameras on the Samsung Galaxy A80 and the Oppo Reno, we never quite know what to expect next.

Never a good time?

There has never been a “right time” to buy a new phone. If you continually wait for the next phone to be announced, you’ll never buy anything. Something new is always just around the corner, and the same goes for advances in technology. The way many people decided in the past was based on their carrier contract and its expiration, but even this is becoming impossible, as carriers offer deals where upgrades are easier to obtain without penalty before the end of a contract.

Another way to control the upgrade process was to be faithful to a single brand, and possibly even model too. The new Galaxy S series phone has come out around March time for several years, and the new iPhone comes out around September, for example. Stay loyal, and the “right time” to buy a new phone was dictated by the company.

Except staying loyal to one brand today is rather short sighted. It doesn’t win you any prizes or special benefits, it only helps the company. What’s actually happening is that you’re missing out. There are so many phones, with so many different features, and so many different designs out there today, why not give something new a try? Provided you do a little research first, buying a bad smartphone is quite hard to do, so the risk of picking a rubbish one is low.

What if you need a phone?

Gartner predicts 2019 will be a flat year for smartphone shipments, and that companies are aware we are keeping our phones for longer. They don’t want either of these things to happen, which means they’ll be trying harder to win our business with better phones, exciting new features, enticing designs, and potentially better prices.

Here’s some advice. If you bought a phone in 2018 and it’s still working without a problem now, you almost certainly won’t see a massive benefit after buying a new one. If you bought one in 2017, it’s probably fine too, but temptation is likely working its magic at the moment. Own a phone from before that? Then a new smartphone will be a revelation in terms of performance and camera ability. That’s how good the most recent phones are.

best smartphone camera of 2018 shootout
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

Between now and around November, a lot more new phones are coming. Based on the ones we’ve already seen, the second half of 2019 is all set to be a mega period for new phones. Why not wait and see? The worst that will happen is you’ll get a better deal on the phone you’ve got your eye on now.

There has never been a better time to buy a new smartphone, so don’t buy one until you’ve seen all that’s on offer this year. If manufacturers are going to parade a string of stunners in front of us on a regular basis, and are hungry for our attention, don’t make it easy on them. Wait until you’ve seen them all before picking the best one for you — this year it will really be worth it.

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