Skip to main content

Foldable phones, 5G, and all the best mobile tech coming in 2019

We were spoiled for choice in 2018 with a flood of truly excellent smartphones, with very little to distinguish them from one another. The best smartphones gained an edge with stunning photography or refinements to luxurious design. Some of our favorite features were software innovations, as the hardware race seemed to slow down.

Performance is increasingly irrelevant, with $1,000 phones matched in the processing department by devices at 75 or even 50 percent of the price. The gap between the best cheap phones and our top picks has been steadily closing. As the year of the notch comes to an end, we look expectantly at the next 12 months and what we have to look forward to in the next wave of smartphones.

Hole-punch displays

Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

There’s no doubt that bezels will shrink further, but that still leaves manufacturers with a quandary about where to place the front-facing camera. We have seen pop-up camera designs in phones like the Vivo Nex S and the Oppo Find X, but we’re not convinced this will catch on. Instead, we think manufacturers will continue to place them within the display. Until they figure how to place one under the display, that means carving a notch or punching a hole.

Anything that accelerates the death of the notch is to be celebrated, but we desperately need a better name for the replacement design than “display holes” or “hole-punch display.” If you’re unfamiliar, the next design trend set to accommodate those tricky front-facing cameras into a bezel-less all-screen frontage is a small hole in the display surrounded by screen. We’ve already seen some designs from Samsung, Huawei, and Honor, and we expect to see a lot more in 2019.

More megapixels and lenses

Huawei P20
Andy Boxall/DIgital Trends

While the hardware race seems to be running out of steam in some respects, smartphone photography has come on in leaps and bounds over the last few years. Our reigning champion in the best camera phones roundup proves there’s an awful lot you can do with software smarts, but many manufacturers have taken a different route, adding more and better lenses.

Xiaomi has already announced its intention to release a phone with a 48-megapixel camera in 2019, which would set a new record, jumping ahead of Huawei’s 40-megapixel lens-toting Mate 20 Pro and P20 Pro, and current record holder, the Nokia Lumia 1020, which had a 41-megapixel camera. We think a few other manufacturers will be tempted to follow suit.

It also seems unlikely that the race to add more lenses is over. Not content with five lenses in the LG V40 ThinQ, the South Korean manufacturer has a patent for a 16-lens design. Whether that will ever appear as a fully formed product is impossible to know right now, but we think the contest to add more lenses is set to continue as a trend.

Faster charging

fast charging samsung
Image used with permission by copyright holder

With battery technology at an impasse, any potential increases in capacity are quickly shrugged off in the pursuit of slimmer, sleeker designs or larger, power-hungry displays. What has been steadily improving is the time it takes to recharge our batteries once they’re depleted. Chinese manufacturers like Huawei, Oppo, OnePlus, and Meizu are already offering astounding charging speeds, but the two biggest smartphone sellers stateside are among the slowest.

Although the most recent iPhones can charge from zero to 50 percent in 30 minutes, you have to pay extra for the fast charging kit and a full charge still takes close to 2 hours. If you use the charger supplied, it takes closer to 3.5 hours. Having had its hands burned already with the Note 7 recall, Samsung has nerfed its charging speeds, sticking with Adaptive Fast Charging which is compatible with Qualcomm’s Quick Charge 2 standard.

In 2019, Qualcomm is introducing a new triple charge system that will offer up to 32W for wired charging and 15W for wireless charging. To give that some context the iPhone charger that ships in the box puts out 5W. However, uptake of the current Quick Charge 4+ system has been slow, with some manufacturers, like Google, preferring USB-PD, and others sticking with proprietary charging technology.

Despite the fact that there are many different fast charging technologies, the general trend is unmistakable. We expect to see even faster charging in the year ahead. We just hope the big two get on board with it.

Face unlocking

face unlock phone night time woman
Image used with permission by copyright holder

While face unlocking has been around for a few years now, Apple has kicked it firmly back onto the menu with Face ID. We think more and more Android manufacturers will follow suit, improving their face unlocking systems to the point where they’re faster, more reliable, and secure enough to use for payments.

The old fingerprint sensor has been shunted onto the back of most phones to make way for an all-screen front, but it’s not a perfect solution and it imposes some design limitations. In-screen fingerprint sensors made an appearance this year, but the experience of using them left us underwhelmed. We’re not convinced that’s the answer, though there’s hope Qualcomm’s next flagship chip, the Snapdragon 855, will help to improve them significantly with ultrasonic support.

Face unlocking is by far the easiest way to unlock your phone. Google partnered with Huawei to make the 3D face unlock system work with Google Play, so we expect this to become more widespread in 2019 as more phone makers ditch the fingerprint sensor.

5G speed for some

5g Networks and Phones | Tech Trends to watch for at CES 2019
Image used with permission by copyright holder

We debated whether to include 5G on this list, because we think its impact in 2019 will be quite limited. Sure, 5G promises amazing speeds, and we know many 5G phones and networks are coming over the next few months, but it will be confined to small pockets in a handful of cities at first. This new technology is going to take years to roll out across the country and there are important issues to figure out before it can hope to deliver the much hyped high speeds and low latencies of our dreams.

On the other hand, some lucky people will enjoy those blazing fast speeds. And it’s worth noting that people who buy new 5G-enabled phones should also see very real speed boosts for downloads on 4G LTE networks thanks to the new modem in the Snapdragon 855, which will power a lot of flagship Android phones. The trade-off is going be higher prices, for both service and smartphones.

Too early for foldable phones

Don’t worry, we haven’t forgotten foldable phones. We are aware that Samsung, Huawei, Oppo, LG, and likely a few others are working on folding phone designs that they may or may not show off in 2019, and we’ve already seen the Royole Flexpai. The fact is that folding phones are coming, but the first wave are going to be chunky, glitchy, and incredibly expensive. We think it’s going to take a lot more work before folding phones develop into a major, mainstream trend.

Simon Hill
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Simon Hill is an experienced technology journalist and editor who loves all things tech. He is currently the Associate Mobile…
The best prepaid phone plans in 2023: the 6 best ones
5G logo on the Motorola Edge (2022).

There was once a time when prepaid cell phone plans meant getting only basic calling features and limited data. Thankfully, that’s changed. Many of today’s prepaid plans offer many of the same core features of the best cell postpaid phone plans, including high-speed 5G data, unlimited calling and texting, and even international roaming — all without the need to commit to a contract.

Not only that, but you can often find prepaid plans at far lower prices, even if you’re only setting up a single line. While traditional carrier plans give their best discounts for families and other groups, many prepaid plans lead with their best price right out of the gate.

Read more
Moto G Power 5G adds a flagship feature to a budget phone
Render of the Motorola Moto G Power 5G in a white color against a light purple background.

Motorola may be making a play for the flagship market with the Motorola Edge 40 Pro, but budget phones are what the American monolith is best known for. While it won't be making as many waves as the latest Samsung phone or Apple iPhone launch, the newest iteration of the Moto G is always something worth paying attention to, as Motorola is a true veteran of the space and knows what makes an excellent cheap device.

Best of all, this new Moto G comes at a time when budget phone enthusiasts have never had it so good. Previously premium features are filtering down into lower-priced devices, without altering that sweet low price or the features everyone loves. That's exactly what's happening with the new Motorola Moto G Power 5G, which includes a 50-megapixel main camera lens, a larger amount of storage, and a big screen with a 120Hz refresh rate. With the big 5,000mAh battery the G Power range is known for, this could be the $300 phone to grab if you love a budget bargain.
Super-smooth motion

Read more
The Pixel 7’s best camera trick is coming to the iPhone and all Android phones
Erasing items in Magic Eraser.

The Google Pixel series of phones, specifically the Pixel 6 and Pixel 7, have an exclusive feature called Magic Eraser. With Magic Eraser, you can get rid of unwanted objects in a photo, such as people in the background or things like power lines. As of today, Magic Eraser is becoming available to all Android phones and iPhone users through Google One.

Magic Eraser debuted on the Pixel 6 lineup, which includes the Pixel 6, Pixel 6 Pro, and the more affordable Pixel 6a, which is still available to purchase (the Pixel 6 and 6 Pro have been discontinued). If you have a Pixel 7 or Pixel 7 Pro, you also have the Magic Eraser feature. One of the reasons I had always wanted a Pixel device is because of Magic Eraser, and it is something that I desperately wished Apple would implement.

Read more