At its advent, you would have been completely justified to think that 2020 would not be a good year for smartphones and other devices. It did not seem like it would be a good year for anything to be frank. The biggest (annual) mobile device trade show of the year – Mobile World Congress (MWC) 2020 – was cancelled due to health concerns and most of the big companies pulling out. CES (Consumer Electronics Show) 2020 happened early enough in the year not to be affected by the pandemic. Other events like IFA 2020, the Apple Event, and other big announcement events were different this year. No tech enthusiasts were in attendance, and instead, the events were live-streamed over various platforms. It was a new way of doing things, and while hands-on experiences are so important for tech devices, this new way was necessary.
A Good Year for Smartphones
Luckily, the resilience of smartphone manufacturers shone through and we got a plethora of devices – arguably more than previous years. The big players unveiled the latest and greatest they had to offer and more. To the credit of the manufacturers, this year saw more price points catered to so that no one was left out during these trying times. There truly is a device for everyone.
With the new released came further innovation. The manufacturers’ attempts to outshine each other brought about some great features and prices. There were attempts to push the boundaries of today’s technology, and as a result, we saw some great things this year, with a promise of even better things in the next few years.
We take a look back at what we got in 2020 and use that as a baseline to predict what we might get to see come 2021. All in all, there are reasons to be excited. No matter what kind of a smartphone user you are, you just cannot deny how cool some features we’ve seen are.
Big Smartphone Features We Saw in 2020
5G has been the topic of discussion in prior years and 2020 finally saw it debut on smartphones. On paper, 5G is revolutionary. It brings with it a change in how we use our phones and other devices. The data transfer speeds are (sometimes) miles ahead of what is achievable on 4G. Running a speed test on 5G for the first time is like seeing a new magic trick. You can download a movie in seconds and an entire season of episodes in minutes. There is one caveat though: coverage.
5G coverage has improved and is set to be even better with the inclusion of the technology in the 2020 iPhones. It is bound to be mainstream within the next year or two. Because of its nature, total 5G coverage would require many receivers placed all over, at least for the top tier 5G bandwidth (mmWave). As a workaround, carriers are providing slower 5G with better reach. It is worth noting, however, that even slow 5G is better than 4G.
- The First 5nm Processors
Smartphone processing power has come leaps and bounds and yet another milestone was reached in 2020. The already fast 7nm architecture processors became second best to the first 5nm chip – Apple’s A14 Bionic. It is efficient, powerful, and became an even bigger deal when it was used as the blueprint for Apple’s revolutionary M1 chips for the Macbooks. The second 5nm chip was Huawei’s Kirin 9000, which was then followed by Qualcomm’s announcement of the Snapdragon 888 chip. Even Samsung is expected to feature their new Exynos 1080 chip in their next flagships. What all the 5nm chips have in common is the raw power and efficiency, which means greater performance with no negative effect on battery life.
- Android 11 & iOS 14
Each year sees the newest flavors of both Android and iOS. In 2020 we got both, with each bringing something different when compared to previous offerings. IOS 14 brought Android-like UI changes in the form of widgets that changed how users interacted with their home screens. Android 11 built on top of Android 10 and doubled down on privacy and security. There are some nifty features like a smarter AI Assistant that improve the overall user experience.
While the experience is very streamlined and standard across the board for Apple devices, it is a vastly different case for Android. Each manufacturer uses a skin to deliver what they think is the best version of the OS. Samsung introduced OneUI 3.0 for its newer devices while Oxygen OS 11 was unveiled for OnePlus devices. New versions of MIUI, ColorOS, and FunTouch OS were also unveiled, all based on Android 11.
- 108Mp Cameras
Devices bearing the Ultra and Pro monikers have brought some insane features in the past, but 2020 saw that taken to new heights. Devices like the S20 Ultra and the Mi Note 10 had 108MP main cameras – a mind-blowing figure. Using such a large sensor on a phone is an achievement in itself, and the images captured had lots of detail even when zoomed into.
- Insane Zoom Capabilities
On top of 108MP cameras came over 100x zoom, albeit hybrid (optical + digital). It was more of a marketing gimmick than anything else because zooming past a certain level makes photos unusable. Still, owners of phones like the Samsung S20 Ultra have all the bragging rights when it comes to zooming capabilities. From a more realistic standpoint, an optical zoom of 5x or 10x is very, very impressive. Such telephoto cameras are the gold standard.
- Super-Fast Wired & Wireless Charging
The huge numbers did not just stop at the cameras in 2020. The Mi 10 Ultra debuted with 120W wired charging and 50W wireless charging. I do not know what part of that you find most impressive. When wired, the phone goes from 0 to 41% in 5 minutes, and up to 100% in 23 minutes. Its wireless charging can fill it up in 100 minutes. Additionally, it has 10W wireless reverse charging, a technology that appeared in more upper echelon devices in 2020.
- High Refresh Rates
Smooth scrolling, responsive gaming – benefits of high refresh rate screens. What started at 90Hz quickly moved up to 120Hz and subsequently 144Hz as seen in 2020 gaming phones and some mainstream ones. High refresh rates improve the experience of the user, not exactly the phone’s raw power or capabilities. There are split camps as far as high refresh rates go – some do not care and some just cannot live without it. Which side are you on?
- The Return of Mediatek
You’d be forgiven for not knowing about MediaTek. The chip makers have been second best to Qualcomm for the longest time but had their resurgence in 2020 through their Dimensity range of chipsets. Cheap, but powerful, they featured in many midrange devices allowing manufacturers to offer very competitive prices, something not quite possible with Snapdragon chips.
- Weird, but Cool Smartphones
The LG Wing was a standout 2020 phone because of its rotating screen and all the possibilities it brought. This was in addition to the second generation foldables like the Galaxy Z Fold 2 and the clamshell design Moto Razr throwback.
- The First Under-Display Camera
The ZTE Axon 20 became the world’s first smartphone with an under-display camera. It was announced in September and became available for purchase in December, although with limited availability.
What big features are coming in 2021?
- More 5nm Processors
While a lot of 5nm processors were announced in 2020, we are bound to see the bulk of them incorporated in smartphones in 2021. The most powerful generation of smartphones yet will make its way to your pocket in the course of this year, with Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 888 making its debut on the Xiaomi Mi 11 and S21 soon after.
- Qualcomm Snapdragon 888
Announced in 2020, the Snapdragon 888 is more than just another 5nm processor. The improvement from the previous gen 875 is quite significant, with boosts in CPU and GPU capabilities. Other huge talking points are camera capabilities, AI, and 5G. For camera, the 888 is capable of HDR video, insane low-light shots and snappy performance. Unlike the previous processor, the 5G modem is hosted on the chip making it cheaper and more power-efficient. There is a new AI chip that will make AI tasks all the more awesome.
- Invisible (Disappearing) Cameras
At CES 2020, OnePlus showcased the Concept One phone that had one headlining feature – the cameras at the back were there in one second and gone in the next. It electrochromic glass, the same technology that McLaren uses in its supercars to darken the sunroof. It is an aesthetic feature that will probably be in niche devices. It is still cool though.
- Rollable Displays
First showcased on TVs, we could very well see a smartphone with a rollable display for the mass market. Bets are up for which manufacturer will be the first to do it and the first to do it right. Unlike the disappearing cameras, rollable displays solve an actual problem – foldable phones have a crease and an unorthodox form factor. A rollable display can maintain the shape of a normal phone while still being able to extend to larger sizes.
- Even Faster Charging Speeds
Manufacturers like Oppo have already showcased 125W wired charging and 65W wireless charging. If this is anything to go by, 2021 will be the year where battery capacity does not matter as much if all it takes is a few minutes to get it charged to full capacity.
- Under Display Cameras
While the feature debuted in 2020, it is bound to go mainstream in 2021 – at least for the high-end devices. Having an uninterrupted display without the moving mechanisms required for a pop-up selfie camera should be quite the addition to smartphones.
- First Portless Phone
This is most likely going to be Apple if the past years are anything to go by. They made the headphone jack irrelevant – and with the inclusion of Magsafe – they might do the same to their infamous lightning port, at least on their iPhones. They already removed the charging brick from the retail packaging.
- The Return of TouchID
With the inclusion of OLED displays on the 2020 iPhones, Apple can now include TouchID on the 2021 iPhones and hopefully reduce or get rid of the huge notch entirely.
What devices are coming in 2021
- Samsung Galaxy S21 Lineup
Sources claim that we might see the S21 as early as January. The camera bump might see a new design with flat displays. There should be a new color as well – Mystic Purple. The best news? The series might start at a lower price than its predecessors.
Past years have seen complaints from regions that received S-series phones with Exynos processors because they were inferior to the Snapdragon versions. 2021 may be different though. Samsung’s in-house 5nm processor may finally be just as good as the latest Qualcomm processor, at least in terms of raw performance.
Lastly, we may see the last Galaxy Note device this year, or none at all! The S21 might just have S-Pen support.
- Galaxy Z Fold 3
The Fold 3 might just be replacing the Note in 2021. It is set to have S-Pen support and under-display cameras.
- Pixel 6
Google chose to focus on good performance and more affordable pricing and the result was a mid-range flagship. Chances are that Google will go the same route for the Pixel 6, but with much better camera performance, which is saying a lot for a Pixel device. More interestingly is that the Pixel 6 might use a version of Samsung’s 5nm Exynos processor.
- iPhone 13 Lineup
Not a lot is known about the iPhone 13 series, but it might just be the first portless smartphone lineup. A 120Hz ProMotion display is all but guaranteed at this point. Fingers crossed that the notch shrinks in size!
- OnePlus 9 Lineup
OnePlus might have three devices in their lineup – the standard 9, the Pro, and the new 9E. The 9E might be the affordable flagship, sort of like the 8T. The design of the OnePlus 9 might be new, specifically on the placement of the camera modules.
- 2021 iPads
Apple’s iPads are the best tablets – period. With the strides that Apple is making both in hardware and software, the gap between them and second-best can only get wider. 5G may be included in the entire lineup, as well as iterative upgrades.
There is certainly a lot to look forward to in 2021 – this applies to both smartphones and life in general. We can only sit and wait – as we protect ourselves – and protect all our current devices with the brilliant Tech Armor Accessories.