Last year was a fantastic one for phones. We got skinnier screen bezels than ever, cameras that took better pictures than dedicated compacts, and better-than-all-day battery life.
But we want more, and that's exactly what we're getting in 2018. We're more than halfway into the year and we've already seen some knockout options, with the Huawei P20 Pro, OnePlus 6, and Samsung Galaxy S9 leading the pack.
And there's only more to come, as Apple, Google, and Samsung ready their next respective big things. Curious what's coming before 2019 rolls around? Here's what we know about 2018's hugest phones, from what's already been announced to what's pouring out the rumour mill.
Additional words by Tom Morgan
Apple: iPhone XI and SE 2?
The iPhone X is Apple's most beautiful handset to date, and a nicely daring twist after a few years of diminishing returns on the same design – but it's also incredibly expensive, putting it out of reach of a lot of prospective iPhone buyers.
What will happen in 2018? If one analyst is to be believed, Apple may extend the full-face screen approach – complete with that divisive notch – to the entire line. Ming Chi-Kuo of TF International Securities believes that Apple will launch an updated 5.8in OLED model, an "iPhone XI" or whatever you want to call it, along with two other models.
One would be a larger model with a towering 6.5in OLED display, and the other would fall right in the middle of the two, purportedly carrying a 6.1in display. The difference is that it would be a lower-resolution LCD screen, with that version acting as the entry-level, slightly cheaper model under the iPhone XI. That might be the new iPhone 9, essentially.
Confusing? Yeah, just a bit – but it does seem likely that the notch-centric, Face ID-packing design is the way of the future for Apple, and it'll only be a matter of time before all of its phones scrap the old 16:9/Touch ID approach.
In terms of price, Kuo believes that the 6.1in LCD model will sell for US$600-700, replacing the iPhone 8 in the line, while the 5.8in iPhone X successor will drop down to US$800-900 and the new extra-large 6.5in OLED model will go for US$900-1000.
Whether that will all happen this year remains to be seen, but we certainly expect some big developments from Apple this autumn. September is usually when we see these things, although the iPhone X didn't actually release until November last year.
Meanwhile, rumours were swirling this spring about an iPhone SE 2 - an updated version of Apple's super-small, entry-level handset. We're not expecting any massive changes, but updated specs and a rumoured glass backing would make it a much better option in 2018. Still, it didn't debut at WWDC, so we're wondering whether Apple will debut it in September alongside the larger phones or maybe sit this one out 'til next year.
Samsung: Galaxy Note 9
The Samsung Galaxy S9 arrived earlier this year, and it briefly held the top spot on our list of the greatest smartphones in the world today. It has since been dethroned by Huawei's latest belter and dropped down the chart a bit, but Top 5 isn't a bad place to be.
What about the just-revealed Galaxy Note 9, then? Given Samsung's approach of late, it's unsurprisingly very close to the Galaxy Note 8 in design. The fingerprint sensor has been smartly separated from the back camera array, but it's otherwise pretty much identical.
It packs a slightly larger 6.4in screen this time around, along with a beefy 4,000mAh battery pack, which is the same size as the Huawei P20 Pro's. The S Pen also gets a boost via Bluetooth connectivity, which enables remote features for the button like controlling music and the camera shutter.
The Note 9 also offers 128GB and 512GB storage options, with the ability to add another 512GB via microSD cards. Yes, you can have 1TB total in there, if you're willing to spend for it. And you'll spend for it. The £899 base price for the Galaxy Note 9 is the line's highest to date, while the 512GB model bumps up to £1099. It's out on 24 August.
Google: Pixel 3, Pixel 3 XL, more?
Google took an interesting approach to last year's phones, with the Pixel 2 sticking to a tried-and-tested 16:9 screen and the larger Pixel 2 XL busting the bezels with an 18:9 aspect ratio. It didn't necessarily pay off, with the smaller phone looking dated by comparison and the bigger one suffering from a few screen quality issues. They still had the best cameras you'd find in a phone (at least before the P20 Pro came out), though, as well as a pure Android Oreo operating system.
Leaks suggest that Google will try another two-tiered approach this year, but with even wider differences between them. A purported leak of Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL screen protectors suggests that the larger XL will feature a notched screen, while the smaller Pixel 3 will not. What you're looking at above is a PhoneArena render of what those handsets might look like, although our Pixel 3 preview also has multiple purported leaked photos of the actual Pixel 3 XL.
We expect both phones to use the newest Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 chip, while Bloomberg reports that Google will stick with a single back camera on both devices. However, they believe that the Pixel 3 XL will have two front cameras, which the leaked screen protector image lines up with.
The phones should debut in October, as is Google's routine, and they'll be the new vanguard devices for Android 9.0 P, coming later this year.
OnePlus: The 6T
It's almost that time of year again. We're just a few months out from the release of the excellent OnePlus 6, but we could be weeks away from the OnePlus 6T.
CNET reports that the OnePlus 6T will launch in October at a price of approximately US$550, which is US$20 more than the OnePlus 6. Unfortunately, there aren't very strong rumours yet about the actual contents of the phone.
We'd expect something very similar to the OnePlus 6, from a notched screen to the Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 chip. There's speculation that the OnePlus 6T will resemble the Oppo R17 (shown), which significantly minimizes the notch, but we'd be surprised to see OnePlus make such a significant visual change for the half-year revision.
Huawei/Honor: Mate 20, more
The P20 Pro is our favourite phone so far this year, but can the Huawei Mate 20 or Mate 20 Pro dethrone it? We're starting to hear buzz and leaks around the phones ahead of a launch expected either at or soon after IFA 2018, which starts at the end of August.
Leaks suggest that they'll be the first phones to bear the new Kirin 980 processor, which is claimed to be 20% faster than the Kirin 970 and 40% more efficient. Leaks suggest a non-notched approach for the Mate phones, with a 6.3in display on the Mate 20 and a rumoured, seriously massive 6.9in screen on the Pro.
The Mate 20 Pro is said to feature a triple-camera setup like the P20 Pro, plus an in-display fingerprint sensor is rumoured. We should also see a huge battery pack, perhaps as large as 4,200mAh. You can find more leaks and details in our new Huawei Mate 20 preview.
As for Huawei's Honor brand, they've teased something "crazy fun" and "crazy smart" for IFA. Pocket-Lint suggests it could be the newly-announced Honor Play or Honor Note 10 from China, but given Honor's hints, we wouldn't be surprised to see both later this month.
Nokia: The Nokia 9
Nokia dropped a whole bunch of phones earlier this year at MWC, but the company might be saving its best for last. Leaks point to a full-bodied flagship Nokia 9 phone.
Rumours and leaks suggest a notch-and-chin approach, along with ceramic backing and a gold finish, a 6in AMOLED Quad HD display, and a Snapdragon 845 chip inside. We could also see a very large 3,900mAh battery pack, and there are whispers of an in-display fingerprint sensor like the one rumoured for the Huawei Mate 20.
This speculative render above is based on a source's "information and his own imagionation," says NokiaPowerUser, so it could be close or it could be far off from the truth. It looks nice, though.
The most compelling bit amidst the rumours is the possibility of a truly crazy camera setup, recalling the super-powered cameras from Window Phone-era Nokia phones. One rumour suggests a triple-camera setup like the Huawei P20 Pro, which is plenty compelling – but another rumour says it'll be a penta-camera approach with ZEISS rotating camera tech.
It sounds over-the-top to us, but that's why we love the rumour. We'd love to see Nokia come out swinging and reassert itself as a maker of truly innovative, must-have handsets. Even if all of these details don't prove true, we can't wait to see what they have planned… although the rumoured US$999 price point, the same as the Apple iPhone X, gives us pause.
We had heard rumours about a launch at IFA 2018 at the end of August, but Nokia has just teased the debut of "one of the most anticipated phones" on 21 August, and we have to believe that's this one. Stay tuned!