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, and Apple iPhone XS Max leading the pack.
And there's only more to come, as Google, OnePlus, and Huawei 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 XR
The iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max just released, and they're both brilliant 5-star phones. But that's not all that Apple has coming in 2018.
The iPhone XR (left) is the fabled "iPhone 9," taking the place of the iPhone 8 as the new core Apple smartphone. It's halfway between the XS models in terms of size, with a lower-resolution 6.1in LCD screen, and keeps the same A12 Bionic chip inside. Here, however, you'll find just one back camera, plus the stainless steel has been swapped for aluminium. That said, the XR line offers a much wider range of colour options, including blue, coral, and (Product)RED.
The iPhone XR starts at ₹76,900, but isn't quite ready for release: this one starts shipping on 26 October instead. And since Apple is keeping the iPhone 8 and iPhone 7 in the lineup at lower prices, we're guessing the rumoured iPhone SE 2 isn't actually happening. R.I.P. small iPhones.
GOOGLE: PIXEL 3 AND 3XL
Following months and months of spot-on leaks, they're finally here. Google just took the wraps off of the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL, both of which pack some big changes from last year's models.
The Pixel 3 sees more polish than last year's bland rectangle, bringing in some curves while trimming a bit of bezel on the top and bottom. The 5.5in 1080p OLED display is a bit larger, too, while the back is all glass now to enable wireless charging.
You'll get top-end Android tech inside, with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 chip and 4GB RAM, along with Android 9 Pie. And while other flagships are popping multiple cameras on the back, Google's stuck with one here – but puts two on the front to add a wider-angle group selfie option. New A.I.-driven tricks should produce even better photos and videos from the rear, however.
The Pixel 3 XL is essentially identical in terms of specs, aside from a larger battery, but it packs in a 6.3in Quad HD OLED display… and a rather deep notch atop the screen. The standard Pixel 3 doesn't have a notch.
Both see a significant price bump over last year's models, with the Pixel 3 starting at ₹71,000 and the Pixel 3 XL beginning at ₹83,000. Both are up for pre-order now.
We've already published our review of the Pixel 3 XL and found it to be a great Android flagship, but that deep notch is distracting and the camera isn't the kind of no-doubt industry leader that past Pixels have featured.
HUAWEI: MATE 20 AND MATE 20 PRO, Mate 20 X
Looking for a new Mate, mate? Huawei has you covered with its new Mate 20 line. We saw the underwhelming Mate 20 Lite weeks back, but Huawei was saving the real deal for autumn – and these three phones look like stunners.
The Mate 20 Pro seems like the real star of the show, with an enormous 6.39in Quad HD OLED display and sleek design, complete with iPhone XS-like 3D facial scanning in the notch for security and animated emoji tricks.
It improves upon the P20 Pro's triple-camera setup, packs in the powerful new Kirin 980 chip, and has one of the beefiest batteries around at 4,200mAh. The Mate 20 Pro can even wirelessly charge another phone by setting it on the back of Huawei's handset. That's surely a niche perk, but kind of cool all the same. It's very unlikely that these smartphones will arrive in India given the previous track record but hey if they do you'll be the first to hear from us.
Meanwhile, the standard Mate 20 drops the extra notch tech and just has a single camera, which means it opts for a tiny teardrop cutout instead. It has a 1080p LCD panel instead (even larger at 6.53in), as well, and the triple-camera specs are trimmed. And no, it won't charge another phone.
Still, it looks nice and packs plenty of power. We don't have an official Indian price yet, but it's selling for €799 (about ₹67,000) in Europe.
And there's one more: the gargantuan Mate 20 X. It looks like the Mate 20 but bumps up to a 7.2in display, has a monstrous 5,000mAh battery cell, and has extensive cooling features to keep the phone running smoothly during lengthy gaming sessions.
You can even attach a half-controller to the side to add an analog stick and d-pad, making it almost Nintendo Switch-esque. The Mate 20 X will sell for €899 (about ₹75,000).
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 are now only weeks away from the OnePlus 6T. OnePlus will officially debut the phone on 30 October in New York City, and then release the phone on 6 November.
Here's what we know, officially: the OnePlus 6T will feature an in-display fingerprint sensor, and it will also remove the 3.5mm headphone port. Co-founder Carl Pei suggests that improved battery life will be one benefit of the latter decision.
And here's what is rumoured and reported: the OnePlus 6T will purportedly follow the design of the striking Oppo R17, which features a tiny teardrop notch. Earlier rumours about three back cameras have given way to the current expectation that OnePlus will stick with two, and the phone will use the same Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 chip as its predecessor.
The above image is reportedly a leaked render that comes via WinFuture, which has correctly leaked past handsets. It also matches up well with previous speculative renders based on leaked CAD data.
CNET suggests a US$550 price, which is US$20 more than the OnePlus 6, and OnePlus CEO Pete Lau likewise hinted that the new technology will add to the price of the OnePlus 6T. We'll find out for sure at the end of the month, though.
SAMSUNG: A FOLDABLE SMARTPHONE... AND 4X FUN?
We've been following the saga of Samsung's supposed foldable Galaxy X smartphone for literally years now, with rumours and executive comments teasing launches that never actually arrived. But when Samsung's mobile CEO says it's happening this year, well, we have to believe him.
That's what DJ Koh told CNBC at the IFA 2018 show, claiming that market surveys suggested that it was finally time for Samsung to show its hand. They'll reportedly do that at November's Samsung Developer Conference, although it's not yet known whether the phone will actually hit stores in 2018.
"You can use most of the uses... on foldable status. But when you need to browse or see something, then you may need to unfold it. But even unfolded, what kind of benefit does that give compared to the tablet? If the unfolded experience is the same as the tablet, why would they (consumers) buy it?," Koh told CNBC. "So every device, every feature, every innovation should have a meaningful message to our end customer. So when the end customer uses it, (they think) 'wow, this is the reason Samsung made it'."
Koh added that development is "complicated" but that they have "nearly concluded" it.
Leaks and concepts have shown an array of potential options: a wallet-like phone that opens up to reveal a large smartphone screen, or even a phone with a tube-like display that rolls out. But based on what Koh's saying, we should see a phone that provides a typical smartphone experience in its folded form, but that can unfold out to create a much larger display for web browsing, media, and more.
Back in June, Shinhan Financial analyst Park Hyung-woo claimed that the phone will have a 4.5in OLED display when folded up, and that it'll expand to a 7.3in screen when unfolded. However, it won't be cheap: another analyst claimed a price of about two million won, which is nearly ₹1,30,000 as of now.
LG: The V40 ThinQ
What's unique here? Well, it's the first smartphone to pack in five total cameras, with three on the back and two up front. You'll get a 16-megapixel super wide-angle camera on the back, along with a 12MP main sensor and 12MP telephoto lens. And while you can certainly command each separately, you can also use the Triple Shot feature to snag a shot from all three at once and then pick a favourite result.
Elsewhere, the V40 ThinQ keeps the notched design of the LG G7 ThinQ, now atop a giant 6.4in Quad HD OLED display. It's loaded up with a Snapdragon 845 chip and 6GB RAM, so it'll surely be speedy, plus it has a 32-bit Hi-Fi Quad DAC and DTS:X 3D Surround Sound, along with the very cool Boombox speaker effect from the G7.
It's not cheap, however. The V40 ThinQ has only been confirmed for U.S. release so far, where it'll start at US$900. It's shipping there now, but there's no word yet on an international rollout.
SAMSUNG: AND THE GALAXY A9
But before that, Samsung has something rather unique coming to the upper mid-range space: the Galaxy A9, the first smartphone to pack four cameras on the back alone. And you thought three cameras on the Huawei P20 Pro was enough…
Each camera does something a bit different: there's a 24-megapixel main sensor, a 10MP telephoto camera with 2X optical zoom, an 8MP ultra-wide lens, and a 5MP depth sensor for playing with the depth of field on portrait shots.
Toss in a 6.3in 1080p panel, a mid-range Snapdragon 660 chip, and a hefty 3,800mAh battery pack and it seems like a pretty compelling handset… but it might be at a flagship phone price. We'll see how that shapes up when the Galaxy A9 ships in November.