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 only a few months into the year, but 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 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 KGI 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 later this year. 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: 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 Galaxy Note 9, then? Given Samsung's approach of late, it's no surprise that many, many leaks (like this one) show that it's very close to the Galaxy Note 8 in design. The bottom bezel looks to be a hair shorter, and the fingerprint sensor has been smartly separated from the back camera array, but it's otherwise pretty much identical.
We're expecting 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. Recent leaks have suggested that the S Pen will also get a boost via Bluetooth connectivity, which will enable remote features for the button like controlling music and alarms. Hopefully there are more exciting tricks in the bunch, too.
Samsung has dated its next Unpacked event for 9 August in New York, which is when we expect to see the thing with our own eyes. The company is already taking reservations for the phone and promising delivery by 24 August, so that looks to be the official release date.
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.
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.