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.
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 are starting to emerge 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 if Apple will save it for September instead.
Samsung: Note 9
The Samsung Galaxy S9 (seen here) has arrived, 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, but second place isn't a bad place to be.
What about the Galaxy Note 9, then? Given Samsung's approach of late, we'd expect it to bear more than a passing resemblance to the Galaxy S9, which means it shouldn't be too far off from the Galaxy Note 8 in design - but rumours suggest potential tweaks.
For example, one of the larger rumours pegs an in-screen fingerprint sensor instead of a back-mounted one, which could free up a bit more room inside for a larger battery. That battery could be as large as 4,000mAh, which is the same size as the Huawei P20 Pro, plus a recent rumour suggests a slightly larger 6.4in display this time around.
It's relatively early still in the rumour rounds, so plenty more info could emerge in the coming months. We'd expect to see the phone launch around August again, as the Note 8 did last year, although a recent report suggests Samsung may bump up the timeline a bit and do a July reveal with an August release.
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.
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.
BLACKBERRY: THE KEY2
What could be the key to BlackBerry's next big success? The BlackBerry Key2, they hope.
Just revealed, the Key2 builds upon last year's fine KeyOne, offering a range of improvements while generally sticking with the same approach. The biggest upgrade comes with the keyboard itself, as the keys are 20% larger and have a nice, grippy matte finish instead of gloss.
The 4.5in 3:2 screen is about the same – which means it's still not ideal for media and games – but it's pushed up now, leaving less bezel on the top. You'll get a mid-range Qualcomm Snapdragon 660 chip inside with 6GB RAM, which should provide a hearty performance bump over the original. And on the back, it's a double-camera setup this time around.
LENOVO: MOTO Z3 PLAY, MORE
The Moto Z3 Play (shown) was just revealed, delivering some key improvements over last year's handset. It has an 18:9 6in Super AMOLED (1080p) display that covers most of the front, plus the glass backing is built for Moto Mods. Where's the fingerprint sensor, then? It's on the side!
The Z3 Play also packs in a dual-camera setup on the back and has mid-range guts, with a Snapdragon 636 chip and 4GB RAM inside. It'll sell for US$499 (no Indian price yet) and release sometime this summer.
Further down the line, a Moto X5 leak suggests an iPhone X-like notched screen approach, much like the Huawei P20 and OnePlus 6, and it can "hide" the notch via software like those phones. Additionally, the leak shows dual cameras on both sides, along with a 5.9in 1080p display. If the leak proves correct, then perhaps we'll see it around late summer (like last year's Moto X4).
That said, a report in March claimed that the X5 had been cancelled following trims to Lenovo's Chicago team. We'll have to wait and see on that one.
Lenovo will also release a Z5 handset of its own (without the Motorola branding), but it was originally teased to be an "all-screen" handset without a notch or chin and... well, that simply wasn't true. It has a notch, it has a chin, and it looks like so many other phones releasing in 2018.
The Lenovo Z5 is releasing in China on 12 June, although it's unclear whether we'll see it internationally as well.
Sony: XPERIA XZ2 Premium
Sony has already released the Xperia XZ2 and XZ2 Compact this year, and they both shift away from the familiar, boxy Sony design we've seen on so many phones over the years. And the results were pretty good: they're both 4-star phones, albeit overshadowed by other flagships on the market today.
What's next, then? Well, Sony has just announced the Xperia XZ2 Premium, which expectedly brings in some higher-end components for yet another revision of the XZ2. It's nearly identical to the standard XZ2 at a glance, but turn on the display and you might be able to tell the difference: it's a 4K HDR panel instead of 1080p.
Elsewhere, the phone picks up a second (12-megapixel monochrome) camera sensor on the back and promises strong low-light performance, thanks to an AUBE fusion image signal processor that hits 51,200 ISO for stills and 12,800 for video. It also has an upgraded front camera.
Bundle in a larger battery - presumably to handle the higher-res screen - and you've got a higher-end phone, albeit one that's sure to cost a bundle. Expect it to release sometime this summer.
WHAT'S ALREADY BEEN RELEASED THIS YEAR
We're almost halfway through 2018, which means plenty of phones that previously resided on this list are no longer anticipated - they're available to purchase. And many of them are truly excellent handsets.
Here's a quick look at the best of the best of the year so far, complete with review links.
- Huawei P20 Pro: Our favourite phone in the world right now packs three back cameras, slick design, and flagship quality throughout.
- OnePlus 6: The latest OnePlus proves you can still get a 2018 Android flagship, notch and all, without spending top dollar.
- Samsung Galaxy S9: It's a small improvement on last year's phone, but still one of the best Android experiences around.
- Honor 9 Lite: Pricey looks and a taller 18:9 screen suggest flagship, but this sharp deal settles in just under ₹11,000.
- Nokia 7 Plus: Some camera annoyances aside, this is one of the best big-phone values on the market today.