Weekend phone talk: Chip

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Hi guys, this is Chip and this week it’s my turn to share my thoughts on the year so far and my expectations for the months to come. I thought I’ll try a slightly different format to make this more manageable, splitting it all in three. Let’s start with the big gainers of 2018.

The winners

Huawei

The Chinese company overtook Apple as the world’s second largest phone maker by volume thanks to its huge portfolio of phones. It’s got something for every budget and there are plenty of categories where its phones are an easy recommendation.

Huawei also showed that it’s not only good at quickly responding to trends, but can also drive innovation. The triple camera of the P20 Pro is a thing of marvel and so is its Twilight painjob. The company still has a lot to learn (that same P20 Pro’s selfie camera is a disaster that only serves marketing purposes with its 24MP resolution), but it’s improving quickly and despite the US setback it might not be inconceivable that it will soon take the fight to Samsung.

Samsung’s flagships

The Koreans may not be doing as hot as previous years in terms of sales, but their flagships still remain the phones to beat in the premium Android segment. The Galaxy S9 and Galaxy S9+ were seen as minor refreshes, which hurt their market performance, but the truth is they took a solid base and polished it, delivering meaningful upgrades to user experience. Previously the company was criticized for failing to

As for the Galaxy Note9 – it’s the best phablet currently in the market and while it too doesn’t make for a very compelling upgrade from the Note8, it’s the one to get if you are coming from virtually any other device. Provided that you can afford it, of course.

Xiaomi

The Chinese prodigy company kept expanding its portfolio and there’s rarely a device in it that’s not delivering amazing value for money. The Pocophone F1 is a particularly exciting example of just that, showing that you don’t need to pay anything close to $ 1000 to get flagship performance.

Also with the company’s relatively young Android One lineup that got two new additions this year it can finally caters to those that wouldn’t want to deal with MIUI’s learning curve. It should perhaps consider adding a proper flagship to that, but I guess that’s a job for the A3 family next year.

Meanwhile, the focus is correctly placed on increasing the availability of its devices, which have been too hard to find for too long.

Oppo and vivo

The two BBK companies delivered the two most exciting phones of the year so far from a technological standpoint with the Nex S and the Find X. They showed that even a mature market such as the smartphone one allows for innovation and out of the box thinking if you have the courage.

The notch and the slider – one of those is certainly prettier than the other

The Oppo Find X, in particular, easily stands out as the most beautiful phone in the market and it’s got the performance and screen to round up a solid device, too. Now the secondary camera on the back is just as pointless as it was on the R15 Pro and the OnePlus 5T and 6, but even so I really hope the phone becomes a success, because it deserves to.

Motorola’s Moto G6 series

In an increasingly crowded mid-range we are still in dire lack of cool designs and the G6 came to fill in that void. Of course cool looks aren’t worth anything if they are not backed by good overall performance, but the G6 and G6 Plus have no trouble ticking that box either.

The losers

Phone design

2018 will probably go down in the phones’ history as the year of the notch – the ugly cutouts are certainly the biggest trend this year and there’s no signs of it slowing down, despite everyone clearly hating them.

HTC

We may be seeing the last of what was once a great company as HTC continues to scale down its mobile phone operations and its revenues keep sliding down. The company that brought us the first Android phone, some of the first Windows Phone handsets and a whole lot of industry’s firsts is now a footnote in the market analysts’ reports and that really saddens me.

LG

Seemingly out of ideas, the company failed to build on the V30, which I loved, in a meaningful way. The V30S ThinQ and V35 ThinQ came in quick succession with very minor changes (the first one was essentially a software update), while the G7 ThinQ was delayed and came months behind its main rivals without offering much over the G6.

I really hope the company delivers a proper successor to the V30 this Fall and finds its groove following the recent reshuffle in its management. It has too many great ideas for its products to be as irrelevant as they are now.

Samsung’s mid-range and entry-level phones

Probably, the main reasons for the company’s contracting sales, despite its unrivaled marketing budget is the poor performance of its mid-range and entry level portfolio. It just doesn’t come anywhere near the value for money offered by the Chinese competitors.

The company already acknowledged that it needs to up its game in that department and it certainly has the resources to do so, but it’s not going to be an easy battle.

Motorola Z series

Treated as an aforethought, the Mod-supporting flagship line of Motorola barely generated any excitement this year. Their claim to fame is the Moto Z3’s 5G MotoMod, but that’s a)huge and b)not coming until next year.

Getting hyped about a feature that’s not happening for another half a year and that might cost as much as the phone at that point is just not happening. Not to mention that at that point we might actually have phones with 5G in the market already.

The expectations

Apple

The 2018 iPhones will have notches, awkward names and no fingerprint sensors. And yet, just because they will have the first large-screen OLED iPhone among them, they should be exciting enough. Plus, Apple often manages to surprise us at the launch events and showcase some cool new feature that will change the market for good. Here’s hoping that’s also going to be the case this year.

Nokia

The company has played it safe this year, betting on its mid-range phones and the 7 Plus is certainly a winner. However, a single good mid-ranger is just not enough to make this a great year for the company. It’s about time we get a proper flagship as the 8 and 8 Sirocco were way too conservative to serve the purpose.

They relied more on undercutting the key competitors than actively try and outperform them and that’s just not what people expect from the top Nokia dogs. The 9 can’t come soon enough.

Sony

The company is not having a great year and it almost made the loser section, but then I remembered that its Xperia XZ3 is coming next week and it has a chance of finally turning things around.

The XZ2 Premium showed that the company still has plenty of great ideas, but it’s about time it delivered a better polished product with no major weaknesses, because that’s where it struggled in the past few years.

Huawei Mate 20 Pro

I already praised Huawei for being the most rapidly improving company, but its Mate 20 lineup and the Pro version in particular might be another exciting step in the right direction.

You see so far the company has been a step behind in the chipset game, with the Kirin flagship losing to the current Snapdragon and Exynos top dogs. Now, however, the company will get a chance to release the Kirin 980 before the competition outs its top dogs and the Mate 20 Pro has every chance of being the most powerful smartphone on the market. Now add the rumored curved OLED and the P20 Pro camera and you get a combo that might be the best on the market.

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