In the wake of a decade in which the form factor of smartphones has not changed much, 2019 marks a turning point. What with handsets equipped with folding or bezel-less screens, or without any visible camera, innovation can now be seen at first glance. It is worth noting that virtually all of these breakthroughs were achieved by Chinese manufacturers.

Hwawei Mate X

Folding screens

This is obviously the most significant innovation of the year. With great pomp and circumstance, both Samsung and Huawei presented models with revolutionary flexible screens early in the year. The Samsung Galaxy Fold has a screen that opens like a book to offer a diagonal of 7.3 inches, but with a relatively small display of 4.6 inches when folded. In contrast, the Huawei Mate X is distinguished by a big 8-inch screen on the exterior rather than the interior of the device. Those who really wanted one had to dig deep because the device, which only reached the market in the fall, was priced at around US$2,400 per unit. For its part, Motorola played a nostalgia card with its new Razr, an homage to the iconic clamshell models from the early noughties. In this phone, the screen covers the entire inside of the device once unfolded. The new Razr is set to go on sale in early 2020.

Big bezels are gone for good

Begun in 2017, the trend is now global: virtually every smartphone that is launched these days is almost bezel-free. Some still have notches, while others have new “punch-hole” front cameras. Ever since manufacturers succeeded in placing fingerprint sensors under phone displays, screens have grown to cover the entire front of most new devices. The record for this feature is held by Vivo’s Nex 3. According to the Chinese manufacturer, the Nex 3 has a display that covers 99.6% of the front of the phone, which has neither a notch nor a visible fingerprint sensor.

Vivo Next 3
Vivo’s pop up cameras

Cameras that are pop-up

If new phones are supposed to be all-screen, then what do you do with front cameras? Here again, Vivo has come up with a clever solution. In 2018, it was the first manufacturer to offer a pop-up front camera. Now the Chinese manufacturer has gone a step further with the V17 Pro, which is the first ever device to be equipped with a dual pop-up front camera. Even more remarkably, one of these paired cameras on the phone’s motorized mount has a wide-angle lens. Now that really is new.

… or under the screen

Oppo and Xiaomi are the first manufacturers to have unveiled smartphone prototypes with front cameras placed directly under the screen, which saves space by getting rid of the notch, which is where they are usually housed. It remains to be seen if this technology is really ready, and if it can deliver pictures that are as sharp as those provided by a camera in a more standard location. If that is the case, the first models to be equipped with these new hidden cameras should be available on the market in 2020.

Ultra-fast charging

Wireless charging is increasingly common, but wired charging, which is setting new speed records, may be poised to make a comeback. With its Realme X2 Pro, Chinese manufacturer Realme is offering a very impressive charging system. With the SuperVOOC Flash Charge technology developed by its sister company Oppo, the new Realme phone’s 4.000 mAh battery can be completely recharged in only half an hour. And that’s not all, Oppo has promised to bring out a model that can be fully charged in just 15 minutes, but for that we will have to wait until 2020.