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AnandTech Year In Review 2018: Mobile Flagship



When we go to the end of the calendar year, it is time to look back and see what 2018 has led to the mobile room. Unlike the PC industry, the mobile site follows a rather unsustainable and precise publishing plan, which means we guarantee new products every year. This can be a double-edged sword for new flagship mobile devices, as new technology can be ready for the forefront of a new product cycle – or in the worst case, they may miss the current generation completely by a few months and have to be relocated to the next generation. Overall, smart phone companies have an incredibly complex task of trying to deliver products that not only represent an improvement to last year's units, but also to be able to distinguish themselves from today's competition. In this paragraph, we will look more closely at the prominent trends in 201

8 and how big players have performed their strategies this cycle.

How 2018 is remembered: Major Smartphone Camera Leaps

If I were asked what 2018's flagship smartphone's most defining characteristic would be, then I would say its cameras. Essentially, each vendor made significant progress in 2018 in terms of camera performance, quality enhancement and addition of new features. This year more than ever we saw a significant amount of products that make the camera their most important selling point.

From the beginning of the year, Samsung led the way with the release of the Galaxy S9. The S9 camera on paper was not that unusual, except that the main camera module used a new innovative dual-aperture mechanism. Samsung's gains here were defined by pure camera hardware enhancement: The new sensor, along with the new lens mechanism, had raised the bar for total detail and sharpness, an aspect of the camera where Samsung still maintains its top marks until today.

Another player whose improvements to the camera can be attributed to significant hardware leaps is Apple. The new iPhone XS and XR's new camera module made a significant improvement in the sensor, with new larger pixels and a particularly improved DTI implementation. The combination of great hardware and robust and consistent software processing made the new iPhone XS one of the best cameras in 2018.

The year in which camera software creates camera hardware

Although Samsung and Apple's camera enhancements were significant – it was more or less expected result of newer generation hardware. While hardware enhancements this year were solid, nothing was as great as lasting impressions like Huawei's new computing photography on the P20 Pro and Mate 20 Pro.

  Click for full picture
[ Mate 20Pro ] [ P20Pro ] – [ Pixel 3 ]
] ] ] [ S9 + ] – [ LG G7 ] – ] [ OnePlus 6 ]

Night mode on Huawei devices was part of the company's camera experience for a couple of years now – but it required the use of a tripod to get good results. The introduction of a new upgraded handheld night mode on the P20 Pro gave a new era of true computational photography, and achieved new levels of low light output that had previously been difficult to imagine on a smartphone.

It's Just Recently, and nearly half a year later, the other companies followed suit: Most notably, Google's "Night Sight" mode announced along Pixel 3, with the feature also coming to Pixel 2 and original Pixel. Here, Google was able to up-to-date Huawei when it comes to low light processing issues.

I think Huawei deserves a lot of credit for being a pioneer in computing photography: We have already seen many companies like OnePlus and Xiaomi launching new models and new software updates for cameras that provide their own night mode implementations. I really expect this feature to be a key brand for smartphone vendors in 2019, with essentially all other major vendors coming with new custom implementations.

More Cameras Merrier?

Another big trend that 2018 smartphones will be remembered for is the increasing amount of cameras on a smartphone. Especially this year it has been pretty much the year where it has become a common feature to have a telephoto module on the smartphone. There are still exceptions to this, especially the smaller S9 from Samsung, along with Google's Pixel phones. Suppliers who do not have a telecom module in themselves still offer some extra functionality with a second sensor; LG continued to use a wide-angle G7 lens, while vendors such as OnePlus announced the second sensor used for depth information.

In the last months of 2018, we saw the increase in camera modules in the outside: Instead of having to choose between either a telephoto or a wide-angle module, suppliers such as Huawei, LG and Samsung can now begin Offer trifle of rear camera configurations. Huawei's introduction of a wide-angle module into the new Mate 20 and Mate 20 Pro makes it a great addition to the capture experience, and we are now finally seeing an alternative to LG when it comes to seeing another great device offering the feature. Conversely, we also saw that LG went the three-camera route in the new V40, and for the first time added a telephoto module to its new flagship. Like the "night mode" I expect the camera trifecta to be a key check feature for flagship units in 2019.

How 2018 will also be remembered: The screen slots and its renditions

Apple's 2017 iPhone X was the phone that pretty much "popularized" screen saver . While Apple was not exactly the first company to introduce this, it paved the way for other companies to introduce designs that would not have been for the iPhone X, might not have come to market with the designs they did with Enda.

Now, I really never really felt so strongly about showing notches for most of 2018: It was just something I recognized to be there, but otherwise neither was a big positive or negative for the phones. Huawei's, LG's and OnePlus first implementations this summer worked quite seamlessly, and everyone was allowed to "fail" the notches whenever they wanted.


Mate 20 Pro and Mate 20

Among Android devices, I think the only dubious implementations of notches were on the Pixel 3 XL and on the Mate 20 Pro. The former had only an absurdly high double height notch that aesthetically just wasn't really nice, all while he had much inferior software options when it comes to customizing the "ears". Mate 20 Pro's notch is the one most similar to the iPhone X; both in terms of functionality and design. Here I think the broader design actually prevented things on the software side, when I felt that there was not enough space for the warning beam elements.


OnePlus 6

Now, there is undoubtedly a lot of discussion about screen hacking is worth it, but one thing that all businesses seem to agree is that this is just a temporary solution, while everyone is working towards the goal of non-touch free devices. In fact, some companies this year have taken on some rather radical designs; The Oppo Find X features a motorized body that slides out of the top of the phone, hiding both the front and rear cameras toward the camera under the front screen and backlight. Another implementation adopted by Honor, Xiaomi and Lenovo, devices such as the Honor Magic 2, Mi MIX3 and the new Z5 Pro, where the entire front panel is mounted on a slider mechanism, while the body houses the internals as well as the camera's hardware.

These solutions are quite innovative, but I think they are impractical and sacrifice a lot (Increased weight, less or no IP rating and available thickness available for the camera modules) just for the purpose of having a bezel-less display.

In general, I feel less sure where 2019 will lead us when it comes to solving the screen field / notch problem. Obviously, it is all eyes on Samsung as one of the only hold-outs for most of 2018 that has resisted adopting some models with a notch – here the company was quite public about their plans to adopt "Infinity-V" and " Infinity-O ", the former which is a common V-shaped notch, while the latter will use hole-in-active screen design.


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