That all changed in 2020. With COVID-19, much of the world’s population has been forced into self-quarantine in hopes of preventing the spread of the virus. This has caused us to become more dependent on video calling and social media than in the past. Our phones have helped us stay connected, entertained and distracted from the relative horrors of the world around us. Fortunately, mobile technology has kept innovation at a steady pace throughout the year despite the hell of 2020. Phone makers haven’t dropped the ball. In fact, many have pushed the boundaries like never before.
With the end of the year (finally!), It’s high time we looked ahead. Here’s what to expect from smartphones throughout 2021.
See also: 7 smartphone trends that should really stop in 2021
Credit: Eric Zeman / Android Authority
Phones that fold are still a nascent product category. We saw three major efforts in 2020 including the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip and Flip 5G, the Galaxy Z Fold 2, and the Motorola Razr 5G. Each of these phones had strengths and weaknesses, although we really liked the Z Fold 2. If there’s a common thread running through the foldable phone category, however, it’s an outrageous price tag. The Z Flip and Razr 5G cost over $ 1,400, and the Z Fold 2 costs a brutal $ 1,980. Obviously, the foldables of 2020 weren’t consumer devices.
As 2021 approaches, it’s fair to expect foldables to become more affordable. That doesn’t mean they’ll be cheap. You can expect phones like the Z Fold 2 to keep their $ 2,000 prices. Instead, we’ll see new efforts that are in the upper mid-range with prices ranging from $ 800 to $ 1,000.
Related: The best foldable phones you can get
“While most of the competition is working on their first foldable, flipped or rolling phones, Samsung is gearing up its third generation foldables and promising to bring the prices down,” said Avi Greengart, president, senior analyst at Techsponential. “More affordable options will help clarify just how much consumers want their phone to change shape. Microsoft is also worth watching as it learns from its first-generation Surface Duo, and LG seems particularly keen on experimentation. “
5G at all levels
Samsung was the first major phone maker to add 5G to its entire line of high-end devices and much of its mid-range. The entire Galaxy S20 series had 5G on board – and the corresponding hefty price tag. Later, Samsung introduced 5G on its more affordable devices, including the Galaxy A71 and Galaxy S20 FE. Apple, Google, Nokia and others have followed suit, as have other manufacturers. At the end of 2020, we started to see 5G adoption really take off.
By 2021, it’s clear that more phones than ever will have 5G. We can thank Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 700 series chipsets for bringing the new midrange connectivity standard. So expect the majority of mid-range phones to have 5G on board next year. What is not yet clear is how far the 5G product card will spread. Google already offers some really affordable 5G phones, such as the Pixel 4a 5G. Will we see 5G in phones below the $ 399 price tag? It’s possible.
Read more: Here is what will follow for 5G in 2021
5G will also get much faster. While mmWave 5G impresses with its raw performance, its limited availability means most people are surfing a slower mid-band 5G.
“Phones incorporating Qualcomm’s X60 modem will offer significantly faster 5G sub-6 speeds because they allow more flexibility in combining frequency bands,” Greengart said. “In the US, the impact will be largely confined to T-Mobile’s network in 2021 until the winners of the mid-range government auction can take advantage of it. In the second half of 2021, if the pandemic abates, we might also start to see concrete use cases of mmWave 5G in crowded areas and stadiums.
Quick displays (more)
Credit: C. Scott Brown / Android Authority
If there was one trend that we saw in 2020 that we liked, it’s the proliferation of fast screens. Major phone makers have increased the refresh rate of their screens from 60Hz to 90Hz, 120Hz, and even 144Hz. Faster refresh rates provide a smoother experience, especially when scrolling or gaming. These are found on phones like the ROG Phone 3 and the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra.
We’re confident that high refresh rate displays will become the norm in 2021. For example, leaks suggest that cheap Redmi phones will get 120Hz displays. Specifically, MediaTek’s Dimensity 700 series of chips support 90 Hz. This will bring fast screens to cheaper handsets.
(Hopefully Apple will catch the trend and move to faster screens as well.)
Credit: David Imel / Android Authority
ZTE introduced the first phone with an under-display camera in 2020, the Axon 20 5G. This brand new technology relies on transparent layers to allow a camera to take photos through a screen. The idea is to hide the camera in such a way as to lose the notch or punch hole design, creating a more seamless screen experience. This is how the sub-screen camera works.
It’s a solid bet that other phones with hidden cameras are on the way.
Xiaomi was among the first wave of phone makers to say it will embrace sub-screen camera technology. However, you can rest assured that Xiaomi and ZTE will not be alone. While we don’t have more commitments from other phone makers and the underscreen camera technology isn’t perfect, it’s a safe bet that more and more phones with hidden cameras are on their way.
8K recording proliferates
Credit: Hadlee Simons / Android Authority
If there’s one trend that probably seems obvious to you now, it’s that we expect features found mostly on high-end phones in 2020 to hit phones with lower prices in 2021. This applies. to 8K video capture.
We first saw 8K video capture enter the limelight with devices like the Xiaomi Mi 10 Pro and the Samsung Galaxy S20 series in early 2020. The feature then came to the LG V60 ThinQ and a a number of other flagship products throughout the year. The good news is that a wider array of chips support 8K video capture today, which means the functionality will proliferate across a wider price range. Specifically, now that 8K TVs are (almost) affordable, there will be a place to watch those 8K images.
Augmented reality takes control of reality
It’s easy to shoot augmented reality. At the moment, Apple and Google seem to be the only companies that are really interested in the technology. Apple continues to update its ARKit developer tools and release AR compatible hardware. This is not what we are talking about.
“Qualcomm has invested heavily in AR and VR functionality, and its chips can be found in almost any stand-alone VR system on the market,” Greengart noted. “Thanks to Facebook’s Oculus Quest 2, virtual reality looks set to break into the mainstream, but primarily as a gaming platform.” If you’ve been paying attention to your TV, you’ve probably seen Oculus’ push to grab consumer attention with dramatic ads.
In 2021, we’ll see headsets that connect to Snapdragon phones.
However, “AR has much wider potential,” suggests Greengart. “In 2021, we’ll see headsets that plug into Snapdragon phones leave the labs and hit the shelves. Apple has been working on its own AR glasses; if history is any guide, Apple will drop the first set of solutions next year and define the market on its own terms later. “
What smartphone trends do you think we’ll see in 2021? Let us know in the comments.