Another year brings with it a huge range of new smartphones to look forward to. From top of the line flagships to pleasantly surprising budget offerings, we are sure to see plenty of interesting devices announced throughout 2016, but here’s a short list of 6 handsets that are definitely worth keeping an eye on.
Samsung Galaxy S7
It’s impossible not to kick off our rundown with the biggest yearly announcement in the Android hardware world, Samsung’s next flagship smartphone, the Galaxy S7. Whether you’re a Samsung fan or not, the unveiling of the S7 is going to set the bar for this year’s flagship smartphones and it will no doubt sell millions of units.
While the latest rumors suggest that Samsung will be sticking with a very similar design for the Galaxy S7 and its curved Edge variant, we are expecting a number of hardware improvements to this year’s phone. Camera technology will likely see another leap forward, with Samsung rumored to either be interested in the 25 megapixel Sony IMX300 sensor or using its own 12MP BRIGHTCELL technology, which features larger pixels for superior light capture. Other tweaks could include a USB-Type C port, a higher quality audio DAC, and a pressure sensitive display, with many more also rumored.
The Galaxy S7 will also be the first smartphone packing Samsung’s Exynos 8890 processor. This will be the first chip to feature four CPU cores designed specifically by Samsung, accompanied by a Mali-T880MP12 for some serious graphics performance and Samsung’s ModAP modem which supports Category 12 LTE speeds and carrier aggregation. With Qualcomm releasing its own Kryo CPU powered Snapdragon 820 around the same time, which is rumored to feature in some Galaxy S7 variants too, we are looking at some major competition between the two SoC designers.
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Along with hardware, Samsung itself has decided that it needs to focus on improving its software experience in order to differentiate itself from other manufacturers. Practical ideas like Samsung Pay are great for consumers and some other new software features, along with tweaks to TouchWiz, could address some people’s complains about Samsung’s flagship smartphones.
HTC One M10
In contrast to Samsung’s successful Galaxy range, HTC’s One M series has gradually declined in momentum, leaving the Taiwanese company’s smartphone business in a tough spot. The manufacturer clearly needs to switch things up to have a major impact this year and the HTC One M10, or whatever the M9’s successor is called, could just be the smartphone to do it.
There aren’t that many M10 rumors floating around right now, so really almost anything could happen. We are certainly expecting high-end hardware, such as a QHD display, Snapdragon 820 processor and a fingerprint scanner, and hopefully some better camera technology too. While some still love HTC’s familiar design language, it has become increasingly tough for the general consumer to tell each generation apart. Perhaps this flagship range is in need of an aesthetic redesign in order to kick start consumer interest, but only HTC knows how many radical changes it is prepared to make.
The M10 could be the smartphone that reignites HTC’s mobile success or it might be the swansong from a former industry leader. Either way grab the popcorn, it’s going to be interesting.
Huawei was one of the big movers in 2015, gaining not only a bigger market share in China, but also further expanding its presence in Europe. The company recently announced that its Honor 5X, Mate 8 and a smartwatch will be heading to the US. The next big announcement from Huawei is expected to be its flagship P9 smartphone. If this handset also heads to the US, Huawei will be going right up against the biggest Android brands in every major global market.
The Huawei P9 won’t just be a big deal for the company’s US ambitions though, it’s also a showcase for the best technology that the Chinese brand has to offer. The latest hardware rumors point to a 5.2-inch 1080p display, 3 or 4GB of RAM, and a fingerprint scanner, basically making it a smaller version of the company’s recently released and rather good Mate 8. The smartphone will likely feature the company’s latest in-house Kirin 950 mobile SoC as well.
Although not quite designing its own CPU cores like other mobile SoC designers, Huawei’s custom Kirin chips are helping to keep the company ahead in the cost effective smartphone market and certainly make a statement about competing with household names like Samsung.
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According to another rumor, the company may be preparing to release four slight variations on its P9 flagship. Along with the main model, there’s talk about a budget oriented P9lite, a presumably larger P9max and an “enhanced” edition P9, which apparently packs in some additional hardware features, including a deal rear camera and additional RAM. A slide spotted in China suggests that the P9 may arrive in April.
Huawei was a brand to watch in 2015 and no doubt this will remain the case throughout 2016.
Speaking of more reasonably priced smartphones, BlackBerry CEO John Chen not long ago indicated that the company will release at least one new Android phone in 2016 and he previously mentioned that this may be a mid to high end smartphone.
The phone likely won’t appear until the second half of the year and probably won’t be a budget offering. Instead, BlackBerry may be developing a “super-mid” tier smartphone, which could grab the attention of value seeking customers across the globe. The slow and limited global availability of the Priv has been acknowledged by Chen and might be the biggest complaint that the company will look to address with its next smartphone.
It’s too early to talk about potential hardware specifications, but surely BlackBerry intends to keep its iconic physical keyboard. Chen also recently confirmed that it was continuing to work with Samsung regarding display technology, but didn’t confirm if this partnership would extend to BlackBerry’s next generation smartphones.
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The Priv may not be selling in huge numbers, but it seems to have done well enough to encourage BlackBerry to try its hand at another smartphone or two. With a physical keyboard and some top notch security and productivity features, perhaps BlackBerry’s mid-range smartphone will bring some new supports to the mobile old guard.
Lenovo’s Project Tango
One of the more interesting looking smartphones that we know is on the way is Lenovo’s Project Tango handset, which was confirmed at this year’s CES. While we don’t have the device specifics, Project Tango integration will open up a load of interesting new augmented and virtual reality applications , along with some other truly unique software experiences.
In case you missed it, Project Tango is a Google run platform based around computer vision technologies. The software uses motion tracking from accelerometers and gyroscopes, along with a specialized camera setup to collect 3D information about a space, such as depth and distance. From this data, application developers can do things like overlay augmented information on top of an object within the camera’s field of view or recreate a real space in virtual 3D.
Google has already released two developer kits, one tablet and one smartphone, the latest of which made use of an infra-red depth camera and specialized image processing chips to calculate all of this data. Lenovo’s smartphone will likely be the first consumer product to make use of Google’s technology, which is very exciting indeed.
Lenovo’s Project Tango smartphone is scheduled for release in the summer of 2016.
While we’re on the subject of slightly more out their ideas, we have heard rumors about not one, but two Nexus smartphones that might be manufactured by HTC later this year. Given HTC’s rather poor smartphone performance sales lately, a couple of Nexus branded smartphones might give the company a sorely needed revenue boost as well as some extra global brand exposure.
The only hardware rumors that we have right now are that there might be two variants, one low and one high cost, with 5-inch and 5.5-inch display sizes respectively. This would follow in Google’s 2015 Nexus strategy of releasing two Nexus smartphones at different price points.
However, the HTC designed Nexus 9 seems to have been a bit hit and miss with consumers last year, as were its smartphones. This especially applies when it comes to camera quality verses the recently Nexus releases, which boast some of the best image sensors in the business. This rumor could go two ways, some input from Google combined with HTC’s eye for design could produce some wonderfully well put together Nexus phones. However if HTC can’t revive itself with the One M10, does Google really want a company that looks to be on the way out designing this year’s Nexus handset?
Of course, this barely scratches the surface of the major releases heading our way this year, and there is plenty more to be excited about. Will the LG G5 surpass the Galaxy S7, can the Mi5 boost Xiaomi to topple some of the big players, or perhaps the OnePlus 3 will finally see the little company breakout into mainstream success?
What devices are you most looking forward to this year?