Tuesday, February 4, 2014

2014 is set to be an awesome year for smartphones.

2014 is set to be an awesome year for smartphones. We have a whole new look for the Galaxy S5 to look forward to, the first successor to HTC's fantastic HTC One will show whether or not the original was a fluke and we're at the point in Apple's cycle where we get a newly designed iPhone 6 to judge and possibly drool over.

February announcement

The Samsung Galaxy Note 3 neo has recently been tipped by a VP of Samsung Mobile for an April release date. The announcement is set for the upcoming Mobile World Congress (MWC) event, beginning on Feb 24.

At this point most GS5 talk centers around a supposed iris scanner that will fulfil a similar function to Apple’s fingerprint scanner. The tech hasn’t been confirmed specifically for the Galaxy S5 by Samsung, but Lee Young Hee, the Samsung VP in question, has said that it’s something they’re working on for future devices.

We’re also expecting a new look for the S5, thanks to the same interview with the Samsung exec. Like the Apple with the iPhone, Samsung has enjoyed two years with the same Galaxy design, and it is time for a refresh.

There is some suggestion that the S5 will come in two versions: a cheaper version made of plastic and a premium one made of metal (AKA the Galaxy F). Based on Samsung’s history this is doubtful, but a metal-plated Galaxy S5 is certainly a possibility. Both Samsung’s top competitors – Apple and HTC – have had success through switching to metal. Alternatively the Galaxy F may exist, but if it does it’ll be a different device to the S5 and not simply a shinier version.

Other rumors include wrap-around screens, a bezel-less display, flexible OLED panel and a higher resolution.

We can certainly see Samsung upping the res for the GS5. It wouldn’t change much visually. 5-inch 1080p screens like the one on the current S4 are already so pixel-heavy that even doubling their pixels per inch (ppi) may hardly be noticeable. Be this as it may, Samsung loves going all-out with its marketing, and boasting a higher resolution than ‘Full-HD’ 1080p would be an easy sell to the average consumer.

The HTC M8 (One 2/One+)
February announcement expected

Currently known by its working-title, the HTC M8 will be the successor to 2013’s HTC One. The original One was launched at MWC 2013 and saw a March release date, beating Samsung to the punch by a couple of weeks. This year is looking to be similar.

The One represented a new era for HTC. For the first time in almost five years HTC’s flagship was truly the equal of Samsung’s in every way that mattered. Differences between the two smartphones certainly existed, but each was similar enough in quality that Android geeks had difficulty choosing between them.

Current rumors peg the M8 with a variety of specs. The two most prevalent are from evleaks and an XDA member named Mike1986.

evleaks Mike1986 (XDA)
Android version KitKat KitKat
CPU Snapdragon 800 (MSM 8974) Snapdragon 805
Display size 5 inches 5 inches
Display resolution 1080p 1080p
Camera Ultrapixel 6MP or 8MP Ultrapixel
Front camera 2.1MP 2.1MP
WiFi 802.11a/b/g/n/ac N/A
UI Sense 6.0 Sense 6.0
Micro SD N/A Yes
Battery N/A 2900mAh
Other reports claim a screen size of 5.2 inches, or an octa-core processor with 3GB of RAM. This is all possible, but we won’t be sure until it’s finally unveiled.

As for design you can bet that HTC will be sticking with a sleek metal look. We were also told by an HTC spokesperson that, thanks to the feedback from the HTC One, HTC will try to include MicroSD slots in its future smartphone flagships.

Sony Xperia Z1 Compact

The 4.3 inch Xperia Z1 Compact is already on Sony’s official website and is just waiting on a release date.

Unlike most slimmed-down phones like the Galaxy S4 Mini or HTC One Mini, the Xperia Z1 Compact still boasts its big sibling’s flagship specs. It has the same 20.7MP camera, Android 4.3, quad-core 2.2GHz CPU, 2GB of RAM and boasts up to 18 hours of talk time from the 2300mAh battery.

Most importantly, it still has a waterproof rating of IP55 and IP58. In English that means it can sit totally submerged in 1.5 metres of fresh water for up to half an hour, so long as the plug covers are in. You can even use it to take photos underwater, which is very fun.

The only check mark against the Xperia Z1 Compact is that its resolution is 720p rather than 1080p. This shouldn’t be a big deal for most folk, thanks to the smaller screen helping with pixel density. If it is a problem you can grab yourself a vibrant pink or yellow model to cheer yourself up.

ASUS Zenfone 6/5/4
Late January / early February... in the US

ASUS isn’t exactly a big smartphone player, but it recently got press at CES thanks to the incredible affordability of its upcoming Zenfone line.

Specs-to-price the Zenfones are very cheap, starting at US$99 and finishing at US$199. The Zenfone 6 is the big daddy of the three with a six inch 720p display, 2GHz Intel Z2850 CPU, 1GB of RAM, 13MP camera and 2MP front-facing camera, and a huge 3230mAh battery.

Whichever Zenfone is your pic, they all come in multiple colors. The Z6 and Z5 come in White, Black, Red and Gold, while the cheaper Z4 will rock Black, White, Red, Blue and Yellow cases.

The iPhone 6
When? Not soon.

The iPhone 6 is expected to launch sometime around October/November. Obviously we don’t know too much about it just yet, except that it could be the best-selling smartphone of the year, again.

This is one of the years in Apple’s two-year cycle when it gets to shake things up again. New number, new design, new iPhone. Let’s hope Apple makes the most of it.

The one thing we’d really like to see is a bigger screen. Apple already made the jump from a paltry 3.5 inches to 4 inches in 2012, but it wasn’t enough. Ask any iPhone user what they’d most like changed and nine times out of ten they’ll tell you that they want more screen real estate.

We’d also like to see Apple make a big play at re-taking the camera crown. It’s going to be tough, with camera-centric devices like the Lumia 1020 existing, but if anyone can do it it’s Apple. For years no one could come near an iPhone in terms of image quality, so the history of expertise is there. A good first step would be defaulting to a widescreen aspect ratio like that of modern Android and WP devices, rather than the squat-looking ratio that iOS is currently running with.

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