What a year it’s been for mobile phones. We’ve seen the first foldable phones go on sale, 5G networks have launched, smartphone cameras have become even better and phone calls have become easier to hear.
Here are the biggest breakthroughs of the year.
5G has been on the lips of industry watchers for years, but 2019 finally saw it become a reality. All four UK mobile operators launched 5G networks this year, albeit in select towns and cities across the UK. But major innovations like this always start on a small scale.
EE was first out of the gates, launching its 5G service in May. It brought its superfast network to nine UK towns and cities. This was followed by Vodafone in July, with 15 towns and cities. Three was next, in August, though it only launched in London, while in October, O2’s 5G network landed in six UK locations. All of the networks say their networks will expand soon.
Still struggling to get 4G in your area? Check out the mobile networks with the best coverage
So what’s the big deal? 5G is much faster than 4G – some estimates say it’s as much as 100 times faster. That doesn’t just mean quicker downloads and better streaming quality, it also opens up all sorts of other use cases. Using 5G, broadband will be superfast, and not have to rely on a landline. The Internet of Things will finally take off, as more smart home devices talk to each other. And wireless internet will expand into cars, healthcare, factories and more.
It could be the biggest technological leap since the invention of the internet.
But the most immediate change will be on how you use your mobile phone. With these blazingly fast speeds, you’ll be able to download an HD film in as little as four seconds. You’ll also be able to stream 4K films with no lag whatsoever without relying on your home wi-fi – handy when you’re watching on your daily commute.
As we say, 5G is only available in select places at the moment, and only a few handsets support the technology (like the Samsung Galaxy S10 5G, OnePlus 7 Pro 5G and the Huawei Mate 20X 5G). But like 4G before it, expect it to soon become the norm.
Samsung was first out of the gates with a folding phone, the Samsung Galaxy Fold. But it wasn’t the most auspicious of starts.
Early review units were patchy at best, with screen glitches and some devices shutting down altogether. Samsung recalled the device, and postponed its on-sale date for further testing, during which it bolstered the design with a new bezel and some clips to protect the most vulnerable parts of the screen. And this time round it worked a lot better.
But Samsung wasn’t the only one pushing folding phones. Huawei’s Mate X immediately stole Samsung’s thunder, thanks to the fact it closes completely and unfolds to have a bigger screen. Though sadly it too had some teething issues: it was supposed to launch in June, then September, then November. Currently, it’s only on sale in China.
Then Motorola made us all misty-eyed and nostalgic for 2004 with its new razr. It looks just like its predecessor (the RAZR, note the capitals), but unfolds to offer a bigger screen. Like these other devices, it has a smaller second screen on the outside, which you can use for quick tasks like checking notifications or replying to messages. Then unfold it, and you essentially have a small tablet on your hands.
It’s been a bumpy ride for foldable phones so far. Here’s hoping 2020 fares better.
Better call quality
Voice calls aren’t the sexiest of features when it comes to smartphones, but poor quality audio can have a real impact on people’s lives, especially those who are hearing impaired. But a new mobile network wants to help.
It’s called Audacious, and it’s the UK’s first network to tailor call quality to match your hearing. Just take the online hearing test, and it’ll create a sound profile unique to you. Everyone’s hearing is slightly different, and by adjusting call output to match your unique profile, it’ll make calls easier for you to hear and understand.
Not only is it a godsend for the hearing impaired, it’s also good news for anyone who’s struggled to hear a call in a busy restaurant, or near heavy, fast-moving traffic.
Sound good? Check out our review for more info. And if you like what you hear, you can check out Audacious’ SIM-only plans here.
High specs went mainstream
Not only did this year see the first smartphones with six cameras (take a bow, Nokia 9 PureView and Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus), we also saw in-screen fingerprint scanners, OLED screens and higher storage sizes like 512GB become more common.
Roll on 2020!