A new year brings with it the promise of a new crop of great smartphones. Here we explain what to expect by way of new phone launches in 2014, looking at several important phone makers: Apple, BlackBerry, HTC, LG, Nokia, Samsung and Sony. (And yes, conspiracy fans, that's alphabetical ohttp://www.techadvisor.co.uk/news/mobile-phone/3497657/what-smartphones-expect-at-mwc-2014/#zzzrder). There are some great new phones launching in 2014, so read on to find out about the Galaxy S5, iPhone 6, Lumia 929 and more. It's our take on some of the best new smartphones of 2014.
If there are any other companies of new smartphones you would like me to include, don't get mad, get typing. Drop me a line in the comments below or @mattjegan, and I will see what I can magic up. Onward, to the best new phones of 2014...
New Apple smartphones of 2014: iPhone 6, iPhone Air
We can confidently predict the arrival iPhone 6, although there is some debate as to when it will likely arrive. November is the safe bet, in keeping with other iPhone launches, but there is strong support for the suggestion of a May iPhone launch. This may be because Apple is also rumoured to be getting in to the phablet game, with a 6in 'iPhone Air' rumoured to be arriving early in the year.
Most predict that the iPhone 6 will have a bigger display and be constructed from even thinner and lighter material. Indeed it is expected to be the thinnest ever smartphone, with an unscratchable Sapphire glass display. And even if Apple does launch an iPhone Air phablet, expect the iPhone 6 itself to be bigger - possibly with a 5in display. For more, see: iPhone 6 release date: When will the iPhone 6 be launched?
New BlackBerry smartphones of 2014
Nothing much to see here, although that may not be entirely terrible news. We have no specific handset news from the troubled Canadian giant. The expectation is that enterprise services will form a much bigger part of the business plan for BlackBerry, which means we are unlikely to see a big consumer launch like that of the BlackBerry Z10. We do know that future BlackBerry phones will have physical qwerty keyboards, however, following quotes attributed to new BlackBerry CEO John Chen.
New HTC smartphones of 2014: HTC One
That's right: a new, new HTC One. HTC may have taken stupid naming conventions to new heights in 2013 by launching a phone it called the HTC One that was significantly different to the other phone it had previously launched, also called the HTC One. And then because things weren't confusing enough it threw in a variety of other HTC Ones such as the HTC One Max and the HTC One mini. No matter, the HTC One and its brethren are excellent phones, and although HTC itself isn't having the best of times, you can expect more of the same in 2014.
We expect the new HTC One - or HTC One 2014 - to launch in February, at or around MWC. It'll hit stores a few weeks later. Expect a 2.3GHz quad-core chip from Qualcomm, Android 4.4 KitKat and a 1920x1080 resolution on a 5in display. And like all the other HTC One devices, expect superb build quality. One to look out for, if you'll pardon the pun.
New LG smartphones of 2014: LG G Flex
The LG G Flex has already been announced as a follow up to the brilliant LG G2. What's more we've had time to play with it at CES. Find out how that meeting went here: LG G Flex hands-on review: Curved screen smarthphone displayed at CES 2014.
We don't know exactly when it will launch, but it won't be long. The G Flex has a Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 processor and a 13Mp camera – what we'd expect from a top-end smartphone. It's also got an infrared transmitter for controlling devices like your TV and wireless tech such as NFC and 11ac Wi-Fi.
More interestingly the G Flex is LG's first curved screen smartphone. It's got a bendy or flexible screen which is fixed in a set curve. LG has opted for a 6in POLED screen for the G Flex putting it in the phablet category with devices like the HTC One Max, Nokia Lumia 1520 and Sony Xperia Z Ultra. It makes the fairly large LG G2 look quite small! The display has just a 720p resolution which is a bit surprising – it doesn't look as crisp as the Full HD resolution on offer elsewhere. On the plus side, it does mean you can run two apps on the screen at once.
While Samsung has gone for a side to side curve on the Galaxy round, the G Flex does things in the opposite direction. It is curved from top to bottom in a banana like shape, designed to fit your face better when making a call and sit more comfortably in your hand. It's also supposed to be more immersive when watching a film or playing a game in landscape mode, just like the curved TVs which are around now.
Our CES reporters suggest that the G Flex does feel quite nice in the hand and does curve nicely round the face when held up to the ear. However, at 6in in screen size, the G Flex is pretty unwieldy so there are pros and cons. It also suits landscape use such as watching video content but all of these things are luxuries which feel more on the gimmicky side of things rather than a practical benefit. It seems that Samsung and LG are fighting over the innovations because they can, not because consumers need or want a smartphone with a curved screen.
The back of the G Flex looks at lot like the G2 with LG's Rear Key – power and volume keys below the camera lens rather than on the side or top of the device. On the rear of the G Flex is a self-healing cover which is supposed to remove light scratches from things like coins in your pocket.
New Nokia smartphones of 2014: Lumia 929
Against expectation Nokia had a great 2013. It may have a relatively small slice of the market, but it's growing, and as virtually the only Windows Phone maker left standing that puts Nokia in a better position than - say - HTC, scrambling for a sliver of the Android pie. What's more, Nokia's line up - from the cheap and cheerful Lumia 520 up to the near perfect Lumia 1520. Indeed, with regular launches and updates Nokia is in the slightly peculiar position of having a phone at every screensize and price point: where does it go from here?
We expect it to launch one more handset at least: the Lumia 929. This will be a 5in handset with a full HD display. The key feature is expected to be a multi-megapixel PureView camera, like that on the Lumia 1020. We don't know when the Lumia 929 will launch - or even if it will launch in the UK - but the US launch appears to be imminent. At MWC if not before.
New Samsung smartphones of 2014: Galaxy S5, Galaxy Round
Now we're talking about the good stuff. The Galaxy S2, S3 and S4 handsets have set new benchmarks in Android excellence, and the Galaxy S5 is expected to be the next flagship smartphone from Samsung. We expect the Galaxy S5 to launch in the UK toward the end of the first quarter of 2014, and to cost around £600.
Given that Samsung execs have claimed all future smartphones from the company will be 64-bit computers, you can reasonably expect a 64-bit processor. If Samsung stays with ARM and Android we expect this processor to be the Exynos A6 throughout the rest of the world, although in the UK Samsung tends to go with Qualcomm. The recent connectivity gains announced by Qualcomm for its chips make it a more likely winner for the UK, in our view.
It's possible that Samsung will drop Android in favour of the Tizen mobile operating system it has developed with Intel. That would mean Intel chips, too. It's not an outrageous thought: Samsung now makes tablets with Intel processors, and it would love to be able to ditch Google's OS.
A move away from Android would be a huge step for Samsung, however, at least in the short term. My personal hunch is that Samsung will release a Tizen phone, but it won't be the Galaxy S5. I expect the S5 to be an Android phone, and it may well be the first 64-bit Android device. Google and Samsung both gain from playing nice.
Other rumoured specs include a 16Mp camera with optical image stabilisation, and that camera may take pictures to be viewed on a truly stunning display. Samsung makes displays for just about every great-looking device you can think of and Android Beat reports that it is planning to launch 4K Ultra HD devices with 560ppi displays. I think it is entirely credible that the Galaxy S5 will be the first 4K phone. We expect a bigger than 5in but smaller than 6in smartphone, with an eye-catching resolution that makes headlines.
The Galaxy S5 will likely have a more metallic build than the previous plasticky Samsung phones. This will be to differentiate it from other handsets, but principally the iPhone 5C (and the connotation of plastic = cheaper). But it's just possible that Samsung will choose to make the Galaxy S5 dust- and waterproof, too. Finally, several places report that Samsung will follow Apple in adding in a fingerprint scanner for security purposes. For more about the Galaxy S5 read my piece: New Samsung Galaxy S5 UK release date, rumours, new features and leaked images.
And then there is the Galaxy Round. Like the G Flex this is a curved screen smartphone, and like the G Flex it has already been announced. The Round curves side-to-side, however, unlike the up and down G Flex. It has a 5.7in 1080p display, 3GB RAM and a Qualcomm chip. We don't know when it will launch but we don't expect it to be long.
New Sony smartphones of 2014: Xperia Z2, Xperia Z1S, Xperia Z1 Compact
The Xperia Z and its brothers and sisters were big winners in 2013. Powerful, beautifully built, premium Android phones. Indeed, combined with its recent TV output and the PS4 the various arms of Sony are on a rich run of form, and 2014 looks set to continue that trend.
The Xperia Z2 will launch in 2014, but there's been no official word as yet. Informed speculation suggests a slightly bigger display and some internal performance upgrades, but in essence a point upgrade rather than a reinvention of a successful wheel. We'll know more at MWC.
What we do know about are the Xperia Z1S and the Xperia Z1 Compact, both of which were announced at CES. Indeed, our intrepid smartphone testers got to spend some time with the Z1 Compact. Sadly, we don't yet had UK release info.
The Xperia Z1 Compact fills a gap in the smartphone market which has been gaping for a long time. It's the Xperia Z1 in a smaller size. Instead of a 5in screen it sports a 4.3in display. It still has that brilliant 20.7Mp camera with Sony's Exmor RS sensor, it's still dust- and waterproof without the flap on the headphone jack, it still has an aluminum chassis with glass on the front and rear and it still has the impressively powerful Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 quad-core processor.
There are few things to note which are different though. The phone is acceptably light at 137g but is a little thicker than you might expect at 9.5mm – that's no major problem though. While the Xperia Z1 has a Full HD resolution, Sony has opted for 720p for the Xperia Z1 Compact. It's lower resolution, but the screen is smaller so a pixel density of 342ppi is still good, if a little lower. It still has the Triluminos Display, X-Reality and Sony Mobile Brivia Engine 2 branding slapped on it.
Other specifications include 16GB of internal storage, a microSD card (up to 64GB), 2GB of RAM, NFC, Bluetooth 4.0, an 2Mp front facing camera and support for 4G LTE networks. It has the feel of a premium high-end smartphone accompanied by those all-important specs but in a size which many users will find much more manageable day-to-day. And in our view it's the best smartphone to come out of CES. For more read our piece: Sony Xperia Z1 Compact hands-on review.
The Z1S runs Android 4.3 (Jelly Bean) and a first fully waterproof phone. It's powered by a quad-core 2.2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 processor, and features 2GB of RAM and a 3,000mAh battery pack. It ships with 32GB of storage and a microSD expansion slot, and features a 5-inch full HD Triluminos display. The handset's chassis is dust resistant as well.
Sony is heavily touting the quality of the Xperia Z1S's camera. The phone comes with a rear-facing 20.7-megapixel Sony G Lens, which utilizes the company's own proprietary mobile image processing engine. The phone also comes pre-loaded with Sony's new Xperia Camera Apps, which lets you add Augmented Reality effects to photos, shoot in a timeshift burst mode (in which the camera can take 61 photos in two seconds), or shoot with a defocused background for a tilt-shift effect. The company has also added a physical camera button on the phone so that you can press it to quickly take photos and video, even underwater.
Gamers can also use the Xperia Z1S as a remote control, or purchase PlayStation Store game content using the device and download it directly to the PS3, PS4, or PlayStation Vita. The Z1S even supports the DualShock 3 wireless control for console-like gameplay with PlayStation Mobile games.
The Xperia Z1S officially goes on sale in the US on January 22. We'll bring you UK release info as we have it.