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New phones in 2017: What's coming up and should you be excited?

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What new phones are coming out in 2017? From the iPhone 8 and Galaxy S8 to the LG G6, OnePlus 4, and HTC 11 – plus wild cards like a flagship Nokia Android phone and the oft-rumoured Microsoft Surface Phone – here's an early look at what to expect in the mobile world this year.

While 2016 will live long in the memory, it won't be for its smartphones. While other areas of tech have flourished, phones have stuck pretty stagnant all year. Apple, Samsung, HTC, Sony all did good things, but without the innovation needed to make them truly exciting.

But 2017? That's going to be different story, according to TrustedReviews Phones and Tablets Editor Max Parker, who looks back on the year that was and casts an eye forward to what's coming up in 2017.

Watch: What's the best smartphone right now?

New Apple phones in 2017: Recovering from a rare misstep

It’s hard to think of a year in recent memory that has been so polarising for Apple. The veneer of the once near universally celebrated brand has started to slip, and it’s not hard to see why. The new MacBook Pro range was met with a mixed response, while the iMac and MacBook Air have seemingly been left behind. The Apple TV has failed to revolutionise television with its meagre selection of apps (in the UK, at least) – and then of course there’s the iPhone.

Kicking off 2016 by re-releasing a three-year-old phone with slightly updated internals was hardly met with enthusiasm, but actually the iPhone SE is probably my favourite Apple phone last year. The iPhone 7 was a disappointment; with poor battery life, upgrades in all the wrong places, and no headphone jack. I liked the iPhone 7 Plus more, but it’s still a hulking device that is both far bigger than it needs to be and lacks some of the basic features – quick charging being one – that I have come to expect from the highest of high-end phones.

I’ve got a sneaking suspicious this year might be different, on the phone side of things at least. As may already know, 2017 marks the 10th anniversary of the iPhone.

Yes, it’s really been a decade since Steve Jobs introduced arguably Apple’s most important ever product. The original iPhone changed how we look at our phone, and hopefully the iPhone 8 (or just 'iPhone' as I suspect it will be called) might do the same.

Related: iPhone at 10 – relive our original iPhone review through 2017 goggles

iphone 7 31

Apple loves dates, anniversaries and anything it can celebrate (remember that nostalgic look at its laptops before the new MacBook Pro was announced?) and the rumours point to a big change for the iPhone in 2017. A curved OLED display has been mooted, for one, as has wireless charging, a higher-res display, multiple new size options, and new colours. I’d hope for even more, something that would change the way we see phones as much as the original did.

However odd they look, the AirPods might be the first clue into Apple’s future. They cleverly connect without a fiddly setup and can be accessed from all your other Apple bits, again with little-to-no hassle – a far cry from the cumbersome state of Bluetooth currently.

WATCH: What's coming at Mobile World Congress?

Imagine a charger that intelligently works in the same way, altering the charging speeds dependant on your situation and working with other accessories like the Apple Watch? That's the sort of thing I want to see this year.

We already know we're getting a redesigned iPhone 8, almost certainly in early-to-mid September again, but I wanted to be taken by surprise by Apple again. It's been a while.

Apple vs Android phones in 2017: The showdown takes shape

It’s even more of a shame that Apple didn’t capitalise and innovate this year, because it hasn’t been the best year for Android phone makers either – a year of iterative updates that might be excellent, but ultimately lack 'wow' factor. In 2017, I hope to see that change.

Take the Samsung Galaxy S7 – a great phone (our favourite of the year) – but in many ways it’s the same as the S6. The same can be said for the HTC 10, and even more so far Sony’s 2016 Xperia line.

HTC 10

In fact, we may well have reached 'peak smartphone'. Handsets don’t really need to be any faster, because there aren’t any apps that demand this much power; screens don’t need to any sharper, because our eyes can scarcely distinguish the pixels as they are; and phones certainly don't need to grow any bigger, because many are already verging on small bedside tables.

So, where do we go from here? Well, hopefully onto new features that actually make a difference and improve the user experience.

Samsung phones in 2017: Another big year?

A couple of the rumours surrounding the Samsung Galaxy S8 could just tick some of these boxes. It might go with a bezel-less design, for instance, and stick the (now) classic fingerprint sensor and home-button inside the screen. Aside from sounding ridiculously futuristic, it would help phones to become smaller – something that the majority of people I speak to still want – but maintain large displays.

samsung galaxy note 7

Another rumour, stemming from a setting buried inside the Android 7.0 Nougat updates for the Galaxy S7, show a variable screen resolution mode.

People have been calling for 4K screens on phones since QHD became the mainstream, but why? In reality, there is minimal need for a 4K or UHD phone screen. We would struggle to notice the difference on such a small display, and the likely detriment to performance and battery just isn’t worth it. B

But what if you could alter the resolution when you needed it? That sounds like something far more useful. Switching the resolution to 4K when you’re using a VR headset, for instance, just makes sense – it's one of the few occasions where you would notice the extra pixels. Moreover, it would be a smart move for Samsung if it really wants to push mobile VR, as it would enhance the S8's capabilities without sacrificing performance.

There’s also HDR, a feature that’s more closely associated with 4K TVs these days. In the simplest terms possible, HDR – or high dynamic range – gives you better black levels and more realistic colours – done right, it’s glorious.

Samsung first introduced an HDR phone display on the ill-fated Note 7, but due to the phablet's short life-span, the support simply never any gained traction. I’m sure it’ll come to the Galaxy S8 though, and that’s exciting.

Related: What is 4K?

Microsoft Surface

Microsoft phones in 2017: Surface Phone could be a game-changer

You probably hadn’t come into this article expecting me to talk about Microsoft, but a recent announcement has given it the chance to finally, finally, do something interesting with its phone strategy.

The computing giant recently revealed that it will support ARM chips, notably the new-gen Snapdragon 835 – officially revealed at CES 2017 – for emulating actual desktop apps.

This could finally make Continuum useful – imagine plugging your phone into a display and having full-fat apps like Chrome and Photoshop at your disposal? Adding this kind of software power to a phone is what makes the idea of a Surface Phone so intriguing, and I wouldn't be at all surprised if that was the device that gave us the 'something different' we're looking for 2017.

LG phones in 2017: Bye-bye Friends

LG tried something different with the G5, and the modular design ultimately failed. The modules themselves lacked invention, and support for them was non-existent. It’s hardly a surprise then that we won’t be seeing them again once the LG G6 is official.

Tipped for an MWC unveiling, LG is already spilling of the juicy specs we should expect from its next flagship. Rumours point to a wider quad-HD screen, ‘reliable’ camera, waterproof body and up-to-date software. Will it be an improvement? Considering how quickly the G5 fell, I suspect yes.

HTC phones in 2017: HTC might not be turning it up to 11

After last year’s HTC 10, the obvious signs pointed to an HTC 11 launching at, or shortly after, MWC. But, that’s not the case.

Instead HTC used an event after CES to unveil a completely new series of phones. They are the HTC U Ultra and U Play. Both are glass-clad beauties that run a AI infused software layer with always-on microphones stuck around the sides.

The Ultra U takes it a step further with a secondary display above the main 5.7-inch panel, giving you quick access to contacts and notifications. It looks like these will likely be the flagship HTC devices for this year.

New phones coming out in 2017: Final thoughts

Of course, there will be plenty of other stuff to watch, too. We'll probably see companies continue to push modular phones, more Google Tango AR phones like the recently revealed ZenFone AR, and of course loads of Chinese brands out to 'flagship kill' à la OnePlus by packing high-end specs into affordable handsets – the dual-camera equipped Honor 6X I saw at CES being one early example.

Me? I'm still looking for that 'something else' this year. It's high time we saw something genuinely new and exciting in the smartphone arena, so let's hope all the key mobile players, big and small, bring their A-game in 2017.

WATCH: Google Pixel vs iPhone 7

What are you looking forward to in 2017? Let us know in the comments below.

Phil

December 30, 2016, 2:17 pm

Proof reading is going to pot...

Dominic Feltoe

December 30, 2016, 4:55 pm

Variable resolution is something I wish TV manufacturers would consider adopting. Standard definition content still looks as good as it ever did on an old standard definition screen, but play it on an HD (or higher) TV and it looks soft and washed-out. I don't know if it would be possible, but being able to play DVDs or SD recordings/broadcasts at SD resolution on a modern TV rather than upscaling to HD or 4K would be a real breakthrough, wouldn't it?

Ed

December 31, 2016, 10:56 am

I think you've slightly misinterpreted the idea of a variable resolution screen. What you're describing is inherently impossible - by definition you need to upscale a lower resolution to make it fit on a higher resolution. What you're asking for would simply be a tweak to how scaling algorithms work. In fact, what you've touched on is precisely why Apple's Retina displays work while high resolution on Windows is problematic - Apple chose to simply double the resolution, making upscaling far simpler. Otherwise you'd need to have a TV that could physically alter the size of its pixels, which is not possible right now. What Max is talking about is also not possible in terms of a physical change but rather it would be just like when you change the resolution on your PC - there's still a circuit in the display that's stretching the resolution to fit the number of pixels on screen but the rest of the phone's electronics only has to deal with the fewer pixels of the lower resolution (just like how people game at lower resolutions to get better performance), which means less processing and longer battery life.

MarmiteSoldier

December 31, 2016, 12:27 pm

It would be difficult to know what additional features manufacturer's could add to make phones interesting again. I guess most people would like to know that the battery will last all day regardless of how much they use their phones. Maybe an inbuilt accelerometer to charge the battery when you walk?

toboev

December 31, 2016, 5:56 pm

It is surprisingly difficult to imagine what would be the next great thing on a smartphone. Iterative improvements, sure; longer battery, faster charging, better speakers, etc. But geninely new benefits, things that curent phones simply can't do, and which would be useful moreover, that's hard to conjure up.

Microsoft''s continuum thing might be it. If I can really just connect my phone to existing large screen and keyboards and it becomes a desktop, that simple, that would be good. But If it is a whole faff of extra intermediary bits and pieces forget it.

Dominic Feltoe

December 31, 2016, 11:51 pm

That's fascinating, thank-you. I did think what I have been hoping for since the advent of HD screens was probably not technically possible, but it would be wonderful if some clever person could find a better solution to current TV upscaling of lower-definition sources! Thanks once again for taking the time to explain the current technology to me.

Azmodan

January 3, 2017, 3:09 am

Well it is possible in one-way, you could show the SD at it's actual resolution which would be in a letterbox. It's a called 1:1 scaling. Looks pretty small however and is not practical on such a small screen as it is on a large monitor.

jimmy

January 3, 2017, 10:52 am

think you mean proof reading is non-existent Phil!! Has been for a long time here. Let's hope their new years resolution is to scrap all the crappy click bait drivel that people don't want and focus on high quality reviews and news like they used to (with proper proof reading!)

Democritus3

January 3, 2017, 12:45 pm

My big wish for the crop of 2017 phones is quite simply a decent bump in battery life and fast charging across the board. I'm not too bothered about wireless charging. Also, call me a Luddite but I hope at least some manufacturers keep the headphone socket. After many years of iPhones, I am currently enamoured with the pixel (standard size model) - the next iPhone is going to have to be spectacular to convert me back.

Phil

January 11, 2017, 3:53 pm

Just a thought - the HTC 10 was a massive improvement on the M9 rather than an iterative update on an already successful phone (you compare it to the S6/S7). The S6 was a decent phone whereas the M9 was good but quite far behind the pack at the time and after a 18 months of using one, the borderline battery life has become a massive issue (battery ageing and an inefficient SoC = carrying a portable charger all the time) and the build quality (plastic front has cracked spontaneously) is pretty mediocre with a speaker failure leading to use of headphones being mandatory if you want to hear anything without holding the thing to your ear. I think the HTC 10 is a huge improvement rather than a variation on / update of a winning formula.

Now if only Samsung would bin "Touchwiz" and start from scratch.

Stephen1951

January 11, 2017, 10:50 pm

I just want a screen I can read reasonably well in full sunlight.
Plus being able to delete any app you don't want FaceBook etc no apps you can't delete.

iFrank

January 12, 2017, 12:14 am

Bang-on Re screen's visibility in sunlight. I also bang on about it.
All the while people demand 'interesting' the manufacturers breath a sigh of relief, the're able to duck the major improvements that people who use phones outside offices need.
The whole point of 'MOBILE' phones. Landline not needed.

The greatness of the first iPhone (for me) was not "a new way of looking at them" but memory management and a larger screen compared to the prevailing standard.
My Microsoft powered HTC would freeze when I added a second line or Notes for a contact.

iFrank

January 12, 2017, 12:45 am

Screens that are readable in direct sunlight are still overdue and will be for years yet. I understand that there are huge technical issues but they are not trying hard enough on this basic need.
I still need to find an alleyway or shaded area often when out, to see who's calling me.
Problems with achieving decent happy snaps, let alone arty images, ensure continuing sales of cameras with viewfinders.

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