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