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Fast Charge: Cheaper 5G, next-gen screens and Magsafe dominate 2020

This past year has been a weird one for a variety of reasons. But one of the positive reasons is the sheer number of awesome innovations we’ve seen appear in the world of mobile.

Over the past 12 months we’ve seen everything from awesome new mobile chipsets to dramatic improvements being made in the mobile camera tech.

In fact, there’s been so much cool new stuff that you may be justifiably struggling to keep up. Here to help, we’ve used this week’s Fast Charge to break down the biggest innovations to appear in the world of mobile in 2020.

Variable refresh rate phones

High refresh rate screens have been around for a while. Razer kicked off the trend with its gen’ one Razer Phone many moons ago. Then, last year pretty much every Android phone maker under the sun followed suit, resulting in a wealth of handsets with 90 or 120Hz refresh rates.

While this is awesome, since a higher refresh rate generally makes a phone smoother to use and more responsive, all the handsets missed one key trick: the refresh rates weren’t variable.

This meant you had to manually instruct them to run at either 60 or 90-120Hz. The downside to this is it meant you had to sacrifice battery life to enjoy the higher refresh rate – because a higher refresh rate boosts the number of images per second a screen displays, consuming more juice in the process.

Thankfully, this has been fixed in 2020 thanks to the arrival of handsets such as the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra. The handset is one of the first to feature a screen that can intelligently raise or lower the phone’s refresh rate depending on what it’s doing. This is a key innovation that helps the device to conserve battery when doing basic tasks that don’t merit a high refresh rate, and bump it up when gaming, for example.

We’re hoping to see more phones with the feature in 2021.

The MagSafe Charger

Apple MagSafe

The Apple iPhone 12 line isn’t revolutionary, but the MagSafe attachment system it supports is. For those who don’t know, MagSafe allows for the attachment of a wealth of peripherals to the iPhone 12  magnetically. Highlights include custom 15W chargers to cool leather wallet attachments.

Related: Best phones

Affordable 5G chips

5G hasn’t taken off in the way we hoped, with mmWave still yet to arrive in the UK – and the ongoing pandemic diminishing its usefulness for most general consumers, who are shut up tight in their WiFi-enabled homes.

But that hasn’t stopped chip makers making great strides in driving the cost of the connectivity down. This year, Qualcomm stole the show with its affordable Snapdragon 765G chipset. The chip offers great bang for your buck and has appeared in some of Trusted Reviews favourite mid-range phones. Highlights include the stellar Moto G 5G Plus and Pixel 5, which both offer fantastic value and 5G connectivity.

For those unaware, 5G is a new networking technology that’s being rapidly rolled out across the globe. It offers significantly faster gigabit-per-second data speeds than 4G, which open the door for things like 4K video streaming and the ability to play triple-A games over the cloud using services such as Google Stadia or GeForce Now.

Awesome flagship CPUs

The mid-range market isn’t the only one to see some big innovations this year. We’ve also seen two of the coolest-looking flagship phone CPUs hit the scene in the shape of the Apple A14 Bionic and Qualcomm Snapdragon 888.

The A14 Bionic originally debuted on Apple’s iPad Air 4 before making its way onto the iPhone 12 line. It’s an absolute beast of a chip that, according to Apple, offers a 40% speed-boost on the older A13, and it’s also capable of “console”-quality gaming performance. We’re guessing those claims relates to the PS4 and Xbox One, not the new PS5 and Xbox Series X.

Either way, with real-world testing we found it to be one of the best chips on the market. The A14 blitzed through every test we threw at it, ranging from playing Apple Arcade games on the iPhone 12 to digital painting on the iPad.

The Snapdragon 888 was unveiled mere weeks ago and looks set to be the chip of choice for most of 2021’s flagship phones. We haven’t had a chance to benchmark it yet, but on paper it appears to come with some innovative features.

The biggest of these is the addition of mmWave 5G functionality. Technical speaking, mmWave is viewed by experts as the “real” version of 5G. On paper, it offers radically faster connection speeds than the sub-6GHz version currently running in most territories including the UK. This makes the chip a pretty enticing and innovative bit of kit that we can’t wait to get our hands on in 2021.