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    On the possible specs for some of 2014's flagships

    James Norton

    2013 was a year that threatened to become very predictable for Android phone specs, at least at the high end. It started with Sony announcing the Xperia Z with its 5" 1080p screen and 13 megapixel camera. From that moment on, it became clear that 2013 was going to be the year of the 1080p screen. Of course, we couldn't predict that flagship phones would have screen sizes as varied as the 4.7" of the HTC One and the 5.2" variant found on the LG G2.

    The list of flagship phones (or very mild derivitives of a flagship) that had a 1080p screen in the previously mentioned size range includes the Sony Xperia Z and Z1, the HTC One and Butterfly S, the Samsung Galaxy S4 and S4 Active, the Asus PadFone Infinity, Google's Nexus 5, the LG G2 and probably a few more. Where 2012 had been all about the 4.7" 720p screen, no doubt, the world moved on.

    In fact, flagship devices in 2013 were more diverse in their overall specifications than in 2012 where seemingly every flagship device had a 4.7" 720p screen with an 8 megapixel camera. Last year, HTC tried their luck with four ultrapixels and OIS in the One. Google opted for 8 megapixels in the Nexus 5 and Sony went for an amazing 20.7 megapixels in the Z1.

    So what do we know of the potential 2014 line-ups that might give us a clue as to some of the defining trends for flagship phones this time round? Well, most of the information and speculation is centred around Sony, HTC and Samsung all of whom have tended to announce their flagship before the end of April, so lets start there. It goes without saying that this is all speculation at the time of writing, but lets go through some of the trends we see appearing.

    Smaller body. Larger screen.


    Is this the new Sony Xperia Z2?

    Technically, we may not see smaller bodies, but certainly it appears from the latest leaks that Sony are slimming down the almost ludicrous bezels found on the Z1. They are unlikely to be able to cut down on the bezel above the screen as they have to fit their very megapixel rich camera in there somewhere, but getting a narrower device is still nice. It is always possible that the device could be approximately the same size as the Z1 but come with a slightly larger screen.

    Samsung have been a leader in this trend of fitting large screens in small bodies and we can expect the Galaxy S5 to continue that. It seems reasonable that they would give as a 5.2" screened phone in a body perhaps only marginally larger than the S4. It seems unlikely they could fit a 5.2" screen in the Galaxy S4 shell, but who knows with Samsung, after all, the step forwards they took with the S4 in terms of its packaging was fantastic.

    The HTC One+, or whatever it ends up being called, has been quite well rumoured now and will likely see the screen go up to 5" in size. Judging by the pictures we have seen, should they prove accurate, it seems HTC have taken a large chunk off the side bezels compared to 2013's One which is great news.

    Whatever happens to screen sizes, we know how small it is possible to make a 5.2" screened phone. Just take one look at the LG G2 to be amazed by super narrow bezels and a relatively slim body.


    We can probably all agree that slimming down bezels and making phones smaller and lighter is a good thing. But this trend seems less obviously positive. We are talking here about the move to what is being termed a 2K resolution, technically known as QHD. Now this is not the time to point out how stupid it is to have qHD and QHD resolutions in the world, but merely to inform that QHD means 2560x1440 pixels.


    Could this be the HTC M8 aka HTC One+?

    A QHD 5.2" screen would have a PPI (pixels per inch) measurement of around 564. This compares to 441 on a 5" 1080p screen and around 330 on an iPhone. Given that the human eye, at the typical distance we hold a phone from our faces cannot discern individual pixels from around 300-320 PPI upwards, it seems ludicrous to move to QHD.

    When we went to 1080p it made sense as a 720p screen at 5" measures out to around 294 PPI, so we should be able to see an improvement at that screen size. QHD however, seems to make no sense. We simply will not be able to see an improvement in pixel density but we will need extra processing power and of course more battery power to manage all those extra pixels. It would make a lot more sense to spend the research money in making much better 1080p panels that produce more accurate colours with lower power usage than to put all those extra pixels on a screen which will have no benefit.

    So far, Sony, LG and Samsung are all rumoured to be moving to a QHD resolution. HTC may well be sticking with a 1080p screen. Whilst on paper this may make the HTC look like it is behind the times, I hope that people will see past that and understand that bigger specifications do not always translate to an improved experience.

    Snapdragon 800 or Snapdragon 805?

    With Qualcomm announcing volume availability of the Snapdragon 805 for the second quarter of 2014, it seems highly unlikely that any devices announced in the first half of this year will arrive with this newest system on chip. However, it is more than likely that all the new flagship devices coming will be packing the latest variant of the Snapdragon 800 which includes support for faster DDR3 RAM and a higher clock speed on the GPU. The improvements will probably be minor but essential if QHD becomes the norm.

    Of more interest around the system on chip is the probable move to 3Gb of RAM. Sony are rumoured to be fitting the Z1 replacement with 3Gb and Samsung have of course already made the jump in a few of their devices.


    The fingerprint sensor on the HTC One Max


    Our phones have contained a wide array of sensors for some years now, but ever since Apple unveiled the iPhone 5s with its fingerprint sensing TouchID technology, rumours have been rife about many manufacturers following suit. The only ones to blink thus far have been HTC with the One Max, but there is plenty of speculation around what might come.

    Most of the rumours have centred around Samsung and whether they will bring some sort of optical sensor to allow you to unlock your phone using a scan of your eyeball. In reality, we at MoDaCo are generally of the opinion that fingerprint sensors will be all the rage this year and with the latest information suggesting that Samsung and LG are heading in that direction, we could well be proven right.

    Whatever extra sensors the likes of Sony, HTC and Samsung bring, we can only hope they implement it as seamlessly as TouchID on the iPhone 5s.

    It is now only just over a month until Mobile Web Congress in Barcelona and many phones are likely to be announced there. Typically flagship devices from the big manufacturers are made public at individual events rather than a big show but either way, it is all going to become clear in the next few months. And should there be a limelight stealing reveal at MWC, the MoDaCo team will be there to bring you all the news.

    Images via Z2 / M8 / One Max

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    To be honest the spec race has become a bit of a joke. Processing and ram fair enough as android sadly needs a fair bit of both to even run smoothly. But QHD is laughable, more battery drain, most likely very little if any performance increase and no noticeable advantages.


    Cameras again have become a joke. 20.7mp, 4mp, 8mp deosn't even matter anymore as these companies simply can't properly optimize their camera software. Nokia still ruling the roost on windows phone, then after that apple again beats out every android manufacturer with just 8MP. Sony should hang their heads in shame that they are making the damn sensors themself for apple yet cant beat their camera performance with almost 3 times the megapixels.


    I love my Nexus 5 in many ways but whats also worrying is Googles poor stock apps. I mean how long have they had to refine these? The stock apps are laughable. Contacts/peoples apps - convoluted/confusing, Photos - weak. Hangouts - badly designed & buggy. Camera App - a complete joke. I love android but come on something has to give. The camera app on stock is a prime example of how not to keep things simple and alienate consumers.


    In fact I would argue that on the software side Xiaomi are really the only company using android taking their software seriously. These manufacturer skins are mostly a shambles, LG, Samsung and sony being the main culprits, HTC probably the best of a bad mainstream bunch. For the record Meizu's flyme and MIUI are visually and functionally better than every mainstream manufacturers skins period. Cant wait till these chinese manufacturers hit europe and the US.


    They need to stop this retarded spec race and focus on making quality products and optimizing their damn software. Literally all these companies flooding the market with junk. 3 or 4 times iphone users have asked me about switching and end up saying they're getting a 5S because they can't be bothered because the android market is so damn confusing. These companies need to stop making hundreds of half arsed devices and focus on doing very few well.



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    Fully agree with your rant, why focus on screen pixels when the camera is so lacking in android.  However, I do feel sorry for the manufacturers after the response to the Moto X.  


    I have one and it is an excellent phone, but the hostile response from many on the lack of a 1080p screen (looks better than my friends S4), or the older processor (based on the snapdragon 600, but no one complained about the HTC One/S4's performance) has knocked the Moto X back a bit.


    Unfortunately, I think we are heading for the digital camera scenario where everyone focus on headline megapixels (unimportant beyond a point but sexy), but not the optics/processing (critical but dull). Unfortunately economies of scale for the new high-resolution panels will bring down the cost and also encourage other manufacturers.  4k in 5" here we come! 


    My rant may increase even more if Samsung continue with a pentile display while upping the resolution.



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    haha, yeah its complete madness. I think the Moto X suffered though a lot because of the lack lustre camera. Like the Neuxs 5 moto/google chose to release a product with beta camera software then provide an update later once all the reviews were out and people had basically already decided the camera was weak.


    I think the backlash was also in part because of the high price in the US and with android being so dependent on cpu power to get smooth snappy performance a few felt short changed by the s4 pro. I didn't think I would notice but even on 4.4.2 I have found that my nexus 7 (2013) is noticeably less smooth and snappy than my Nexus 5 I guess probably in part due to the Adreno 330 in the snapdragon 800 having supposedly 50% better graphics performance and twice the computing muscle of the Adreno 320 in the s4 pro.


    Not to take away from Motoroloa, the Moto X was a good attempt but again it was hindered by noticeable glaring issues and also the arrival of the nexus 5 soon after its release at a lower price point.


    The problem with android is that unlike Apple which produces consistently good performing ALL ROUND products, almost every android flagship from the latest crop had some sort of glaring issue.


    S4 - Cheap build, laggy touchwiz, gimmicky software, weak battery (especially with gimmicky software additions turned on), good but not class leading camera.

    LG G2 - Ugly bloated gimmicky software.

    HTC one - Lacklustre camera

    Xperia Z1 - Bad screen, suprisingly sub par camera.

    Nexus 5 - Sub par Camera etc etc the list goes on.


    Compare these to iphone 5S - Super smooth software, Blazing fast performance, almost class leading camera (with very good panorma and slow motion modes), Surprisingly well optimized finger print sensor, rock solid premium apple build quality.


    This is hardly surprising though, because unlike samsung, sony, lg etc etc Apple essentially only make 1 phone a year (the 5c was basically the 5 with a polycarbonate back). Hence they can spend longer optimizing it and tweaking the hardware.


    What I don't understand is why these android manufacturers don't cut down the amount of models they are releasing, stick to 2 or 3, use quad band supporting chipsets and hire more experts in the fields of imaging, UI design and software optimization so they can really compete at the top end. It seems to me they are spreading their resources too thinly, mainly out of greed and they are ending up with whole ranges of mediocre smart phones.


    If the apple model has taught us anything its that people are willing to pay top whack for top performing products. Which is exactly why HTC are failing. Because they are charging top whack for non class leading products. The HTC one max being a prime example. Why are Acer also in trouble? Again flooding the market with hundreds of junky devices, with very little focus on making class/category leading products due to the fact they're product line is too large.



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    Apple's whole 'retina' claims are nonsense, of course:


    Steve Jobs was never one to let facts get in the way of a good marketing opportunity! ;)

    Regardless, it is obvious that QHD is ridiculous on devices with screen sizes in the region of 5 inches even if your eyesight is good enough to notice a difference between 1080p and QHD. In practice, you're not going to be able to use the extra resolution on a touchscreen of this size. If you increase the dpi and reduce size of icons and text proportionally, it is going to become too difficult to accurately select anything with something as imprecise as a fingertip. I'd also say that even if you can read it, tiny text on a 5 inch screen isn't likely to be very pleasant to read. As others note, the implications of use of QHD screens are that devices using them will either have poorer battery life or be bigger and heavier due to larger batteries.

    That said, I think increasing battery capacity can't be anything but a good idea and, as the LG G2 showed, a larger battery doesn't necessarily have to mean an overly-bulky phone.

    The area with the most potential for improvement has to be the camera. Although LG is moving in the right direction after adding OIS (and HTC's OIS plus larger pixel size was an interesting approach), the sensor sizes seem to be remaining relatively small as the pixel count goes up. Pretty much the same thing we've seen with mainstream point and shoot cameras, in fact.

    Although the Nokia PureView cameras such as the 808 and the 1020 are an extreme which show what is possible in a relatively slim cameraphone, it doesn't appear that any other companies are going to attempt to follow their large-sensor lead. It would be nice if other companies attempted to increase the sensor size somewhere closer to the Nokia devices, possibly keeping pixel size higher in the way HTC attempted with the One. My argument is that the phones on cameras are frequently used in low-light situations and the combination of OIS, larger sensors and/or larger pixels is the only real way we will see a good improvement in image quality in these conditions.

    Obviously, improvement of the camera software itself is also of importance in improving the overall experience.

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