IFA 2016 preview – smartphones

The world’s oldest tech show is around the corner and major consumer electronics brands — as well as disruptive start-ups — will be there with bags full of high-tech goodies. So what will tumble out at the IFA 2016, which unfolds in Berlin from September 2-7? Well, we got early glimpses of some of the products, were teased by cryptic launch invites for others, gave questioning looks to each other in the tech press, and played a few rounds of educated guesses to come up with this list.

But first, a caveat – brands love to hold cards close to their collective chest and spring a genuine surprise or two at gatherings such as the IFA.

Though on the flipside, also be ready for disappointments. Compared to the marketing spiel, some of the launches may turn out to be rather, as a millennial would put it, meh. Here’s a sampling of the hyperbole we came across this year — “defy expectations”, “dream without boundaries”, and our favourite, “the time for something incredible is now!”

Sure, we are more than happy to see something incredible at IFA 2016. Especially in the smartphones category, where the UAE is a major player – a recent Euromonitor report notes that smartphone sales in the country accounted for 30 per cent of overall retail volume in consumer electronics in 2015. The upgrade cycles are also shorter and consumers here are known for their love for the latest and greatest in phones.

Samsung

The new Samsung Gear VRIFA is where Samsung debuted the Note series and made the word phablet infamous. You may love it or love to hate it, but you cannot deny that phablets have been a runaway success. Samsung is already on its sixth version and even skipped a number along the way. However, the Note 7 got its own separate mega event earlier this month, and Samsung is out of flagship phones for the year. So we expect the company will use IFA to promote the Note 7 and its diverse family of accessories — including the new USB-C toting Gear VR that ramps up the field of view. Besides, we may even get to see a few mid-range phones, along with a Tizen offering.

Sony

Sony Xperia XR - Source OnLeaks's Twitter pageAnd to think Sony practically created the high-end smartphones market back in 2003, with the genre-defining Sony Ericsson P900 and its successors. But currently, the company is drifting along with mediocre devices and wondering if X is better than Z. At IFA, Sony is expected to launch a flagship phone and show the world that it may be down, but not out. Unfortunately, don’t expect the phone to rattle the likes of Galaxy S7 or the HTC 10. The rumour is it will come with a Snapdragon 820 — so perish your hopes of seeing a Sony phone baked with the latest and greatest 821 processor. Also, the phone will have just 3GB RAM and a 5.1-inch 1080p screen. Though, in typical Sony style, expect the camera to be top-notch.

LG

lg-v20This has been an incredible year for LG, with the modular G5 phone injecting a dose of fresh thinking into an otherwise me-too smartphones market. But that device has been plagued by a shortage of modules — LG calls them Friends — mediocre build quality and the fact that the phone has to be shut down every time you want to swap modules. However, LG is not giving up. At IFA 2016, the company might launch a follow-up to the curvy LG G Flex 2, but with a new twist — yes, with a module that plug into it and enhance functionality. We certainly hope LG makes its modules interchangeable — it will be rather frustrating if people have to buy these Friends all over again when they upgrade to another modular phone from LG.

But what about the LG V20, which will be the first non-Nexus phone with Nougat and the first with a Quad DAC (audiophiles, rejoice!)? Well, we believe it will be missing in action at IFA, since LG has planned a separate event on September 6, to launch it officially. Though the company may use IFA for a teaser campaign to hype up the V20.

Huawei

Huawei Mate SThis Chinese company is the one to watch out for. It has global ambitions and is backing those up with amazing phones sold at prices that will not make you fall off your seat! Huawei will turn up at IFA 2016 with the Mate 9, which sports flagship specs and will be launched with Android 7.0 Nougat. Huawei has opted for the octa-core HiSilicon Kirin 960 to power the phone and it will be interesting to see how that stacks up, in real-world use, against top-end processors from the likes of Qualcomm and Samsung. Huawei is also expected to display a follow-up to the Mate S, which was launched at last year’s IFA. Besides, the company might unveil a sub-brand that will go after the market for mid-range phones.

ZTE

ZTE Axon 7ZTE too has big plans to step out of its stronghold in China and take on the likes of Samsung and Apple in the global arena. The company has officially announced it will launch a brand-new device at IFA 2016, and that “our fan community” played a huge role in the development. Sounds familiar? Well, to our ears, that sounds like ZTE is out-oneplussing OnePlus! Regardless, it seems the company has a bezel-less Nubia phone up its sleeves. Apparently, getting rid of the side bezels gives the phone an impressive 81 per cent screen-to-body ratio. Moving on, ZTE has also called out the Axon 7 phone, where the focus is on ramping up the audio experience for “unparalleled enjoyment”.