IFA is over, but the fun is just beginning

The end of IFA 2019 trade show in Berlin marks the start of the end-of-year smartphone launch season, with the narrative sure to be dominated by the likes of Huawei, Google and OnePlus.

Huawei, as if often does, pre-empted the launch of its new Mate series phones with the announcement of a new Kirin chipset, the Kirin 990. Although the launch of the next Mate is likely to be overshadowed by the company's current tensions with the U.S. government, the chip's capabilities are genuinely impressive, and foreshadow what we're likely to see from Qualcomm and others in early 2020: Improved machine learning capabilities and onboard 5G.

Besides generational bumps in efficiency and CPU speed, the Kirin 990's tech specs also hints at impressive photo and video features in the new phone, which is rumored to also include significantly upgraded standard and ultrawide image sensors. Expect BM3D (Block-matching and 3D filtering) and dual-domain noise reduction to bring clearer stills and video respectively to the new phone. The latter is particularly important given that video performance has been an Achilles' heel for Huawei in recent years.

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Questions remain, however, around Huawei's ability to shift handsets in significant numbers in the West without Google Mobile Services preloaded. (Huawei's current legal waiver to use Android and other U.S. technology only applies to existing devices.) Android fans wanting the best of Huawei's tech combined with Google's latest software might be forced to manually sideload the latter, with all the inherent compromises involved.

Google's hardware division wasn't at IFA this week, but its next flagship, the Pixel 4 XL, did make headlines this week thanks to a major video leak. The Pixel 4 series promises to be among the year's most intriguing phones, thanks to its unique Project Soli radar-based gesture controls, generational improvements to Google's legendary Night Sight camera, and a pure Android experience that's still hard to beat -- paired with a smooth 90Hz display.

On the other hand, the phone's battery capacity is expected to fall far below the competition, potentially leaving Pixel owners dealing yet another year of suboptimal longevity. And the phone's rumored 64GB of storage could look anemic next to flagships like the Galaxy Note 10, which start at 256GB. Besides which, while the recently leaked red model is eye-catching, the white and black variants fail to impress.

OnePlus is only a few months removed from its last flagship launch, but we're already in the thick of rumors around the OnePlus 7T. Info on a possible 7T Pro is sketchy, seemingly pointing to a minor update over the already competitive 7 Pro. Meanwhile for the 7T, the addition of key 7 Pro features like the 90Hz display and triple camera to the cheaper model are important as OnePlus faces off against competition from Honor, Oppo and others later in the year.

For enthusiasts, the 7T Pro, if it exists, is likely to focus on minor updates to what's already a solid and highly competitive flagship — perhaps something akin to a OnePlus 3 to 3T bump in specs.

However things pan out, we're sure to enjoy yet another busy end-of-year launch season — and that's before we even get to a major iPhone launch season and its inevitable impact on future Android devices.

Other musings for an end-of-trade-show weekend:

  • I'm curious about LG's new G8X handset, paired with the company's Dual Screen add-on, and came away with positive impressions of both after a recent briefing ahead of this week's launch. Although not as lustworthy as something like the Galaxy Fold or Huawei Mate X, there's plenty of utility in this Android clamshell device, including everything from dual-screen browsing to Nintendo DS-like gaming.
  • I got to spend some time with an updated version of the Huawei Mate X this week at IFA, and I've come away impressed with the developments made since I last saw the phone in February. In particular, the hinge has been noticeably improved and feels much more solid. However, the phone faces the same challenges as the Mate 30, in that Huawei will have to navigate an international launch for a very expensive phone without Google Mobile Services.
  • Those new Huawei P30 Pro colors are pretty nifty. I'm using a "mystic blue" variant with the new EMUI 10 software, and will have thoughts to share here on the site in the coming weeks.

That's it for me for now. I'll be back in late September with some post-Mate 30 launch thoughts.