2020 has been a year – and it’s perfectly understandable if you missed a few phone presentations amidst the chaos and events that gripped the headlines. Those turmoils have certainly come to the smartphone industry, but somehow the phones have come out anyway, and some are weirder than usual.
2019 may have been the year when the foldable debuted, but 2020 we got in our minds a swivel mobile phone (courtesy of TCL) and a swivel phone in hand (thanks, LG). Of course, we also got our first foldable flip shells, with the Motorola Razr bringing the cult flip phone into the modern age – and Samsung is on its heels with its own Galaxy Z Flip.
We also took a first look at the next hot thing in smartphones – goodbye notches and holes, healthy under-display selfie cameras. And last but not least, the new generation of technology is not enough – sometimes it is only necessary to include old features, such as stylus, in the most incredible places.
So here are our favorite weird phones that debuted in 2020, roughly in the order in which they appeared – some we held in our hands and others that are still too futuristic to hit the market.
OnePlus Concept One
The OnePlus Concept One was by far the most exciting phone at CES 2020 back in January. While it was quickly clear that the experimental handset would never be sold in stores, the Concept One was a cool approach to fixing something that phone makers hadn’t yet considered the problem: hiding the back lenses on phones with dimming glass.
OnePlus mentioned sports car windows as inspiration for glass; pass current through it and it passes from transparent to deep shaded. Concept One performs this switch automatically when you open the camera app, and the glass strip on the rear cameras subtly transitions from opaque to clear.
You’d wonder why the OnePlus isn’t in a hurry on all of its phones, but there are some design considerations – namely, whether the glass strip would clog the cameras if scratched or the mechanism failed. We barely had time to hold the phone and try out the (very functional) effect for ourselves, but we couldn’t tell if this technology was ready for the mass market. Hopefully: the design of the phone stagnates too much.
Although we first got our hands on the Motorola Razr in late 2019, delays knocked it out in early 2020 – and while the collapsible shell captured the public’s imagination, it didn’t seem to sell too well.
Which is a shame considering the design innovation it took to get Razr running: a joint that bends the plastic screen in such an esoteric way that it doesn’t squeeze, while also integrating micro brushes to automatically remove particles so you don’t finish the work. And yes, the Razr has managed to get a fully functional smartphone that will fold into a shape factor that is half the size of a regular phone.
Unfortunately, it’s significantly more expensive than flagship phones, and doesn’t offer more functionality – even the ability to close Razra to end a phone call doesn’t justify the price increase.
Some design flaws have been smoothed out in the refinement of the Motorola Razr 2020, released later in 2020, but even that isn’t quite the only single toggle switch released this year, the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip. But Razr was the first on the market and in our hearts.
Plus, taking a selfie with the phone folded to the size of a mint tin is so great.
Moto G pencil
Motorola has been releasing stunning G-Series budget phones for years – often four or more models at once that differ slightly in specifications and price. But in 2020, the latest generation released something new – more precisely, something old, because the Moto G Stylus includes one of the oldest features in mobile computing.
The LG Stylo series has been carrying a budget phone with style for years, but the introduction of the Moto G Stylus makes this a trend. No longer limited to the expensive flagship Samsung Galaxy Note phones, the G Stylus is in itself a powerful power with decent specs and a pen that fits surprisingly considering it lacks power.
While that means it doesn’t have the advanced feature of connecting a Samsung S pen (like motion control or a shutter button), it still has the functionality of the pen at an affordable price.
LG Wing 5G
One of our favorite phones this year is the LG Wing 5G, which is also one of the weirdest. Remember the old Sidekick phones that turned around? This is a modern version – although instead of revealing the keyboard, the top screen of the LG Wing turns and reveals … another, smaller screen.
That’s actually great: in concept, you can watch something on the big screen while chatting or doing unrelated tasks on the small screen. Ever had to do a simple search or look for directions, but didn’t want to step away from the video or show you’re watching? The LG Wing offers more discreet real estate than traditional smartphones, all with addictive swivel movements.
You’ll get more screen area than a true foldable, but the newer LG mode Wing is cheaper, with a price equal to the top flagship models … but half the price of the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2, for example.
Execution is not without problems, and it takes some work to switch between small and large screen applications. But for the value factor and the mere “wow” factor, the LG Wing 5G is a strange treasure we didn’t expect in 2020.
Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2
‘But wait, didn’t the original Galaxy Fold come out in 2019 and isn’t this just a replay?’ Yes, the Galaxy Z Fold 2 doesn’t mess with the formula of its predecessor that removes the forks, but there’s one improvement worth noting: the external display has been expanded to go from edge to edge.
Z Fold 2 works like a full smartphone, and when opened, it works like a small tablet. More importantly, it means that three quarters of the phone’s surface is a touch screen. This is pretty wild to achieve; it doesn’t seem that much more innovation would be needed to do that for the glass back cover as well, extending the touch functionality to every inch of the folding surface.
Huawei Mate Xs and other ‘outie’ foldable more or less already do this, as their one large external screen rewinds when the device is folded in half. But if we manage to make both sides functional to the touch, we could have very strange and very reactive devices. Then we should figure out what to do with all that extra screen area that we don’t look at, but can still touch.
ZTE Axon 20 5G
We’ve seen a few concept phones present a new solution to the notch and hole problem: instead of placing a selfie camera in a slit on the screen or in a pop-up section, just place it below the screen.
Of course, it should be a specific screen for the camera to shoot through the screen – and the ZTE Axon 20 5G is the first one we’ve got our hands on and pulling this solution.
Haven’t you heard of it? The ZTE Axon 20 5G was announced in China back in September and has just come out in the UK, but it’s not clear when (or if) it will arrive in other countries.
We want to test how well the 32MP front camera captures photos below the screen; otherwise, it’s designed as a decent mid-range / cheaper flagship phone with a Snapdragon 765G chipset, up to 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage and a quad-rear camera.
Oppo’s weird folding … and rolling
No list of weird phones would be complete without devices we’ve seen (or heard) that won’t show up for years – if there are any. Some of them are radically different from conventional phones and may be too bizarre to be liked by consumers. Consider the Oppo concept designed in partnership with the Japanese design studio Nendo – folding with triple hinges.
Today we present two new design concepts produced in collaboration with a leading Japanese design studio, nendo. First, it is a “sliding phone”, which has a folding screen system with three hinges. #OPPOxnendo pic.twitter.com/r6YNrc2EmPDecember 14, 2020
It’s not the only unusual non-traditional phone they’ve been teasing this year. Rumors of TCL rollable the phone has been popping up all year, recently in an alleged leaked video that showed an effective prototype of a side-sliding phone.
Oppo also showed a design for a rotatable mobile phone and perhaps closer to the introduction of a usable device: the company showed the Oppo X 2021 in late 2020, although the company clarified that it is a concept phone and will probably not be sold as it is on market.
Nonetheless, it promises, as Oppo has shown a functional design: a 6.7-inch OLED screen to launch, but the body of the phone slides sideways to expand the screen to 7.4 inches.
Although we haven’t seen it, we’ve also heard of the LG Rollable – a rustling phone that is believed to be able to leak could cost $ 2,359 (roughly £ 1,775, $ 3,130).