Smartphones 2019 was huge – so big a category that we can only focus on a select few. But the biggest [fake] news was the lousy performance of Tel$tra’s still-born 5G network – nothing but a ploy to sell more phones in an over-saturated market. And that did not work either.

Tel$tra’s epic fail was almost as monumental as the rise and fall of Huawei. Smartphones 2019 was also about the opportunity that created for a host of newcomers and refurbishment kings.

Interestingly while GadgetGuy’s top category in 2018 was smartphones – smartphones 2019 dropped a few notches to fourth place displaced by Sound, TV and a new entrant Smart Homes.

We have a few suspicions why smartphones 2019 was not as exciting to our readers.

  • Australia is one of the last bastions of Apple, where it has approximately 50% market share. Globally it averages about 20% with China (once Apple’s largest market) now at a mere 6%.
  • In hindsight, Apple wisely decided not to join the 5G hoax and went on with minor evolution, not revolution. But Apple user’s ‘cognitive dissonance’ was wearing thin and the lack of new and exciting innovations started a massive smartphone OS swap.
  • Given a lack of hardware innovation and the fact that its iOS operating system works on the iPhone 6 and later people held on to iPhones for longer, encouraging the refurbishment market which cannibalises new future sales anyway.
  • Tel$tra, Craptus and Vodafail were prodded by the ACCC to stop bundling/leasing – disguising the cost of the phone in voice/data plans and taking the phones back at the end of a contract. Users got a nasty shock when asked to return phones and even nastier to pay up to several hundred dollars if they were damaged.
  • Apple users on a plan also got a shock when faced with a payment of $79.12/104.12 per month ($1898.88-2498.88) over 24 months for a new iPhone 11 Pro Max 64/512GB
  • That was on top of a ‘non-negotiable’ new voice/data plan. Telstra simplified 1800 existing voice /data plans to four – $50/15GB, $60/60GB, $80, 100GB and $100/150GB – no more all you can eat bundles and the threat of extra cost for using 5G from June 2020.
  • The Australian smartphone market was totally oversaturated – it regressed. We called it “On the skids.”

And all the action then moved to sub $599 handsets.

People finally woke up to the fact that you can get better value and afford to turn them over every two years. Here Samsung Galaxy A-series (from $10.53 a month), Nokia 7.2 ($13.86), LG K11 ($10) and Motorola ($9.33) ruled.

Huawei briefly gained the crown as the world’s second-largest smartphone maker

In smartphones 2018, we wrote how Huawei was rapidly gaining ground with its excellent Pro and Mate 20 series. Better cameras, better processors, loads of AI and aggressive growth in the face of ‘vicious, concerted and unsubstantiated innuendo against the company.’

Well, Huawei went on to become media’s darling (and ours) with its P30 Pro that, without exception media crowned as the best smartphone (so far) of 2019. There is a lot to like.

But Huawei became a victim of US/China geopolitics (just as Kaspersky became a victim of US/Russia geopolitics) and by May 2019 Huawei was placed on the US Entities list. The result – its new phones could not use Google Android, services or Play Store.

Instead of a quick resolution, President Trump has tightened sanctions against Huawei to the extent that its Mate 30/Pro launched with open-source Android and no Google services – It does not do Google.

Consequently, many local media (including GadgetGuy) are unable to review or cover Huawei smartphones until resolution. Hint – don’t hold your breath!

 “Once you drop the ball it is so hard to get it back” – new entrants flock to fill the gaps

Smartphones 2019 reflect a plethora of new entrants (to the Australian market) with a range of phones under $500.

OPPO (well the BBK Group with vivo, realme and OnePlus) quickly became the world’s second-largest smartphone maker as the retailers, Telcos and western hoards deserted Huawei.

These days it is a given that OPPO et al., produce good gear. It is now one of Australia’s most recognisable smartphone brands winning the Canstar, ‘Most Satisfied Customers – Smartphones’ for 2018 and 2019.

Realme, a youth-focused sub-brand with a pure-online sales model, scored 4.9/5 for its 5 Pro and XT models for stand-out features and value in a $399/499 phone. These are phones that Joe and Jane Average should aspire to.

vivo produced some, excellent ‘worker’ phones scoring 4.4/5 for its Y12 and Y17 which we perhaps unkindly called the ‘Hyundai’ equivalent. These have huge 5000mAh batteries, decent build quality and cost $249/349.

OPPO blew us away with a range of phones from a few hundred to about $1199 that were all winners. But more than that were the most innovative in 2019 with pop-up cameras, 10x lossless zoom and the fastest 5G phone (4.9/5) ($1149) at Telstra’s launch. But what was impressive was the OPPO Reno Z 4.9/5 ($449) and the second generation OPPO Reno2 Z 5/5 ($599) – cheap as chips and just as satisfying!