Mobile tech hits and misses in 2019

From foldable phones to 5G rollouts, it was a big year for mobile tech news and releases. Jack Wallen weighs in on the Apple Watch Series 5, the Pixel 4, and more.


The Galaxy Fold

Image: Samsung

The year is almost at an end, and it's time to recap the mobile technology highlights. There were so many new mobile devices and discoveries, but is there anything in particular that makes 2019 special when it comes to mobility? And is "special" a good thing or a bad thing? Let's dive in and find out.

SEE: 5G: What it means for IoT (ZDNet/TechRepublic special feature) | Download the free PDF version (TechRepublic)

The hits

Smartwatches are here to stay

To be honest, I thought the smartwatch would have come and gone by now, but 2019 proved that wearables are here to stay. Both Samsung and Apple brought to the market two of the best smartwatches to ever grace a wrist: The Samsung Galaxy Watch (released in 2018) and the Apple Watch Series 5. Both of these devices proved the tiny form factor is perfectly capable of providing an outstanding user experience. The Samsung has the better price and battery life, whereas the Apple Watch has the more impressive array of apps to install. Either way, the smartwatch is finally here to stay.

System76 Coreboot's faster boot time makes it a hit

Leave it to the brilliant developers and designers at System76 to finally bring to life Coreboot. What is Coreboot? Coreboot is an open source replacement for proprietary BIOS, and System76 managed to deliver it on two of its laptops: The Galago Pro and Darter. Coreboot is far leaner than the standard BIOS, which means it can boot faster; System76 claims that Coreboot-enabled laptops will boot 29% faster than their proprietary brothers and sisters. When you're on the go, faster boot times means you can get more done. 

Joan Meeting Room Scheduler proves useful

This might not be the sexiest tech you've ever seen, but it certainly is one of the most useful. The Joan Meeting Room Scheduler by Visionect uses e-ink technology and ultra-low energy architecture to create an environmentally-friendly scheduler for conference rooms. Joan can sync with your Google, iCal, or Outlook calendar to display a real-time schedule on a well-designed, easily read, tablet-sized device mounted to a wall outside a room. It's an innovative way to save paper, confusion, and frustration. 

AI is a win

Artificial intelligence (AI) is not new by any stretch of the imagination, but 2019 saw AI finally mature enough to become an integral part of mobile technology. The release of Android 10 leaned very heavily on AI with great success. Truth be told, the one device that can absolutely lay claim to using artificial intelligence with great success is the smartphone, and Google has proven to be the leader in that field.

The misses

The downfall of foldable phones  

Let's just get this out of the way. I've said it a number of times, in numerous forums, and I'll say it again: Foldable phones are a bad idea. Why? The all-too-obvious reason is the screens. OEMs have been in search of the mystical material that can not only serve as a display, but be foldable without creasing, cracking, or breaking; they may as well have been in search of mithril to use as the material for these displays. And yet, there is still a push to deliver the foldable phone. Will foldable phones ever catch on? If 2019 is any indication, chances aren't terribly good.

5G: Not fully realized 

5G finally began rolling out in 2019 in certain US cities. Chicago, Minneapolis, MN, Denver, Providence, RI, St. Paul, MN, Atlanta, Detroit, Indianapolis, Washington DC, Phoenix, Boise, ID Panama City, FL, New York, Dallas, and Omaha, NE, all benefited from this new carrier network. This comes after years of hype and assumption that 5G would be the next big vaporware. And yet, it's here.

Even though it has finally arrived, it still isn't fully realized. 5G operates on sub-6 GHz and millimeter-wave frequencies (at 20-60 GHz). Although carriers were already using sub-6 for LTE networks, millimeter-wave frequency had yet to be employed. The problem with 5G is that millimeter-wave frequencies don't travel long distances, nor can they travel through windows or buildings; because of this, there are still problems to be surmounted before 5G is rolled out to full capacity. On top of that, not every device is capable of working with 5G. Until that day comes, we'll just have to stick with 4G and Wi-Fi.

SEE: 5G mobile networks: A cheat sheet (TechRepublic download)

The pros and cons of Google hardware

2019 saw the release of the latest hardware from Google: The Pixel 4 and the Pixelbook Go. Both mobile devices are overpriced compared to the competition. Although the Pixelbook Go delivered on promised battery life, the Pixel 4 has been found to be a disaster in that realm; sure, the camera is best in show, and the built-in AI is unmatched, but how good are those features when the battery can't last an entire day? Even with the unremarkable battery performance of the Pixel 4, if you can live with having to recharge your device midway through the day, you won't find a better camera on any phone anywhere.

As for the Pixelbook Go, Google already had two of the finest Chromebooks on the market: The Chromebook Pixel 2015 and the Pixelbook. Why Google didn't resurrect those devices with a bit of updated hardware and spit shine, I'll never know. 

The end of Samsung DeX

Here's another negative highlight, this time thanks to Samsung. For the longest time, Samsung promised to deliver the Linux desktop to the DeX experience; unfortunately, 2019 saw the end of that promise. This was a sad bit of news because those who got to experience DeX loved it--DeX worked well and delivered a full-blown Linux desktop powered by a Samsung smartphone. This bit of news should probably put the final nail in the convergence coffin. It was a great idea, but it seems to be one that could never truly catch on.

SEE: Samsung DeX wants to invade your laptop (CNET)

And there you go, my 2019 highlights for mobile technology. Let's see what 2020 has to offer mobile users. 

Also see

By Jack Wallen

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic, The New Stack, and Linux New Media. He's covered a variety of topics for over twenty years and is an avid promoter of open source. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website jackwallen....