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CES didn’t have many phones presented on the floor this year, but the ones that were there were important. We got nods to the trends that are coming in 2020, with cheaper prices for the high-end tech of 2019 being a major theme. You can normally expect to see mid-range handsets at CES, but this year we got more concepts to mull over as well as a genuine glimpse at the path 2020 is going to wind.

There hasn’t been a major change of pace for the event. Industry watchers are waiting for the Mobile World Congress for the real mobile fireworks of the year. It’s the world’s biggest cellphone show and it’s in Barcelona between Feb. 24 to 27.

Whilst you’re eagerly waiting for that, here are some clues at what’s to come in the world of mobile innovation, including a pop-up camera that disappears when not in use.

Folding phones coming to a price bracket near you

In the market for a cheap mobile? Steer clear from the foldables, which have huge price tags – the Galaxy Fold sets you back $2,000, the Motorola Razr is $1,500, and you’re spending a cool $2,400 for a Huawei Mate X. This is top-end tech with a price tag to match. 

The innovation of screens that let you bend the display in half is shaking up an otherwise static mobile phone industry. It’s not been cheap for the companies to get this, and there’s big outlay to get factories tooled up, which is all reflected in the massive price tags when compared to other 4G phones on the market. There’s also a little bit of “privilege” in being the first one with the latest tech built into the price.

The high list price is definitely putting a lot of people off actually owning one, though. A lower price is going to make them more accessible; with a lowering of the barrier to ownership they’ll get adopted quicker, and this is exactly what is needed if foldable phones are going to be the future.  

CES 2020 saw TCL debut a working prototype of a folding phone that is going to be sold cheaper than the Razr from Motorola. It comes with a 7.2-inch display, it’s 5G compatible, and there are three rear cameras thrown in too. 

On top of that, Samsung possibly let slip that their next foldable is going to be called the Galaxy Bloom and will be a reasonably wallet pleasing $850.

Your wallet can like 5G as much as your phone does

Although not quite as eye-wateringly expensive as folding phones, 5G enabled devices still come with higher prices that same-spec 4G phones. If the industry wants to see 5G get adopted at a decent rate, the prices need to come down to encourage use, just like with foldables.

It’ll also be a boon for the telecommunications networks; faster data speeds mean higher usage and therefore more profits.

If you’re in the market for a new handset, having more affordable 5G options is just nice. For less than $500 you can get the TCL Pro 5G, the CoolPad Legacy can be bought for $400, and Verizon is aiming to have 20 phones with 5G in 2020, with some costing less than $600. When the Samsung Galaxy Note 10 5G is priced at $1,300, these deals don’t seem too rough. The specs aren’t going to match the Note 10, but you’ll get great data speeds. 

Picture taking takes design in new directions

Photo taking abilities of phones is a big point of competition, with even the location of the lenses on phones causing waves in the industry.  

Square and rectangular black camera mounts are features of the Galaxy Note 10 Lite and Galaxy S10 Lite, respectively, looking very similar to the Pixel 4 from Google. Commentators are saying this could be a big move to go up against the iPhone 11; the big cluster of rear lenses sticking out the back means everyone knows when they’re looking at the latest Apple devices.

Looking at other manufacturers, OnePlus has the Concept One that takes advantage of an electric current that is able to hide or show the range of cameras on the back side of the phone. The phone is designed to look sleeker when handsets are getting lens heavy. 

Phones for gaming are getting some attention

Gaming on phones is a market in itself, and there has been a steady outflow of specially optimized handsets. The coming of 5G data is big news for gaming, allowing further immersion into the game and getter graphics with fly-on-the-wall rendering achieved through better network data capacity. 

A fast processor is also essential for the gaming niche, and Snapdragon caters to the need with the 765G midrange chipset. Along with the processors, screen speed is important for gamers, and 120Hz refresh rates are going to be more common on gaming targeted devices, allowing for smoother animations. 

Even without the first two features, the best phone for gaming is probably still The Black Shark 2 Pro. It even comes with a case that makes it function similar to the Nintendo Switch. The gaming mode that’s built-in also demonstrates the phone’s gamer credentials, rather than it just being a standard phone that happens to have the power to play long sessions of resource-hungry games. 

CES is done, but the mobile phone world is just getting itself hyped for the year to come. 

Jessica Dolcourt originally wrote this article as part of cnet’s full spectrum of coverage of CES 2020, fresh from the show’s floor filled with the hottest gadgets for the coming year.

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