Pocket cinemas, five lenses and a hinge – the shape of phones to come

The Huawei Mate X folds from a phone to a tablet
The Huawei Mate X folds from a phone to a tablet
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The days of being told to turn off your phone when you step inside a cinema could soon be numbered, if only because the latest handsets aspire to be cinemas all by themselves.

Sony’s latest flagship, the Xperia 1, will have a screen resolution equal to that of the 50-inch TV in your living, room, and a widescreen aspect only previously seen in places where popcorn is sold. Instead of the “standard” ratio of 16:9, the new phone will be well over twice as wide as it is high, allowing it to display films as their makers intended.

At 6.5 inches diagonally, it is obviously some way short of the screen in a multiplex, but that, says Sony, isn’t the point. The quality of its picture, and the Dolby Atmos sound effects it has also built in, will offer a credible alternative to going to the pictures, it believes.

The phone, which will be on sale in the next couple of months at a price yet to be announced, is one of several to have been unveiled at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. All offer a tantalising glimpse of the shape of handsets to come.

For several manufacturers, that shape will be more flexible than before, because both Samsung and the Chinese maker Huawei have announced models you can fold up.

The Huawei Mate X is a distant relation to the Motorola flip phones of the 1990s. When collapsed, it’s a phone with screens on both sides; unfolded, it’s an eight-inch tablet.

Samsung’s Galaxy Fold device takes a similar approach, with a normal front screen and a larger tablet display opening out from the inside.

Huawei has gone on record as saying that foldable handsets will be the future of phones. If it’s right and they do catch on, other manufacturers will follow and prices will fall. In the meantime, you won’t get much change out of £2,000 – a price tag that makes little sense since you can buy a decent phone and tablet separately for well under a quarter as much.

Meanwhile, Nokia, another name from the 1990s, has staked its future on phones with more cameras. Twin and even triple lenses on the backs of handsets have become common in the last two years – the idea being that synchronised cameras shoot the same picture simultaneously but at different settings, and then blend the results to produce often stunning visual effects.

The £600 Nokia 9 PureView takes the principle a stage further with five lenses, not including the selfie camera at the front. Two of the rear sensors are colour, the others black and white, with optical processing technology from the revered German lens manufacturer, Carl Zeiss.

Shows such as the one in Barcelona are the tech industry’s equivalent of the fashion catwalks in Milan. Most of us wait until copycat garments arrive in the basement at H&M rather than buy direct from Vivienne Westwood, and so it is with phones. This time next year, models with four or five lenses bearing a less prestigious name than Zeiss will be in the Argos catalogue at a sensible price.

Some of the new technology never does make it to the mainstream, and among this year’s daft ideas soon to be abandoned on the hard shoulder of the information superhighway are the £300 trainers marketed by Nike whose “power laces” you tie with an app on your phone.

The firm now appears to have tripped over its own feet, with users reporting error messages when they try to fasten them. This never happened at Freeman Hardy Willis.