This is the Droid DNA.
This is the last phone of 2012. Quite literally, as the Droid DNA is probably the last major phone to be released this year, given that the holiday shopping season starts in just a couple of weeks. But metaphorically speaking, too, in terms of hardware: It's the culmination of what the industry has been inching toward producing over the last year. It is effectively the new status quo — when reviewers look at phones in 2013, they will go down this list and say, "duh."
- It has a 5-inch screen. The only phone that's bigger is Samsung's Galaxy Note and Note II. It's a biiiiig phone. It is peak phone maximalism.
- Most importantly, it has a 1920x1080 display, making it the most pixel-dense phone in the U.S., ever. It has a pixel density of 440 pixels per inch, or over 100 pixels per inch more than the iPhone 4/4S/5. The pixel density wars are effectively over, and we won. We can't see pixels anymore on phones. (As Gizmodo points out, this does not mean the Droid DNA has the best screen, though.)
- It has a 1.5GHz quad-core processor. Which, whatever, but the iPhone 5 now stands virtually alone as a flagship phone with only two processing cores. Again, not that it matters for real-world performance, except as a "state of the world" factoid. But it wouldn't be crazy to expect your phone to have more cores than your computer in the next two years.
- It has LTE. A year ago, HTC made the first real LTE smartphone for Verizon and it was a stubby brick with horrendous battery life. Now basically every flagship phone has LTE (except Google's Nexus 4), thanks to smaller, less power-hungry LTE chips. Your first experience on LTE is always a jarring one because it's so ridiculously fast, and it's the most meaningful change in cellular networking in years. It's like having Wi-Fi all the time.
- The camera's 8 megapixels. While some phones have cameras with more than 8 megapixels, this has kind of crystalized as the standard — just check out this Verge chart comparing the flagship phones for every OS, which all have 8 megapixels — even though we hit 8-megapixel phone cameras a couple years ago. There are a couple reasons for that. More megapixels isn't more better, so manufacturers are focusing on improving other aspects of the camera, like low light performance. Also, the camera modules themselves have been forced to get thinner and thinner to fit inside of ever slimmer phone chassis; maintaining performance with thinner modules is the trade-off phone makers are choosing right now.
- The battery's 2020 mAh. Massive batteries near or topping 2,000 milliamp hours are the new norm (except for the iPhone) — they're basically required to keep your quad-core, 4G, giant-screened phones running longer than a Pixar short film. The thing about batteries that they're the biggest laggard in tech — they haven't been getting much better, so the only way to make phones last longer is to make them more efficient, and that's a slow, iterative process. Not as slow as making batteries better, though.
So what does a 2013 phone look like? In general: a hair thinner. A few grams lighter. Lots of 1080p screens, with an extra bit of jargon attached, like SUPER DUPER AMOLED UBER, or MEGA LCD 4. More megapixels in cameras again. Slightly smaller batteries as chips get more powerful/efficient, so smaller phones that weigh less and fit in one hand will make a tiny comeback after stretching the limits of the human body for the last year. (The iPhone 5S, of course, will look exactly like the iPhone 5. Just faster/better guts.)
In other words, a lot like phones in 2012, just slightly better and a little smaller. The huge leaps in phones? We've made them. It's all about little skips ahead now, one millimeter or gram at a time. But two years of small hops has a way of looking like a pretty big jump, in the end.