Genius or gimmick: The crazy phone showdown

"All phones look the same." Not anymore. 2018 may have been a pretty stale year for phone designs, but this year has been anything but – and it's only March. We're not just seeing obscure brands having the guts to introduce wild designs, but mainstream manufacturers are coming up with designs that are truly different.

And as with going off the beaten path, not all of these ideas work. Some are genius; innovative ideas that have functional applications that we would love to see in more phones. Others are just gimmicks – manufacturers pushing for superficial, eye-catching features that are unlikely to convince the masses.

In this showdown, this season's maddest innovations go toe-to-toe, earning their title as "genius" or "gimmick".

Samsung Galaxy Fold & Huawei Mate X: Foldable displays

Stealing all the headlines – and raising some brows – this year are the "foldies". Manufacturers have been pursuing foldable smartphones for a long time now, but consumers have never found a compelling reason why they'd switch their perfectly functional candy bars for one that bends.

Frankly, the Galaxy Fold and the Mate X aren't quite the winning arguments, but it's getting there. The stars of both these unveilings was the software that made these giant, folding devices actually useful for the user. Seamlessly switching between a smaller screen to a larger one for better media consumption or multi-tasking is a great idea. But for now, we're all just waiting for these devices to get prettier and a little bit more pocket-able.

Even if folding phones don't quite get the traction they need to sell, folding technology can find a home in plenty other appliances, from watches, to TVs and perhaps e-readers. It's tech that is surely here to stay. I say, GENIUS.

LG G8 ThinQ: Crystal Sound screens and Vein Recognition

LG's been making great phones. But there just aren't enough gripping reasons to pick LG handsets instead of another flagship in its price range. This year, they've decided to really try to set themselves apart with some goofy features.

The first is Crystal Sound OLED screens, which allow them to remove the top earpiece, and have sounds from your phone call vibrate through the screen instead. It all sounds like an unnecessary gimmick, but as it makes way for more screen, other manufactures are likely to look into this as part of the ongoing war against the bezel. I say, GENIUS.

Strangely though, you'll notice that despite the talking screen, a chunky notch remains where the earpiece would have been. LG's decided to retain the notch to house a series of sensors for VR (that's Vein Recognition). Without getting too science-y, it scans the hemoglobin in the blood in your hand as you wave it across the phone, providing greater security.

The same sensor technology also adds hand gesture support to use certain apps and features, like adjusting the volume. But given how ridiculous it looks to constantly wave at your phone, not to mention annoying when it doesn't work, we can't imagine too many people getting on board with LG's VR. For that, I say GIMMICK.

Sony Xperia 1: Ultra-tall displays

Maybe it's not for everyone, but the new ultra-tall Xperia phones are sure to satisfy a niche that the market never knew it wanted. Taller displays fit videos and movies better. Sony also packs a 4K HDR OLED display, which is sure to make this the movie machine to beat. Tag that movie buff. I say GENIUS.

Vivo Apex: Buttonless phones and full-screen fingerprint readers

Vivo's new concept phone replaces all its buttons with capacitive sensors, reducing it to what is essentially a single slab of glass. Even the charging port is gone, swapped out with a single magnetic charging strip at the back.

First the war on the headphone jack, then bezels, and now buttons? The Vivo Apex seems to be addressing a problem that never really existed in the first place. Instead, it makes it less functional. Imagine the struggle of adjusting the volume when your phone is in your pocket. Nobody asked for this. Yes, I say GIMMICK.

The Apex does have a trick up its sleeve that will surely see some longevity, though: a full-screen fingerprint sensor. Surely, this is the next milestone manufacturers are going to chase. I say GENIUS.

Energizer: Massive 18,000 mAh battery

You'd be forgiven if you thought this was a brick of some sorts. Coming in at the thickness of an Altoids mint box, this beast isn't messing around. It houses a 18,000 mAh battery – over four times the Galaxy S10+'s – which can power its modest 6.2-inch LCD panel for up to a week, depending on usage.

While definitely not for the masses, we can see how its long battery life could benefit certain professions and niche markets. And any shift toward bigger batteries is something we could get behind. I say GENIUS.

Nokia 9 PureView: 5 back cameras

Nokia's really pushing it, bringing us a phone with a total of six cameras. The five at the back work simultaneously together, comprising two color sensors and three monochrome ones to boost dynamic range up to 12.4 stops, which is crazy for a smartphone.

But given today's trend of camera toggling, switching between standard, portrait and wide-angle modes, the PureView's array of camera seems more restrictive than convenient. It may give you greater detail – and ability to shoot in authentic black-and-white – but there's just not enough flexibility here to warrant five cameras. FIVE.

And mind you, they sort of look like the eyes of a spider. Try and un-see that. Yes, I say GIMMICK.