While the Consumer Electronics Show generally features consumer tech from varying different areas such as connected cars, laptops, home appliances, wearables, and drones, Mobile World Congress (MWC) narrows its focus to smartphones, tablets, and all things mobile. Even so, Mobile World Congress is probably the second largest consumer technology trade show after CES. Many tech companies use this time to make major product announcements, usually smartphones. This year was no different as many high profile companies such as LG, Sony, and even Nokia revealed the future of their products. One of the bigger surprises was the lack of a Galaxy S8 announcement from Samsung. That reveal (which has already leaked) is scheduled for Samsung Unpacked event later this month. Here are the top 5 announcements of Mobile World Congress:
While last year’s G5 was certainly a bold move for LG, their take on modular smartphones was nevertheless an unsuccessful one. Switching between modules was somewhat clunky and many reviewers lamented the questionable build quality and easily scratched paint job. Fortunately at Mobile World Congress, LG finally made the G6 official after months of rumors and speculation. This year seems to be a reset from last year and a return to form. From the outset, the most noticeable thing about the G6 is the big, beautiful 5.7” Quad HD screen dominating the front. The 18:9 ratio allows wider content viewing although videos may display black bars on the sides. The bezels are very minimal with an almost edge to edge screen (although not spilling over the edge like Samsung’s Galaxy S6/S7 Edge). It loses the modular features of the G5 and instead unibody design of glass and metal. The unibody design means that it loses the ability to remove the battery, however, that allows for waterproofing and wireless charging. For all of you spec junkies, it has a Snapdragon 821 CPU and Adreno 530 GPU. It has dual 13 megapixel wide angle cameras in the back. Finally, it comes with Android 7.0 Nougat with Google Assistant out of the box. While the G6 doesn’t necessarily have a neat party tricks like the G5, the laser focus on the basics makes this a very competent flagship phone.
To call Microsoft’s purchase of Nokia’s smartphone business a disaster is an understatement. However, Nokia is poised to make a comeback with all new smartphones, now powered by Android instead of Windows 10 Mobile. This time, Nokia gave the licensing rights for the Nokia brand to HMD Global to manufacture and distribute the phones. What resulted is the Nokia 3, 5, and 6. A trio of low to mid range Android phones that might turn a few heads despite the lower specs. The biggest draw for these phones is the bone stock version of Android 7.1.1 Nougat that’s loaded on the phones. No carrier bloatware, no intrusive skins, no customizations at all. Just pure stock Android. The stock nature of the new Nokias mean faster performance and potentially faster updates. According to The Verge, HMD has about 500 carrier and retail partners but hasn’t committed to any U.S. carriers. HMD is probably trying to test the waters with mid range phones before making any high-end Nokia branded phones to compete with the likes of iPhone and Galaxy.
This isn’t a smartphone but “ain’t no school like the old school” as the saying goes. HMD is reviving the much loved and practically indestructible Nokia 3310. The new and improved 3310 sports a more rounded shape, various color choices, and has a bigger, colorful screen than the old phone. Make no mistake though, these are still basic phones that you can use to text (using T9 of course), call, take pictures, and yes…play a game of Snake. Those who want to indulge their nostalgia can pick these up for about $50.
Sony Xperia XZ Premium
Going back up the spectrum into the decidedly high-end is the Sony Xperia XZ Premium. Sony actually admitted that they lacked innovation in 2016. At Mobile World Congress, Sony is ticking every single box spec wise with the XZ Premium. It has the world’s first 5.5” 4K HDR screen. HDR is High Dynamic Range which basically allows for more vibrant colors. The effect is quite noticeable on HDTVs that have HDR enabled. Although the screen is 4K, because it uses LCD technology, it’s not suitable for VR since the response times in LCD are too low. In addition to that, the XZ Premium is packing Qualcomm’s latest Snapdragon 835 processor, 4GB of RAM, and 64GB of storage. It has a IP68 rating for dust and water resistance and comes preloaded with Android 7.1 Nougat. Also…can we talk the camera for a moment? It’s a 19-megapixel camera called the Motion Eye. This new camera module has fast memory baked right in and so allows slow motion photography at 960 frames per second at 720p resolution which is a first for smartphones. The camera also has laser auto focus, an infrared sensor, and an updated image sensor. On paper, this sounds like a fantastic camera but further tests from reviewers later this year will bear this out. On a slightly sour note for American buyers, it looks like the U.S. version of the XZ Premium will omit the fingerprint sensor. Regardless, Sony is packing the Xperia XZ Premium with a myriad of high end features and specs which should certainly help it compete in the high end smartphone market.
BlackBerry’s last hurrah as an independent hardware manufacturer resulted in the BlackBerry Priv, an Android phone with some admittedly neat features but ultimately expensive and a little buggy. This year at Mobile World Congress, like Nokia, BlackBerry has left hardware duties to and third party manufacturer called TCL. Thus, TCL introduced the BlackBerry KeyOne which actually shows a lot of promise and might be a sleeper hit among Android users. Spec-wise, it’s decidedly mid-range with its Snapdragon 625 processor but it doesn’t have to be as it’s aimed primarily at the business market. It has a 4.5 inch screen with a built in hardware keyboard (it wouldn’t be a BlackBerry without it). That keyboard has quite a few tricks up it’s sleeve. The keyboard itself can be used as a trackpad. You can assign application shortcuts with just one key, for example, pressing the letter “f” to open Facebook. The space bar also acts as a very accurate fingerprint sensor. One of BlackBerry’s hallmarks is its focus on security. It’s launching with Android 7.1 Nougat and BlackBerry has promised to keep up with Google’s monthly security updates. The BlackBerry DTEK software is also onboard which monitors the phone’s status, security, and controls how much services are able to use the phone. The focus on security alone might be enough for a few security conscious users to switch to BlackBerry. While BlackBerry’s influence has been dramatically reduced in the wake of iPhone and Android devices, BlackBerry’s focus on security might help it at least keep a foothold in the government and commercial sectors.