We came, we saw, we tapped a lot of touchscreens. Despite unexpected rain, a metro strike and the non-appearance of some hotly tipped smartphones we’ve had a good Mobile World Congress so far, because some of the tech world’s biggest names unveiled some genuinely exciting new phones.
From the latest, greatest Samsungs to the phone that thinks it’s a PC, these are the best phones from MWC 2016.
Samsung Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge
The Galaxy S7 has been leaked so comprehensively that there were few surprises at its actual launch, but while the S7 and S7 Edge aren’t radically different from their predecessors they’re still very impressive devices. They’re both IP68 certified for water resistance (30 minutes in 1.5 metres), they’ve regained their microSD card slots, and they have 3,000 mAh batteries. For us the most interesting new feature is the Dual Pixel camera, which delivers a wider aperture, faster shutter speeds and more accurate autofocus for better performance, especially in low light. There’s also Apple-esque Live Photos and the ability to include movement in panoramic photos too. There’s one surprising absence, though, and that’s USB-C; it’s appearing everywhere this year, so its absence from the S7 series is a surprise.
The word “innovative” tends to be thrown around a bit too easily in smartphones, but LG’s new G5 deserves the label: instead of trying to make its existing phones a little bit thinner or add a few more megapixels to the camera sensor, LG has been thinking about what we actually want from phones. Its answer: a modular phone with a slide-out battery and add-ons such as the LG Cam Plus camera and the LG Hi-Fi Plus DAC audio player. The former is a camera module that provides the grip and control of a traditional camera and adds an extra 1,200 mAh of battery power to boot; the latter offers 32-bit, 384Khz high definition audio playback and can also connect to PCs and other smartphones.
As for the phone, its specs are pretty decent too: there’s a Snapdragon 820 inside with 4GB of RAM, 32GB of storage and a microSD slot, a 2,800 mAh battery, USB type C and a 5.3-inch Quad HD IPS display delivering 554ppi. The camera offers 16MP shooting or 8MP in wide-angle mode, and the front camera is 8MP.
Sony Xperia X, XA and X Performance
Sony had just one message at MWC, and that message appeared to be “don’t buy our phones”: the new X range promises better cameras, curved glass and better battery life, but the phones won’t be out until the summer. That means Sony’s risking what’s known as the “Osborne effect”, which is when news of a forthcoming product scuppers sales of the current one. The Xperia X Range is designed to sit below the main Xperia Z range, but we suspect it might appeal to potential Z buyers too.
The X phones do sound pretty good. The Xperia X has a 5-inch, 1080p display, a 23MP main camera with 13MP on the front, 32GB or 64GB of storage and 3GB of RAM. It’s powered by a Snapdragon 650 processor and has Qnovo’s Adaptive Charging technology, which apparently delivers twice the battery life of the Xperia Z2. The X Performance has a better Snapdragon - the 820 - and both phones have a “next generation” camera that predicts movement in order to reduce the risk of blurred photographs.
The XA is a more budget proposition, with a 5-inch screen delivering 720p, 13MP on the back and 5MP on the front, a MediaTek octa-core processor and 2GB of RAM.
The HTC One M10 was a surprise no-show, but HTC did have the X9 to show us. The X9 has a similar metal unibody to the year-old HTC One M9, and it offers flagship looks for a lower price. Inside there’s an octa-core MediaTek processor, 3GB of RAM, a 13MP main camera with optical image stabilisation and 4K recording and a 5MP selfie shooter. It’s hardly going to set the world on fire but it’s a decent phone for what we expect will be a decent price.
HTC also had the Desire 530 to show off, and the most interesting thing about it is its case: if you’ve ever wanted a phone that looks like you’ve left it lying while repainting the ceiling, its Micro Splash paint job ensures that every Desire 530 is unique.
HP Elite X3
The Elite X3 is HP’s first smartphone in two years, and it’s that rare thing: an interesting Windows Phone device. Aimed squarely at business users with big hands, the Elite X3 takes advantage of Microsoft’s Continuum to deliver a PC-esque experience when you hook it up to a monitor and a smartphone experience when you’re out and about. To that end there’s a Snapdragon 820, 4GB of DDR4 RAM and a 5.96-inch screen, and it’s made to military specifications so it shouldn’t shatter if you accidentally drop it. The battery is a massive 4,150mAh job and the cameras are 16MP and 8MP respectively, with the front camera capturing two simultaneous images in Skype chats to deliver a balanced, HDR-style image. Don’t expect it to be cheap.