Mobile World Congress kicks off in Barcelona this Sunday with two flagship smartphone launches: Samsung's Galaxy S7 and LG's G5. Officially, MWC runs from Monday, the 21st of February, to Thursday, the 25th, but whatever else happens at the show in the coming week, one of these two Korean giants will walk away with the hype crown. Either Samsung, because it's the established Android leader, or LG, because its crazy modular concept resonates with consumers who have grown tired of the same old thing. Beyond the clash of Korean clans, Mobile World Congress will also be the launch venue for a host of other smartphones as well as future technologies, devices, and peripherals. Read on to learn what to expect from the biggest show in the mobile business.
(Image credit: VentureBeat)
As it did last year, Samsung is expected to grace MWC 2016 with two new members of its flagship Galaxy S family. Pre-show leaks indicate that the updated Galaxy S7 will be an incremental improvement on the incumbent S6: bigger battery, updated processors — potentially including Qualcomm's latest Snapdragon 820 in some locations — and a selection of conservative colors that now includes a black option alongside white, silver, and gold. The 5.1-inch screen size is set to remain unchanged and the design appears to have simply been optimized and streamlined, with the camera bump protruding less than previously.
The Galaxy S7 Edge might just overshadow the regular S7
Samsung's bigger highlight, in both literal and figurative terms, appears to be the Galaxy S7 Edge, which is expected to come in at a larger 5.5-inch size. Its design has been more noticeably altered, with the leaks indicating a gentle curve on the rear as well as the front of the phone. This would be a welcome change after the first Edge device suffered from imperfect ergonomics because of its perfectly flat back. Both Galaxy S7 variants will reprise Samsung's celebrated Super AMOLED display technology, with a likely return of the impressive QHD (2560 x 1440) resolution of last year. Power users may be excited by the possible reintroduction of water resistance and a microSD memory card slot on the new phones. All in all, Samsung doesn't seem to be trying to reinvent anything with its Galaxy S7 duo, instead opting to stick to a successful formula and adding the features people have been asking for.
LG has gone for the diametrically opposite strategy to Samsung. After the G3 and G4 iterated on the warmly received G2, the new flagship from LG is set to be "nothing like" its predecessors. The fundamental redesign will include a switch to an all-metal construction, but won't be just cosmetic. LG plans to introduce a new Magic Slot compartment at the bottom of the phone, which will accept a selection of added accessories and peripherals. Users will be able to slot in larger batteries as well as photography and audio-enhancing modules. As if to confirm the pre-launch leaks, LG has announced it's partnering with Bang & Olufsen on the G5, though it hasn't detailed exactly how the two are working together. Further uses of the magic slot could include a VR camera, and the whole set of accessories might also include a remote-controlled robot toy, according to VentureBeat.
LG is reinventing itself with a new Magic Slot
Shifting the volume controls to the side, the G5 is also expected to feature two cameras on the rear. Early rumors to that effect were strengthened by LG's announcement of the X camera mid-range handset with precisely such a dual-cam system. The X camera and its sibling, the X screen, will debut alongside the G5 at MWC and it seems likely that each will be sold as a cut-down version of the flagship with one key feature borrowed from it. With the X camera, that will be the dual-camera, and with the X screen, the expected G5 commonality will be the dual-screen setup on the front, with an extra "news ticker" display for notifications, app shortcuts, and call and music controls. Not content with three new phones, LG will round out its lineup with the 5.7-inch Stylus 2.
Having knocked the Motorola name out of existence in the midst of CES, Lenovo is returning to the business of announcing new devices at Mobile World Congress. Its teaser for this year's edition of the show indicates a metal case for a new, as yet undocumented smartphone. Like the rest of the mobile competition, Lenovo is sure to stick to Android as the operating system, and it's likely to unveil more than one handset. The choices made by the Chinese company with this new wave of smartphones — whether they're aimed at the high end or the entry level — will signal its future path as it works to define its global identity post-Motorola.
Thermal imaging cameras were turned into a smartphone accessory dongle last year and today they've made the inevitable next step in convergence: being integrated directly into the phone. British company Bullitt, which designs, manufactures, and distributes ruggedized Android smartphones under the Cat brand name, is the first to build a Flir thermal camera into its flagship device. Announced a couple of days ahead of Mobile World Congress, the S60 is now a fully known quantity, running on a Snapdragon 617 processor, Android Marshmallow, and a 4.7-inch HD screen. It's certainly a niche device, but unlike the usual routine of rugged phones being thrown, submerged, whacked, or otherwise attacked, this one can actually show off a unique capability — it's a phone you can take anywhere that can do things most others can't.
One of China's leading smartphone manufacturers, Xiaomi, is making its MWC debut this year. Holding launch events in both Beijing and Barcelona, Xiaomi will introduce its new Mi 5 flagship smartphone. Yes, it's yet another Android device, running Marshmallow with the latest update to Xiaomi's MIUI interface skin. The company's reputation so far has been built on selling compelling devices at extremely low prices, so its big launch on a global stage is likely to extend and reaffirm that commitment. Teasing the Mi 5's launch on the 24th is a series of videos from Xiaomi that focuses on the idea of "insanely fast" — so look for a striking combination of high specs and rock-bottom pricing when this new handset is announced. Check out an early teaser of the camera here.
A Windows phablet!
It looks like HP will show up to Mobile World Congress with one of the most high-end Windows phones we’ve ever seen. It's supposed to be called the Elite x3, and details of it just began leaking out this week. Photos show it as a sleek, nearly 6-inch device with a distinct chrome speaker grille at the bottom. But the real highlight here are the specs: leaks indicate it has a Snapdragon 820 processor, 4GB of RAM, and 32GB of internal storage that's expandable to 200GB via microSD. It's also said to have a fingerprint reader, an iris scanner, and Qi wireless charging. There's a dock connector on the back of the device too, so it's possible we'll see HP roll out some accessories for using the Elite x3 as a Continuum PC.
The traditional showdown of Mobile World Congress has usually been between Samsung and HTC, but the Taiwanese company is demurring from challenging the Android leader this year. HTC will have a presence at MWC, of course, and it's likely to launch one or two lower-tier devices, but its next flagship won't be arriving for at least another few weeks. The way that global Android brands work, it's basically impossible for any one of their marquee devices to make its way out to testing by carriers and distributors without any leaks taking place. That also tells us that Sony won't have anything major to show this year, either, which is reasonable given we're only a few months removed from the launch of the Xperia Z5.
Motorola's habit of keeping mostly quiet during MWC will be extended indefinitely, now that Lenovo has decided to stop using the brand. Microsoft is also expected to keep a low profile, contenting itself with showing off the recently announced Lumia 650. Huawei and ZTE will keep Sunday incredibly busy by holding their own press events, so we can look forward to even more choice in the Android realm.
One innovation at MWC that won’t be available to hold, but that will (literally) be in the air is 5G. Carriers, telecoms, and smartphone manufacturers will all be showing off their first steps implementing the next generation of mobile connectivity, including prototype radios and other technical equipment. It’s very early days for 5G, with companies yet to agree even on a single specification, but the general goal is clear: speeds of between 1 and 10 gigabits per second that can support things like 4K video streaming, virtual and augmented reality tech, and the growing network of connected everyday objects better known as the Internet of Things.
One thing everyone agrees on about the future: it's going to be fast
In the run-up to MWC, we’ve seen plenty of companies talking up their 5G credentials. Samsung will be demonstrating technology that can stream eight 4K videos at once; Ericsson will have a prototype 5G system that allows users to control semi-autonomous helicopters with "haptic feedback"; and Nokia says it’s partnering with Vodafone to develop the 5G networks that will do nothing less than help deliver "the next industrial revolution." We’re expecting a lot of talk, then, but it’s still going to be years before the first 5G connections go live.