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The best and worst of Mobile World Congress 2018

The best and worst of Mobile World Congress 2018

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The future has more notches than headphone jacks

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Mobile World Congress 2018: what happened? Maybe it’s best to start with what didn’t happen: Huawei didn’t have a new flagship phone, LG rebadged its old flagship phone, and Motorola and HTC had no phones to show at all. The traditional deluge of new super-specced phones just wasn’t here as it usually is.

But that didn’t leave us with a boring show — far from it. Nokia reached back into the archives to revive another classic, Google’s hardware partners presented their first Android Go devices, and the pervasive buzzwords of 5G and AI were everywhere. There were even some cool laptops to look at. Here are the highlights, followed by the unfortunate lowlights.

The best

The demise of screen bezels

Nokia 8 Sirocco.
Nokia 8 Sirocco.
Photo by Tom Warren / The Verge

Whether companies call them full-screen, all-screen, FullVision, or Infinity Displays, there’s no mistaking the fact that a modern phone in 2018 is most readily recognized by the scarcity of its bezels around the screen. This is an awesome thing, allowing companies like Asus to give us 6.2-inch flagship phones within a smaller physical footprint than their previous 5.5-inch devices. Such has been the transformation between last year’s Zenfone 4 and this year’s Zenfone 5. As to the wider mobile industry, we’ve gone from Samsung and LG being the exception with their vanishingly thin bezels in 2017 to now being the norm.

Samsung’s Galaxy S9 and S9 Plus

Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus and S9.
Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus and S9.
Photo by James Bareham / The Verge

You may have been disappointed by the incremental nature of Samsung’s upgrades this year, but it’s hard to argue that there was any better phone at MWC than Samsung’s new flagship duo. With a new dual-aperture camera, a fingerprint reader now sanely position in the middle of the back, and the best and latest processors, the Galaxy S9 is a formidable giant that will tower over the Android phone industry for at least the rest of this year. Its similarities to the existing Galaxy S8 are a strength rather than a hindrance: that phone was one of the best-designed handsets last year and remains a class-leading device today.

Nokia’s 8110 Matrix phone

Nokia 8110.
Nokia 8110.
Photo by Tom Warren / The Verge

Yes, we are all suckers for gadgets that stir up feelings of nostalgia for our lost (or dwindling) youth. HMD Global, the company exploiting the Nokia brand, has shown itself an expert in refining and updating classic models from the Nokia archive for the modern world. Pricing the 8110 at less than $100, the company gives you a surprising amount of advanced functionality to go with the familiar slider styling. This phone has LTE, Google Assistant and Google Maps, Twitter and Facebook apps, Snake (because it has to), and a promised standby time of 25 days.

Lenovo’s awesome little Chromebooks

Lenovo 500e Chromebook.
Lenovo 500e Chromebook.
Photo by Vlad Savov / The Verge

Not traditional fare for a phone show, but Lenovo’s Chromebooks for schools left a positive impression here at MWC. Each of them has been ruggedized to withstand drops and spills, and the note-taking capabilities of the two higher-end models are great. One allows you to take notes with a regular pencil directly on the screen, while the other has a lag-free stylus input that’s delightful to use. The most expensive among them is a super affordable $349, which is roughly what netbooks used to cost, and there’s more than a passing similarity between these ultra basic Lenovo Chromebooks and the classic Eee PCs from years ago.

Vivo’s Apex concept phone

Vivo Apex concept phone.
Vivo Apex concept phone.
Photo by Sam Byford / The Verge

Vivo grabbed a lot of attention at CES 2018 by being the first company with a fingerprint reader integrated directly into the display, and it followed that up with a concept phone at MWC that was even more aggressively futuristic. The Apex concept device strips the bezels back even further than we’re now getting used to, and it achieves that by vibrating the screen so as to produce sound without an earpiece. Vivo also shifts the selfie camera to a pop-up module that extends from the top of the phone like a periscope. The Vivo Apex provided a fun exhibit of the current thinking and deliberation among phone designers looking for the next breakthrough.

The worst

The rise of iPhone X copycat notches

iPhone X and Zenfone 5.
iPhone X and Zenfone 5.
Photo by Vjeran Pavic / The Verge

The flip side of the new, slimmed-down display bezels is that they allow companies to do weird things with the particular layout and design of their screens. And many, far too many, at MWC 2018 have chosen to simply copy the look of the notch in Apple’s iPhone X. It’s a cynical move, which Asus is especially guilty of and unapologetic about. No one is even attempting to emulate Apple’s Face ID, which is the main reason for the iPhone’s notch; companies are just aping the Apple aesthetic with their own cosmetic alterations. The Asus Zenfone 5 thus represents both sides of the new phone screen trends: the good of slimming bezels and the bad of a deliberately derivative design.

The headphone jack is becoming a rarity

Sony Xperia XZ2.
Sony Xperia XZ2.
Photo by Chris Welch / The Verge

You know those big old ports on the back of desktop computers that companies still keep supporting many years after no one even remembers what they were for? That’s how the mobile industry perceives the headphone jack nowadays. It’s treated as legacy hardware. As such, the 3.5mm audio jack continues to be available on budget phone models (along with the awful Micro USB connector) and from some companies unwilling to follow the mainstream trend, such as Samsung and LG. This year, Nokia and Sony both introduced new flagships without a headphone jack, with their hope being that superior Bluetooth audio codecs will cover for the loss of the convenient, simple, and once-upon-a-time universal 3.5mm wire.

Samsung’s AR Emoji

AR emoji galaxy s9
Samsung AR Emoji.
Photo by Sam Byford / The Verge

They are dreadful, aren’t they? In its effort to keep pace with Apple’s iPhone and iOS, Samsung this week introduced its answer to Animoji in the form of its own AR Emoji. Technically speaking, these are rather impressive facial scans, given that the Galaxy S9 only uses the front-facing camera and no additional specialized equipment to produce them. But in practice, you get some rather weird, misshapen creations, whose facial animations are worse than anything we’ve seen since Mass Effect: Andromeda came out.

LG’s cynical V30 rebadge

LG V30S next to LG V30.
LG V30S next to LG V30.
Photo by Vlad Savov / The Verge

There are many industries in which a company will take an existing product, make a couple of cosmetic tweaks, and then reissue it under a new brand name. With phones, however, the rate of technological change and progress has always been so fast as to make that unnecessary. In 2018, LG has shown that the mobile industry is starting to fall in line with others by reissuing the LG V30 under a new product title of LG V30S ThinQ. The new V30 is identical to the old one, save for the addition of some extra RAM and storage. Everything novel about the V30S, of which there isn’t much, will be back-ported to the V30 in a software update. So LG simply used MWC 2018 as a launch platform for a software patch. Underwhelming to an extreme.

Today’s Storystream

Feed refreshed Sep 23 10 minutes in the clouds

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Twitter
Jay PetersSep 23
Twitch’s creators SVP is leaving the company.

Constance Knight, Twitch’s senior vice president of global creators, is leaving for a new opportunity, according to Bloomberg’s Cecilia D’Anastasio. Knight shared her departure with staff on the same day Twitch announced impending cuts to how much its biggest streamers will earn from subscriptions.


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Tom WarrenSep 23
Has the Windows 11 2022 Update made your gaming PC stutter?

Nvidia GPU owners have been complaining of stuttering and poor frame rates with the latest Windows 11 update, but thankfully there’s a fix. Nvidia has identified an issue with its GeForce Experience overlay and the Windows 11 2022 Update (22H2). A fix is available in beta from Nvidia’s website.


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External Link
If you’re using crash detection on the iPhone 14, invest in a really good phone mount.

Motorcycle owner Douglas Sonders has a cautionary tale in Jalopnik today about the iPhone 14’s new crash detection feature. He was riding his LiveWire One motorcycle down the West Side Highway at about 60 mph when he hit a bump, causing his iPhone 14 Pro Max to fly off its handlebar mount. Soon after, his girlfriend and parents received text messages that he had been in a horrible accident, causing several hours of panic. The phone even called the police, all because it fell off the handlebars. All thanks to crash detection.

Riding a motorcycle is very dangerous, and the last thing anyone needs is to think their loved one was in a horrible crash when they weren’t. This is obviously an edge case, but it makes me wonder what other sort of false positives we see as more phones adopt this technology.


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Nilay PatelSep 13
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Ford is running out of its own Blue Oval badges.

Running out of semiconductors is one thing, but running out of your own iconic nameplates is just downright brutal. The Wall Street Journal reports badge and nameplate shortages are impacting the automaker's popular F-series pickup lineup, delaying deliveries and causing general chaos.

Some executives are even proposing a 3D printing workaround, but they didn’t feel like the substitutes would clear the bar. All in all, it's been a dreadful summer of supply chain setbacks for Ford, leading the company to reorganize its org chart to bring some sort of relief.


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TikTok
Spain’s Transports Urbans de Sabadell has La Bussí.

Once again, the US has fallen behind in transportation — call it the Bussí gap. A hole in our infrastructure, if you will.


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External Link
Jay PetersSep 23
Doing more with less (extravagant holiday parties).

Sundar Pichai addressed employees’ questions about Google’s spending changes at an all-hands this week, according to CNBC.

“Maybe you were planning on hiring six more people but maybe you are going to have to do with four and how are you going to make that happen?” Pichai sent a memo to workers in July about a hiring slowdown.

In the all-hands, Google’s head of finance also asked staff to try not to go “over the top” for holiday parties.


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External Link
Insiders made the most money off of Helium’s “People’s Network.”

Remember Helium, which was touted by The New York Times in an article entitled “Maybe There’s a Use for Crypto After All?” Not only was the company misleading people about who used it — Salesforce and Lime weren’t using it, despite what Helium said on its site — Helium disproportionately enriched insiders, Forbes reports.


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Youtube
James VincentSep 23
Nvidia’s latest AI model generates endless 3D models.

Need to fill your video game, VR world, or project render with 3D chaff? Nvidia’s latest AI model could help. Trained on 2D images, it can churn out customizable 3D objects ready to import and tweak.

The model seems rudimentary (the renders aren’t amazing quality and seem limited in their variety), but generative AI models like this are only going to improve, speeding up work for all sorts of creative types.


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Richard LawlerSep 23
Green light.

This week Friday brings the debut of Apple’s other new hardware. We’ve reviewed both the new AirPods Pro and this chonky Apple Watch Ultra, and now you’ll decide if you’re picking them up, or not.

Otherwise, we’re preparing for Netflix’s Tudum event this weekend and slapping Dynamic Island onto Android phones.


The Apple Watch Ultra on a woman’s wrist
Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge
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Jess WeatherbedSep 23
Japan will fully reopen to tourists in October following two and a half years of travel restrictions.

Good news for folks who have been waiting to book their dream Tokyo vacation: Japan will finally relax Covid border control measures for visa-free travel and individual travelers on October 11th.

Tourists will still need to be vaccinated three times or submit a negative COVID-19 test result ahead of their trip, but can take advantage of the weak yen and a ‘national travel discount’ launching on the same date. Sugoi!


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External Link
Thomas RickerSep 23
Sony starts selling the Xperia 1 IV with continuous zoom lens.

What does it cost to buy a smartphone that does something no smartphone from Apple, Google, Samsung can? $1,599.99 is Sony’s answer: for a camera lens that can shift its focal length anywhere between 85mm and 125mm.

Here’s Allison’s take on Sony’s continuous-zoom lens when she tested a prototype Xperia 1 IV back in May: 

Sony put a good point-and-shoot zoom in a smartphone. That’s an impressive feat. In practical use, it’s a bit less impressive. It’s essentially two lenses that serve the same function: portrait photography. The fact that there’s optical zoom connecting them doesn’t make them much more versatile.

Still, it is a Sony, and like.no.other.


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External Link
Corin FaifeSep 23
If God sees everything, so do these apps.

Some Churches are asking congregants to install so-called “accountability apps” to prevent sinful behavior. A Wired investigation found that they monitor almost everything a user does on their phone, including taking regular screenshots and flagging LGBT search terms.