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MWC 2019: the stories and devices to expect at the world’s biggest mobile show

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5G’s early steps will continue, and the Galaxy Fold could get some competition

Mobile World Congress stock

In the next few days, the world’s tech press will descend on Barcelona for Mobile World Congress, the world’s largest mobile technology event. While January’s CES has a broad tech remit that includes everything from

TVs to smart toilets, MWC is a much more focused show where mobile and phone tech is the name of the game.

With Samsung’s major announcements done and out of the way a few days ahead of MWC, more of the limelight can be shared among its competitors. The Galaxy Fold is still liable to overshadow many of the smaller players, and Samsung will certainly maintain its massive presence at MWC, but still, we’re heading into a week of diverse and not entirely predictable announcements.

Before we get into the details of what to expect at MWC 2019, here’s a quick rundown of this year’s major keynotes and press conferences:

  • Saturday, February 23rd, 8AM ET / 2PM Barcelona: Oppo press event
  • Sunday, February 24th, 4:30AM ET / 10:30AM Barcelona: Xiaomi press event
  • Sunday, February 24th, 8AM ET / 2PM Barcelona: Huawei press event
  • Sunday, February 24th, 10AM ET / 4PM Barcelona: HMD press event
  • Sunday, February 24th, 12PM ET / 6PM Barcelona: Microsoft press event
  • Sunday, February 24th, 1:30PM ET / 7:30PM Barcelona: LG press event
  • Monday, February 25th, 2:45AM ET / 8:45AM Barcelona: Sony press event
  • Monday, February 25th, 4AM ET / 10AM Barcelona: Qualcomm press event

Stay tuned to The Verge for a complete outline of each company’s announcements as they happen, otherwise read on for a preview of everything we’re expecting to see at this year’s show.

5G things you probably shouldn’t buy

Samsung Hosts Annual Galaxy Unpacked Event Unveiling New Devices Including S10 Smartphone Photo by Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

We’ve just seen the first major 5G handset launch in the form of Samsung’s Galaxy S10 5G, but that’s just the start. At MWC, expect every phone manufacturer to make big promises about its 5G handsets, and at least one of them (LG with the V50) could announce a 5G phone that you’ll actually be able to buy soon.

These phones should be available to buy this year, but you might want to hold off for now. For one thing, a 5G phone is only useful when it’s connected to 5G networks, and there aren’t going to be enough of them in 2019 to justify the cost of the phone. Then there’s the fact that Qualcomm has already announced its second-generation, and much more advanced, 5G modem, which won’t be coming to phones until the second half of this year.

Yes, if you absolutely must have a 5G phone the moment they’re available, then MWC is likely to offer you plenty of options. Just know that pretty soon, you’re going to be looking at your phone and wishing you waited.

The great unfolding

The Galaxy Fold has two screens: a larger inner screen and a smaller one on the outside of the device.

After years of rumors, patents, and speculation, foldable smartphones could finally appear en masse at this year’s MWC, although it will probably be some months before these devices will be available to buy.

Exactly how many companies will have a folding phone to show off is still up for debate. Samsung’s foldable, which was recently shown off alongside the Galaxy S10, will almost certainly make another appearance at the show, while teaser images posted on Twitter by Huawei and Weibo by ZTE’s Nubia sub-brand suggests that they could also have models of their own.

Cryptic remarks from one of Oppo’s product managers have implied that it could also be planning some foldable news for MWC, although the company’s been a little quieter in the months since. We’ve also yet to see any sign of Xiaomi’s folding device, despite the company putting out a pretty slick teaser video earlier this year.

The rise of Chinese phones continues

Vivo’s V15 Pro was announced the week before MWC.
Photo by Sam Byford / The Verge

Last year, some of the most interesting new phones came from Chinese manufacturers. We saw the Vivo Nex and Oppo Find X introduce the idea of pop-up selfie cameras, while the Huawei P20 Pro gave the Google Pixel 2 XL’s camera a serious run for its money.

Chinese phones are here to stay, although some of them have gotten so popular that they appear to have already outgrown MWC. Huawei has just announced that its flagship P30 will be announced in the month after the show rather than at the show itself, while OnePlus will have a presence at the show but isn’t expected to make any new announcements.

Xiaomi and Vivo, meanwhile, have chosen to make their phone announcements in the week before MWC, rather than risk the Mi 9 and V15 Pro getting lost in the noise of the show.

But that doesn’t mean there won’t be any phone news from the Chinese brands. Huawei might not be announcing its flagship just yet, but as we explored above, it’s still teasing something “unprecedented” (read: probably foldable) at the show, while Oppo and ZTE could yet make good on foldable teases of their own. There’s also Lenovo and Honor, which are all expected to have a presence at the show, although it’s less clear exactly what they might be planning to announce.

Five big companies to look for at the show

LG, the comeback kid

The LG G8 (pictured here in a leaked image) will have a vibrating OLED screen that can act as a speaker.
@evleaks

We wouldn’t say LG has put out any especially bad smartphones over the last few years. It’s just that they’ve ended up feeling a little forgettable. Based on what we’ve heard so far about what the company is planning to announce at MWC 2019, that has the potential to change this year, although LG still needs to make good on its ambitious aims.

Early rumors suggest that LG might announce not one but two high-end handsets at the show.

One of these, the LG G8 ThinQ, is already confirmed. The flagship device will have a vibrating OLED screen for a speaker, and a quad DAC if you’d rather use headphones. Incidentally, this all but confirms that the phone will have a headphone jack. Finally, the phone also has a 3D front camera. That should mean it’s pretty good at face recognition, but it also explains how the phone’s gesture recognition could work.

The second phone, the LG V50 ThinQ, is yet to be officially confirmed, but the number of leaks means its existence is all but guaranteed. The big thing we know about the phone is that it’s the first from LG to support 5G, which could end up being a deciding factor for anyone who needs to make the leap from 4G this year.

Outside of its flagship handsets, LG will also be showing off its new midrange devices, the LG Q and K series. The LG Q60 and K50 are 6.26-inch handsets, with triple-camera and dual-camera arrays, respectively, while the K50 is a smaller 5.7-inch device with just a single camera on its rear.

What LG definitely won’t have is a folding phone. Despite the fact that the company’s rollable OLED TV is actually going on sale this year, LG has said that it thinks it’s “too early” to bring the same concept to a smartphone.

Between its flagships, LG has two intriguing-sounding handsets on its hands, which is two more than the company normally manages to put out in a year.

Sony goes ultra wide

If there’s one aspect that Sony’s last major handset, the XZ3, got right, it was its screen. The rest of the phone may have been more average, but that gorgeous OLED display certainly wasn’t. At MWC this year, rumors suggest that the display is once again going to be the main focus of Sony’s latest handset, which looks like it’s going to come equipped with an ultra-wide screen with a 21:9 aspect ratio. That means that apps will be able to display more content vertically on the phone, but it should also allow any films that use the aspect ratio to be shown without any black bars below or above them.

Outside of the screen, details about the new handset are a little bit slimmer. Although rumors initially suggested it would be called the Xperia XA3, they’re now pointing toward the Xperia 10 as a potential name. As is tradition for flagship phones, Sony is expected to launch an Xperia 10 Plus version of the handset alongside this regular-sized model.

HMD looks to Nokia’s future

At the last couple of MWCs, HMD has used its Nokia brand to “revive” two of its feature phones from the ‘90s, the Nokia 3310 and the Nokia 8110. Both phones made a big splash during preview events, only for people to suddenly realize that actually using a feature phone in the age of the smartphone is hard.

This year, it doesn’t sound like HMD has any plans to revive another retro Nokia handset. Instead, it seems like we might finally get to see the Nokia 9 PureView, a smartphone with a dizzying five cameras on its rear. It’s a striking design, but considering the things the Pixel 3 is able to do with just a single rear camera, we’re going to reserve judgment until we see the photographs the new PureView is capable of.

The return of Microsoft’s HoloLens

Almost three years after Microsoft first made the HoloLens available, it looks set to finally announce a successor at MWC 2019. That is if a cryptic teaser video tweeted by its creator, Alex Kipman, is anything to go by.

The original HoloLens had a lot of promise. It was an entirely self-contained augmented reality headset, with no need for an external PC or motion trackers to work. The problem was that it was limited by a very narrow field of view and a bulky construction. Even if the only thing Microsoft does is address these faults, HoloLens 2 would immediately be well on its way to being a much more viable mass-market product.

Considering the mobile focus of the trade show, MWC doesn’t initially make sense as a venue for a major HoloLens announcement. However, the original HoloLens runs on a mobile processor, a 2015 Intel Atom SoC. After Intel exited the smartphone market in 2016, that means any new HoloLens hardware would almost certainly use a Qualcomm chip, making MWC an appropriate venue for an announcement considering the presence Qualcomm tends to have at the show.

Oppo zooms in

Two years ago, Oppo came to MWC with a prototype smartphone camera that packed an impressive 5x optical zoom, which allowed it to zoom into subjects without the loss of detail that’s typical of the digital zooms that most phone cameras use.

Oppo’s 5x optical zoom prototype never made it into a commercial device, but this won’t stop the company from going a step further at this year’s show where it plans to show off a camera module capable of offering 10x optical zoom. After what happened to its previous model, we’re going to reserve judgment until we see it in a commercial device. But sample footage released by the company paints an impressive picture of what it could be capable of.

After years of identical devices and minor spec bumps, this year’s MWC looks set to provide the venue where phone manufacturers can shake things up a little bit. Samsung may not be announcing its flagship phone at the show this year, but in its absence, its competitors seem to have gained more confidence to make MWC their own.