Mobile World Congress: One heck of a show
This year’s Mobile World Congress 2015 was doozy, chock full of all sorts of surprises. A golden smartwatch from Huawei? A virtual reality headset from HTC? A computer chip with brain-like cognitive abilities? Who saw those coming?
Beyond the shocking reveals, there were also a round of highly-anticipated roll outs, including Samsung’s latest Galaxy phone, a new HTC One, and Blackphone’s long expected security-focused tablet. Here’s a look at the biggest announcements from MWC 2015.
The HTC One M9
HTC unveiled its latest flagship phone at MWC: the 5-inch One M9 at MWC. The device keeps One M8’s stellar overall design, but adds some nice refinements.
The Duo Camera is gone, replaced with a single camera lens. Under the hood, the M9 is rocking the double quad-core 64-bit Snapdragon 810, and 3GB RAM. Minimum storage has been bumped up to 32GB and a microSD slot that supports up to 128GB. Like the M8, the HTC One M9 is rocking a 1080p display. Look for it to go on sale in early spring.
Samsung Galaxy S6
Apple has already accused Samsung of copying its designs, and to hear the critics tell it, the Korea-based smartphone maker is at it again. The gorgeous new Galaxy S6 takes several design touches from the iPhone 6, as we noted in our hands-on with the phone.
Nevertheless, it’s still its own phone—and a beautiful one at that, with a glass-and-metal body instead of the plastic chassis of days past. Beyond the phone’s sleek outline the Galaxy S6 is packing Samsung’s own Exynos double quad-core processor, either 32, 64, or 128GB of onboard storage, 3GB of RAM, a 5.1-inch 2560-by-1440 display, a 16 megapixel rear-facing camera, and a 5MP camera on the front for video chat. And Samsung’s TouchWiz UI is a lot less obnoxious in the Galaxy S6.
Those new flagships are cool, but this nifty gadget took everybody by surprise.
While gamers around the world are waiting for Oculus VR to get on with it already, other companies are going full steam ahead on virtual reality headsets. During MWC, HTC took the opportunity to introduce the Vive, a gaming headset based on Valve’s SteamVR.
The Vive has dual 1200-by-1080 screens with a 90Hz refresh rate, and 70 internal sensors that pair with two base stations to enable you to move around a 15 ft. by 15ft area. The Vive comes with two wireless controllers that are also tracked in space separately from the headset. It’s seriously impressive in action.
The HTC Grip
Speaking of surprises: One year after HTC said it was working on a wearable, the company finally revealed the device at MWC. Gadget watchers were expecting a smartwatch, but instead HTC released the Grip, an activity tracker that integrates with Under Armour’s fitness tracking service, UA Record.
It’s a perfect partnership, as this ultra-sporty wristband and its neon colors will appeal to anyone gutsy/buff enough to wear an Under Armour shirt in public. Packing a 1.8-inch PMOLED display, the Grip tracks your sleep, monitors steps, counts calories, and even has built-in GPS for run tracking. If you sync it with an Android phone the Grip also offers controls for music and a weather ticker. The Grip will debut in late spring with an expected price somewhere around $199.
HP Spectre x360
The x360 has a 13.3-inch touch display with either 1080p or QuadHD resolution, an Intel Broadwell U Core i5 or i7, an M.2 SATA SSD ranging from 128GB to 512GB, and 802.11ac Wi-Fi. At a mere 0.63-inches thick there isn’t a lot of room for extras, but HP’s notebook still comes with its fair share of ports, including MiniDisplayPort, HDMI, and a trio of USB 3.0 connections. The Spectre x360 is on sale now starting at $899.
Chinese smartphone giant Huawei’s first Android Wear smartwatch is a stunner for one massive reason: It comes in a gold variant that actually contains 3 ounces of 24 carat gold. Sure, it’ll cost several grand, but this thing is sexy.
The big, bright 1.4-inch 400-by-400-pixel OLED display is just as appealing. Under the hood, the Huawei Watch has a 1.2GHz Snapdragon 400 processor, 512MB RAM, and 4GB storage. It’s also packing a PPG heart rate sensor, vibration motor, microphone, gyroscope, accelerometer, and a barometer. Huawei’s smartwatch is set to arrive in the United States by mid-2015.
LG Watch Urbane and Watch Urbane LTE
Huawei's not the only hardware maker capable of crafting gorgeous watches, however. LG spent MWC showing off the nicely crafted smartwatch that we first got a glance at during CES in January. That watch was running webOS, but rather than go all-in with the LG-owned platform, the company split the difference and introduced both the Watch Urbane and the Watch Urbane LTE.
The Urbane is an Android Wear device featuring a 1.4-inch POLED display, Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 processor, and 1GB of RAM. The Urbane LTE, meanwhile, is rocking webOS and—as its name suggests—will have standalone LTE connectivity. It also has an NFC chip for facilitating mobile payments, which is apparently the reason LG went with webOS instead of Android Wear.
Qualcomm Snapdragon 820
Everyone else is still talking about the Snapdragon 810, but Qualcomm’s already looking ahead to the Snapdragon 820. The 820 will be a 64-bit CPU based on the company’s new Kryo architecture. But more interestingly, it has the equivalent of a basic silicon brain.
The new chip will borrow some cognitive capabilities from Qualcomm’s Zeroth platform, which are supposed to allow the chip to learn about user patterns over time and anticipate what you might want to do next with your phone. The assistance could even get as complex as helping a user make buying decisions.
Qualcomm Sense ID
Qualcomm also believes it has come up with a fingerprint reader that will be just as good for the Android world as Touch ID has been for iOS devices. The new SenseID sensor uses ultrasonics that create a 3D map of your finger, right down to the sweat pores.
Speaking of security, the tech is also compatible with the FIDO alliance standard looking to replace password authentication with biometrics. Sense ID will appear in Snapdragon 810 and 425 processors later in 2015.
Lumia 640 and 640XL
Since buying Nokia, Microsoft has only produced low- and mid-range phones, and the trend stayed alive at with the 640 and 640XL smartphones.
The 640XL is a 5.7-inch phablet with a 720p display, 13 megapixel camera, Snapdragon 400 processor, 1GB RAM, 8GB onboard storage, and a 3,000mAh batter promising 24 hours of 3G talk time. The more basic 640 is a smaller 5-inch smartphone that also has a 720p display, and the same RAM and storage as its larger counterpart, though only an 8MP camera. The 640 and 640XL should hit the U.S. before the spring is out, with the 640XL priced a little over $200 for the 3G version and about $250 for LTE. The 640 should be priced under $200 for both the 3G and LTE variants. Both phones will also come with a free year’s subscription to Office 365.
Sony's waterproof wonders
Sony’s ultra-slim Xperia Z4 tablet is built for totally rocking your media, a pair of powerful front-facing speakers and a 2K (2560-by-1600) display that will be brighter than similar slates such as the Kindle Fire HDX and the Surface Pro 3. Got a PlayStation 4? Integrated PS4 Remote Play capabilities will let you plan your console games right on the Xperia Z4 Tablet’s pixel-packed screen.
Sony also rolled out a new water-resistant phone, the Xperia M4 Aqua, that can survive a dunk of up to nearly five feet for as long as 30 minutes. When you aren’t dumping your phone in the bath, you can use its 13MP camera—outfitted with an Exmor RS image sensor and other goodies—to help you snap quality images in a variety of lighting conditions.
Lenovo's super sonic Android tablets
Lenovo’s all about the sound in its new Android tablets. The Lenovo Tab 2 A8 and Tab 2 10-70 each come with Dolby’s Atmos 3D sound technology that wowed us on the show floor. We’re not talking home stereo quality, being honest, but for a tablet sound system, Atmos definitely impresses. The A 10-70 will offer the best Atmos experience thanks to the wide sound bar built into one side of the tablet.
The A8 comes with an 8-inch IPS display at 1280-by-800 resolution and the A10-70’s 10.1-inch screen offers 1920-by-1200. Both will ship with Android 4.4 KitKat when they hit store shelves in the summer, but will upgrade to Lollipop shortly thereafter. Pricing starts at $130 for the A8 and $280 for the A10-70.
Lenovo's ultra affordable productivity tablet
Cheap Windows tablets often aren’t worth the money due to poor components and dull displays, but Lenovo may change that with the MIIX 300. This $150 8-inch Windows tablet comes with a 1280-by-800 IPS display, up to 64GB storage and a microSD slot for more. The tablet has an Intel Bay Trail processor, 2GB of RAM, and a battery life claim of up to 7 hours.
As with other Windows tablets, it also comes with a free year’s subscription to Office 365—which normally cost north of $70 on its own. Talk about bang for your buck.
Authentication: The eyes have it
Forget about swiping your finger across your smartphone—two companies introduced biometric solutions that will let you open your phone just by staring at it. Chinese phone maker ZTE introduced the 5.5-inch Grand S3 smartphone, which comes packed with retina scanning technology built in to the front-facing camera. ZTE dubs its new security tech Eyeprint ID and currently it’s only for unlocking your phone, but there are plans to integrate the feature with apps in the future. The Grand S3 is currently available in China with a global rollout slated for later in 2015.
Meanwhile, Fujitsu spent MWC demoing an iris scanner that can authenticate a user in less than a second. Fujitsu says its iris scanner will hit the market by early 2016.
Silent Circle's secure Blackphone 2 and Blackphone+ tabelt
Silent Circle showed off the next generation of the security-obsessed Blackphone line at MWC, including the $629 5.5-inch Blackphone 2 and the widely expected 7-inch Blackphone+ tablet. Silent Circle didn’t have much to say about the tablet, but the phone will come with an unspecified 64-bit processor, 3GB RAM, 32GB memory and a microSD slot. As with the original Blackphone, each will be loaded down with secured software and the custom PrivatOS.
The tablet is expected in the second-half of 2015 while Blackphone 2 rolls out in July.
Intel blazing a Cherry Trail
Mobile has always been Intel’s weakest point as a chip maker, but the company is hoping to gain ground on Qualcomm with three new chips coming soon to gadgets near you.
The first is the Atom X3 system-on-a-chip (SOC) that includes an integrated 3G radio, application processor, and (gasp!) ARM’s Mali graphics technology. As the 3G feature might have tipped you off, the X3 is targeted at cheaper smartphones where LTE isn’t a necessity.
Intel also announced the Atom “Cherry Trail” X5 and X7 processors. The new 14nm chips won’t offer an improvement in power consumption over “Bay Trail” processors, but that’s probably because the new generation of Atoms are focusing on big graphics improvements over previous generations.
Wintel's new chapter
The Wintel alliance isn’t as big a deal as it used to be, but the two long-time allies are partnering up for a new chapter:cheap Windows 10 phones. With Windows 10 unifying Microsoft’s mobile operating system with PCs and tablets, Intel will power Windows Phones—formerly an ARM-only OS—for the first time.
The pair want to see devices packed with Intel’s new X3 SoC priced anywhere from $74 to $250. The chances are slim, to say the least, for Microsoft and Intel to make an impact on the smartphone market that is dominated by Android and iOS. But with Windows 10 on the horizon, Microsoft isn’t ready to give up the game just yet—and Windows Phone gained some serious momentum at MWC.
Pebble Time Steel
Days after kicking off a Kickstarter for the Pebble Time, Pebble introduced the Time Steel smartwatch at MWC—a smart-looking wearable that improves the looks of the original Time by dumping plastic for stainless steel in black, silver, and gold, augmented by leather or stainless steel straps. It also echoes the design of Apple’s upcoming Watch, as many have noted.
The Time Steel is thicker than the base Time by a millimeter and comes with a larger battery that the company says will last up to 10 days on a single charge. Pebble Time Steel is available for pre-order through Kickstarter for $250—a price that will go up to $300 after the latest Kickstarter drive ends. Already backed the Pebble Time? You can pay to upgrade to the Steel if you’d like.
One great big no show
MWC 2015 wasn’t just notable for what did show up at the tradeshow, but also what didn’t. Microsoft said during the show that the next Lumia flagship phone won’t be coming until Windows 10 launches—sometime around fall.
In other words, any new Lumias released between then and now—like the 640 and 640XL—are going to be low- to mid-range devices. That may disappoint hardcore Windows fans, but from Microsoft’s perspective it makes sense to wait with Windows 10 so close at hand. The downside is that strategy gives consumers, and especially U.S. consumers, even more incentive to forget that Microsoft even makes smartphones. It's now been over a year since a new Windows Phone flagship was launched.