Mobile World Congress 2016: Pocketnow’s what-to-look-for guide
When’s the last time a new mobile gadget had you really excited? Were you awed by the sheer size of the iPad Pro? Rendered speechless by the 4K screen on the Sony Xperia Z5 Premium? Whatever that piece of hardware was, though, there’s a good chance we’re talking about a 2015 model.
After all, so far this year we’ve yet to see much in the way of high-profile launches, and while CES brought us lots of cool stuff to check out, some of the season’s biggest devices have been holding back for MWC.
With the expo getting ready to let loose upon Barcelona in just a few more weeks, we’re taking a little time to look at what new devices we’re most eagerly expecting from the show.
Easily the hottest products to take the spotlight at MWC will be the new flagships from some of the biggest smartphone brands around. And while you may have your own favorites, it’s hard to deny that Samsung and its Galaxy S7 are going to pull down the biggest headlines. This year’s launch is especially interesting as it may spell a new direction for the Galaxy family in general, particularly with rumors that Samsung’s expansion into new size options may point to a future without the Galaxy Note as we know it. Then again, the most recent reports have cast doubt on some of those larger models, leaving us not quite sure what’s on the menu.
From the sound of things, we could be getting an MWC-adjacent announcement (even if that’s not a lock), with the phones themselves hitting retail not too long thereafter, during the second week of March.
As for the hardware, what we’ve picked up about the Galaxy S7 seems to be a mix of improving on things the Galaxy S6 really did well, while backtracking a little in places where last year’s shoppers were left wanting. In that more-of-what-works category, Samsung could be making some really smart decisions in terms of the GS7’s camera – one area where the GS6 blew a lot of users away.
That’s supposed to include sacrificing raw resolution for improved light sensitivity, but by now smartphone users may just be savvy enough to appreciate what Samsung’s doing there, and not getting lost in a spec-measuring contest.
In terms of making up for mistakes with the GS6, Samsung may have learned its lesson when it comes to taking away access to expandable storage, giving users non-water-resistant phones, and short-changing them on battery capacity. And while the SoC question isn’t necessarily one anyone but real hardcore phone enthusiasts may raise, Samsung’s expected return to a dual-chip arrangement, splitting its GS7 offerings down a silicon line, really has the effect of making us feel like we’re back to the good old Galaxy S5 days.
Samsung’s far from the only company we’re expecting big things from in Barcelona, and LG’s been doing pretty well building up its own buzz for an MWC flagship announcement, having all but confirmed that the company will unveil the new LG G5.
But while the rule of thumb with the GS7 may be “fix what was broken, keep what works,” for LG and the G5, we could be looking at a brave new direction. We got maybe our first clue about LG trying to shake things up last year with the introduction of the V10, a phone that could have easily been positioned under the G4 banner but instead emerged as LG experimenting with a new look, new branding, and an emphasis on different features.
To hear a lot of recent G5 talk, those steps away from previous handsets with the V10 form a path that’s only going to continue with the G5, and the phone we ultimately get could mark a pronounced departure from models like the G3 and G4.
While that might sound like a big risk for LG, maybe that’s exactly what the company needs, and beyond trying out some new design elements and features with the G5, the company also looks like it’s approaching the handset’s debut in a different light; a launch falling around MWC is not at all what we’re used to from the manufacturer and its G-series flagships, and strategically it places the company’s efforts directly up against Samsung’s. That may prove to be a mistake, but it could also signal a confidence that consumers will respond to. After last year’s sales, LG could really use a win, and with the G5 the manufacturer really seems desperate to find something that works.
Like Samsung, LG seems keenly aware of just how important camera performance can be to a smartphone with mass appeal, and the move to the dual-lens camera we’ve seen in several leaks may be key to how it goes about that. The setup may be a bit more complicated than a single sensor that just does its job really well, but so long as LG can make its operation smooth and intuitive, shoppers may not balk at the odd arrangement.
Other aspects of the G5’s design seem a lot less certain: we’ve heard more than once about this Magic Slot accessory port, and while there could be a lot of potential there, no one seems quite sure what to make of it. Custom accessories for specific phone models can be a hard sell (not to mention a big investment on the part of the manufacturer), and we’ve yet to hear of any really compelling use case for the Magic Slot that would instantly justify its presence. That’s not to say that LG doesn’t have a real winner cooked up, but if it does, it’s keeping that info well guarded.
There’s one more big smartphone flagship just over the horizon, but compared to Samsung’s and LG’s, we’ve got a lot less confidence that this one will show its face at MWC: HTC’s next hero phone. Call it Perfume, or the One M10 – we’re not super-positive just how it might launch, and rumors have been similarly light about hardware details.
Some accounts have focused on a variety of SoC configurations, while others have talked about the possibility of a new design language giving us an M10 that might be more properly called the A10, taking stronger inspiration from the company’s Q4 A9 than the spring’s One M9.
Even if we’re waiting until after MWC to get the full scoop on Perfume, that doesn’t mean that HTC will come to the expo without some big news of its own – making this a prime opportunity to pivot away from some of these flagship launches and talk about other hardware that could make an MWC appearance.
Maybe even more buzzworthy than HTC’s nest smartphone flagship is the company’s Vive VR headset, and with orders ready to open right around the time MWC gets underway, HTC could be planning to announce the unit’s all-important price point. It’s going to be expensive – that everyone seems to agree on – but the ultimate sticker price is still a huge point of contention. Whatever that figure ends up coming in at, expect its announcement to be big news.
We’ve also got the outside chance of seeing a new tablet from HTC, though given the specs attached to the so-called Desire T7, it doesn’t look worth getting too excited about.
The more interesting news could come from a new HTC accessory. While that could spell more fitness gear like we just saw from the company’s partnership with Under Armour, we continue to hear that HTC is still looking to release a full-fledged smartwatch. If rumors about an April release are accurate, an MWC announcement might just be possible. Then again, we could also see HTC holding back for a dual M10/watch event in mid-March, so nothing’s certain.
What else is on our MWC radar? Sony’s making an appearance, following its underwhelming showing at CES. Does that mean it’s been holding back the good stuff for MWC?
Well, we don’t know about “good,” but it should have something. An Xperia Z6 could be a serious long shot, but tablets, wearables – there are a lot of different directions we could see its MWC hardware go (even if there hasn’t been much in the way of evidence for any of those). Maybe the one device that actually has a solid shot at showing up at MWC is the PlayStation VR headset.
There was once talk we could see Microsoft bring some brand-new Lumia hardware to MWC, but like the Xperia Z6, that’s looking less and less likely these days. The only device on the horizon might end up being the Lumia 650, and the latest word suggests we’ll see this one quietly go official well in advance of MWC. It might still be on hand and allow us to check out the phone on video, but don’t bet on a big launch announcement.
Fans of alternative platforms might not have as much to look forward to as in MWCs past, but we’ve got at least one major launch on our radar, with the Bq Ubuntu tablet salted to appear. With the ability to connect to external PC hardware and function like a full-fledged workstation, Linux enthusiasts may soon have their own version of Windows 10’s Continuum to enjoy.
Finally, we’ll be keeping our eyes peeled for Huawei’s latest handsets. Even though the company’s just following up one of the few big CES announcements, it sounds like there’s some major things coming in the form of the P9 family of devices – tipped to represent at least four handsets.
With features like dual rear cameras for the premium P9 (just like LG with its G5), exceptional camera performance could emerge as a highlight of the new family. The only problem here, at least as far as MWC is concerned, is that there’s a solid chance the phones will sit Barcelona out.
We’ve still got the better part of a month to go until MWC, and a lot (lot, lot, lot) can happen in that kind of time. We’ll be swinging back around to the idea of MWC expectations often between now and then, either by updating this post or dedicating some time to covering all-new rumors that manage to emerge. In any case, make sure you stick with Pocketnow to be sure you’re heading in to MWC (and all the announcements it’s sure to bring) as prepared as possible.