If you think there's nothing exciting left to invent in mobile tech, you haven't seen anything yet. And the biggest things happened at MWC 2014 this week. Mobile World Congress, the world's largest mobile industry exhibition, takes place each year in Barcelona, Spain, and plays host to more than 70,000 visitors from 200 plus countries.
We spent the first part of this week hitting the show floor, attending behind-the-scenes meetings, and learning everything there is to know about the upcoming year for the wireless industry. Fortunately, it turns out that there's much more going on in mobile devices than incremental spec increases and dubious software add-ons.
From online privacy and OLED displays to wearables and tactile touch displays, there's been plenty of innovation at MWC – and in this article we’re going to present you with 10 of our highlights from the show this year.
We're still waiting for prices and release dates for a lot of these products, and a few may not even make it to the UK. But every one of these products is significant in some possibly game-changing way, and we can't wait to test them all out in our labs.
The dual-screen Yotaphone debuted at CES last year, but this second-generation version warrants a much closer look. The new Yotaphone features a 5in 1080p AMOLED screen on one side, and a 4.7in 960 x 540 E-Ink display on the other. The E-Ink display is now fully capacitive touch-enabled; you can use it to browse the web or text in addition to reading eBooks.
A 2.26GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 processor and Android 4.4 KitKat round out the specs. The retail version will launch globally for €499 (£410).
If you're sick of hearing about privacy violations and mobile malware, the SGP Technologies Blackphone could be your next phone. It's a distinctive, $629 (£380) unlocked handset that puts security first and foremost – including your texts, phone calls, and local storage, thanks to the custom-built PrivatOS built on top of Android, plus third-party services and built-in tools for managing app permissions and Wi-Fi connection protection.
It also packs a 2GHz quad-core CPU, a 4.7in IPS panel, 2GB RAM, 16GB of internal storage, and an 8-megapixel camera. There are no guarantees on actual protection from the likes of the NSA, though – especially with regard to email, which is out of Blackphone's hands entirely.
Samsung obviously wasn't going to ride on the Galaxy S4's popularity for more than a year, and the long-awaited Galaxy S5 delivers. It features a blistering 2.5GHz Qualcomm MSM8974 processor, a slightly larger 5.1in display with adaptive colour and contrast depending on ambient lighting, a fingerprint sensor, and a revamped 16-megapixel camera that emphasises simplicity and autofocus speed. (For more, see our closer look at the Samsung Galaxy S5’s most exciting new features).
Samsung also tones down the custom TouchWiz UI a bit, which is even more welcome news. We can't wait to get our hands on review models – look for the Galaxy S5 to arrive in the UK come 11 April.
Sony's new Z2 tablet is super-slim and yet still waterproof, measuring just 6.8mm thick. It features a 10.1in display and a 2.3GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 processor with an Adreno 330 GPU. Sony said the Z2 charges 75 per cent faster than competing devices, and its 6000mAh lithium polymer battery delivers 10 hours of video playback. You get 8.1-megapixel and 2.2-megapixel cameras on the back and front, respectively. The Z2 also comes with OfficeSuite Pro 7 for slicing and dicing Microsoft Office files, while a companion Bluetooth keyboard and tablet cover stand converts the Z2 into a laptop. The Z2 is landing sometime in March; pricing hasn't been announced.
The Huawei Mediapad X1 was quite the attention-grabber at MWC, and rightly so. It's a super-slim 7in Android tablet with a tiny 3mm bezel; it weighs just 240 grams, which is considerably lighter than the Nexus 7 and iPad mini. lven so, it packs a giant 5000mAh battery for up to five days of regular usage. Under the hood is a 1.6GHz Hisilicon Kirin920 SoC with a Mali450GPU and 2GB RAM, plus support for 16 mobile data bands, and even a built-in earpiece and mic for voice calls. A tablet game-changer from Huawei? Don't count the company out.
Convertibles have practically taken over the PC laptop market these days, but HP may have something really special with the sleek Pavilion X360. It's a red, black, and silver clamshell laptop with an 11.6in touchscreen that flips all the way around to become a slate tablet. That's nothing new by itself, but 399 Euros (£330) for a Bay Trail Intel Pentium N3520 processor, 4GB RAM, a 500GB hard disk, and Windows 8.1 certainly is. The X360 is also just 22mm thick and weighs a scant 1.35kg. In fact, you can use the X360 in four modes: Laptop, Stand, Tent, and Tablet. Soft touch surfaces, standard Beats Audio, and 4G LTE options round out the package. This notebook should hit the UK next month.
Sure, the Tizen-powered Galaxy Gear 2 looks to be a welcome (and much needed) improvement over Samsung's first smartwatch, but it's the Gear Fit that really got our attention. It's a kind of miniature curved band that sits over your wrist like a bracelet, with an OLED touch display, Android notifications, a water-resistant body, a heart rate sensor, and three days of continuous battery life. The Gear Fit drops the rest of the Galaxy Gear's gimmicks, like phone calls and the built-in camera. But in this space, that's looking to be a good thing – just ask Pebble fans. Samsung has yet to unveil a price for the Gear Fit, and this will be the make-or-break factor. We're hoping for around £100, fingers crossed a bit under.
Huawei's getting into the fitness gadget game with the TalkBand B1, a combination wrist-worn activity tracker and Bluetooth headset that lets you answer phone calls. It also has an OLED display, sleep-tracking capability, and an IP57-rated body for water and dust resistance, plus seven hours of continuous talk time. This puts it in the above average category for Bluetooth headsets, if it measures up in testing. Huawei also promises eventual Android and iOS compatibility, although it will only work with Huawei devices at launch. Still, the TalkBand B1 is a novel idea, and we look forward to testing this one.
Sony's been making wearables for a while, even before the SmartWatch and SmartWatch 2 hit the market. However, the Sony SmartBand SWR10 is the company's most compelling one yet. It combines an activity tracker, sleep tracker, and what Sony calls a life-logging companion inside. The idea is to log not just physical activity but social activity as well. To cite a few examples, for starters, it connects to your PlayStation account and tracks achievements. You can also create "life bookmarks" with photos, GPS location, social media updates, music, and videos – and it also syncs with Sony's LifeLog Android app on Xperia smartphones. Look for the SmartBand soon, priced at €99 (£81).
We've already heard of flexible OLED screens that bend and contort, but what if you could actually feel the texture of displayed objects? That's what Fujitsu Laboratories has cooked up with a prototype tablet on display at MWC this week. The touchscreen can convey bumpiness, roughness, or slipperiness using haptic sensory technology. For years now, smartphones have had haptic feedback, which vibrates the screen slightly whenever you touch it. In this case, Fujitsu's display employs ultrasonic vibrations, which vary the friction between the screen and your finger by creating a high pressure layer of air and modelling a floating effect. Cycling between high and low friction creates a bumpy texture. Fujitsu is aiming to bring this to market in 2015; we can't wait.
For more on MWC 2014, you can review our coverage of the event throughout the week here.