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by: Craig Wilson   ·    3 March 2017

Mobile World Congress 2017: The new and the nostalgic

The world’s biggest mobile conference has wrapped up. CRAIG WILSON traipsed the halls for three days, and this is what he saw.

Phones aren’t the only thing at Barcelona’s MWC, but they’re the most important. With the notable exception of one, California-based fruit-emblazoned manufacturer, all the big players use the event to show off their wares. In 2017, the focus was on squeezing more screen real-estate into cutting edge smartphones and, for one company, inducing serious nostalgia in a bid to rehabilitate its brand.

Huawei

With its new P10 and P10 Plus handsets Huawei wants to make it clear it has no interest in settling for a podium position in the great Android smartphone shootout. It’s going for gold. Three shades of it in fact. Slim bezels, a boosted pair of cameras (one colour, one black and white) and bolstered internals aside, the big news for the P10 range was the slew of new colour options, including “dazzling gold”, “prestige gold” and “rose gold”.

The last of those is taken straight from Apple’s playbook, but then, so are the looks of the P10 and larger P10 Plus with their curved corners and edges, and the naming convention. But to dismiss Huawei as derivative is to miss the point. Its phones might look like Apple’s, but it's Samsung it really wants to unseat. And with its new phones promising performance as good as that offered by either of the two big names in mobile, it’s edging closer to its goal.

Sony

You’d think after the Xperia X5 Premium’s limited success Sony would’ve abandoned its efforts with 4K-display handsets, but nope, it still thinks there’s a market for them. The flagship XZ adds HDR to the specifications and, like the smaller XZs, boasts a camera capable of unprecedented slow-mo: a staggering 960 frames per second. Now you just need to find a wet dog shaking itself dry and you’ve got the perfect Instagram-like attracting fodder.

Alongside its handsets, Sony also showed off a concept for a robot home assistant called the Xperia Agent, and the realisation of what was only a concept a few years ago – the Xperia Touch. A projector with gesture recognition that can turn any flat surface into a huge, Android powered multi-touch display.

LG

Last year LG made sure to schedule its launch earlier in the day than Samsung’s, and this year it didn’t have to worry about its country mate launching any phones at all (instead, Samsung launched tablets and a 2-in-1). So, what does the LG G5’s successor have to offer? For a start, it’s no longer modular. LG’s finally embraced unibody design.

There’s also a larger display, but instead of being wider, it’s taller and now has an 18:9 ratio. LG swears this is going to be the new standard for video. Thankfully, the dual-camera setup introduced in the G5 remains with one wide-angle and one regular camera, but this time LG’s given both cameras top-notch 13MP sensors instead of skimping on the wide-angle one. Hurray!

Motorola

While LG’s abandoned modularity Motorola’s embracing it hard. The Moto Z isn’t new, but Motorola’s promised a bunch of new attachments for it, including one that will work with Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant, a high-speed charger with the smarts to know when it ought to charge your Z, and a game pad complete with built-in speakers and its own battery.

As for new phones, Motorola unveiled the 5th generation of its Moto G devices, mid-range Android handsets with mass appeal and reasonable price tags. Like Huawei (Apple and Samsung) there are two size options, the regular and the Plus.

Nokia

Unless you’ve been at an internet-free Buddhist retreat for the last few weeks you’ll have heard about Nokia resurrecting the iconic 3310. We suspect Nokia’s more interested in all the interest the announcement has generated in its brand than in actually selling many of the bare-bones devices (no Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, a 2MP camera and no touch screen).

And boy has it worked. The Nokia stand at MWC was packed every day with people eager to handle the new 3310 and have a go at the updated version of the game Snake installed on it. The real phones Nokia is hoping to sell are the Nokia 3, 5 and 6 – the last of which came out in China last year – each runs Android, and each looks and feels like a totally respectable mid-range device. Nokia’s back, baby. Nokia’s back.

Alcatel

There’s always got to be one, doesn’t there? One player who’s got to make a noise and grab some headlines in a way no one else in their right mind would even consider. This year that honour goes to Alcatel and its off-the-wall A5. There’s nothing particularly remarkable about the A5 on paper. It’s an Android-powered mid-range phone with decent specifications for its class.

But flip it over and the LED-laden cover is unlike anything else on show at MWC this year. The whole rear cover can light up for notifications, be matched to your phone’s games or photos, or set according to your mood. We don’t expect to see many businessmen carrying one when they go on sale, but the youngsters might love it.

BlackBerry

A few steps away from the Alcatel stand was BlackBerry’s, and the proximity makes sense. BlackBerry’s outsourced the manufacturing of its phones to TCL, a Chinese company that’s also made various Alcatel devices over the years. BlackBerry’s new offering is the KeyOne, a phone with a physical keyboard – still the thing BlackBerry hopes will attract its remaining faithful fans – but powered by Google’s Android OS, like other recent BB devices.

Like Nokia, BlackBerry’s clearly hoping some of its brand equity still holds sway with the smartphone-buying public. Unlike Nokia, it didn’t see fit to bring an old device back to life for the headlines it would generate. In hindsight, perhaps it’s wishing it had.

Craig Wilson was a guest of Motorola at MWC 2017.