Here's everything we've seen and learned from MWC 2016
This week we’re in Barcelona at MWC 2016, lucky us, seeing the best new smartphones the industry has to offer. Yesterday we got our first look at this year’s biggest flagships, and today we’ve been unearthing surprises further down each manufacturer’s range. Accessories, tablets and wearables are also out in force, but it’s smartphones that are the main stars of the show. Everyone from Samsung, HTC, LG, Huawei and Sony (though not Motorola it seems) has new kit to show us.
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We all knew virtual reality wouldn’t be cheap when Oculus finally lifted the lid on how much the Oculus Rift would cost to buy (£500, in case you missed it), but HTC has upped the competition even further, as it’s announced that its Vive headset will retail for $799 in the US when pre-orders open on the 29th February. There’s currently no word on how much that will be in the UK just yet, but a straight conversion would bring it to £567. Add in 20% VAT of £160 and I wouldn’t be surprised if the Vive ended up costing somewhere nearer £730. That’s a lot of money, but then this is a very impressive device.
The HTC One A9 was one of our favourite smartphones from 2015, but now it’s being joined by the jumbo-sized One X9. It’s not yet clear whether the X9 will be coming to the UK, but this 5.5in handset only bares the most fleeting resemblance to its little brother, at least from the point of view of its design.
Samsung had the best press conference, but LG had the best product. The LG G5 literally wowed crowds at MWC and redefined what you can expect from a high-end smartphone. Its launch has rather overshadowed its other MWC phone announcements, with the X Screen almost forgotten in the corner of LG’s brightly-coloured booth. It’s worth paying attention to, though as the LG X Screen is a very interesting phone, not least because it has two screens.
LG’s push for the mid range continues, with its new X Screen and X Cam phones attempting to differentiate themselves from what is a fairly cookie-cutter portion of the market. LG says that it’s trying to elevate one part of each of its phones to premium status, and as the name X Cam suggests, it’s the camera that gets the premium treatment this time around.
There wasn’t a hint of irony yesterday when Sony spent 10 minutes talking about how we all use our phones too much and miss out on life’s great moments, and then immediately launched three new phones. It did however also launch its new Xperia Ear, a Bluetooth earpiece designed to combat our screen-looking culture.
LG’s G4 Stylus never made it to the UK, but its successor, simply called the Stylus 2, will be the first Stylus in years to finally make an appearance on our shop shelves. LG told me that it probably won’t be called the Stylus 2 when it launches later this year, but if you’re hankering after a large phablet phone with a stylus that doesn’t cost even half as much as the Samsung Galaxy Note 4, then the Stylus 2 is definitely one to keep an eye on.
We had a very brief go with LG’s new 360 VR goggles at the phone’s launch event at MWC on Sunday, but we didn’t have enough time with it to come to a definitive conclusion. Now in the cold light of day with the hype and excitement of LG’s press conference a distant memory, I returned to LG’s still bustling stand to give the headset a proper once over.
The LG G5 might be the star of LG’s MWC stand this year, but the V10, which was first announced last year, is arguably just as interesting as LG’s new modular wonderphone. It’s clear from the off that this phone is a little different to everything else I’ve seen over the last few days, as LG’s new ‘dura-skin’ casing gives it an almost rubber-like textured finish, which is a world away from all the glossy glass and smooth metal unibodies that seem to be populating the vast majority of phones on this year’s MWC stands.
Finding a decent budget tablet often means wading through giant slabs of cheap, tacky plastic, but Lenovo’s new Tab3 7, the smallest of its latest Tab3 range, puts an end to all this with its stunningly soft, almost Moleskine-like chassis. It’s not something you’d expect on a tablet that’s going to cost just $129 when it launches this June in the US, and it really does set it apart from everything else in its price range.
Just in case the 5.5in Galaxy A7 isn’t quite big for you, Samsung’s humongous Galaxy A9 should fit the bill. With its massive 6in display, it’s a truly monstrous-sized handset that absolutely dwarfs anything else I’ve seen at this year’s MWC. Measuring 162x81x7.4mm and weighing a hefty 200g, the Galaxy A9 is, quite literally, a real handful to hold, even if you’ve got fairly regular-sized hands.
It’s not highest specified phone at the show, but we’re smitten with the new HTC Desire 530. There are two models (black and white) but each has a ‘micro-splash’ finish of coloured dots, which looks great and is unique on every handset. We’re really hoping that HTC roll this finish out across more handsets soon, as we’re rather sick of the boring and conservative plain finishes on most handsets.
We we were hoping to see all Samsung’s new 2016 A-series models, the A3, A5 and A7 handsets – but in the end we could only find the A5 on Samsung’s stand today. This year’s A5 has a bigger 5.2in, 1,920×1,080 resolution display, 1.6GHz octa-core processor with 2GB of RAM and 16GB of storage with support for microSD cards up to 128GB. Its big 2,900mAh battery also supports fast charging. Read our Samsung A5 (2016) hands on.
Sony Xperia X, Xperia XA and Xperia Ear
We thought Sony might be bringing us a tablet today, but we were very wrong. Instead it junked its long-running Z-Series of flagship handsets and launched the new Xperia X series, with three models to get your heads around. Leading the pack is the Xperia X itself, a smart-looking upper-midrange phone with a 5in screen, fingerprint reader and a premium-looking design. The Xperia XA has a more basic chipset and no fingerprint reader but an edge-to-edge screen makes it look great. Then there’s the Xperia X Performance, which is an X with a top-end Snapdragon 820 chipset, though it’s not yet available for us to paw at.
Sony also had a big range of accessories on offer, the most intriguing of which was its modern update on the bluetooth earpiece with the Xperia Ear. But there was also a smart projector device that you can interact with.
Press event day
As expected Samsung launched its Galaxy S7 and Galaxy S7 Edge handsets tonight in Barcelona. The S7 has a new 12-megapixel camera, a microSD card slot and a 5.1in, 2,560×1,440 Super AMOLED display. The S7 Edge, meanwhile has the same hardware, but a larger 5.5in display using the same resolution.
We’re still waiting for the exact chipset to be confirmed in the UK. The official specifications state two different chipsets, but without branding, we expect our S7 to get the Quad-core chipset, which we suspect is Qualcomm Snapdragon 820, but we’ll confirm that ASAP. Click the links above for all the other details.
Samsung made a huge play for VR at this year’s MWC conference. Putting a Gear VR on every attendee seat for VR sections of the announcement, having Mark Zuckerberg appear on stage to talk about VR and announcing this 360-degree camera, so you can shoot 30-degree video to enjoy both online and through your Gear VR headset. The device is technically similar to the Ricoh Theta range thats been about a few years. However the integrated tripod is a nice touch, so you can leave it recording while you get into the action. With this camera Samsung has placed the S7 at the centre of its own little VR world.
LG have set the bar high with the opening press conference of MWC 2016. The new LG G5 hadn’t generated much hype in the run up but now looks to be the phone to beat. LG has somehow managed to combine a full-metal chassis phone with a removable battery. The lower section of the phone, with the battery clipped into it, simply slides away from the bottom of the handset.
We’ve just got our hands on Huawei’s take on the productive tablet and we’re impressed. The tablet is super-slim, comes with Windows 10 and has a variety of hardware configurations. It’s cheaper than the Surface Pro 4 based on the same specification but feels classy to hold and use. Click the link above for our full hands-on impressions.