Now that Samsung has opted to release its smartphone flagships at a standalone event, the crop of smartphone releases at the Mobile World Congress has been largely middle-of-the-road, in terms of both specs and market placement. Nevertheless, there are some standouts. Here are the models we find most intriguing.
Keep in mind that these opinions are based on what we know so far – info from official spec sheets and a few brief hands-on encounters, along with industry-wide observations. It's entirely possible that our summations take on a different direction once we conduct full-length reviews of key products.
Moto G5 and G5 Plus
We're giving the Moto G5 and G5 Plus top billing based on our confident hunch that they represent the best value. Motorola seems to share our priorities for what we want in a mid-ranger: Nixing poorly executed bells and whistles in favor of maintaining a robust and well-made device that's decent-looking to boot.
For only US$199, the G5 offers near-stock Android Nougat, a bright and passably sharp 5-inch 1080p display and 13MP camera. The $299 G5 Plus has a slightly larger 5.2-inch display, boosted internals like a Snapdragon 625 chip, and a 12 MP camera with Dual Autofocus Pixel technology that did seem to hasten shooting speeds during our brief hands-on time.
Even if the G5 and G5 Plus are incremental upgrades over last year's G4 flagships, they'll make a strong case against paying more for a premium phone.
Kudos to LG for abandoning its attempt at modularity seen in last year's G5 flagships. We appreciated its boldness, but were underwhelmed with its execution.
The new LG G6 breaks away from the previous generation with a nearly bezel-free display with an excellent look and feel. The 2,880 x 1,440 pixel, 5.7-inch display is bigger than that of the iPhone 7 Plus or Pixel XL, yet the G6 is a smaller phone overall.
We're also looking forward to putting its dual-lens camera to the test. The G6 combines standard and wide-angle lenses so you can choose to fit more or less into the camera frame (similar to last year's G5 and V20).
The G6 also boasts other niceties like microSD expansion, IP68 water resistance and a capacious 3,300mAh battery. LG has yet to confirm pricing and availability, but this is one of the few high-end phones to come out of MWC. Expect it to be priced accordingly.
Sony Xperia XZ Premium (and its mid-ranged counterparts)
The XZ Premium is Sony's newest offering its Xperia line. We award it points for its 4K HDR display, high-end internals (headlined by a new Snapdragon 835 CPU and 4 GB RAM) and for maintaining the line's characteristic stylish flair. That being said, Sony reaches for the stars in a few areas that we aren't sure are worthwhile.
The XZ Premium also promises a "super slow motion video" mode that records at 960 frames-per-second, which is unheard of in a smartphone camera. Extra memory built into the camera is supposed to prevent lag when shooting in this mode, but we weren't able to test it ourselves: The units at MWC were either behind glass or switched off. So there's reason to remain skeptical about its delivery, as well as the fun and utility of super-slow-mo on a smartphone in general.
Sony also announced mid-ranged counterparts to the XZ Premium: the XA1, the XA1 Ultra and the XZs. Of these, we only had hands-on time with the XA1, which seemed to showcase the Xperia line's solid craftsmanship (and rocks thin bezels, which are very of-the-moment, on its 5-inch display). Its larger counterpart, the XA1 Ultra, has a 6-inch display. Both XA1s have a whopping 23-pixel rear camera, but megapixels alone do not an excellent smartphone camera make. The XZs, on the other hand, seem to be less powerful versions of the XZ Premium, but with similar camera tricks.
We're still waiting for Sony to confirm pricing and release details, though we expect these phones to hit the market in the first half of the year.
Huawei P10 and P10 Plus
Huawei's P10 and P10 Plus are a bit off of our radar, purely because there are no plans for a US release. Still, it's worth keeping tabs on this industry giant – it's the third largest smartphone maker in the world, and its P10 and P10 Plus pack in some considerable tech.
The P10 flagships pack in a Leica-branded dual-lens camera designed to deliver DSLR-quality portraiture, with the help of software tricks like 3D facial detection. Huawei has rounded out the 20 MP rear / 12 MP front camera with optical image stabilization and improved low-light shooting.
Huawei gave color center stage at its MWC event, showcasing a number of color variants for the P10 and enlisting the help of Pantone to extol the virtues of its new green and blue offerings. But Huawei hasn't ignored internals – the P10s also include Ultra Memory technology meant to use RAM more efficiently, as well as a promisingly speedy Huawei-made Kirin 960 chip.
Product page: Huawei
Nokia 6, 5 and 3
No, we're not including the reintroduced Nokia 3310 in our roundup of MWC's most promising phones, though there were plenty of reasons to appreciate the original piece of turn-of-the-century tech. We're looking past that hit of nostalgia to concentrate on where HMD Global is going with the Nokia brand.
So far, the Nokia seems to be taking a strong middle-of-the-road path with its three different flagships. The Nokia 6, 5 and 3 (listed by descending order of price) seem to share a refreshing dedication to a clutter-free pure Android experience, but vary in build quality, camera and internals. Its highest-end phone, the Nokia 6, puts a mid-tier Snapdragon 430 processor in an interesting build carved from a solid block of aluminum.
Nokia 6 has already been introduced to China, but at MWC, the company announced that there will be an international version as well. We're still waiting for HMD/Nokia to confirm which of these options will be available to US consumers, and when.
Product page: Nokia
The BlackBerry KeyOne layers the physical QWERTY keyboard that was so well-loved in the pre-iPhone days onto a decently-specced Android-running machine. On one hand, we're enthusiastic about increased variety in the smartphone market, which can feel rather homogenous. On the other hand, we're not sure if this is a promising reboot or just a reactionary attempt at innovation.
Time will tell – the KeyOne hits the market in April starting at $549.
Product page: BlackBerry
ZTE Blade V8 variants, plus a Gigabit concept
Budget-friendly Chinese smartphone maker ZTE released two affordable variants of the Blade V8 phone launched earlier this year: the Blade V8 Mini and Blade V8 Lite. However, they're only slated to hit selected markets in Asia Pacific and Europe.
The Mini is the higher-end of the two, with a 5-inch display, Snapdragon 435 chip, dual-lens camera and 3D shooting mode. The Lite is also a 5-incher, but with an 8 MP camera and MediaTek 6750 processor.
Perhaps more headline-worthy is ZTE's so-called "Gigabit" phone, but its presentation is actually a proof-of-concept rather than an unveiling, since it's not meant for the consumer market. The Gigabit (in a case, trailing with wires) showed off bona fide 1-gigabit-per-second download speeds.
ZTE made this happen through a combination of carrier aggregation and advanced antennae/modulation engineering. However, these speeds may eventually be possible for everyone, once the 5G networks currently in their infancy go global.
Affordable attempts from Alcatel
Rounding out the smartphone releases at MWC are a few affordable offerings from Alcatel, but the company has yet to release official price and availability information.
Alcatel unveiled what it bills as "the most affordable 5-inch smartphone" and "the most affordable smartphone with a 5-inch HD display." These are the U5 and A3, respectively. It also showed off the A5 LED, a smartphone equipped with a removable LED-packed case that provides a customizable light show experience. It's a textbook example of a gimmick, but we would be lying if we said we didn't understand its Lite Brite-like appeal.
We'll post full-length reviews of the most promising smartphones in due course. In the meantime, you can read about our MWC hands-on encounters with these notables: