The best of MWC 2016
This Mobile World Congress was the year when the world's biggest smartphone expo went beyond the smartphone. We've seen VR headsets, 360-degree cameras, home security robots, convertible tablet/laptop hybrids and much more during our week in Barcelona. Read on for our picks for the best gadgets of the show, along with our overall impressions of everything else at MWC 2016.
If you sat through the big phone announcement events from LG, Samsung and Sony as we did, you would have heard executives from all three companies make reference to the number of times we're checking our phones each day (apparently it's 150 on average, for those wondering). Recognizing the importance of our mobile devices while wanting to explore what comes next has been the defining theme of MWC 2016.
And so we saw LG bring out the LG G5 Friends series, approved and instantly compatible accessories including a lightweight VR headset, a 360-degree camera and plug-in modules for its 2016 flagship. Samsung settled for just the 360-degree camera, already having a VR device, while Sony introduced a smart earpiece to try and cut down on some of those 150 unlocks we're going through every day (its own 360-degree camera is coming soon).
HTC had no new phones this year but devoted half its show floor space to the HTC Vive, the all-singing, all-dancing VR headset that starts shipping in April. Huawei, meanwhile, debuted a 2-in-1 convertible tablet/laptop rather than a handset. Everywhere you looked at MWC, people were trying out VR experiences, controlling robots with their phones and generally doing something other than the usual handset operations we're all very familiar with.
Everyone's looking for what's next, which makes it an incredibly exciting time in consumer technology. Here are our top picks.
If you're going to push us to choose a winner from a relatively short hands-on session, then we're going to select the Galaxy S7 Edge. Its screen is beautiful and big (without being too big), it feels ultra-premium to the touch, and of course it's got cutting-edge specs under the hood. It's still early days in the 2016 flagship smartphone battle but the Galaxy S7 Edge is quick out of the blocks.
Most innovative smartphone
We're not wholly sold on the LG G5 accessories yet, but the modular design of the main handset is a potential game-changer. Clipping batteries, high-end audio kit and digital camera packs in and out of the LG G5 adds a flexibility and versatility to the phone that we haven't seen before. Besides that, the all-metal phone (finally, LG) looks and feels great. We only wish we knew how much the modular parts (or, for that matter, the phone) will cost.
We like the idea of the Xperia Ear a lot: a super-smart earpiece that keeps you in touch with your phone without the need to look at it or unlock the screen every two minutes (building on what Motorola started a while back with the Hint). With the right software Sony's earpiece could be a real gem when it launches this summer (Northern hemisphere). It will also help that it can be used with other Android phones besides the Xperia. The cherry on top is that it was also a complete surprise, more of a rarity at tech conventions these days.
With no Oculus Rift or PlayStation VR on show at MWC, the stage was clear for HTC and Valve to take the crown of best VR headset. That doesn't, however, mean it just won by default: we've been consistently impressed with this device, and judging by the queues around HTC's booth at Fira Gran Via there are a lot of people interested in what the Vive has to offer. Pre-orders open this Monday.
As mentioned above, there's only so much you can tell about a device from a MWC demo, but so far the MateBook is ticking all the right boxes. It's certainly got a design and lightness to match or beat the Surface Pro 4 and the iPad Pro, and while there were other 2-in-1s at the show (Alcatel launched a new device in this category for example) the MateBook was the best we saw.
The most promising future tech
From 0 to 100 in 15 minutes? It was later in the week when we came across Oppo's new fast-charging battery technology, but we can't wait for it to become more widespread, as it was one of the most eyebrow-raising moments of the whole show. If we can get a phone charging that fast that also runs on solar power by the time MWC 2017 arrives, we'll be very happy.