A handful of vendors really stepped it up at Mobile World Congress in Spain this year. That’s bad news because this means there will be a lot of us buying new smartphones, new smartwatches, and new PCs or even tablets over the next few months and that our spouses will be threatening to take away our credit cards. Here are some of the vendors and products that I think really stood out.
If there was one vendor that Mobile World Congress is most about it is Qualcomm. This vendor kind of defines the space and they not only had most of the top phones based on their latest Snapdragon solution they were showcasing a huge improvement to sound quality with their aptX HD codec. This brings huge improvements to those of us that mostly live off our phones and devices for music and movies (which I do). In addition, they were showcasing 5G and Gigabit WAN both of which will drive performance improvements we can only imagine now. The top smartwatches and smartphones at the show were almost universally running Qualcomm’s technology. Their Android Wear 2.0 watch partners were off the chart (though I really only fell in love with one of them below).
One of the most fascinating demonstrations was connecting the Mercedes AMD Petronas racing team to their cars. (I’m kind of a car guy).
Lenovo really came to play. Perhaps the most interesting thing they announced was their implementation of an e-Sim which allows you to reconfigure your mobile device when traveling to use the local cellular carrier potentially saving you hundreds of dollars in roaming charges when you travel. They were also the 2-in-1 laptop king with a selection of really attractive new Yoga laptops but it was their new Mix tablet that really caught my eye because it seemed to blend an affordable price with a compelling set of features to effectively create a better potential alternative for many to the iPad. They were really the only vendor that had everything from a strong phone line to tablets and PCs. I have to admit I have a little lust in my heart for their Yoga 720 and Mix 320.
Apparently, no one told Microsoft that Mobile World Congress was not their show because it became a showcase for partners like HP, Panasonic, Samsung, and Lenovo to showcase their Windows 10 offerings. Even Porsche Design showed up on stage with a notebook that is as much art as productivity tool. The ironic back story is that when Steve Jobs was at Apple he drove the firm to emulate Porsche for their design language. Apparently, Porsche wanted to showcase they could do Porsche better than Apple could—and damned if they didn’t make a point. This was another coming out party for the Windows Creator’s edition which many of us are using and I’ll cover that product another week (it is really impressive).
I’ve been coming around to the idea of smartwatches and the one that I currently wear is by Huawei. Well they clearly had me in their sights with their new LTE based smartwatch. The Huawei Watch 2 is stunning looking product and it is far smaller than its Samsung counterpart opening up the market. This is a WAN connected watch so you can leave your phone at home and still have good functionality. It looks more like the kind of diver’s watch I like to wear as well and I think this entire class of connected smartwatches is far more useful than the Apple Watch class I expect it to replace. Nice shot across Samsung’s bow.
HP’s Elite X3
You know one of the interesting products teased at the show was the HP Elite X3 Windows phone. HP is really the only firm still on board with the idea that a phone could also be your PC even though we all have to know that, eventually, that is probably where we are going to end up. It was an interesting tease of what could still be coming from HP and Microsoft.
The most powerful vendor at the show from the standpoint of potential impact was Blackberry. This is largely because their vendor independent security software and services solution has never been more critical than it is in the hostile world we live in today. But they also had the final version of their very interesting Project Mercury phone on display now with a final name “KEYone”. This is a solid phone with a big display, a keyboard, at an affordable price and running Android 7.1 Nougat. It is actually sexy and—for folks that live on their phones—likely still a better choice than any other Android phone on the market. Folks fell in love with it despite themselves.
Wrapping Up: Apple and Samsung Have a High Bar
Neither Apple nor Samsung showed their coming phones at MWC but this show set one hell of a bar for both companies to jump over. There is a ton of tech expected in both the iPhone X Anniversary Edition and the Samsung Galaxy S8 but Apple has been overly focused on cutting costs and raising prices of late and Samsung just had its chief executive arrested so neither company is at the top of its game. The iPhone 7 was kind of a snoozer which is better than what Samsung had which was a phone that caught fire and not in a good way. All of this should make for what could be a year of upsets and/or surprises. With everything else that is going on one thing I’m not sure we need is more surprises.