BARCELONA — As smartphones start to mature, what can vendors possibly do to differentiate their phones from their rivals’ devices?
They can compete on camera quality, display sizes (including the breadth of a bezel), and features like dust-free and waterproof. Certainly application processors and modem speed can make a difference.
Just as personal assistants have ushered in the age of AI at home via smart speakers, now the same technology is coming to the phone. The race now begins with a question: Should a smartphone incorporate Amazon’s Alexa (i.e., Lenovo’s new Moto Mods — replaceable backs to the Moto Z) or Google Assistant (LG G6)?
New this year is a screen with an aspect ratio wider than ever before. LG is showing off here its brand new smartphone screen with an 18:9 ratio.
It’s unclear if breaking away from the conventional 16:9 is a good idea. But the word on the street is that LG won’t long remain the only company playing the aspect-ratio card. Reportedly, Samsung is expected to unveil an 18:9 display when it launches the Galaxy S8 next month. Some even say that Apple will follow suit in the fall.
The race to add “depth” to cameras might also be shaping up as a new thing. Huawei features a rear camera that uses 3D depth sensing to enhance images. Chirp Microsystems, with a brand new, tiny MEMS ultrasound sensor, also believes that its technology can play a role in 3D sensing in future smartphones.
Filling the void
All in all, Samsung’s decision not to launch its Galaxy S8 at this year’s MWC left a hole on the market, but this is a gap that everyone else doing smartphones is happy to occupy.
Mobile World Congress 2017
By all accounts, Huawei has been the most aggressive and successful thus far, head-to-head in Asia and Europe, versus Apple and Samsung in the premium phone market.
Ahead of the expected Samsung S8 launch, Huawei hopes to crash the queue with its new high-end P10 phone — scheduled to go on sale from March at 649 euros ($685) in Europe.
Also in hot pursuit of smartphone market share are Asian players such as ZTE, LG Electronics, and Lenovo-Motorola in the second tier. China’s Oppo, Vivo, and Xiaomi now control the world’s fourth-, fifth-, and sixth-biggest smartphone shares, according to Strategy Analytics.
(Source: Strategy Analytics)
Notable in this year’s MWC is the revival of old but familiar — and once widely popular — smartphone models. They are Nokia’s candy-bar phones and a Blackberry with QWERTY keyboard.
HMD Global, a new company led by ex-Nokia executives and backed by Chinese electronics giant Foxconn, is the architect of the retro movement for Nokia phones.
TCL, who started licensing the name Blackberry, unveiled the BlackBerry KeyOne here. In addition to the physical keyboard that sits below the screen, the KeyOne, covered in Gorilla Glass 4 on the front, features a 4.5-inch LCD with a 3:2 aspect ratio and resolution of 1620 x 1080. Its camera is 12 megapixels and uses a Sony sensor with 1.55-micron pixels.
If you were once a diehard fan of either a candy-bar phone or QWERTY keyboard, your prayers have been answered. Even if you’re too young to remember these relics of ancient telephony, you might be tempted — if only because your next smartphones will look different from everybody else’s.
In the following pages, EE Times explores the show floor of the MWC on Day One — just to see how smartphones, now middle-aged, look.
Nokia 3310 goes back to the future
Nokia describes the Nokia 3310 as featuring “the iconic silhouette of the original.” Reimaged for the 2017 market, it comes with a 2.4-inch polarized and curved screen.
The new model, sporting a bigger screen than the classic model, is priced at just 49 euros ($52). Best of all are the “22 hours of talk time and up to one month of standby time” claimed by the company.
HMD Global (Espoo, Finland), a new owner of the Nokia-branded phones, is definitely banking on nostalgic users eager to go back to the future. If that strategy proves short-lived, what next?
Blackberry KeyOne revives QWERTY keypad
If your first phone was an iPhone and you’ve used a touch screen all your life, you might wonder what the use of a physical smartphone keyboard is in 2017.
But once upon a time, BlackBerry was the gold standard for business people. Besides its unparalleled security features, many loved the firm tactile feedback of the QWERTY keypad and BlackBerry mainstays like BBM and the BlackBerry Hub. Now, TCL put them all back inside the BlackBerry KeyOne. It monitors the phone’s status, analyzes how secure it is, and offers granular control over how services are able to use its functions.
Your two thumbs remember how to use this keyboard. (Photo: EE Times)
Scheduled to ship in April at $549, the KeyOne’s focus remains on business. The choice of Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 625 processor makes the KeyOne power-efficient. Paired with a large 3,505-mAh battery, then, the company promises the KeyOne to last longer than most Android phones out there.
- Snapdragon 625 CPU
- Physical Smart Keyboard
- 4.5-inch LCD, 3:2 aspect ratio screen
- 3,505-mAh battery
- Android 7.1 Nougat OS
- 12-megapixel rear camera with a Sony IMX378 camera sensor and 8-megapixel front
- USB Type C
(Photo: EE Times}
Huawei fills Samsung void with P10
At Huawei's booth (Photo: EE Times)
Huawei, which has grown up in the telecom infrastructure equipment market, knows about wireless networks inside and out. The Chinese company has its own chip company, HiSilcon, which designs a series of its own smartphone chips called Kirin. Further, Huawei develops its own version of the latest Android-based operating system called EMUI. The newest unveiled at the MWC this year was EMUI 5.1.
Huawei P10 (Source: Huawei)
Huawei's new P10 line comes with new features such as facial detection. The P10’s front camera automatically detects when there is more than one person and widens its angle accordingly. The rear camera uses 3D depth sensing to enhance images. Huawei bragged that it has partnered with German camera maker Leica.
Huawei P10 and P10 Plus: Camera
- P10: Leica Dual Camera 2.0 (28-mm equiv. f/2.2)
- P10 Plus: Leica Dual Camera 2.0 Pro (28-mm equiv. f/1.8)
- Both: 20MP B&W sensor and 12MP color sensor
- Both: Built-in optical image stabilization
- Both: Front-facing Leica camera for first time
- New "Portrait mode"
Huawei P10 and P10 Plus: Hardware
- Kirin 960 chipset, octa-core (4x 2.4 GHz, 4x 1.8 GHz)
- Mali G71 MP8 GPU, Vulkan API
- P10: 4GB RAM, 64GB storage (plus microSD/dual SIM)
- P10 Plus: 6GB RAM, 128GB storage (plus microSD/dual SIM)
- P10: 3,200 mAh
- P10 Plus: 3,750 mAh
- SuperCharge fast-charging
Huawei P10 and P10 Plus: Software
- EMUI 5.1 (software skin over Android Nougat 7.1)
- New Highlights: photo-tagging and video-generating feature
- UX design follows phone's exterior color by default
- Enhanced machine learning for optimum long-term experience
Huawei Watch 2 (Photo: EE Times)
Separately, Huawei also launched Huawei Watch 2 built for Android Wear 2.0.
(Photo: EE Times)
LG’s G6 designed for split-screen uses
LG G6 split screen (Photo: EE Times}
Forget the modular design of last year’s LG flagship smartphone, an effort at unique design that fell flat.
This year’s new trick is a top-end model designed for split-screen uses.
To achieve this, LG expanded the G6's display from a conventional 16:9 aspect ratio to 18:9.
Asked about suggested uses for split screens, the company listed:
- running two different apps alongside each other
- displaying a monthly calendar in one box and the day's agenda in the other
- showing a music album's artwork and play controls in one interface and the album’s song list in the other
LG G6 Specs:
LG G6 Specs
Optical image stabilization plus, Dual LED, geo tagging, facial recognition, 3D front and back camera element, auto laser focus
Camera — Front
Camera — Rear
Black, Blue, Copper, Gold, White
Bendable display, Corning Gorilla Glass 4, 4G LTE, Bluetooth 5.0, fingerprint scanner, retina eye scanner, wireless charging, rapid charging, waterproof, mini projector, stylus
32, 64, and 128GB internal memory and expandable to 128GB with dual micro SD cards
Current Android 6.0 Operating System
$750 USD, 688 Euro — see below
Snapdragon Qualcomm Octa-core 3.0-GHz processor
September 2017 — see below
5.6-in. 4K display with a 4096 x 2160 screen resolution
LG booth (Photo: EE Times}
Lenovo keeps Moto smartphone brand alive
Moto G5 (Photo: EE Times}
Now owned by Lenovo, Motorola showed off its fifth-generation Moto G and G5 plus, aimed at consumers looking for high-grade features at a mid-range price.
Motorola also provided a taste of forthcoming features for its flagship Moto Z, including Amazon Alexa intergration.
Moto G5 (16GB) hardware specs
- 5-in. 1,920 x 1,080-pixel display
- 13-megapixel camera
- 5-megapixel front-facing camera
- 1.4-GHz octa-core processor
- 16GB with up to 128GB microSD
- 2GB or 3GB RAM
- 2,800-mAh battery
- Micro-USB charger port
- Dual-SIM support
ZTE brings 3D to Axon 7 max
ZTE Axon Max (Photo: EE Times)
Calling ZTE’s re-tooled Axon 7 “Max” is a bit of a misnomer. Processor, camera, and display hardware have all been pared back to some degree, despite retaining virtually the same price as the original Axon 7. The difference in Max is a larger display with somewhat gimmicky 3D technology and a bigger battery.
The picture above looks fuzzy because this is supposed to be a 3D photo that you can see without wearing a pair of polarized 3D glasses.
ZTE Axon 7 Max specs:
- 6-in. FullHD (1920×1080) “Naked 3D” display
- 2.0-GHz octa-core Snapdragon 625 processor
- 4GB RAM
- 64GB flash memory with microSD card slot
- Rear: 13-megapixel dual camera (color and monochrome), with F/2.0 laser focus
- Front: 13-megapixel camera, with F/2.2
- 4,100-mAh battery with Quick Charge 3.0
- AK4962 audio codec, USB Type-C, fingerprint scanner
— Junko Yoshida, Chief International Correspondent, EE Times