Team Engadget is en route to Barcelona for Mobile World Congress, and while the show officially starts on Monday, you’ll start to see some of this year’s key news and announcements as soon as this weekend. We don’t want you going into things blind, though, so here’s a primer on what to expect from the world’s biggest and best phone-makers once MWC 2018 gets off the ground.
Unlike last year when it trotted out a pair of new tablets, Samsung is actually bringing smartphones to Barcelona this year. We’ll get our first official look at the Galaxy S9 and S9 Plus at a press conference before the show even starts, but countless leaks have told us almost everything we need to know. Barring a few minor differences, we know they basically look just like last year’s models, and they’re sure to pack Snapdragon 845 chipset when they debut in the United States.
We also know that the big draw this year is the camera, even if the S9 and S9 Plus handle them a little differently. The former has one main camera around back while the latter — like the Galaxy Note 8 — uses a dual camera setup instead. No matter which route you take, you’ll still get to use the camera’s variable, mechanical aperture. Unlike other phones with fixed apertures, the S9’s shutter dilates and contracts (like in a traditional camera) to control the amount of light that hits the sensor. Let’s say you’re shooting with a wide aperture, like the f/1.6 suggested by leaks: that allows for a shallow depth of field for sweet bokeh-filled shots and improved low light performance. Then you could switch to the f/2.4 aperture to make sure your landscapes come out looking just right.
The improvements don’t end there. We’ve also heard that the S9 will feature a super-slow-motion video mode and some kind of 3D emoji to rival Apple’s own Animoji. Throw in some stereo speakers — a first for Samsung — and we’re ultimately left with an impressive (if iterative) update. Now just we need to know how much these things will cost and when we can get them.
After some missteps and false starts, last year’s G6 was proof that LG’s smartphones are far from irrelevant. Too bad we’re not getting at G7 at MWC this year. LG seems to enjoy spoiling its own surprises, so it confirmed we’d see an updated version of last year’s V30 that’ll probably be called the V30S. From what we’ve heard, it’s mostly the same V30 we reviewed last year, just fleshed out with new AI features to make the cameras a little more capable. (Personally, I hope LG also used better screens for this updated model.)
LG’s Vision AI is supposed to help the V30 and future devices scan QR codes, perform image searches and provide shopping links for things the camera sees. If this sounds familiar, well, it should — this sound conceptually familiar to the Bixby Vision feature Samsung baked into its S8s and Note 8s. Given the V30’s impressive photographic chops, it’s no surprise the Vision AI should help when taking photos. Vision AI was also trained on over 100 million images to help it better understand what it sees, and as a result, the camera can switch to a shooting mode appropriate for what’s in front of it.
This updated V30 will also get a slew of new voice commands for Google Assistant, marking the first time a smartphone maker has cooked up custom Assistant commands. Not only will the new V30 know to fire up food mode when you’re snapping photos of your lunch — you’ll be able to ask it to snap the photo, too. Here’s hoping we get some clarity on LG’s upcoming flagship phone (code-named Julie) as well, but that probably won’t happen for at least a few more months.
Sony has managed to avoid major MWC leaks so far, but it recently teased fans with a short video that suggests at least one curvy new Sony phone is coming to Spain. That seems like a clear sign that Sony is moving away from its long-running OmniBalance design language, and frankly, good riddance. Sony phones have mostly looked like the same ol’ slabs for years, and enough is enough.
Unfortunately, we don’t have much detail on what this curvaceous new phone has going for it. Rumors of a so-called XZ Pro have been making the rounds for a while, though. If true, it’ll be a new flagship-class device with a 5.7-inch, 4K OLED display and one of Qualcomm’s fresh-off-the-line Snapdragon 845s. It might also be the first Sony phone on the market with a dual camera, and if that’s the case, we’re looking forward to seeing how Sony’s implementation differs from all the others. We might also get to see an updated version of the company’s Xperia Ear, if only because Sony has a solid track record of turning its wacky concepts into real products.
It’s been a long strange ride for BlackBerry fans, but 2018 should be a good year for the brand’s diehard fans. Back at CES, execs told us to expect at least two smartphones with physical QWERTY keyboards this year, and with any luck, we’ll get our first look at the show. If rumors hold true, one of those devices might be a spiritual, sliding successor to 2015’s BlackBerry Priv with a curved screen, and we’d expect the other to be some sort of BlackBerry KeyONE follow-up. Other details are scarce at the moment, but we have seen some new codenames being thrown around lately — BlackBerry Uni sounds pretty… awful, but we wouldn’t mind spending some time with a BlackBerry Athena or Luna.
Don’t forget about TCL’s other smartphone brand, either. The company showed us a few of its redesigned phones at CES, but they were far from finished at the time — we expect these new 1, 3 and 5 series phones to be ready to launch very soon. They’re meant to be inexpensive machines, so there hasn’t been too much hype surrounding them, but they’re proof that you’ll be able to get phones with 18:9 screens without making your wallet groan.
Lenovo & Motorola
We go to MWC expecting to spend all our time with smartphones, but Lenovo always seems to have some Windows machines to show off; you’d do well to expect a notebook announcement before the week is over. The big question is whether Lenovo will show off new, always-connected PCs — you know, the ones powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon chipsets — or just the usual Intel-powered fare. We’re tentatively leaning towards “no” since the Miix 630 is still so new, but hey — we can hope right?
Meanwhile, Lenovo’s Motorola brand has been awfully quiet in the run-up to the show. That just might be because it had to deal with the mother of all leaks earlier this year. You can expect big updates for its G, X, and Z-series devices this year — we’re just not sure about when, or if they’ll all be announced at MWC. Last year, Moto showed off new Moto Gs, so news of some follow-ups seems like a safe bet. But what’s actually new?
Well, the Moto G series is expected to get dual cameras across the board and a glossy redesign to make it look more like the existing Moto X4. The updated X series, meanwhile, should pack a 5.9-inch, 18:9 screen with an iPhone X-style notch that hides a pair of front-facing cameras. And the Z series? Well, it should still play nice with existing Moto Mods, but leaked images suggest the new Z phones will have 6-inch, curved displays. Here’s hoping we hear about some new Moto Mods, especially that long-rumored 5G radio Mod. With 5G network trials slated for later this year, we’ll need news sooner than later.
Let’s face it: Nokia won MWC last year with its 3310 revival. Too bad we haven’t heard of any new dumbphone sequels lined up for this year’s show. We are, however, expecting to see a handful of (what else?) new Nokia Android phones. Leaked photos point to the existence of a Nokia 1 running Android Go, which all but guarantees it’s a low-cost model that should see lots of play in developing markets. (For those not keeping track, Android Go is a special configuration of Android Oreo designed to run on devices with less than 1GB of RAM.)
Also seemingly on deck is the Nokia 7+, an update to last year’s Nokia 7 with barely-there bezels running around a 6-inch screen. Expect mid-range performance out of this thing, though we’re cautiously optimistic about the ZEISS-tuned dual camera system around the back. Know what really has us excited, though? The Nokia 7+ has appeared in both gray and white, but both versions have some punchy orange highlights.
Sorry, Huawei fans: You shouldn’t expect much in the way of phones. We know the company is going to show off its new P-series smartphone in March, and as with the Galaxy S9 and S9 Plus, the camera might be the biggest reason to invest in those devices. Huawei’s invite strongly hinted at a three-lens setup, but we’ll have to wait a little longer for the juicy details. At MWC, we’ll probably just see one of Huawei’s new MediaPad tablets given the timing. Since Huawei has used MWC to show off its Windows machines in the past, you shouldn’t discount the possibility of another Huawei PC breaking cover either. Really though, we’re hoping the company shares more about its struggles with the US government.
They might not be tremendously popular in the US, but ASUS’s ZenFones have steadily gotten better over the years. Based on a handful of leaks, we’d expect to hear about at least two new devices at the show. The standard ZenFone 5 should sport a rear-mounted fingerprint sensor and another extra-tall screen with an iPhone X-like notch. More importantly, it packs flagship levels of power thanks to its Snapdragon 845 chipset and 6GB of RAM. There’s no firm word on price at the moment, but if it winds up being steep, there should also be a ZenFone 5 Lite lurking on the show floor somewhere. Very little about the device is known right now, but we ARE pretty sure it packs four cameras — two on the back and two above the display.
Oh, and everyone else
Covering MWC is a huge undertaking, and there are a lot of other companies on our radar that are worth paying attention to. It feels a little weird sticking HTC down here, but the truth is the company hasn’t put much effort into MWC in recent years. We’d be surprised to see anything more than just some new Vive demos on the show floor. On the other hand, ZTE will likely show off its Blade V9, with its 5.7-inch, 18:9 display and a Snapdragon 450 processor. And Vivo, a Chinese phone maker you probably haven’t heard of, will spend some more time showing off devices a fingerprint sensor built into their displays.
There’s obviously going to be a lot of news coming out of Barcelona next week, and even with all this information, there’s bound to be a few surprises. Be sure to stick around to get the full scoop on everything once MWC is officially underway.