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Major tech trends and highlights from this year’s Mobile World Congress

Discover the stars of the Mobile World Congress and the tech trends that will shape the smartphone industry in 2018

Diana Plutis
Major tech trends and highlights from this year’s Mobile World Congress© 2018 Shutterstock

The Mobile World Congress, Europe’s largest mobile tech event, is the place where the major tech trends are revealed by the leaders of the smartphone industry. This year, it brought together 2,400 companies that showcased their latest devices, powered by cutting-edge technologies.

Samsung's new Galaxy S9 flagships, the world's first smartphones powered by Android 8 Oreo Go, and the new Zenfone 5 series from Asus are just a few of major releases of this year's edition. MWC 2018 also marked the beginning of the race to 5G supremacy. Several mobile operators, including T-Mobile and Telefonica, announced that they are going to start setting up 5G networks in the U.S, and the first 5G-enabled smartphones are expected to arrive by the end of 2018. Since 5G networks and technologies were a hot topic, it’s no surprise that the GLOMO award for the best mobile technology breakthrough was awarded to Huawei for its 5G hardware and software solutions.

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GLOMO Awards (left), the Oscars of the mobile industry, and Huawei's first 5G customer premises equipment (right)

5G devices and networks are coming soon!

In January 2018, the first set of standards for 5G networks and devices was published by the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP), providing device manufacturers and mobile operators with the key requirements for developing 5G tech. Tech companies took advantage of the Mobile World Congress to showcase their latest products and services that are meant to set the grounds for a 5G-enabled world, where all smart devices synchronize seamlessly. A world where self-driving cars communicate with each other and choose the fastest route, based on a real-time traffic analysis, might not be that far away.

Huawei presented the Balong 5G01 chipset, with download speeds that can reach 2.3Gbps. The chipset is being used in the Huawei’s new customer-premises equipment (CPE), terminal devices able to high-speed, low latency connections. Such a terminal could assure that all your smart-home devices are in sync, permanently exchanging data. At the same time, you could stream high-resolution videos and enjoy VR gaming experiences in 4K without any latency.

Qualcomm showcased the Snapdragon X24 LTE modem, built on a 7-nanometer FinFET process. This marks an important milestone in the development of the mobile industry, as this LTE modem can assure speeds of up to 2Gbps, doubling the speed the first generation Gigabit modem was able to deliver. Chipsets with the Snapdragon X24 LTE modem are going to power the next-gen smartphones which are expected to arrive by the end of the year.

Intel is another tech giant that entered the 5G arena. In partnership with computer manufacturers like Dell, HP, Lenovo, and Microsoft, Intel is planning on bringing 5G to PCs and laptops in the next two years. The company presented its first 5G computer concept, a convertible laptop powered by one the company’s latest Core i5 processors with Radeon RX Vega graphics. The main challenge for hardware manufacturers is to provide a form factor that can support 5G modems while maintaining devices lightweight and portable.

Since 5G-enabled mobile devices are in the works, mobile operators are racing to build 5G networks in key locations around the world. Following AT&T, Verizon, Telefonica, and others, T-Mobile announced that it will bring 5G networks to 30 cities in the U.S, including New York and Los Angeles, by the end of this year.

The major smartphone trends

Once again, this tech event proved that smartphone photography is becoming more and more important. All the major flagships revealed at MWC have advanced camera modules, some of them integrating AI features that enable users to create animated emojis. This trend was started by Apple with the release of its anniversary iPhone X, the first device to support Animojis. Now, more and more smartphone manufacturers are adding similar features: Samsung's AR emojis are 3D cartoon-like versions of people, resembling a lot the 3D avatars that can be created using Sony's 3D Creator app, first introduced in the Xperia XZ1 and Xperia XZ1 Compact, some of the best smartphones for photography. Asus also created its own emojis for the Zenfone 5z, called Zenimojis: 52 cute avatars that can mimic a wide range of facial expressions.

Samsung Galaxy S9 and Galaxy S9 Plus

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Samsung Galaxy S9 and Galaxy S9 Plus

The most expected smartphones at this year’s Mobile World Congress, the Galaxy S9 and S9 Plus were among the first presented. Samsung’s new flagships are definitely not innovative in terms of design and hardware, but they bring some important camera upgrades which will get photography fans excited. The dual-lens camera which Samsung introduced on the Galaxy Note 8 last year was now added to the Galaxy S9 Plus.

The Galaxy S9 Plus has two 12-megapixel main cameras with optical image stabilization, phase detection autofocus, and support for 4K video recording. Even though the Galaxy S9 doesn’t have a dual-lens main camera, it shares the most important feature of the Galaxy S9 Plus: the dual aperture lens. The cameras on both devices set a new record for smartphones with their f/1.5 aperture, the largest ever so far, and the dual aperture lens adapts automatically depending on the lighting conditions, opening up to f/1.5 in the dark and closing to f/2.5 in daylight.

Both Samsung flagships are powered by the latest Android 8.0 Oreo and Samsung's own Exynos 9810 octa-core chipset (for EMEA) or Qualcomm's new Snapdragon 845 chip (for U.S and China). Should you grab one of them now or wait for the Galaxy Note 9? Read our preliminary review to get a better idea of the pros and cons.

Asus Zenfone 5 series

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Asus Zenfone 5z and Asus Zenfone 5 Lite

Asus become one major player in the smartphone industry with its popular Zenfone series, launched in 2014. At this year’s MWC, Asus unveiled three phones that have all the features we expect from high-end devices: large screens with high screen-to-body ratios, dual-cameras, and AI features.

The Asus Zenfone 5 Lite is a great phone for selfies. With a dual front camera of 20 megapixels, electronic image stabilization, and a front LED flash, it can snap high-resolution selfies even in low light. The Asus Zenfone 5 and 5z have the same design but slightly different hardware.

Although Apple doesn’t ever make an apparition at the Mobile World Congress, many thought that Apple’s iPhone X was the real star of MWC 2018. This is because numerous aliases of the latest iPhone were showcased at this year’s show. The already-famous notch has become a design feature on more and more devices, the most famous one being the Asus Zenfone 5z. With a design strikingly similar to the iPhone X, the new Asus flagship is powered by Android 8.0 Oreo and the new Snapdragon 845 chipset coupled with 8GB of RAM.

Sony Xperia XZ2 and XZ2 Compact

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Sony Xperia XZ2: all color options

Powered by the new Snapdragon 845 chipset, Sony's new phones feature the company's 19-megapixel Motion Eye cameras, capable of recording 4K HDR videos and super-slow-motion clips in full HD at 960fps.

LG V30s ThinQ and LG V30s Plus ThinQ

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LG V30s ThinQ Plus

LG delayed the release of its next-generation flagship and presented upgraded versions of the V30. The new LG V30s ThinQ smartphones have more RAM and feature the company’s latest AI technology, ThinQ.

The world’s first Android Oreo Go devices

MWC 2018 wasn't only about flagships: the first Android Go phones from Nokia, Alcatel and ZTE will be available later this year for approximately $100! Affordable smartphones powered by Android Oreo Go are going to transform the way mobile technology is being used in developing countries.

Google’s Android 8 Oreo Go Edition is specially designed for devices with less than 1GB of RAM and low internal storage. This light version of Android 8 takes up less space and can run smoothly on low-end devices, so popular in emerging markets. Android Go is going to launch on six phones, most priced at less than $100. These affordable smartphones powered by Android Oreo Go are going to transform the way mobile technology is being used in developing countries, giving users access to apps and features that were so far available only on mid-range or high-end devices.

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