Mobile World Congress 2016's most funky, futuristic, and fantastic new hardware

Things took a turn for the weird and powerful at Mobile World Congress, the largest mobile tradeshow on the planet.

hp elite x3
Credit: Melissa Riofrio
Bringing out the big guns

The world’s biggest mobile-focused tradeshow just wrapped up in Barcelona, and if there was a theme for this year’s Mobile World Congress, it was virtual reality. Sure, there were the usual flagship smartphone announcements from heavy-hitters like LG and Samsung, but VR gear was the biggest star at MWC. HTC announced a price for the Vive platform, while LG and Samsung came out with competing 360-degree cameras. LG also introduced a VR headset to compete with Gear VR.

Beyond that, several device makers embraced Windows 10 Mobile, and Huawei expanded its mobile ambitions beyond Android handsets to introduce its first-ever hybrid PC. As if that wasn’t enough, we witnessed the tentative origin of next-gen 5G mobile networks. Read on for all the details about the big gear announced during Mobile World Congress.

lg g5
Credit: Florence Ion
LG G5

Availability: April 2016

Price: Not announced

LG kicked off MWC with a bang: the LG G5, a flagship phone with—get this—modular components. Prior to the G5, the biggest effort we’d seen in the realm of modular smartphones came from Google’s Project Ara. The G5 isn’t as swappable as Google’s Lego-like smartphone concept, but it does allow prospective owners to add a little more functionality to their devices by swapping the G5's removablable bottom with various modules.

During MWC we got our hands on a camera module that adds physical controls to your phone. There was also a module with a 32-bit digital audio converter (DAC) and Bang & Olufsen technology for use with hi-fi headphones. The battery, which connects directly to the modules, is also removable.

galaxys7byflorenceion
Credit: Florence Ion
Samsung Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge

Availability: March 11, 2016

Price: Around $700 and $800, respectively (32GB model)

Samsung stuck to a predictable script, using MWC to roll out its latest Galaxy flagship handsets, the Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge. This year’s models are basically just upgraded iterations of the Galaxy S6 line. There’s a notable improvement to the camera via a wider aperture, and the devices are waterproof. Samsung also borrowed a little bit from Windows 10 Mobile’s Glance screen with a new always-on display that shows you the time and other data, such as upcoming calendar appointments.

The Galaxy S7 phones also brought microSD expansion slots back, future-proofed at a maximum of 2TB. If you buy an S7 before March 18, Samsung will also throw in a $100 Gear VR headset for free.

lg vr
LG 360 VR and camera

Availability: Not announced

Price: Not announced

The battle for virtual reality is definitely getting serious. Before Google Cardboard and Samsung’s Gear VR, who thought it would extend to smartphones? Not wanting to be left behind, LG is also coming out with a virtual reality headset for its handsets called the 360 VR, as well as a 360-degree camera for capturing immersive home movies. LG’s headset has lightweight internal screens instead of using your smartphone as the headset’s display, like Samsung’s Gear VR does.

htc vive
HTC Vive VR headset pricing

Availability: Preorders February 29, 2016

Price: $799

And you thought the Oculus Rift was expensive. During MWC, HTC revealed a jaw-dropping $799 price tag for its virtual reality headset, which was created in conjunction with game maker and Steam proprietor Valve.

That’s $200 more than the competing Rift—but the price is a bit deceiving, because Vive isn’t just a virtual reality headset. You also get two base stations and two made-for-VR, position-tracking motion controllers, which allows you to wander around 15x15-foot virtual spaces, while the Rift is a largely sedentary experience. If you can’t decide which VR set-up you’d like to use, we’ve got a full breakdown of the Rift and Vive packages.

huawei matebook
Huawei's Surface rival

Availability: Not announced

Price: $700-$1,600

The China-based company known for its Mate line of Android phones—such as the Mate S—is getting back into the Windows game. Instead of a Windows phone, however, Huawei is trying its hand at a Surface rival dubbed the MateBook.

This stylish tablet is thinner than the Surface Pro 4 and comes with its own set of interesting peripherals, including a pressure-sensitive stylus, keyboard cover, and a dock for adding extra ports to the device.

xperia x
Credit: Florence Ion
Sony Xperia X phones

Availability: Unannounced; summer (Xperia X Performance only)

Price: Not announced

Despite being around for years, Sony’s Xperia line has never gotten much love in the world of Android fandom. The company is hoping to change that with the new Xperia X series, which Sony says expresses the company’s new vision for smartphones equipped with “intelligent features.”

To start, this means a camera function that can predict movement to get an action shot with less blur. There’s also improved power management with the addition of Qnovo Adaptive Charging software and increased attention to design. The debut X Series phones include the Xperia X, Xperia X Performance, and XA.

xperia agent
Credit: Florence Ion
Sony's bizarre Xcessories

Availability: Not announced; summer (Xperia Ear only)

Price: Not announced

Along with new phones, Sony brought four concept Xperia accessories that didn’t exactly thrill us, but are interesting nonetheless.

The Xperia Ear is an in-ear gadget with a limited personal assistant built in. The Bluetooth and NFC accessory can answer calls, send messages, search the Internet, and provide directions. The Xperia Eye camera, meanwhile, takes life-logging to the next level: You wear the device on your person and the gadget’s voice and facial detection tell it to roll tape only when it matters. Then there’s the Xperia Agent, an Amazon Echo-style personal assistant. Instead of a home speaker, the Agent is a projector that can display images on a flat surface. Finally, there’s the Xperia Projector, which throws a touch-enabled image onto a flat surface that you can interact with using voice or touch.

Okay, that last one sounds cool.

5g
Credit: Stephen Lawson
The rise of 5G

Availability: 2020

Price: Not applicable

Can you imagine a world where your phone’s throughput ranges anywhere from 20 to nearly 80 gigabits per second? Where latency between devices is less than a millisecond? Where robots and cars use all that bandwidth to make split-second decisions with the help of the cloud? That’s what 5G cellular technology is promising with its scheduled rollout by 2020.

The time between two Olympic games is usually too far ahead for most people to worry about, but for cell carriers, four years is practically next week! Unlike the rocky start to 4G—and the buzzword mania that transformed Super 3G connectivity into “4G”—the carriers want to be ready for a time when even your dishwasher needs to get online. It’s going to be a bright future—if you can see the sun through all those drones, that is.

hp elite x3 glory
Credit: Melissa Riofrio
HP Elite x3 Windows phone

Availability: Summer 2016

Price: Not announced

The world of Windows 10 Mobile finally has a true flagship phone and, shockingly, it’s not from Microsoft. HP’s Elite x3 stuns with a massive 5.96-inch, 2560x1440 display, a Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor, 4GB of RAM, and 64GB of onboard storage. But specs alone aren’t the full story; there are also Continuum-centric accessories for the x3, like a laptop dock that lets you use the phone as a Windows 10 PC while you’re out and about.

That all sounds great, but be aware: This phone is aimed at corporate customers to purchase en masse for enterprise deployment. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. As we’ve said before, the best possible future for Windows on mobile might be with businesses. From there, who knows? The enterprise might trickle some Windows Mobile enthusiasm back into the consumer world.

panasonictoughpad
Panasonic Toughpa…errr phones

Price: $1,500 (Android, non-cellular version); $1,600 (Windows 10 starting price)

Availability: March (Android, non-cellular); fall 2016

Panasonic added two new devices to its Toughpad lineup during MWC—and they aren’t laptops or tablets. The Panasonic Toughpad FZ-F1 and FZ-N1 are 4.7-inch handheld devices running Android 5.1 Lollipop and Windows 10 IoT Mobile Enterprise, respectively.

Both are designed to withstand falls and are rated for dust- and water resistance, as you’d expect from a Toughpad. The N1 is running a version of Windows that in an earlier life would have been referred to as part of the Windows Embedded family. The devices can be used as a regular phone or as handheld scanners in a warehouse—speaking of which, a barcode scanner is built into both. A non-cellular version of the F1 will sell for $1,500 beginning in March. Cellular versions will follow in the fall.

cat s60
Credit: Peter Sayer
CAT S60

Availability: June

Price: $600

It wouldn’t be a tech tradeshow without some kind of freakish device that does something strange or unusual. The heat-seeking CAT S60 smartphone fits the bill for MWC 2016.

This smartphone shares a name with the company better known for bulldozers, but is actually made by Bullit Group, a company that licenses the Cat brand. The phone itself isn’t anything to get excited about based on the specs—it only has a 4.7-inch display, for starters. But it makes Panasonic’s Toughpads look like wimps. This hardy handset with its ruggedized case can survive drops on hard concrete, accepts input from wet hands, and can even take a dip in water down to 16 feet for up to an hour. It’s also got an integrated thermal camera—the world’s first, Bullit says—for those times you need to detect heat loss or check on electrical equipment.

lenovo tab 310
Credit: Adam Patrick Murray
Lenovo's cavalry of convertibles

Availability: Various

Price: $200-$700

Lenovo didn’t bring any phones to MWC, but the company was showing off a wide range of Android tablets and Windows convertibles. Top of the list is probably the Miix 310, a low-end Surface imitator with an Atom X5 processor. For the kids, Lenovo introduced the Tab3 7 and Tab3 8 Android Marshmallow tablets with parental controls, splash proofing, and a durable screen. For people who are all about work, the Lenovo Tab3 10 for Business (pictured) is designed to meet the demands of enterprise users.

Lenovo also revealed the Yoga 710, a $500 laptop with a 360-degree hinge that comes in 11.6- and 14-inch varieties.

lenovoflex4
Credit: Adam Patrick Murray
Lenovo Flex 4

Availability: July

Price: $600 (14-inch); $700 (15-inch)

Adding beefed-up graphics capabilities to laptops is a popular pastime these days, and Lenovo embraced it wholeheartedly with a new laptop that will be called the Flex 4 in the U.S. and the Yoga 510 elsewhere.

This clamshell comes in either 14- or 15-inch screen sizes, with up to 1TB in hard drive storage, a Core i7 processor, and optional discrete graphics. The 14-inch tops out with the AMD Radeon M5 430, while the Radeon R7 460 is the best you can get on the 15-inch version. Each laptop can also carry up to 8GB of RAM if you want to try some serious gaming on the device. As is typical for Yoga devices, both versions come with a 360-degree hinge. Weight might be an issue with the 15-inch model, however, as it comes awfully close to the 5-pound deal-breaker limit at 4.58 pounds.

xiaomi mi 5
Credit: Martyn Williams
Xiaomi Mi 5 goes international... maybe

Price (in China): ¥ 1,999 ($305)

Availability: No U.S. date announced

China-based phone maker Xiaomi took an unusual step during Mobile World Congress by simply showing up—a step many took to mean a wider international release of Xiaomi devices was in the offing. That was not quite the case, however, with the company’s international business chief (and ex-Googler) Hugo Barra only saying that a U.S. debut for Xiaomi was “on the radar.”

Xiaomi used MWC to display its upcoming Android-based Mi 5, a low-cost, high-spec handset with a 5.1-inch, 1080p display, Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor, 3GB of RAM, and 32GB of storage. The handset will go on sale in China for the equivalent of $305. If Xiaomi does come to the United States it’s not clear if the company’s trademark low prices will come with it.

samsunggear360
Credit: Martyn Williams
Samsung Gear 360

Price: Not announced

Availability: Spring 2016 (Q2)

Samsung is all-in on VR, and the Gear 360 will provide the masses with a mobile virtual reality capture kit.

The Gear 360 is a ball on a tripod that features two cameras, each with a 195-degree fisheye lens, to capture all the action around it. Captured images can then be stitched together into a 30-megapixel final product. If you want to do the image processing on your phone, you’ll need a Galaxy S7 or S7 Edge. Otherwise, there’s a microSD slot for transferring data between the camera and a PC. You can pan around the images captured by the Gear 360 on your phone or strap on a Gear VR headset and look around that way.

lgrollingbot
Credit: Martyn Williams
LG Rolling Bot

Price: Not announced

Availability: Not announced

LG has come up with an automated sentry for your home that may be the result of seeing the BB-8 droid in Star Wars: The Force Awakens one too many times.

The LG Rolling Bot is a ball that can roll around your home, controlled by a smartphone. The built-in camera sends back livestreamed images via your home network. There’s also a built-in laser pointer, which appears to be there literally to entertain your cats. There are no actual home security features included, so don’t count on this ball calling the police or sending out any kind of alarm should trouble arise. If the Bot ever does roll into intruders, perhaps the laser pointer can convince them its armed with a laser-sighted gun—or a thermal detonator.