TechRap: Mobile World Congress 2014 roundup
MANILA, Philippines – From a $25 smartphone running FireFox OS To the latest and greatest $800 smartphones from Sony and Samsung, we give you all the highlights from Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.
Mobile World Congress - the year’s gathering of smartphone manufacturers took place in Barcelona this week. All the big names were at MWC with something to announce. There were two new flagship smartphones from Samsung and Sony but the biggest highlight came in the form of wearables. More on that later.
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UNDER $60 SMARTPHONES
Mozilla - maker of the Firefox web browser and the HTML based Firefox smartphone OS announced a new device that breaks records as the cheapest smartphone. At $25 the phone is made in partnership with Chinese low-cost chipmaker Spreadtrum.
The phone will run on the most basic of specs. A 4.5-inch display, 1.2 GHz processor, 128MB of RAM, 8GB of storage and 5 and 2 megapixel cameras.
Chinese manufacturer ZTE also announced sub 60-dollar smartphones that also run on Firefox OS.
The Open C and Open II will debut in Latin American markets in the second quarter of 2014.
Another big trend at MWC were mid-range smartphones for the ever growing emerging market segment.
The usual suspects, Chinese manufacturers Huawei, Lenovo and ZTE released updates to their mid-range lineup
Huawei’s Ascend P6 with its 5 megapixel wide angle front camera is being touted as a selfie cam.
Lenovo added 3 more smartphones to the 3 it unveiled at CES in January. And ZTE updated its popular 6-inch phablet the Grand Memo 2 giving it LTE connectivity and a boxy but sleek form factor reminiscent of the Sony Xperia.
Even Nokia played the emerging market card.
Following months of speculation about an Android phone and ducky teasers that didn’t quite make sense.
Nokia released its first Android phone at MWC but not quite what the kind of Android we expected. The Nokia X is a mid range phone that fits right in between the Finnish giants Asha and Lumia lines. The goal for the Nokia X is to offer a sub-60 euro smartphone - that’s roughly 82 dollars for what Nokia believes is an untapped market.
The phone is available in 3 variants the Nokia X, XPlus, and XL.
The Nokia X and X Plus are 4-inch smartphones with 1GHz dual core processors and 3 megapixel fixed focus cameras. The X Plus has slightly more storage space.
The Nokia XL comes with a bigger 5-inch display and a better 5 megapixel autofocus camera.
All 3 phones run Android with a Lumia-like tile interface but unlike the usual Android phone you can’t just download apps directly from Google Play.
Many hoped that HTC would announce the successor to its flagship smartphone the HTC One which was released at last year’s MWC.
But that won’t happen till March 25 in an event that takes place in both London and New York.
Instead the Taiwanese company also launched a pair of mid-range smartphones - the Desire 610 and 816.
The Desire 816 is billed as the company's "flagship mid-range phone."
Available in a range of colors, the 816 comes with specs comparable to last year’s high-end phones in a plastic unibody form factor reminiscent of the flagship aluminum HTC One.
SONY XPERIA Z2
Samsung and Sony both unveiled new flagship smartphones.
Sony’s Z2 comes barely 6 months after its predecessor the Z1. Like the Z1 Compact that debuted at CES 2014 the Z2 moves from water resistant to waterproof with a higher IP68 rating.
It also gets a minor spec bump including the latest Snapdragon 801 processor.
It’s biggest change is its display. While on the outside its the same phone, Sony manages to increase the screen size from a 5 to 5 point 2 inch display with a technology called Live Color LEDs that Sony claims has the widest color gamut in a mobile device today.
While its camera remains the same...it is now at par with top of the line smartphones today and can shoot 4K video.
SAMSUNG GALAXY S5
Flagship smartphones that are at par with everyone else is probably another theme of CES.
With manufacturers making sure that everyone else’s big innovation is built-into their respective smartphones.
Coming from high expectations Samsung’s S5 announcement was a bit of a downer. The phone isn’t the stunner we expected.
There was no new form factor - no edge to edge curved glass.
Instead the South Korean tech giant sticks to its tried and tested formula - a 3-year old design with rounded corners and an aluminum-like plastic frame.
The only aesthetic difference is a perforated faux leather back and a range of color options.
Even its TouchWiz user interface didn’t get the make-over many expected.
Like the Z2 it also benefited from a minor bump in specs and the latest Snapdragon 801 processor.
It also caught up adding all the latest innovations that are available on its competitors like Apple’s iPhone 5S the Galaxy S5 now has a built-in fingerprint scanner for unlocking the phone and making online payments.
And like Sony’s Xperia line of smartphones and tablets, the S5 is also water resistant and can be submerged in water up to a meter deep for about 30 minutes.
But there are a couple of features worth noting - it’s the only smartphone with a built-in heart rate monitor.
A new ultra power saving mode that can extend your battery’s life up to 15 days and a new and improved camera with the a DSLR-type feature called phase detection autofocus - giving it the fastest autofocus in a smartphone in the world.
Okay, maybe the phone is not THAT big of a disappointment.
The stars of MWC however were the wearables.
Sony announced a March global release date for its SmartBand and also a whole range of colorful options for CORE fitness tracker.
Huawei jumped into the fray with its TalkBand B1.
The wearable fitness tracker comes with a 1.4-inch flexible OLED display and a removable wireless earpiece tucked inside the band for users to make phone calls.
Samsung released an entire range of wearables.
Updating the Galaxy Gear to the Gear 2 and the Gear Neo, removing Galaxy from the brand name and switching to its Tizen OS.
Both smart watches are also now now just companion devices but standalone fitness trackers with built-in heart rate monitors, pedometers, and sensors that measure exercise, sleep and even stress.
The star however of MWC was the Gear Fit.
The Fit has all the fitness tracking features as the rest of the Samsung line - any fitness band for that matter
But what sets itself apart is its curved touch screen that wraps beautifully around the wrist.
It's reminiscent of these iWatch mock ups that circulated online recently but its a device that already exists.
And its got journalists the world over talking but that’s just judging it based on how it looks - we’ll have to wait until April to find out if it works as great as promised.
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