All the action from the MWC in Barcelona

Mala Bhargava | Updated on February 27, 2019 Published on February 27, 2019

The event lived up to its name, with many companies showcasing the future of smartphone hardware technology

The Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona has just ended, ending four days of phone frenzy. Camera tech is reaching new heights on smartphones with companies trying to come up with photography breakthroughs using several lenses on one phone and other innovations. The era of 5G is becoming a reality as devices ready with the new connectivity standard have been launched. First steps with the foldable format have also been shown off. It’s obviously going to be an interesting year for smartphone innovation.

Samsung is first with Galaxy Fold

Samsung’s much awaited foldable phone, named the Galaxy Fold, all but overshadowed the Galaxy S10 line-up at Samsung’s Unpacked event at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in San Francisco. In that sense, it isn’t technically a launch at the MWC but people do club Samsung’s event with it.

Within seconds of the start of presentations, images of the new foldable device flowed over the screen and Justin Denison, Senior Vice President of Product Marketing for the company headed straight on to introduce the new phone-tablet. The Galaxy Fold comes at a fitting time, when one considers it has been exactly ten years since Samsung debuted the Galaxy line of phones, going on to sell a whole galaxy of them and become very much responsible for popularising Android, gradually, weaning users away from Nokia phones.

Samsung has actually had foldable ambitions for several years, showing concept devices often, but now they have a device that is actually being brought to market. It is entirely fitting too that the Korean electronics giant should remind the world of its track record with innovation, having been the ones who dared bring out a phone that was not only really large, at the time, but also had a stylus that works brilliantly. Samsung also came up with iris recognition, a voice assistant of their own and the DeX feature that interfaces with a computer. Now, the new Galaxy Fold comes with quite a lot that is new. Samsung credits itself with having kick-started a new category, but that may be debatable as one company had already shown off a foldable phone, and several other companies are bringing their own foldable concepts to the fray. It is probably true however that the success of foldable phones as a new type of device will depend on how well Samsung’s fares with users.

Meanwhile, the Galaxy Fold turns out to have a 4.6-inch display on the cover or upper flap. This is the part that is more like the regular phones we know today. Unfold the device and you’ll find a 7.3-inch screen on the inside — that’s the size of a small tablet. A new hinge mechanism had to be worked on to make sure it would support many thousands of instances of folds and unfolds and so the phone can open smooth, like a book, and close up flat and compact with a click. To achieve this, Samsung has engineered a hinge with multiple interlocking gears.

This system is housed in a hidden enclosure so it doesn’t take away from an elegant look. The fingerprint scanner is found on the side where the thumb naturally rests. The device has a dual battery, which had to be placed so as not to upset the balance when it’s held in the hands. The internal screen needs to not merely bend but actually folds in one quick intuitive motion, which Samsung says has been a difficult innovation to deliver, requiring a new polymer layer with a display around 50 per cent thinner than the typical smartphone display.

Incredibly, the Galaxy Fold has six cameras so one can take a photo no matter how one holds the device. That too is a feat and a first.

Foldable phones would be dead on arrival if Android didn’t support the new form factor, with interfaces and apps fitting and aligning to new sizes. To make sure it doesn’t lag, the device has 12 GB of RAM. It also has 512 GB of internal storage — and it will need it as one of the things a user can now do with the Fold is three-app multitasking. On the main display, three separate apps can be opened up at the same time. For instance, one can chat with someone, browse the web for something, and make notes. That’s if the user’s brain can take all that. Samsung has worked with Google and developers to support this type of multitasking and on ‘App Continuity’, which will allow apps to take up where you leave off. Because if not, it will take a long time to start up each app and go back to the place one was working on. If one needs more functionality, the Fold will support DeX which allows the user to access the apps on a phone or tablet on the screen of a PC or a separate monitor. Because things can get a shade complicated, Samsung has also put in its virtual assistant Bixby, so one can execute a routine or sequence of actions, reducing the time needed to launch what one normally likes to use in different situations.

Innovative as it is, the Galaxy Fold does have many hurdles to overcome, not the least of which is its $1,980 (over ₹1,41,000) asking price, which may be too much for many to stomach. Still, there’s no underestimating disposable incomes, even in India, and early adopters or those who flaunt a Fold may willingly pick up the device after it becomes available in April. There are other tricky factors that may be at play such as how warm the device gets, how the screens reflect light, how convenient it actually becomes to use, especially when on the go and in phone mode. Ultimately, the Fold is for those who want to try it out. “We created Galaxy Fold for those that want to experience what a premium foldable device can do, beyond the limitations of a traditional smartphone,” said DJ Koh, President and CEO of IT and Mobile Communications Division, Samsung, at the event. Samsung also launched three new Galaxy S10 models, coming soon to India.

Huawei’s Mate X

If anyone was balking at the price of Samsung’s Galaxy Fold, here’s a device that tops it. Huawei’s Mate X is $2,600 (over ₹1,85,000) and unlike the Galaxy Fold, doesn’t have a specific release date yet.

As with the Galaxy Fold, most tech media hasn’t been given a chance to get their hands on the gadget yet. The Mate X folds outwards, or back, if you want to see it that way, and leaves no gaps in the centre although videos seem to show a slight crease. The eight-inch display is a vivid OLED. It has no bezels to speak of and hence looks really interesting. The front screen is 6.6 inches and has a grip section on one side, which houses the three Leica cameras and the USB charging port. This grip area also allows the smaller screen to be used with one hand.

The really impressively thin gadget comes with powerful specs, the most prominent among them being 5G capability. Huawei is, of course, a leader in the 5G space. The company is calling their new phone “the fastest foldable 5G phone in the world”, which of course it may be considering there aren’t any to choose from as such.

The Mate X has a divided battery of 4,500 mAh and can charge at top speed — 85 per cent in 30 minutes. It runs on Huawei’s own seven-nanometer 980 chip. Its modem is so powerful, it can download a Netflix film in two seconds. It has 8 GB of RAM — less than Samsung’s Fold — and 512 GB of storage.

Ultimately though, no one knows if and when this supremely expensive device will be available — and if so, where. Huawei said the company is still working out how to make the Mate X less expensive and hence more available.

Nokia 9 Pureview: Five cameras

Every photography enthusiast is likely to want to get a look at Nokia’s new 9 Pureview smartphone. Pureview is a sub-brand from the original Nokia and it brought 42-MP photography to a small phone for the first time.

Now, at the Mobile World Congress, the newly launched Nokia 9 has five cameras with Zeiss optics and all of them work together when you click a picture. On the back of the Nokia 9, you can see the lenses all arranged like a flower — not a sight one has seen before. On the front, the phone may not look all that remarkable and even has the bezels that everyone else has now shed because there is no notch used on the screen. But the back says it all for those who like more than just ordinary photographs. For all that, it is apparently a premium-looking device and those five cameras would get anyone’s attention.

The Nokia 9 has two colour sensors and three monochromatic sensors, all 12 MP, which give sharpness and detail. All five work together to collect up to 10-times the amount of light as a single colour sensor of the same type. Every image captured by Nokia 9 PureView is in HDR, with up to 12.4 stops of dynamic range and a full scene 12 MP depth map. Each 12 MP JPG image can draw from sharp detail in areas of both bright sunlight and dark shadows at the same time with texture. The front camera is 20 MP.

The depth map allows bokeh, giving the user the ability to adjust focus in Google Photos after the shot has been taken. The user also has control over the images through the updated Pro Camera UI. The phone of course allows the user to capture images in uncompressed RAW “DNG” format and through a partnership with Adobe Photoshop Lightroom allows editing on the device. Incredibly, all those cameras come without a bump on the back.

The 5.99-inch display is pOLED. Interestingly, it works on the outgoing Snapdragon 845 but since the new 855 has only come in after the phone’s development was over, it was apparently going to lead to a delay in the phone’s release to wait for the new chip. The Nokia 9 runs on Android 9 Pie and has a 3,200 mAh battery.

The Midnight Blue Nokia 9 Pureview will cost $699 (close to ₹50,000) and be available sometime in March.

Xiaomi’s first time at MWC

MWC2019 was Xiaomi’s first formal participation in the show — they remind us that they are a young company, after all.

Xiaomi launched the Mi 9, the next in a series that has not recently been seen in India. Other than a design in attractive and unusual shades, there’s a new AI triple rear camera assembly that includes a 48 MP main Sony sensor, a 16 MP super wide-angle lens and a 12 MP with telephoto 2x zoom. The phone has a 6.3-inch AMOLED display made by Samsung with a small notch. This is among the first few phones with the Snapdragon 855 processor. It has an in-display fingerprint sensor and support for fast and wireless charging.

Xiaomi’s Mi Mix 3 is 5G-enabled though it supports 4G as well. It’s a slider phone with a screen that has a 93.4 per cent screen to body ratio. It also uses the Snapdragon 855.

Published on February 27, 2019

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