*Steve Makris is a technology expert who does a Tech Talk segment during Edmonton’s Sunday Morning News.
Just when you thought smartphones couldn’t get any better, along comes MWC 2016 in Barcelona to prove otherwise.
This past week the Mobile World Congress, touted as the biggest and best mobile industry event, hosted more than 101,000 attendees from 204 countries and 3,600 press and media, including yours truly.
Everything from virtual reality, clever app ideas, 3D printing, privacy protection back end solutions and of course, smartphones.
Smartphones stole the show with new models ranging in price from $150 to $1,000. Two South Korean fierce competitors, Samsung and LG, stole the show with their new flagship smartphones. Both pushed new technologies with two completely different design strategies.
Samsung’s new 5.1-inch Galaxy S7, $400 with two-year term and 5.5-inch S7 edge featuring dual curves, $500 with two-year term, will be available in Canada on March 11.
How can an Android phone cost as much as the best iPhone? Simple. The S7 kept the best premium features of last year’s S6 and S6 Edge, starting with great looks and craftsmanship. Its AMOLED Quad HD Display (2560 x 1440) remains the standard in phone screens featuring 557 PPI for the S7 5.1 inch and 534 PPI for the S7 Edge.
But it is the inside workings of both S7 phones that Samsung unabashedly compared directly to the iPhone 6s Plus. Apple does not attend global technology shows with competitors. It is dust and water resistant to 1.5 metres for 30 minutes – this means toilet drops too! RAM is now four GB, the difference between pausing open applications and actually running one dozen at the same time.
The S7 Edge features improved shortcuts that appear when gently brushing fingers from the glass edge. Despite its 5.5-inch screen Samsung managed to keep the S7 Edge width narrow enough to still use with one hand. Nice.
The Micro SD memory slot is back, combined in one tray with the SIM card. The Always On screen displays date, battery strength, time and notifications with miniscule power draw during meetings. In Canada, only the 32 GB version will be available, relying on its MicroSD memory upgrade for consumers who need more storage.
Samsung’s biggest bragging rights is its smaller 12 MP rear main camera that thinks it’s a dedicated prosumer digital camera. Samsung wisely dropped the competitive big 16 -21 megapixel selling game pervasive to most camera phone makers, for a camera that outshoots any competitor. I tested it extensively in Barcelona and was impressed. Fewer but now larger pixel sensors mean more accurate light capture, delivering clearer, brighter and digital noise-free photos, especially in dark scenes.
The focus is faster too; each of those 12 million pixels senses when the image comes in focus.
Samsung also launched its Gear 360, a small hardball-sized spherical camera with two lenses on either side for shooting spherical 360 degree stills or videos. 360 VR videos and pictures are the next big thing in virtual reality headsets that allow viewing a scene from any angle by simply turning your head around. They are also becoming popular in Facebook and Google social sites.
Facebook’s Mark Zukerberg walked unnoticed down the isle at Samsung’s S7 launch, past thousands of attendees busy wearing Samsung Gear VR headsets. He welcomed Samsung’s 360 VR technology while several hundred attendees stormed the stage for photos.
The non-removable larger 3600 mAh battery offers much improved running time.
Samsung Pay with virtual acceptance anywhere a credit card is, is rolling out in Canada too and will feature Samsung KNOX security.
Canadian cellcos will include a free Gear VR headset for either S7 per-orders till they show up in stores on March 11.
Check out a sampling of what you see through the Samsung Gear VR of Sir David Attenborough and a virtual walk along with his famous Titinosaur as well as a GoPro view of a surfer riding a wave.
Note: No prices were released on the LG products. An international release is planned for mid-April.
In comparison, LG seems to have found its mojo with the most unique 5.3-inch modular G5 featuring slide out battery and a host of other LG Friends ecosystem accessories. It has a Quad HD IPS Quantum Display (2560 x 1440 / 554ppi) built around a sleek aluminum uni-body with slightly curved edge glass.
Its 16 MP dual lens rear camera is unique, allowing a standard wide view or a super 135 degree mode – 15 degrees wider than the human eye’s field of view – with corrected (straight lines) for those otherwise impossible to get breathtaking pictures across the horizon, taller buildings or a big party.
In panorama mode the G5 (as does the second-best S7) shoots the highest quality 270 degree file photo, a whooping 107 megapixels worth. It too has an always-on display for quick notification displays in meetings.
The G5 features Daylight Mode, increasing outdoor visibility beyond that of current auto brightness technology in most phones. I found that useful.
The G5’s ambitious modular design went beyond the cellphone, introducing LG Friends, five fun and useful gismo attachments and standalone devices for experiencing and sharing the G5 in new ways.
The LG CAM Plus camera module attaches through the battery delivering a comfortable grip and the convenient control of a standalone camera with power, shutter button, record, zoom and LED indicator. It also offers intuitive autofocus and exposure lock, features usually found on standalone digital cameras. It also provides additional battery capacity of 1,200mAh to allow for longer shooting times.
The LG Hi-Fi Plus with B&O PLAY is a portable Hi-Fi DAC audio player developed in collaboration with B&O PLAY for top-notch premium sounds that have traditionally only been available through high-end audio devices. The 32-bit Hi-Fi DAC up-sampling technology supports 32-bit, 384 KHz high-definition audio playback. It can be used either as a slide-in module with the LG G5 or as a separate Hi-Fi DAC by connecting to any smartphone or PC.
The LG 360 VR is a VR goggle that connects to the G5 via a dedicated cable to simulate a 130-inch TV viewed from two metres away. It is one third the size and weight of competitors VR models that require a smartphone to be inserted in the device. The device is compatible with 360-degree images and videos captured with LG 360 CAM as well as all Google Cardboard content and boasts a higher 639 ppi resolution.
The LG 360 CAM is a compact 360-degree angle camera equipped with two 13MP 200-degree wide angle cameras, 1,200mAh battery and 4GB internal memory, which can be supplemented by a microSD card. It easily connects to the LG G5 allowing users to create 360-degree content. The LG 360 CAM provides 2K video and 5.1 surround channel recording on three microphones for creating high-quality 360-degree content. With LG’s announced partnership with Google, images taken with the 360 CAM can be uploaded to Street View and YouTube360, for sharing creative content with others. The images will also be available to view on the LG 360 VR or other smartphones or devices that are capable of 360-degree content.
The LG Rolling Bot is a companion device that rolls like a ball while capturing images and videos with its embedded 8MP camera. Not just a toy, the Rolling Bot can be used as a monitoring system for the home, pet care companion as well as a remote controller for compatible home appliances. With an IP camera connectable via Wi-Fi, users can remotely monitor the interior of their homes with the LG G5 via live streaming.
The LG Friends Manager for only the G5 is a Hub application that easily detects and connects the G5 to nearby LG Friends devices.
Noteable MWC 2016 consumer announcements
The mid-price Xiaomi Mi 5 features top notch processors, responsive camera and good looks.
Alcatel’s new unlocked Idol 4S is not as pretty but features an octa-core Snapdragon 652, 5.5-inch Quad HD AMOLED display and works any way you hold it up.
The HP Elite X3 6-inch Windows Phone phablet also runs Windows 10 desktop apps on a special dock. Not a consumer phone, but notable.
HTC’s Vive pricey, $800 USD, high spec VR system was unveiled with a host of accessories and the need for more power than a phone can deliver. Think desktop computers – dazzling display but average consumers need not apply.
Sony launched slightly higher than mid-price Xperia X and the Xperia XA with focus on battery, camera and design. It remains to be seen when the flagship replacement Xperia X Performance will be released.
ZTE launched affordable phones, none slated for North America. But their Android Wear ZTE D1 Fish smartwatch also does that… does it work over frozen Canadian lakes?
Follow Steve’s personal blog for the latest trends and news.
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