Barcelona tries to cure our ‘phone fatigue’, but retro phones won’t take us into the 5G era, reports Jamie Carter from the recent Mobile World Congress.
Barcelona is no stranger to icons. Some visit the Catalonian capital to see Antoni Gaudi’s unfinished masterpiece, La Sagrada Familia, or the preeminent cathedral of football, FC Barcelona’s Camp Nou, to see Lionel Messi. However, for a week every year the cosmopolitan Spanish city is dedicated to the annual unveilings of another icon of the modern age; the smartphone.
From Sony, LG and Nokia to Huawei, Xaomi and Alcatel, all the major players recently attended the Mobile World Congress to unveil their latest and greatest wares. Ground-breaking new tech was in abundance, of course, but in 2017 there was more than a whiff of nostalgia.
How else could one describe the reappearance of Nokia’s 3310 feature-phone, first launched in the year 2000? The newly-announced version is a re-design, of course, but within its Android OS are throwback features like polyphonic ringtones, the world’s most basic video game – Snake – and a paltry two-megapixel camera. BlackBerry was another brand seeking a retro-themed revival with the KEYone, a 4.5-inch smartphone with a keyboard occupying its bottom third. Handy for business travellers? Perhaps – and that keyboard also acts as a trackpad thanks to some clever gesture tech – though its small and oddly-shaped 3:2 aspect ratio screen won’t get movie fans excited.
Music fans is who Alcatel is after with its A5 LED, a mid-range and modular smartphone whose curious LED-covered case lights-up in time to the beat. In ‘colour capture’ mode the user can point the phone’s camera at their new outfit, or a home’s interior design, with software picking out the dominant colours to create a customised theme. It might be a new (if baffling) idea for a smartphone, but it also revives the modular concept, with various ‘smart covers’ available, including a cover with speakers built-in, and a battery case that doubles the power. Lenovo’s Motorola brand also pushed a new line-up of Moto Mods for its Moto Z phone, which also included a case containing a power pack, and one with built-in speakers.
Novelty stopped right there; Mobile World Congress also has a cutting edge. Huawei unveiled its P10, complete with Leica dual-camera, while the almost bezel-less 5.7-inch display of LG’s G6 boasts support for HDR (high dynamic range) video. Sony’s 5.4-inch Xperia XZ Premium – in a world first – features a 4K display that can host streamed 4K HDR video (at 960 frames per second, no less), while ZTE teased with its 5G-ready Gigabit Phone. Those last two handsets hinted at ultra-fast mobile downloads that current 4G mobile networks just can’t handle; cue a discussion in Barcelona about the coming era of 5G networks.
When is 5G coming? What is it for? In time it will create wireless home broadband as high as 10 gigabits per second, and create super-fast WiFi on trains. By the time we all hear about it in the wild – almost certainly from 5G pioneers SK Telecom, the host network for the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea – 5G will have been revealed to be mostly about virtual reality. How do we know this? Intel and Nokia showed in Barcelona an 8K resolution multi-player VR gaming demo transmitting (via an Ericsson base station) between each other’s booths half a kilometre away. 5G will not only create untethered, mobile VR headsets, but could fuel them with massively high bandwidth, immersive VR, and in real-time. Think retro phones are the future? Get real.
Jamie Carter is a freelance science, technology and travel journalist and author who writes for TechRadar.com, the South China Morning Post, BBC Sky at Night and Travel + Leisure.