Friday, April 19, 2024

MWC 2024 was weird, and I couldn’t be happier about it

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Joe Maring / Digital Trends

Mobile World Congress 2024

Read our complete coverage of Mobile World Congress

The industry returned to Mobile World Congress this year like it was 2019, reinvigorating a trade show that had lost its mojo since those halcyon days. And to celebrate, they brought with them as many mad, crazy, and unexpectedly innovative devices as they could cram in their suitcases. The result is one of the most entertaining MWC events of the recent years, and evidence that mobile companies aren’t listening at all when they’re told mobile tech is boring in 2024.

Contents

  • Concepts galore
  • Mad things to buy
  • Experimental, fun, and gimmicky

Concepts galore

Joe Maring / Digital Trends

Concept phones and devices have always been around at MWC, but there seemed to be even more than usual on display this year — and they were all doing something different. Probably the concept phone that received the most attention is Motorola’s Adaptive Display Concept, which uses its innocent-sounding name to conceal a crazy product. It’s half smartphone and half smartwatch, wrapping partially around your wrist through the use of a bendable screen and a clever hinge system.

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It looks ridiculous, and anyone who thinks watches like the G-Shock Rangeman are too big will have quite a shock. It’s the opposite of the dainty Google Pixel Watch 2, and should it ever make it into production looking like this, no one in their right mind should ever wear it on their wrist. But the fact it actually exists, and in working form, is fantastic. More importantly, it’s likely to be paving the way for a far more sensible-looking version of the concept in the future.

Joe Maring / Digital Trends

Tecno, a brand that will be new to many, but is no stranger to crazy phones, made a big splash at MWC with the Phantom Ultimate rollable concept phone, a robot dog that sadly isn’t as cute as I wanted it to be, and a concept phone with a 3D effect rear panel. Oh, and it also made the Pocket Go, which combines smart glasses with a game controller, runs Windows, and has a high-performance AMD Ryzen processor inside — making it a Steam Deck you wear on your face.

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It doesn’t stop there. Deutsche Telekom and a company called Brain.ai came up with a working concept phone where apps are replaced by an AI concierge, which can be accessed and utilized from the lock screen. Lenovo stole the show early on with its translucent laptop, which looks wonderfully futuristic, and Oppo came with the latest version of its AI-powered Air Glass 3 smart glasses. Much of it made Infinix’s phone with a colorful, morphing e-ink screen on the back (also seen at CES 2024) look positively ordinary. All these concepts, and a whole lot more, made the show floor at MWC enticing and exciting, even if they aren’t products we can actually buy.

Mad things to buy

OnePlus Watch 2 Joe Maring / Digital Trends

MWC’s concept hardware may not ever make it into production, as the weirder, the better is usually at the top of the list of requirements when creating things like this for trade shows. But the products we will be able to buy didn’t stick with convention much either. OnePlus’ Watch 2 smartwatch was a logical release, but it using two processors and two operating systems was a surprise, and not something we fully expected.

It wasn’t the only weird smartwatch announced either, as Xiaomi’s Watch S3 comes with interchangeable bezels to give the watch a completely new look that extends beyond simply changing the strap. The massive, tech-heavy Xiaomi 14 Ultra smartphone with its potentially competition-crushing camera is more the type of product we expect to see at MWC, but to ensure it didn’t look too sensible, Xiaomi also bought an electric car and a robot dog to the mobile trade show.

Tecno Pova 6 Pro Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

I doubt many people went into MWC expecting HMD Global to announce its own take on a modular phone called the HMD Fusion, either. It’s a really brave move, given how others have tried and failed to do the same over the years, but it understands this and is planning accordingly. It’s going to be very exciting to see how it goes. A proper Barbie phone, created with toy maker Mattel, was another HMD surprise, and judging by what we’ve heard about it so far, it’s going to be anything but boring.

The Honor Magic 6 Pro has a silicon-carbon battery inside instead of the traditional lithium-ion cell for better sustainability and more capacity from a smaller footprint. Oh, and it has eye-tracking, so you can control aspects of it simply by looking at the screen. This is all totally ordinary stuff for MWC 2024, just like ZTE’s Nubia Pad 3D II with its glasses-free 3D screen, Tecno’s very green Pova 6 Pro, and the Energizer Hard Case 28K phone, which has a 28,000mAh battery inside for weeks of use between recharges.

Experimental, fun, and gimmicky

Honor Magic 6 Pro Prakhar Khanna / Digital Trends

These are just a few examples of the mainstream device makers doing something different at MWC. Wandering the many halls and smaller stands revealed other treats, from a sweat monitor for athletes called Sweanty to an e-bike with a 5G connection and object detection from Orbic, which it plans to release in the U.S. with Verizon. For the observer, the show was an intoxicating blend of interesting, unusual, exciting, and silly.

Not only does Mobile World Congress seem to have returned to at least some of its previous glory after being a little too business-focused to pay much attention to for a few years, but those persistent rumors of modern consumer mobile tech being dull or predictable appear to be misjudged. Even the more “standard” smartphones at MWC, such as the Xiaomi 14 Ultra and Honor Magic 6 Pro, have aspects that are anything but dreary. Interestingly, according to this editorial from industry publication Light Reading, the wireless and network side of MWC was far less positive and engaging.

But on the consumer side, the willingness to experiment, dream up fun products, or devise new ways to get things done was alive and well at MWC 2024. I don’t care if some (all?) of the concepts were gimmicks; they’re still evidence manufacturers know they need to work hard to make us pay attention. We noted how 2023 gave us more individual takes on established device categories, giving us more choice, and this show seemed like a continuation of that, just with a touch more madness for good measure. MWC 2024’s wealth of cool tech not only means future trade shows this year and early into next year have a lot to live up to, but they should also silence those who think mobile is a bit dry these days.

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