The Mobile World Congress, the wireless industry's most important yearly event, drew a record 85,000 attendees -- a 20% jump from the previous year. The week was filled with smartphones, tablets, wearables, apps, and technology demos galore.
"Noisy" would be a good word to describe the event, and not solely due to the deafening din of the show floor. The flood of products was plentiful. Some companies revealed their best work, while others should be rethinking their strategy. Here are the best (and worst) things we saw during the week in Barcelona.
The leaderboard for new smartphones is shared by LG, Samsung, and Sony. All three companies showed off compelling devices that will surely appeal to broad audiences. Of all the phablets revealed during the MWC, LG's G Pro 2 is the highest-quality and most attractive device by far. It's a significant improvement over the original, and it takes the materials and software enhancements to the next level.
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Samsung, too, topped itself with the Galaxy S5. Its new flagship represents the pinnacle of modern smartphones with its generous screen, capable camera, and water-resistant exterior. Toss in extras like a fingerprint scanner and support for 128-GB memory cards, and you have a potential hit.
Sony's Xperia Z2 also strikes a high note. The device is a stunning beauty with its glass and aluminum surfaces. Sony made dramatic improvements to the screen and added the ability to record 4K video. It is also waterproof, dustproof, and loaded with Sony's bountiful content.
Losers in the smartphone space include Huawei and ZTE. Huawei showed off the Ascend G6, pitching it as a premiere smartphone. With its cheap materials and questionable build quality, the device just doesn't live up to that billing in real life. The same is true of ZTE's Grand Memo II LTE. The six-inch screen was magnificent, but the build quality was among the worst I've seen at a tradeshow. Motorola was a no-show (for obvious reasons). And Nokia made its outlook even more complex by jumping into the Android space.
Moving on to wearables, the MWC presented an interesting mix of smartwatches and fitness bands. Samsung showed off three devices, while Sony, Huawei, and others jumped into the fray. Of the new hardware, Samsung's Gear Fit is the winner. With its small, curved AMOLED display and comfortable footprint, it is far more appealing than the bigger, bulkier Gear 2. The Fit marries the simplicity of a fitness band with the functionality of a smartwatch. Not only was it the most attractive wearable of the week, but it also provided the most compelling mix of form and function.
Only one tablet mattered at this year's show, and that was the Sony Xperia Z2. Of all the tablets fielded by scores of hardware makers, the Z2 is the only one that comes close to offering the exquisite hardware experience of Apple's iPad Air. The Z2 uses the best materials, offers the highest build quality, and includes the broadest range of features and content. It is also one of the only waterproof tablets out there. HP revealed a couple of low-end Android tablets that serve only to further muddy its selection of middling hardware.
BlackBerry earns the "Most Bizarre" badge at MWC 2014. The company announced the Q20, a future device that harkens back to 2008 for the keyboard faithful. Though it offers modern specs and the BlackBerry 10.1 operating system, it will be housed in a conservative piece of hardware that could be described as outdated. CEO John S. Chen offered some thoughts on the company's future, but they came across as sounding more like the company is mired in the past.
The 2014 Mobile World Congress has come to a close. Looking ahead, HTC is set to debut its second-generation One device in New York City on March 25. The year is young, and plenty is yet to come.
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