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What were the most exciting smartphone trends of Mobile World Congress?

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From always-on screens to 360-degree cameras, here's the tech to watch out for in 2016.
sony xperia ear

Mobile World Congress (MWC) – the world's biggest phone trade show – took place last week, and was marked by the launch of some of 2016's most anticipated smartphones.

As well as flagship phones such as the Samsung Galaxy S7 and LG G5, manufacturers are showing off a host of accessories and software tricks that they hope will be big this year.

In fact, a lot of them have launched very similar products, so they're mostly thinking along the same lines.

They go beyond the standard phone interface to include virtual reality, modular accessories and screens that you don't need to wake to get information from.

Take a look at this little lot. They could just change how we use our phones in the coming months...

360-degree cameras

samsung galaxy s7 360 camera

Samsung, Sony and LG announced 360-degree cameras as accessories to their phones. The idea is you can capture photos and videos in full 360-degree glory.

If you've ever used Google Street View, you'll know how cool it is seeing a still image in this format, and being able to pan around it to see every angle.

If you want to see what it's like watching a video like this, check out this Nike one featuring Neymar Jr. (you'll need to use a browser that supports 360-degree YouTube videos, like Google Chrome).

Pretty special, eh?

So why are mobile phone manufacturers suddenly pushing the technology? It's all about the growth of virtual reality, which many see as the next big thing.

Using a camera like the LG 360 Cam, Sony Xperia Eye or Samsung Gear 360, you'll be able to record videos that you can later jump into in virtual reality. Which brings us onto...

Virtual reality headsets

lg vr 360

We've seen the Samsung Gear VR and HTC Vive before, but LG joined the party at Mobile World Congress with a VR headset of its own.

Called the LG 360 VR, it's smaller than other virtual reality headsets, and designed not to mess up your hair.

Early testers aren't too impressed, however. Its smaller size means light enters your vision, making it far less immersive than a fully-fledged VR headset.

In demos, it also suffered from lag (where what you're looking at blurs while it catches up to how you move your head).

Still, it shows that virtual reality is on the minds of almost every major smartphone manufacturer.

Indeed, Samsung went as far as to launch its S7 handset using the technology, and invited Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg to talk up the virtues of VR.

lg g5 vr

Exactly how virtual reality and mobiles will work together is less clear. At the moment, headsets like Google Cardboard have opened the gates for VR on mobiles.

Alcatel recently launched the OneTouch Idol 4S, whose packaging doubles as a Cardboard-style VR headset that you slot the phone into. So the tech definitely has its uses.

Expect a slew of virtual reality games to come to mobile app stores in the coming months.

As for other apps, we're less sure. While we love the idea of Google Maps in virtual reality, it helps to see where you're going when you're out and about.

Always-on screens

lg g5 always on

Again, both Samsung and LG's latest phones use this technology.

It's a handy way of keeping you up to date with goings-on without draining your smartphone's battery.

The screen is always on, but because it's mostly black with only a little information, it uses far less battery than actually waking the phone (LG and Samsung say it uses about 1 per cent battery an hour).

samsung galaxy s7 always on screen

Take your phone out of your pocket, and you can see the time, battery level, and any notifications, without having to press anything.

If you want to jump into a notification – to read a new email, say – just double tap it from the always-on screen.

It's not completely new technology. Motorola's Moto X (which we're big fans of, incidentally) has featured a very similar feature since 2013'S edition.

Handsets in Microsoft's Lumia range have also showed the time on their screens without the user having to press anything.

Nevertheless, it's a welcome addition. Anything that makes our phones simpler to use gets our vote.

5G, modular mobiles and nuisance callers

5g generic

Chipmaker Qualcomm was on hand to talk up 5G technology, and from the sound of it, it'll make 4G look like dial-up.

According to Qualcomm, 5G would mean speeds of 100 gigabits, which would download a 4K film in just eight seconds.

A Blu-ray film file would take just two seconds. In other words, you could download every decent film Danny Dyer has ever appeared in in two seconds.

LG showed off the G5, which features a modular port.

lg g5 bang and olufsen

This lets you slot in a range of accessories to change how you use the phone – a hi-fi module will let you listen to music at a higher bitrate (it'll sound better), while a chunky camera grip gives you manual controls over your shooting options, effectively turning the phone into a DSLR.

Modular phones have been mooted before, but Google's Project Ara has been delayed repeatedly, so LG's might be the first to go on sale.

If it can offer up some really compelling add-ons, it could have something genuinely useful on its hands.

sony xperia ear mwc

Sony's standout accessory was the Xperia Ear. It's basically a Bluetooth earpiece that works as a personal assistant, just like the one from the film 'Her'.

It can search the internet, tell you the weather and more, all using voice commands. Let's hope we don't all fall in love with it.

More prosaically, but no less usefully, Samsung teamed up with Whitepages to identify nuisance callers on the S7, and offers you the option of blocking them. Which would save us all a lot of time and frustration.

Concept gear

sony xperia eye projector

Looking further into the future, there were plenty of kooky concepts around at Mobile World Congress.

Sony showed off a projector that you interact with by pinching and swiping, just like a smartphone's touchscreen.

LG, meanwhile, took to the skies with its Smart Controller – effectively a remote controller that, when plugged into the modular port of your LG G5, lets you control a Parrot drone. Mayhem will surely ensue.

Conclusion: An exciting year ahead, then

In past years, MWC has been a bit of a disappointment.

But now every phone can do pretty much the same thing, manufacturers are having to work harder to innovate, and it's producing some promising results.

Based on the above launches, mobile fans are in for a treat this year. Here's to 2016!

Category: News
Tagged: smartphones

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