A look at the top smartphones from Mobile World Congress 2019

1 Mar 2019

Close-up of the Nokia 9 PureView. Image: John Kennedy

As expected, Mobile World Congress 2019 did not disappoint in terms of compelling new smartphone devices from the top makers.

In terms of the smartphones, Mobile World Congress (MWC) 2019 was predominantly an Android affair, as Apple – as usual – was there in only spirit rather than any meaningful physical presence.

But it remains to be seen how the Cupertino tech giant will respond to the innovations that were revealed by rivals Huawei and Samsung. As usual, only Apple knows.

First off, the 2019 event in Barcelona was the first ‘look but don’t touch’ experience I’ve ever had at MWC because two of the devices – the Samsung Galaxy Fold and the Huawei Mate X – spent most of the time in executive hands or behind glass cases.

Similarly, the Sony Xperia 10, Xperia 10 Plus and the flagship Xperia 1 were also cordoned off from the smudgy-handed public.

However, among those that you could touch, the real showstoppers were the Samsung Galaxy S10 and S10 Plus – the display in the latter is groundbreaking – while the Nokia 9 PureView with its five cameras had everybody talking.

So, here is a look at the top phones from Mobile World Congress 2019.

Huawei Mate X

Journalists and photographers take pictures of the first foldable 5G phone from Huawei during Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

The new Mate X foldable phone from Huawei. Image: John Kennedy

The Mate X has a 6.6in OLED frontal display, is 11mm thick when folded, is a fully fledged 5G smartphone, and the Kirin 980-powered device comes with a beast of a 4,500mAh battery.

When folded, it is a dual-screen smartphone that allows you to shoot selfies with the rear main camera, which boasts a three-camera cluster co-engineered with Leica. Opened up, it turns into an 8in tablet with virtually no bezels.

Unveiling the device, Huawei consumer business group CEO Richard Yu said that the Mate X will be capable of broadband speeds of 7.5Gbps, “double the speed of the 5G industry standard”.

With a steep price tag of €2,299, the device will be released in the middle of this year.

As a side note, Huawei is getting ready to reveal its new flagship consumer device, the P30, in the next few weeks and I can’t help but wonder if features such as the three-camera cluster on the Mate 20 Pro or the pinhole in-screen camera in the Honor V20 series will find their way into the P30. Only Huawei knows.

Samsung Galaxy Fold

Picture of Samsung's foldable phone Galaxy Fold with a green and blue butterfly on the screen.

Image: Samsung

Traditionally, Samsung holds its Unpacked event on the Sunday before Mobile World Congress begins, but this year it did the big reveal of its new devices at an event in San Francisco instead.

The big reveal was obviously the Galaxy Fold, Samsung’s foldable rival to the Huawei Mate X.

It remains to be seen how well it will do. Although it will be about $300 or so cheaper than the Huawei rival, it compares unfavourably with the Mate X in terms of front screen (just 4.6in), and when unfolded it is just 7.3in compared with the Mate X.

Another minus is the sheer size of the bezel on the front of the device.

Samsung Galaxy S10

The new Samsung Galaxy S10+ smarpthone with lovely lilac and pink clouds on display.

Image: Samsung

While foldable phones will just be a gimmick for most people, at least in the early stages, they are likely to be the future as mechanical hinge technology improves.

In the meantime, Samsung redeemed itself with the absolutely beautiful and stunning Galaxy S10 and S10 Plus.

These devices, 6.1in and 6.4in respectively, have a lot of firepower in terms of octa-core chipsets, 8GB of RAM, and storage options of 128GB and 512GB, as well as a monster 1TB in the case of the Plus model.

The S10 has a pinhole camera on the front of the display and a nice linear three-camera cluster at the back while the S10 Plus has a double-camera set-up inside the screen on the front and a three-camera cluster at the back.

The devices come with this new ‘ultrasonic’ fingerprint sensor, which does not require the screen to be lit up in order to read your fingerprint.

The real winner is the display on the devices, notably the S10 Plus model. The screen-to-window ratio on the S10 Plus is 93.1pc, which is very impressive.

Samsung also overhauled the user interface on the new devices to make the app icons bigger and a little more cartoonish, which takes a bit of getting used to. Despite that, the S10 and S10 Plus could be the smartphones that dominate 2019.

Nokia 9 PureView

Woman in red jumper takes picture of plants using the new Nokia 9 Pureview with five cameras.

Image: Nokia

I have a lot of affection for the good old Nokia brand and was really impressed by what HMD Global has done in the last year, particularly with the Nokia 6 Android phone as well as the return of the 3310.

However, I was delighted to see what Nokia conjured up in the shape of the Nokia 9 PureView, a novel new device that boasts not two, not three, but five – yes, five – cameras at the back.

Why five cameras? Yes, at first it seems excessive but, as it was explained to us, the five cameras have a kind of purpose. The cameras work in harmony to take a shot but then the AI in the phone takes over and uses the best pixels from each of the five shots to conjure up the best results. Magic!

Something tells me that if Nokia keeps this up, it will once again be a brand to be reckoned with.

Sony Xperia 1

Two Sony Xperia 1 phones standing side by side with ribbons of light on the front screen.

Image: Sony

While I am a bit leery of 4K, Japanese electronics giant Sony appears to be using its AV heritage and putting all of its efforts into bringing 4K to mobile.

The new flagship Xperia 1 is being tipped for creative types and comes with what Sony claims is the world’s first 4K OLED 6.5in screen with 21:9 CinemaWide display.

It packs a serious amount of firepower that again draws back on Sony’s cinematic and TV heritage.

A triple-lens camera array can engage in burst shooting at up to 10 frames per second and the device can support precision focus and exposure.

It would be the ideal complement to anyone that has a 4K TV. But I still don’t know anyone who owns one yet. Either way, it is good to see Sony herald back to its legacy to reveal an elegant and powerful new design.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years