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After years of recovering from the pandemic, it's safe to say that Mobile World Congress (MWC) is back.
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And this year, we're seeing more manufacturers than ever pushing the envelope in smartphone innovation. In some cases, we're looking at final products that will arrive in global markets very soon. Then, there are concepts; advanced constructs that simply give us a glimpse of the future, but are never not intriguing to go hands-on with.
Despite all the new smartphones, tablets, and gizmos announced, one MWC theme remains: the lack of US releases. The US mobile industry continues to be one of the toughest, if not the toughest, markets to crack, with the likes of Apple and Samsung dominating the charts.
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That doesn't devalue the products unveiled in Barcelona by any means; they're still contributions to industry shifts that may affect the next iPhone, Samsung Galaxy, or Google Pixel phone you buy. That's why we've listed the most exciting smartphones announced so far at MWC below, including foldables, rollables, and, yes, concepts.
OnePlus is no stranger to showcasing concept phones, but the latest OnePlus 11 Concept might just be the most practical and realistic one we've seen yet. As speculated by early teasers, the company's MWC release features an Active CryoFlux cooling system, geared for heat dissipation and enhanced gaming performance.
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The glowing blue cooling pipes (pictured above) are housed between the external, transparent back cover and the internal components that power the phone, including the Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 chipset. Together, OnePlus says the concept phone can reduce framerate loss (three to four frames per second) and up to 35.8 degrees Fahrenheit of temperature when gaming.
The Active CryoFlux system also keeps the phone from overheating when charging, with an increased charging speed of 30 to 45 seconds, for what that's worth. Considering the OnePlus 11, which this concept is built on, supports up to 100W fast charging, the improved heat reduction is a nice benefit.
While foldable devices have received all the limelight these past years, rollables have mostly been forgotten. Manufacturers typically showcase them in the form of a phone, laptop, or TV at an annual trade show, whether it's CES or MWC, but then the concepts are slowly buried by news of market-ready products.
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Still, there's a charm in a rolling display that the more forceful foldable can't seem to replicate. The ability to extend or shrink a display with a press of a button feels truly futuristic, and the spectacle of it is just as pleasing.
That's the story with this MWC's Motorola rollable phone concept. That's the actual name of the product, though the device also has the familiar Rizr branding on the back, so you're not wrong if you call this the Motorola Rizr (2023).
Motorola didn't reveal much in terms of the specifications of the device, but the idea is rather clear-cut: the squarish display can expand to a taller 16:9 aspect ratio with the press of a side-mounted button, providing a more practical media-watching experience and real estate when scrolling through text. When not in use, the longer end of the screen rolls to the bottom of the phone and onto the back, doubling as a viewfinder when taking selfies with the rear cameras.
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Being just that, a concept, we don't expect the rollable phone to hit the market any time soon. However, it's certainly promising to see how much thought Motorola has put into its MWC demo, and I wouldn't be surprised if some of its core tech is passed along to a future release.
Chinese phone maker Xiaomi set the tone early at MWC, announcing the global launch of the Xiaomi 13 and 13 Pro, both of which field triple camera arrays co-engineered with Leica, large batteries at 4,500mAh and 4,820mAh respectively, and the latest Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 chipset. Naturally, much of the company's keynote was focused on the Pro model and its one-inch-type camera sensor.
This isn't the first time Xiaomi has put a larger sensor in a smartphone; it did just that with last year's Xiaomi 12S Ultra and 12S Ultra Concept. While a "one-inch sensor" isn't exactly one-inch-sized -- there's a whole story explaining the origins of the term -- it's certainly larger than the typical camera found in a smartphone and lends itself to two major advantages: light capture and a shallower depth of field.
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With a larger sensor, the Xiaomi 13 Pro can capture more light and therefore produce greater detail in both bright and dimmer environments than the average handset. Most users will find more creative fun, however, in capturing portrait photos from the main and telephoto lenses. Thanks to the one-inch sensor, the 13 Pro produces an enhanced, natural bokeh even when you get closer to a subject, much like a portable camera. On a typical smartphone, you'd have to be at a certain distance from a subject to achieve that same dreamy, blurred background effect.
Samsung continues to own the global foldable phone segment, but companies like Honor (previously owned by Huawei) are starting to make moves that may chip away at the Korean giant's market share. It was announced at MWC that Honor's latest foldable, the Magic Vs, will be arriving in select markets starting in Q2 this year, an expansion that enthusiasts have been waiting for after the company first unveiled the device in China back in December 2022.
Much like Samsung's Galaxy Z Fold 4, which ZDNET reviewed and deemed "Best foldable phone overall", the Honor Magic Vs is a book-cover-style foldable, meaning it expands from a smaller 6.45-inch display into a larger 7.9-inch tablet. While both of those screen dimensions are larger than Samsung's, they're noticeably thinner and have a gapless enclosure when collapsed together. This form factor does a better job of preventing dust and debris from falling into the internal screen and potentially damaging it.
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Lastly, Honor says that the Magic Vs can withstand 400,000 folds before there is any noticeable deterioration to the display hinge's structural integrity. For reference, that's double that of the Galaxy Z Fold 4's 200,000-fold rating.
ZDNET got a first look at Oppo's previous foldable, the Find N2, back in January and listed several features that Samsung should take note of. With the newly-announced Find N2 Flip, it's clear that Oppo is once again challenging the industry's best. This time, the Find N2 Flip goes head-to-head with Samsung's Galaxy Z Flip 4, a clamshell foldable that has proven to be the most popular of its kind.
The biggest difference between the two is in the outer screen, the display that both manufacturers designed for quick actions, one-handed toggles, and adaptive viewing capabilities. With the Find N2 Flip, Oppo has embedded a larger 3.26-inch display (versus the Z Flip 4's 1.9-inch) that ultimately provides greater real estate when interacting with the phone. It's also a better viewfinder when taking group pictures (shown above).
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A common complaint with Samsung's foldables is the presence of the crease -- that jarring, textural interference that's formed by the folding of the glass display. Oppo says it's solved this issue on the Find N2 Flip with its Flexion Hinge, a system that allows the internal display to fold at a more rounded angle, creating a teardrop bend at the center that greatly reduces the formation of a crease.