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6 things to expect from Mobile World Congress in Barcelona

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The world’s biggest mobile technology event is upon us. This coming week’s Mobile World Congress is the alter ego of January’s Consumer Electronics Show. Where CES is full of far-out concepts, increasingly autonomous cars, and furnishings for the smart home, MWC is unapologetically fixated on mobile and phone tech. Hosted in Barcelona every year, MWC plays host to some of the biggest Android flagship launches, and this year’s no different with Samsung preparing to unveil its new Galaxy S9.

Before we dive into the river of leaks that’s already preceded this year’s MWC, it’s worth noting the big highlight moments to look forward to:

  • Sunday, 8AM ET / 2PM Barcelona: Huawei press conference.
  • Sunday, 10AM ET / 4PM Barcelona: Nokia press conference.
  • Sunday, 12PM ET / 6PM Barcelona: Samsung Galaxy Unpacked 2018.
  • Monday, 2:15AM ET / 8:15AM Barcelona: Sony press conference.
  • Tuesday, 1:30PM ET / 7:30PM Barcelona: Asus press conference.

If you’re keen on knowing exactly what each of these big companies has to announce during MWC, stay tuned to The Verge during those times and we’ll bring you the very latest as it happens. But let’s get into the stuff that we already know (or we think we know).

Samsung’s answer to the iPhone X

The Galaxy S9 is the latest in a long line of Samsung flagship phones to launch at Mobile World Congress. Over the years, Nokia, HTC, Sony, and LG have all competed with Samsung for the spotlight, but this year all the leaks, hype, and interest have been soaked up by the next pair of Galaxy devices.

The anticipated Galaxy S9 and Galaxy S9 Plus will be Samsung’s first direct response to Apple’s iPhone X, though they appear to be evolutionary rather than radical upgrades. Leaked images show a slim bezel design that’s hard to distinguish from the Galaxy S8, though the fingerprint sensor on the back has shifted to a central position and the new camera system is expected to have a dual-aperture setup, unique among smartphones.

Samsung Galaxy S9 on DeX Pad

Samsung Galaxy S9 on DeX Pad

Spec-wise, the S9 is expected to look pretty similar to the S8. Like last year, Samsung is selling two models: a 5.8-inch Galaxy S9 and a 6.2-inch Galaxy S9 Plus. Both phones will feature the same Super AMOLED displays at 2960 x 1440 in the same 18.5:9 aspect ratio, and will continue to be rated at IP68 for water and dust resistance and feature a front-facing iris scanner. Also like last year, the S9 is expected to ship with a 3,000mAh, non-removable battery, while the S9 Plus will have a larger 3,500mAh one.

One of the trends that will likely dominate this year’s MWC is the abandonment of the analog headphone jack, but Samsung looks to be resolutely sticking with it in the Galaxy S9. A new DeX Pad accessory has also leaked out, suggesting Samsung is going to build on its DeX system for having the phone act as a PC when connected to a monitor.

The most recent leak even divulges the anticipated S9 pricing: €997 for the Galaxy S9 Plus and €841 for the Galaxy S9.

Sony prepares to ditch the bezels

Every MWC, it seems, Sony flatters to deceive. The Japanese stalwart tries to have big and bold pronouncements for the show, but its schedule of refreshing its flagship model every six months tends to leave us underwhelmed by incremental changes. For this year, indications are that we’ll see an Xperia XZ2 and XZ2 Compact, direct successors to the Xperia XZ1 and XZ1 Compact that were launched half a year ago. The most exciting thing about them might be the indication that Sony’s moving to an 18:9 screen ratio and ditching its enormous bezels.

The Xperia XZ2 is expected to have a 5.8-inch display while the Xperia XZ2 Compact is said to have a 5-inch 1080p screen. The latter would be one of the few smaller (relatively speaking) phones with a Full HD display. Both will have curved backs, according to a comprehensive leak over at Swedroid, which will see the fingerprint reader move from the power button to the rear. The headphone jack is, however, one of the reported victims of Sony’s latest redesign.

In Sweden, the Sony Xperia XZ2 is said to be priced at SEK 7990 (roughly $980) and the smaller Xperia XZ2 would cost SEK 5990 kroner ($740-ish). The release date indicated by Swedroid is March 6th.

Huawei, HTC, LG, and Motorola dodge the Galaxy juggernaut

LG V30

LG V30

Four of the biggest global mobile brands won’t be bringing major new flagship devices to MWC. Huawei has booked an event in late March for its next top-tier phone, HTC will spend MWC talking about its VR efforts, Motorola doesn’t release flagships in February, and LG might not be ready with its next big release until June. Motorola is likely to repeat its MWC 2017 performance by fleshing out its mid-range Moto G series.

Whether these companies want to go toe-to-toe with Samsung or not, it does seem like their development cycles are simply out of sync with MWC’s timing. Last year, there was word that Samsung was able to secure exclusive access to Qualcomm’s earliest batch of Snapdragon 835 processors, which allowed it to bring the Galaxy S8 to market earlier than competitors. It’s reasonable to suspect that a similar dynamic might be at play with respect to this year’s followup Snapdragon 845 chipset.

LG will likely have the most compelling device on show with a gentle update to its V30 handset. The company has teased a new AI camera feature for what’s expected to be called the LG V30s and retain the same look and design as the existing model.

Nokia brand revival ramps up

HMD surprised us at Mobile World Congress 2017 with a modern version of the Nokia 3310. That simple classic stole the show away from a trio of Android-powered handsets from the same company, thanks to the strong bond of Nokia nostalgia. A year has passed and sales of Nokia-branded Android devices seem to be slowly ramping up, but we’re still waiting for a true flagship handset that can compete with a Samsung Galaxy S9 or Google’s Pixel 2.

That might come in the form of the Nokia 8 Sirocco this year. It’s rumored to be a new handset, based on the Nokia 8, with a 5.5-inch OLED display with curved sides and the Sirocco branding that was first used by Nokia back in 2006. Leaked images show a rear fingerprint reader and a dual camera, but no 3.5mm headphone jack. Beside this new release, which may or may not come at MWC, there’s strong indication that Nokia will introduce a Nokia 7 Plus Android One device and an entry-level Nokia 1 phone, fleshing out the full range of its Android portfolio. And you never know, maybe there’ll be another throwback device like the 3310!

The iPhone X notch lookalikes

Asus is one of the big electronics companies that will be hoping to make more of an impression at this year’s MWC than it usually does. But the device it’s rumored to be doing it with, the anticipated ZenFone 5, will feature a signature aspect of another company’s device: Apple’s iPhone X notch. Leaked images depict an unmistakable similarity between Asus’ new phone and Apple’s current flagship, with both sporting an edge-to-edge display and a trapezoid notch at the top housing the earpiece, front-facing camera, and sensors. Leaks of the rear of the ZenFone 5 also show it using a dual-camera system arranged exactly like the iPhone’s. A more conventional ZenFone 5 Lite has also been suggested by additional pre-MWC leaks.

As usual for MWC, the iPhone’s design influence will be felt throughout the Fira exhibition halls, even without Apple’s official presence at the show. The particular notch design of the iPhone X can hardly be described as beautiful, but it’s already been aped by numerous companies — Croatia’s Noa Mobile, for instance, has pre-announced the iPhone X clone that it’s bringing to Barcelona — and that tendency will only grow during the course of MWC 2018 and the rest of the year. It may seem cynical, but Android manufacturers are simply responding to user demand for a smartphone that looks like an iPhone X without costing as much as one.

The headphone jack massacre

Huawei P10, LG G6, and Sony Xperia XZ Premium at MWC 2017

Huawei P10, LG G6, and Sony Xperia XZ Premium at MWC 2017

Yes, Samsung’s new Galaxy S9 and LG’s V30 refresh are both close to certain to retain the headphone jack. But what about everyone else? Sony, which figured in my optimistic article from last year declaring the headphone jack still alive, is set to abandon it in 2018. Huawei already dropped the jack from its Mate 10 Pro last year, joining Google, HTC, Motorola, and an increasingly broad array of others. Whether we like it or not, the analog audio jack is now considered very much optional by smartphone makers, with many moving aggressively to make it superfluous.

MWC 2018 will be yet another massive show with a great many new smartphones from a wide diversity of companies. But if you insist on having a standard headphone jack on your next device, this is likely to be the smallest show for many years. The future of portable audio is wireless, everyone’s in agreement now, and phone companies are rushing headlong into it, whether we’re ready or not.

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