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5G phones at MWC: Hurry up and wait
Fresh 5G phones were plentiful at Mobile World Congress 2019, yet few are ready for the real-world. Entries from the likes of LG, HUAWEI, OnePlus, and ZTE show promise as long as there are networks on which to use them. At the moment that’s not the case. Moreover, news from carriers at the Barcelona trade show was a mixed bag.
If 5G is to take off with consumers in 2019 at all, both the phones and the networks have to be ready more or less at the same time. We’re not quite there yet.
5G phones take form
At least five major companies showed off 5G phones at MWC 2019. If there’s one common characteristic among them it’s that they’re all sizeable. Slate or foldable, the initial crop of 5G phones will be a handful. Here’s a quick rundown of the lot:
HUAWEI Mate X
The HUAWEI Mate X is notable for several reasons: It’s HUAWEI’s first 5G phone, and it’s HUAWEI’s first foldable phone. The Mate X has a 4.6-inch screen on one side and a 6.6-inch screen on the other. It unfolds to create a larger 8-inch screen. It packs HUAWEI’s Kirin 980 processor with 8GB of RAM, 512GB of storage, and a 4,500mAh. The price? An eye-watering $2,600. It will be available “mid-year” in an unknown number of markets. Don’t be surprised if it is never sold outside of HUAWEI’s home market of China.
LG V50 ThinQ 5G
LG is charging into the next-gen arena with the V50 ThinQ 5G. The phone has a 6.4-inch screen and is powered by the new Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 processor from Qualcomm with 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. A 4,000mAh battery should give it enough juice to get through a day. It sports 3D facial recognition and Hand ID along with hand-based gestures. This phone may be the first to actually reach the market. Sprint has said it plans to launch its mobile 5G network in May and this will be the phone to go with it. There’s no word on pricing yet.
Samsung Galaxy Fold
Samsung’s Galaxy Fold was revealed days before MWC, but made its public debut at the show. A 4.6-inch display adorns the front and when the phone is fully opened owners can take advantage of a 7.3-inch screen. It banks on the Snapdragon 855 with a huge 12GB of RAM and 512GB of storage. A pair of batteries combine to give the phone 4,380mAh of power. Like the Mate X, the Galaxy Fold is expensive, costing a bank-breaking $1,980. The 5G-capable Galaxy Fold goes on sale April 26, though Samsung hasn’t said where just yet.
Samsung Galaxy S10 5G
The Fold isn’t the only 5G phone from Samsung. The company announced a 5G variant of the Galaxy S10 that will run on next-gen networks. The phone has a 6.7-inch screen, Snapdragon 855 SoC, 8GB of RAM, 256GB of storage, and a 4,500mAh battery. It will be exclusive to Verizon, debuting in the first half of 2019. Other major U.S. networks will then carry the phone from “this summer.” Samsung hasn’t revealed pricing, but given the $1,000+ price of other S10 variants don’t expect it to be cheap.
Xiaomi 5G Mi Mix 3
Xiaomi decided to improve its Mi Mix 3 phone, which was released last year. The 5G Mi Mix 3 has a 6.4-inch screen, Snapdragon 855 processor, 6GB of RAM 64/128GB of storage, and a 3,800mAh battery. Xiaomi’s 5G phone is the least expensive of the bunch at $680. Xiaomi says the phone will launch in May on a handful of European carriers — if the networks are ready.
ZTE Axon 10 Pro 5G
ZTE showed off its own hardware in the Axon 10 Pro 5G. Its 6.7-inch screen is limited to Full HD, but the phone ships with (you guessed it) the Snapdragon 855 with 6GB of RAM, 128GB of storage, and a 4,000mAh battery. ZTE has not listed the price, but insists the phone will launch in China and Europe later this year. There’s little likelihood it will be sold in the U.S.
5G networks are almost nowhere
In the U.S., mobile 5G service is still basically nonexistent. All four of the major carriers have been talking a big game over the course of the last year but none of them have truly delivered.
Verizon offers non-standard, fixed 5G service to four neighborhoods in California. This is basically an in-home broadband replacement. It says it will debut its 5G Ultra Wideband Network in more than 30 U.S. cities during the first half of the year. That gives Verizon until June 30 to meet its self-imposed deadline.
AT&T is the only U.S. carrier that can claim to offer mobile 5G service, though there’s no data suggesting that anyone is using it. AT&Ts 5G is in a small bunch of towns and is only accessible via a $400 mobile hotspot. AT&T says the Galaxy S10 5G will be its first 5G phone and that it will arrive in the first half of the year. A second phone (probably the LG V50 ThinQ 5G) will reach the market in the second half. The number of cities on deck for AT&T 5G is confirmed at nine.
T-Mobile U.S. said it will launch its 5G network when the phones are ready. Whether that’s in the first half or the second half of the year, so be it. T-Mobile CEO John Legere has been relentless in teasing the competition for what he says are pathetic plans for 5G. With the phones still in the wings, Legere’s claims look less lofty.
MWC may be a mecca of 5G news, but we’ve got some time to kill before it starts to become a reality.