Every year in late February, Barcelona becomes the epicenter of the mobile industry. The Mobile World Congress, the largest show in the world dedicated to mobile technology, has been held here since 2007, turning this beautiful city on the Spanish coast of the Mediterranean into a mecca for tech enthusiasts, bloggers, journalists, and industry insiders.
In recent years, big tech companies have moved towards hosting their own events, where they can launch new flagships on their own terms and, more importantly, where they don’t have to share the spotlight with any pesky competitor. This year Samsung is bucking that trend with the MWC announcement of the Galaxy S5, while several other interesting devices from the likes of Sony, LG, and – oh my – Nokia, promise to make an appearance at the show. And there’s the stuff we can’t anticipate, which may be just as exciting.
We already know a good deal of what to expect at MWC 2014, and here’s where we bring it altogether. Let’s look at the biggest news we expect to come out of Barcelona starting February 24.
A Galaxy, not so far away
Samsung has made it obvious that it’s going to unveil its latest Galaxy on February 24, the opening day of MWC, at an Unpacked event that’s said to be far less extravagant then last year’s Broadway spectacle. Samsung is going to dial down a notch the launch event, but that doesn’t mean the star of the night will be lackluster. On the contrary, the info we gathered so far suggests the Galaxy S5 will be a momentous release for Samsung, a quasi-reboot of the series that contributed so much to Android’s rise to the top.
Samsung promised a “back to basics” rethinking of the Galaxy S, on the outside and the inside. In the specs department, we expect nothing short of the best from Samsung, though, as usual, even that may not fully satisfy those who live and breathe technology rumors. There’s talk about metal finally gracing Samsung’s top phone, but even if that turns out to be a pipe dream, it’s safe to say that glossy plastic is out of the question.
The transformation of TouchWiz
Leaks show that Samsung is also making over TouchWiz, the feature-heavy overlay that many deride as the digital equivalent of the glossy plastic covering the Galaxy S4. Gloss is out, flat is in, and overall, TouchWiz should receive an update that would bring it in line with current trends in UI design. Expect basic colors, no shadows, round icons, and modern typography. It remains to be seen if Samsung will be able to bring it all together and make the new TouchWiz (or whatever it will be called) cohesive in a way that old TouchWiz never was.
The revamped overlay will also trickle out down Samsung’s product roster, so it’s going to be a big change for users, the company, and, because Samsung is a role model for many smaller OEMs, for the industry as a whole.
A sleeker Gear
Galaxy Gear is many things, but it’s not affordable and it’s not a pleasure to use, at least for most users. Samsung wants to address both of these shortcomings with a new generation of the smartwatch, that will launch alongside the Galaxy S5 on February 24.
What can smartwatch fans expect from Gear 2, and is there any reason to be excited over it? Samsung acknowledged that the original was too bulky, so a slimmer, lighter design is guaranteed. Other glaring flaws that Samsung will probably try to fix are the clunky performance and battery life. The Gear 2 probably won’t have many new features, and overall it should feel like a refinement of the previous generation.
The Gear 2 is likely to be cheaper, which may increase its appeal the most. Samsung has already cut down the price of the Gear in several markets by more than $100, and we think the Gear 2 will be priced around $200 or less.
Nokia’s Android swansong
One of the last big projects that Nokia started before its board agreed to the Microsoft deal is about to come to fruition. Codenamed Normandy, Nokia’s first and possibly last Android device will probably launch on the morning of February 24. We say probably because Nokia is keeping mum about it, but the Wall Street Journal all but confirmed that the Normandy will debut at MWC, and Nokia has an event scheduled on that day at 8:30 AM.
Hardware wise, don’t expect anything spectacular from the Nokia X (Normandy’s commercial name). Yes, the device will probably be imbued with Nokia’s legendary hardware prowess, but it’s an entry-level phone that we’re talking about here. That means Nokia 520-like features, and we can’t wait to see if Nokia managed to optimize Android so the experience ultimately transcends the modest spec sheet.
What really matters though is the software. Nokia forked Android to make it look like Windows Phone and put its own and Microsoft services at its core. That means no Play Store access, and therefore no access to the core reason to adopt Android these days, Google’s suite of apps and services. Risky gamble.
LG: we’ll all act surprised
For reasons we don’t fully understand, LG sometimes reveals details about its devices ahead of their official worldwide launches. That’s what happened with the G Pro 2, the oversized Note 3 competitor that LG announced in Korea a mere ten days before the opening of MWC. On one side, it’s good that LG doesn’t try to build hype by any means, but on the other, we kinda wished they made it a surprise.
Even though it won’t be a surprise, MWC will be the first opportunity for the world press to see the G Pro 2 live, so expect a healthy dose of hands-on vids and comparisons. We’re keen to learn more about this mammoth of a phone and its unique features, such as the Smart Knock unlock that lets you wake up the device with specific tap patterns.
We’re also looking forward to LG’s new L Series III of budget smartphones, combining decent specs with affordable prices and a nice design. Deep down, we hope for some real surprises from LG at this year’s MWC, and, who knows, they might actually deliver.
Sony’s new star
Sony’s on a roll. In fact, some say Sony should slow down a bit, and, considering that the Japanese company introduced its new flagship just six months ago, we tend to agree. On the other hand, we can’t say no to a sexy new device, and the long rumored Sirius shapes up to be just that.
Rumors tell the story of a slightly redesigned Xperia Z smartphone, bringing a few souped up internal components, but also a massively updated Android 4.4 KitKat implementation. Among the new features are 4K video recording, adjustable white balance, glove mode, notification customization options, double tap to wake the screen, Timeshift video and much more. And that’s besides the retouches that Sony is thought to be giving to the Sirius’ UI to bring it in line with KitKat.
Sony has a press event scheduled for Monday morning on the first day of MWC, but we don’t know yet what we’ll see. There’s a chance Sony will forego the Sirius and just launch the Xperia Tablet Z2. Sony’s ultra-slim 10-inch tablet is due for a refresh, and with its one-year anniversary, now it’s the perfect occasion for a high-profile debut.
And all the others
More companies will want to take advantage of the exposure offered by the world’s largest mobile-centric tradeshow and the presence of media from Europe and beyond.
HTC does not have a big event planned for the show, but leaks suggest the company will introduce the Desire 8 next week. Even if the company goes for something as simple as a press release, we’ll probably still have a chance to enjoy some time with the Desire 8, which shapes up to be quite appealing.
Huawei has been teasing something juicy for MWC, possibly new smartphones and tablets. Lenovo will probably want to profit from the attention that the Motorola purchase brought it, though we don’t expect anything spectacular from Moto’s press event at the show. French company Archos could profit from the (almost) home court advantage to introduce some more cheap Android devices. Asus released a bunch of phones at CES, so maybe we’ll see some new tablets at MWC? Alcatel, Meizu, and other ambitious small players will also vie for our attention.
And there’s the vast and bustling field of wearables. CES abounded in smartwatches and we expect no less from MWC. We’ll try to check out all the weird and wonderful stuff coming out of the show this year, that’s for sure.
Android Authority at MWC 2014
This year, Android Authority will be represented at Mobile World Congress by Darcy LaCouvee, Joshua Vergara, and yours truly Bogdan Petrovan. We have a busy schedule ahead and we secured one on one time with many of the biggest players strutting their stuff at MWC this year. It all begins on Sunday, when we have some pre-show meetings, Huawei’s press conference in the afternoon, and, in the evening, Showstoppers, a meet and greet event that brings together companies and tech media.
On Monday morning, we have Nokia’s event where we hope to see the Android-powered X, Sony’s Sirius/Tablet Z2 event, and in the evening, Samsung’s Unpacked, probably the highlight of the show. Things will cool down a bit from Tuesday, but we still have some interesting appointments set up, including with people from ARM, Imagination Technologies, and Lenovo. After that, it’s roaming the floors of Fira Gran Via in search of the cool stuff.
As usual, expect round the clock coverage, some great videos of all the new devices, and our own personal impressions. This year, we’re also giving out Android Authority awards to worthy products and companies, so keep an eye out for that. All in all, MWC 2014 shapes up to be a great show, don’t you think? Anything in particular you’re looking forward to?