If you’re looking for the best new phone of 2016, a good place to start is always with the batch of smartphones that inevitably launches at Mobile World Congress (MWC) each year. And 2016’s MWC certainly didn’t disappoint! For instance, this year LG launched what looks like it’s best phone ever — and what could shape up to be THE best Android phone of the year (we’ll see, but it will certainly be hard to top in terms of what it can do). Samsung also updated it’s flagship Galaxy lineup, Alcatel threw down the gauntlet in terms of phone packaging (wait until you see what they did) and Sony debuted some really interesting camera upgrades for their Xperia X lineup. Of course, there were a few potential flops, but we won’t mention any of those here.
Mobile World Congress is also an event that tends to set the pace for where all non-Apple phones are headed in the coming months and this year is no different. Several trends are already becoming apparent. A couple I’ve noticed: always on screens and phones with exclusive accessories (ranging from cameras to robots to smart ear pieces).
Here’s a glimpse at the best, coolest and most interesting new phones of 2016 which just launched at MWC. But first, check out the best selling smartphones on Amazon right now for comparison.
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The LG G5 is the first phone in a long time to actually think outside the typical box which easily makes it the coolest phone launched at MWC 2016. The big innovation with the G5: “Friends” or modular extras which let you expand and tailor the capabilities of the phone. Basically, the bottom of the phone slides out (along with the battery pack) and lets you slide in a new module. Apparently, the G5 boots up in just a few seconds making switching modules less painful than it might sound.
First off, there’s a camera grip module which makes taking pictures easier (or at least more comfortable) and also adds additional battery life. It’s called the LG Cam Plus and I have to say this is potentially a really nice feature but I can’t imagine carrying this around in my pocket (would it even fit?). Additional modules include a 360 cam dubbed the LG 360 Cam, a sleeker VR headset which plugs into the phone via a cable rather than using the phone as an actual screen (sleeker compared to the Oculus Rift, for instance) and a hifi audio module called the Hifi Plus which features B&O guts for improved sound.
One of the most interesting Friends is the Sphero-like Rolling Bot which is a small white spheroid robot that you can control with the G5. It’s essentially a moving security cam — like if the Nest Cam had wheels. I, like a lot of people, use my security camera (currently a Canary) to monitor pet activity while I’m away, but being able to roam the house remotely would make that a lot more useful (and fun).
But the LG G5 has a couple other noteworthy features aside from it’s Friends. For starters, it’s got an always on display that lets you see notifications at a glance without waking the display. There’s also a wide angle camera which optionally lets you capture more of a scene (with a tap — it doesn’t appear to be the default camera mode) and a pair of wireless earphones called the LG Tone Platinum.
LG is definitely upping the ante in the mobile space with the G5. It will be interesting to see how other smartphone makers react to the G5’s Friends. But the G5 isn’t the only new phone to launch with some accessories this year…
Samsung Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge
Samsung launched the Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge at MWC 2016 (so this section counts as two phones) and these phones very much seem like a minor update. Compared to previous Galaxy models, the S7 and S7 Edge don’t look or feel too different, but that’s not a bad thing if you’re already a fan. If these were new iPhone models, they would be the equivalent of an s (i.e. iPhone 7s), but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some interesting new features.
First off, the new Galaxy phones are water resistant with a rating of IP68. So technically these phones aren’t water proof, but they should be able to take a dip in the pool (or, more likely, the toilet) and survive. They will definitely survive spills.
As you would expect of a flagship phone, the camera on the new Galaxy models has been updated. You should be able to take photos that are less blurry and that look better in low-light thanks to the new dual-pixel technology.
Other minor updates include faster charging and a longer (larger) battery and expandable memory. It’s interesting that Samsung chose to make a slightly thicker phone in order to pack in a bit larger battery — something Apple has not been willing to do with the ever-slimming iPhone. And the expandable memory is nice as you won’t be quite as reliant on Cloud services for storing your photos and videos and also won’t be as limited in the amount of apps (especially higher-end games) you can download.
Almost more interesting than the underwhelming new phone features themselves is the new Gear 360 video camera which records 360 degree photos and videos which get processed on the Galaxy devices and can be viewed with the Gear VR virtual reality headset.
Overall the Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge are not game-changing devices, but they are still solid phones rocking the latest Android version (Marshmallow).
Alcatel Idol 4S
Alcatel has a few new phones out, the most interesting of which is the Idol 4S. Both the Idol 4 and Idol 4S are successors to last year’s Idol 3 which I thought was a very likable budget phone at a very affordable price (unlocked). The Idol 4S features a 5.5″ 1440 x 2560 AMOLED display and comes with 32GB of internal storage (which is expandable). But, more interesting than the specs is the Boom Key and the phone’s very unique (and useful) packaging.
The Boom Key, as Alcatel calls it, is a mappable button on the side of the phone that can be customized to perform various functions. At launch it doesn’t sound like the Boom Key will be able to do anything you want it to; instead, you’ll get to choose from several pre-set options. One interesting option will be taking pictures when the phone hasn’t been woken up yet. Another is the ability to boost the bass of a song. Time will tell if this is a useful feature (or not).
What I really like about the Idol 4S, though, is that it’s packaging doubles as an entry-level VR headset! So you can place your phone within the headset and use it to view 360 degree immersive photos and videos. It’s nowhere near as nice as a high-end headset like the Oculus Rift, but still, this plastic headset will give buyers a glimpse of what is possible with virtual reality.
I hope the rumors aren’t true that the Idol 4 and Idol 4S will be significantly more expensive than the bargain-priced Idol 3. If they are then I’m not sure these phones are going to have enough to differentiate them from more capable headsets. Still, I think these will be really decent phones that a person probably can’t go wrong with if they are not able to go with a top of the line flagship model like a Galaxy or Nexus device.
Sony Xperia X Performance
I’m intrigued by the Sony Xperia X Performance, Sony’s highest smartphone offering. This is a phone with a major focus on it’s cameras, so shutter bugs (I hate that term, honestly) should absolutely give it a look. Before I dive into the cameras, I want to mention the phone’s design. The Xperia X Performance has what looks like a really nice metal housing — I especially applaud the seamless back. It just looks nice without any antenna lines (ahem, iPhone).
Now about those cameras. The main camera is a 23 MP camera which opens in under .6 seconds when the phone is asleep (that’s really fast). Sony’s Predictive Hybrid Autofocus lets you select an object which the camera will then auto-track and focus on. The front camera features a 13 MP resolution and is supposed to work well in low-light situations.
The Xperia X Performance has a fingerprint reader on the side of the phone (it’s on the home button there), which is a bit different than most phones which place them on the front bottom or back middle (or back top).
Thanks to a snappy Snapdragon processor, this should be a pretty responsive phone and Sony is claiming that streaming media will happen with less stutters and buffering than on competing phones.
Like other phone makers this year, Sony is launching some interesting accessories to help boost the appeal of their lineup. Take the Xperia Ear, for instance, which is an earpiece that can read out messages, notifications, weather, news and more. It’s sort of like having Siri in your ear. Not groundbreaking, but interesting.
This is another phone I’d really love to test out. I’m intrigued by the camera technology.