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Best of MWC 2023 Awards: The coolest gadgets from Barcelona
While I wasn't there in-person, I sifted through the best that Mobile World Congress had to offer this year.
Another Mobile World Congress has come and gone. This year had the largest attendance in four years since COVID-19 caused the show to shrink significantly, even being outright canceled in 2020. Thankfully, it made a huge return, with the show operating in full capacity with thousands of exhibitors anxious to show off their latest mobile technologies to journalists, industry peers, and enthusiasts alike.
I wasn’t in Barcelona to cover the show in person, but I’ve sifted through all of the biggest announcements, demos, and concepts that were on the show floor to highlight the best of the best.
Without further ado, here are this year’s Best of MWC award winners!
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Honor Magic5 Pro
Honor had a big MWC with the unveiling of its latest flagship, the Magic5 Pro, which boasts an impressive spec sheet and a beautiful design.
There’s a big 6.81-inch OLED display on the front which Honor says is the best display that DxOMark has ever rated. It’s also 120Hz, can get up to 1,800 nits bright, and comes with special settings to improve sleep by lowering blue light emissions. Under the hood, you’ll find a Snapdragon 8 Gen 2, 12GB of RAM, 512GB of UFS 4.0 storage, and a big 5,100mAh battery.
On the back sits the “Star Wheel”, also known as the camera housing. There’s a triple lens setup here: a 50MP main, a 50MP ultra-wide, and a 50MP 3.5x optical zoom telephoto. There’s also a pill-shaped cutout in the top left corner of the screen for the selfie shooter. The device ships with MagicOS 7.1 based on Android 13 and offers some new privacy features like “Sound Energy Spatial Control Technology,” which helps to keep phone calls private.
Overall, the phone seems like quite a beast, and it’s worthy of a spot on my roundup of the best devices from the show.
Xiaomi 13 Pro
The Xiaomi 13 Pro has been around since the end of last year, but it received its global launch at MWC and landed an award for offering a pretty killer spec sheet, including a 1-inch camera sensor and fast charging.
The rear camera setup of the 13 Pro is led by a 1-inch, 50MP Sony IMX989 main lens with a 50MP ultra-wide and a 50MP telephoto. I’ve seen a few examples of that 1-inch sensor (Andy Boxall at Digital Trends has a gallery up worth checking out), and it looks like a very capable camera with amazing depth and clarity.
The phone also ships with 120W charging, which I’ve used on the OnePlus 10T and is one of the best features on any modern smartphone. The best part of the Xiaomi 13 Pro - beyond the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2, 6.73-inch AMOLED screen with 1,900 nits of brightness, 12GB of RAM, 512GB of storage, and 4,820mAh battery - is its global availability. It’s launching in a variety of markets beyond just China, which means more people will be able to get their hands on it.
I just wish it were coming to the States.
Nokia G22 repairable phone
Nokia stood out at MWC with a range of new smartphones that all offer remarkably repairable designs. The G22, the highest-end model of the series, is getting an award because of how just unique that concept is. HMD (the company producing new Nokia phones) even partnered with iFixit to make repairs as simple as possible, with Fit Kits priced at £5 and various genuine parts being offered on iFixit’s website.
The phone also doesn’t look half bad. It has a 6.5-inch HD+ LCD display, a Unisoc T606 processor, 4GB of RAM, up to 128GB of storage, triple rear cameras, and a big 5,050mAh battery with 20W charging. Overall, it’s not too shabby for a low-end smartphone, and with two years of major software updates promised, this phone could keep kicking around if you take care of it.
Honor Magic VS
There was a lot of foldable news at MWC, yet the foldable that caught my attention the most was Honor’s Magic VS. We’ve seen this phone before, but during Mobile World Congress, Honor confirmed it would be releasing the device in global markets, which is a huge win for the foldable market at large.
The Magic VS comes with a 6.45-inch cover display and a 7.9-inch internal display with a nearly square 10.3:9 aspect ratio. The device is slightly thinner than Samsung’s Galaxy Z Fold 4 at 12.9mm versus 14.2mm, and Honor says the device can withstand up to 400,000 folds, which is double the number Samsung says its device can last.
Under the hood, you get last year’s Snapdragon 8 Gen 1, 12GB of RAM, 512GB of storage, and a 5,000mAh battery. There’s a set of three cameras on the back, a selfie camera on the internal display, and one on the cover.
Priced at €1,599 (or about $1,690), the Magic VS slightly undercuts Samsung’s Z Fold 4 which costs €1,799 ($1,799). It offers a very competitive package, and it’s bound to make some waves when it goes on sale this June.
ZTE NUBIA Pad 3D
Android tablets are a dying breed, and they have been for years. Companies keep trying to make them work, and ZTE seems to think it has the answer to the problem: 3D.
Now, is 3D content actually going to save the Android tablet market? No, but good Lord do I love a fun gadget. The tablet uses the same 3D tricks as something like a Nintendo 3DS in which it displays two slightly different images which, when blended together, create a 3D effect. It’s backed up by an array of sensors at the top that track your head to make the effect seem more lifelike, and the results - from what I’ve heard - are pretty impressive.
Huawei Watch Buds
I got a text from a friend who attended MWC, showing off the Huawei Watch Buds which I was unaware were making an appearance at the show. The first thought in my mind? “Yeah, these are getting an award.”
Originally debuting in December of last year, Huawei’s Watch Buds is a typical smartwatch with a 1.43-inch AMOLED screen, a stainless steel body, and a leather band. Press a button, however, and the entire display pops up to unveil a set of earbuds living inside the casing. The buds are a bit smaller than normal, but there’s no doubt that it’s one of the most convenient ways to carry around your headphones.
Like Nubia’s 3D tablet, I love a weird gadget, and the Watch Buds definitely qualify as weird.
Best New Technology
Motorola Defy Satellite Link
Satellite connectivity was popularized by Apple with the iPhone 14 series and its Emergency SOS via Satellite feature. More phones will get similar functionality in the future thanks to Google working on Android implementation, but before that happens, Motorola wants to provide the same level of service with a standalone gadget called the Defy Satellite Link.
It’s a Bluetooth device that connects to both iOS and Android phones, allowing you to communicate via text message and share your location in the event of an emergency over satellite. You have to buy the device itself which is $99, then subscribe to a $4.99/month service plan, but it could come in handy if you’re regularly in situations where cell service is weak.
Qualcomm wants to take the idea of electronic SIM cards a step further with what it calls the iSIM. Announced at MWC, the iSIM essentially takes an eSIM and integrates it directly into the processor of your phone. Not many people realize this, but eSIMs are indeed physical SIM cards, but they’re kept inside your device and use electronic profiles to connect to your cellular service plan.
The iSIM would eliminate the need for a separate part just for cellular connectivity, saving manufacturers room for things like bigger batteries. Qualcomm says the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 is equipped to support iSIM, but devices powered by the chip like the Galaxy S23 series isn’t compatible. That being said, iSIM functionality is expected to start shipping soon, and it’s undoubtedly the future of SIM cards.
Lenovo rollable laptop
Ah, Lenovo, They’re always up to something in those labs of theirs, and the latest funky gadget they’ve cooked up is a rollable laptop.
The device looks like an ordinary, aluminum ThinkBook on the surface, but push a button and the screen grows to nearly twice the size. That gives you a ton of extra screen real estate whenever you need it, all without having to lug around a gigantic laptop.
I’m very into this idea, and I’ll be curious to see where it goes from here. Of course, the next time I meet with Lenovo’s PR people, I’ll be sure to ask what their plans are for bringing something like this to market.
Motorola RIZR rollable phone
Lenovo’s smartphone company, Motorola, also had a rolling device on display at MWC: a rebooted RIZR, complete with a growing screen.
The device is chunky, made of plastic, and looks like a concept, but it’s actually pretty cool. The 5-inch display can extend to 6.5-inches with a 22:9 aspect ratio, which solves the same problem foldables have solved: wanting a big screen but not willing to carry around a large phone. The screen physically wraps around to the opposite side and can be used when placed face-down for quick access to notifications, widgets, and more.
It’s a very neat concept, although I’m not sure if something like this could ever ship. Still, it’s by far one of the coolest things on display at MWC, so it’s taking one of my Best Concepts awards.
OnePlus 11 Concept
OnePlus is also getting a Best concept award for its concept phone, the OnePlus 11 Concept. (How many times can I say “concept?” Seriously?)
The device is basically a OnePlus 11 through and through, but it uses the company’s new Active CryoFlux cooling system to ensure optimal operating temperatures are kept. According to OnePlus, the system uses an “industrial-grade piezoelectric ceramic micropump” to keep liquid running through the tubes on the back and around the camera, resulting in a cooler overall smartphone as well as improved framerates in games and recharge times.
This definitely feels like a feature OnePlus would eventually include in a consumer-grade smartphone, but it hasn’t said yet when it might ship. For now, it’s just a concept, but at least it looks sick as hell.