Phones dominated the landscape at Mobile World Congress 2016, as Samsung, LG and others launched new flagship devices. Other products made news as well at the tech show, held in Barcelona, Spain, this week. You couldn't stroll the show floor for long without spotting someone running a virtual-reality demo, and accessories took a more prominent role as phone makers look for ways to make their devices stand out from the crowd.
We met dozens of companies during Mobile World Congress (MWC), and after taking a long, hard look at all of the new innovations, we chose these as the very best products of MWC 2016.
Best Smartphone: Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge
Samsung's latest Edge is a big deal. And we mean that literally, as its HD Super AMOLED display has grown to 5.5 inches compared to the 5.1-inch screen on the Galaxy S6 Edge. Samsung also added more screen space to the Galaxy S7 Edge compared to the S6 Edge, giving you more room for app shortcuts, news headlines and time-saving macros for frequent tasks. But the real standout feature is the S7 Edge's camera. A dual-pixel sensor — the first one in a smartphone — helps the S7 Edge focus faster than rival devices. Plus, with a wider aperture and larger pixels, you can expect much brighter pictures in low light. It looks like the iPhone 6s Plus' claim of having the best smartphone camera is in serious jeopardy.
Best Budget Smartphone: Alcatel Idol 4
We don't have official U.S. pricing for the Idol 4, but if it's anywhere near Alcatel's listed price of 259 euros (about $285), it could very well be the midrange phone to beat when it goes on sale this summer. The Idol 4 takes everything we loved about its predecessor, the Idol 3, to another level. It features a superthin glass body, a slick brushed-aluminum frame (available in four colors) and some boom to brighten up your step. The side-mounted Boom key can serve as a programmable button, pump up the bass while you're playing music or even capture photos without requiring you to ever unlock the phone. While we would have liked to see a built-in fingerprint reader, the Idol 4's combination of features and price is so nice, it just couldn't be denied.
Best Wearable: Sony Xperia Ear
Sony's discreet earpiece may look like just another Bluetooth headset, but looks can be deceiving. The Xperia Ear, which pairs with the new Xperia X phone, packs an accelerometer, a gyroscope and a proximity sensor. Those parts add considerably to the Xperia Ear's bag of tricks, as it can detect when you're about to put it on, and respond by letting you take calls, hear messages you might have missed or get the latest weather and headlines. With voice commands, you can do everything from dictate messages to return phone calls. You're certain to spend less time looking at your smartphone screen when this helpful headset arrives later this summer.
Best VR/AR: Google Project Tango
Just think for a second about how powerful Google Maps is and how easy the app makes it to get from place to place. Project Tango is like that, but for indoors, and it's even more transformative. Project Tango not only does indoor mapping and spatial tracking but also integrates augmented reality. Using a tablet loaded up with Tango, Google's program guided me swiftly through Barcelona's Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya, drawing lines on a map of the building and my field of view, all while tagging historic works of art with expertly curated tidbits of information. Seeing only two-thirds of Project Tango's potential converted us into believers, and with more still to come, it's safe to say we're excited.
Best Accessory: Samsung Gear 360
At MWC 2016, we noticed a trend that seemed to indicate that smartphone accessories could soon be just as important as smartphones themselves. And out of all the power packs, rolling drones and other adds-on we saw at MWC, Samsung's Gear 360 impressed us the most. Samsung's dual 15-megapixel 360 camera is poised to arrive at the perfect time to help people latch on and contribute to the incoming tidal wave of VR. It features standard tripod threading for easy compatibility, and can work in tandem with the device we use the most: our smartphone.
MORE: Gear 360 Camera Hands-On
Best Tablet: Huawei MateBook
There are a lot of premium 2-in-1s with speed and power, but when it comes to classiness, not so much. Huawei's MateBook exudes style with its diamond-cut chamfered edges, built-in fingerprint reader and genuine-leather folding keyboard. The MateBook, which starts at $699 (with the keyboard), is pretty reasonably priced, too. Its 12-inch LED screen is also quite luxurious, with a 2K resolution of 2560 x 1440 and active stylus support for up to 2,048 levels of pressure sensitivity. The MateBook may even be able to replace your desktop when paired with Huawei's docking accessory, which, like the hybrid, comes with a slick leather case and a healthy number of ports. With its power, good looks and a ton of flexibility, the MateBook has pretty much everything we look for in a great 2-in-1.
Best Innovation: LG G5
We have to give credit to LG for finding a way to reinvent the smartphone. The LG G5's modular design lets you swap in a freshly charged battery with the press of a button as well as various modules that add capabilities. LG's Cam Plus, for example, adds dedicated camera buttons and additional battery life to the G5. Another module adds hi-fi audio capability. And with LG opening up modules to third parties, we expect to see many more interesting add-ons for the G5 later this year.
Best Security: Keezel
Shady Wi-Fi networks can be hazardous to your devices' health, but Keezel will soon be on hand to remove the dangers of unprotected Web surfing. Available for preorder for $109, the mouse-size device creates easy-to-use virtual private networks (VPNs) to let you safely surf using unprotected hotspots while avoiding the prying eyes of hackers. You can also use it to switch the location where streaming service providers such as Netflix and YouTube think you're located. That lets you bypass those annoying messages saying, "That video is not available in your country." That's just about everyone. Keezel also features a host of reputable VPN providers and, with its 7,000 mAh, can even be used as a battery pack when you need a little extra juice. Travel far and surf safely; that's the Keezel way.