All about the phones
Mobile World Congress (MWC) is all about phones, so it's no surprise that most of the products that caught our eye at this year's gathering in Barcelona have something in common: They're either smartphones or add-ons for smartphones. (OK, there was a laptop that impressed us, too — variety is the spice of life, after all.)
Here's a closer look at the devices that grabbed our attention, from a mighty flagship (and one of its attendant accessories) to an attractively priced budget handset with an impressive-looking concept phone thrown in for good measure.
Credit: Tom's Guide
Best Smartphone: Samsung Galaxy S9+
Samsung's Galaxy S9 dominated the rumors heading into MWC and continued to seize the spotlight once the show itself got underway — and rightfully so. Samsung used its MWC platform to tout a “reimagined” camera that offers brand-new advantages over its predecessor, such as an adjustable aperture for incredible low-light photos and an AI-powered language-translation feature courtesy of Bixby. But the S9 also lets you have fun with photography, thanks to super-slow-motion video with hilarious effects and hit-or-miss animated emoji. (Yeah, OK, they were creepy, but they also made us laugh.) That the S9 and S9+ are cheaper than the previous-generation phones won us over completely. The dual-lens camera on the S9+ can't be beat, though Google and Apple will give the new flagship a run for its money with their own updates later this year.
Best Mid-Tier Smartphone: Asus ZenFone 5Z
At $499 with a full-screen 6.2-inch display, Qualcomm's flagship Snapdragon 845 processor and 4GB of RAM, Asus' new ZenFone 5Z looks like it'll land right alongside the OnePlus 5T and Essential Phone as one of the best high-performance Android bargains when it arrives in June. Asus has loaded its new flagship with tons of smart features, from a battery that knows when to delay charging overnight to conserve its health to cameras that change their own settings based on object recognition. And did we mention it looks a lot like the iPhone X, yet costs exactly half the price?
Best Budget Phone: ZTE Blade V9
We don't know exactly how much the Blade V9 will cost if and when it lands in the U.S. That said, few smartphone makers are as good as ZTE at cramming as many features as possible into a phone while still keeping the cost down. The 269-euro Blade V9 appears to be a strong reboot for the company, with its 18:9 screen, simplistic but elegant glass-and-metal body, and promising dual cameras. ZTE is banking on impressive performance in low light thanks to the Blade V9's f/1.8 aperture, and we can't wait to see what those lenses are capable of when we get our hands on the device.
Best Wearable: Waverly Labs Pilot
Voice-translating Bluetooth earphones seem magical in theory, but they haven't wowed us in person. Waverly Labs' wire-free Pilot earphones could be the wearable that changes the game. The $250 earbuds have two modes: one for listening to people speak in another language, and one for conversing with someone who speaks a language you don't understand. The latter requires sharing earbuds with someone, but in a demo we tried at MWC, the translation was accurate and happened seamlessly. There's even a group-conversation mode for talking with multiple people who all speak different languages. Although we didn't get to try the Pilot earphones in a real-world setting away from the show floor, these advanced earphones prove Google's Pixel Buds have some serious competition.
Best Accessory: DeX Pad
Samsung took the same strategy with the new DeX Pad as it did when designing the Galaxy S9. This was a labor of refinement more than a complete overhaul, and it looks as though it'll pay dividends for Galaxy owners. The new DeX Pad can support 2K displays, function as a touchpad and keyboard if you don't have an external solution, and is even backward-compatible with the Galaxy S8, S8+ and Note 8 for users who are perfectly content with the phones they already have. To sweeten the pitch, Samsung says it's working tirelessly to optimize apps and experiences for DeX, which should only make its users more productive going forward.
Best Laptop: Huawei MateBook X Pro
Every couple of years, a PC maker builds a laptop that the industry decides is Windows' proper rival to the MacBook Pro. Some have said as much of the Dell XPS 13 and, more recently, the Microsoft Surface Laptop. Huawei has Apple firmly in its sights with the MateBook X Pro, but there's more to this machine than its familiar design. For one, the company has achieved a 91-percent screen-to-body aspect ratio by trimming away as much bezel as possible and moving the front-facing camera to a place you wouldn't expect it: in a hinged button, smack-dab in the middle of the Function keys. It's not a perfect solution, but we'll take it over more egregious "nose cams" any day. And that's to say nothing of the notebook's 8th-gen Intel Core power, quad-microphone design, one-touch fingerprint sensor and power button, and generous inclusion of a single USB 3.0 port — all the proper ingredients for a winner.
Best Smartphone Design: Sony Xperia XZ2 Compact
Sony proudly introduced a radical design overhaul of its Xperia XZ Android flagship at MWC this year, but our eyes were laser-focused on the pint-size version of the new smartphone. The 5-inch XZ2 Compact is the smaller model of Sony's premium device, and it's everything we wish Apple's iPhone SE could be: petite, with an edge-to-edge display and amazing camera, round edges and a curved back that fits perfectly in the hand. The XZ2 Compact lacks a few features that make Sony's premium device more compelling, such as wireless charging, but after spending time with both phones, we can't help but gush over the XZ2 Compact. This phone could single-handedly rejuvenate the compact-smartphone market, and we're sold.
Best Innovation: Vivo Apex
China-based Vivo has a lot of ideas on its drawing board. Even if some of them never take shape in a smartphone you can actually buy, at least the company has the guts to show them off. We were impressed with Vivo's newest concept phone, the Apex, which debuted at Mobile World Congress in a nondescript meeting room away from the flashing lights and pandemonium of a news conference.
Vivo quietly showed off the Apex's cutting-edge features, which include a truly edge-to-edge display, multiple fingerprint sensors and speakers baked into the screen, and a pop-up selfie camera to replace the standard front-facing lens. These are wildly ambitious features that may never emerge in a flagship phone, but at least Vivo is using MWC to showcase what future generations of smartphones could look like. That's more than most companies can say.