Foldables dominate device news at MWC Barcelona

Samsung Galaxy Fold
Foldable devices were one of the dominant topics at MWC Barcelona. (Samsung)

While 5G was, once again, the broader theme at MWC Barcelona, device makers continued their tradition of showcasing new smartphones at the industry’s largest annual gathering. Samsung pre-empted the show with a standalone press event the week prior, but Nokia, Huawei, Sony, Xiaomi, LG and ZTE all jumped in for a slice of the action this week.

This year’s MWC Barcelona was all about chasing shiny new objects, particularly a new form factor of smartphone that’s been—much like 5G—hyped for years, but didn’t become reality until 2019. This was the year foldables finally arrived.

Samsung beat Huawei to the punch last week when it announced the Galaxy Fold, but Huawei followed up with a foldable phone of its own. The Huawei Mate X boasts a higher-resolution and bigger screen size, but it also costs 31% more than the Samsung Galaxy Fold.

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Two of industry’s largest device makers are now battling to lead a new, high-end market segment with prices starting at $1,980 for the Samsung Galaxy Fold and $2,600 for the Huawei Mate X. Social media marketing platform Socialbakers reviewed mentions on Twitter for the seven-day period ending Feb. 26 and tallied 20,184 total interactions on Twitter for the Samsung Galaxy Fold and 3,280 total interactions on Twitter for the Huawei Mate X.

Foldable smartphones were one of the dominant topics at MWC Barcelona because it’s a race, said William Ho, founder and principal analyst at 556 Ventures. The race to be first and best of breed among this new subset of smartphones is in the early stages, but the high price points and unproven utility could limit the initial wave of foldable smartphones, Ho said.

Gaming could be a particularly interesting and valuable use case for foldables because it “shifts the paradigm of what you can do with your smartphone,” Ho said. Nonetheless, the nagging question remains. “What’s the utility in all of that?” he said. And, equally important, who will pay that much for a foldable smartphone?

Beyond the limited scope of foldables, device makers announced new 5G capable smartphones and their respective flagships for 2019. LG unveiled its first 5G smartphone the LG V50 ThinQ 5G, which boasts five cameras and a 6.4-inch OLED screen. The company also designed a case that attaches to the LG VO and adds a second screen to the device—a sort of modular foldable answer to Samsung and Huawei.

The show’s biggest surprise might be the Nokia 9 PureView because it packs five 12-megapixel cameras on to the back of a device that packs a 6-inch OLED display. Sony launched the Xperia 1, an unusually long smartphone with a 6.5-inch OLED display and three 12-megapixel cameras.

Xiaomi put is Mi 9 on display just days after it launched in China and showcased a 5G version of the Mi Mix 3. Finally, ZTE teased the Axon 10 Pro 5G, but didn’t divulge many details or specifications.

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