Samsung, Nokia, Land Rover: more features, higher prices for new smartphones

ZTE Axon M, the first smartphone with foldable dual screens

A look at the latest devices and innovations from the 2018 Mobile World Congress (MWC), including Samsung Galaxy S9 and DeX Pad, Nokia 8 Sirocco, Land Rover and ZTE Axon M.

It’s become a tradition. At the start of each year, mobile device makers gather at the Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona to launch their latest models and offer a glimpse of the future.

This year’s event, held in late February, was perhaps best summed up by Samsung’s launch of the Galaxy S9 – which, far from being revolutionary, is an incremental upgrade from last year’s Galaxy S8. After all, touchscreen smartphones are now over 10 years old, so how much better can they get?

Still, MWC 2018 delivered a few surprises. Here are the highlights.

Samsung Galaxy S9 and Galaxy S9+

Samsung Galaxy S9 (left) and S9+.Samsung is now generally acknowledged as the leader in smartphone design, perhaps best illustrated with last year’s launch of the Galaxy S8. The S8 featured a new design that increased the screen size from the S7’s 5.1 inches to 5.8 inches, while adding very little to the overall size of the handset, meaning you can still use it one-handed.

The Galaxy S9 stays with that design but has a faster processor and a rear camera with an f/1.5 aperture for better low-light snaps. Similarly, the Galaxy S9+ has the same design as the 6.2in S8+ model but offers improvements such as advanced dual rear cameras with wide-angle and telephoto lenses.

The bad news is Samsung has bumped up the price of both handsets, with outright prices starting at A$1199 for the Galaxy S9 and A$1349 for the S9+. There’s no denying they’re the cream of the crop so far in 2018, but if you’re willing to make a few relatively minor compromises, the Galaxy S8 is arguably better value at A$999.

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Samsung DeX Pad

Samsung DeX Pad.One neat feature of the Galaxy S8 phone was its ability to transform into a desktop workstation with the addition of Samsung’s DeX Station – which did a surprisingly good job of connecting the phone to a monitor, mouse and keyboard, and, importantly, optimising the interface for the larger screen. 

Samsung has refined that concept with the new DeX Pad, which will be cheaper than the DeX Station, support multiple screen resolutions, and hold the Galaxy S9 flat, so its screen can double as a touchpad (whereas the DeX Station held the phone upright).

Nokia continues to gain momentum 

Nokia 8 Sirocco.Nokia’s comeback was one of the success stories of 2017. Now made by Finnish company HMD Global, an estimated 8.7 million Nokia smartphones were shipped globally last year, according to Counterpoint Research – a very solid result considering the brand was only relaunched in January 2017.

HMD’s recipe for success was its good range of understated but well-designed smartphones at reasonable prices, running on a stock Android platform. HMD is aiming to build on that success with four new smartphones.

At the bottom end, the 4.5in Nokia 1, priced at A$149, comes with the lightweight Go edition of Android for budget phones; the others in the new range use a new version of the operating system called Android One. The advantage of One is that updates such as security patches come directly from Google, instead of having to wait months for the manufacturer or carrier to relay it. It’s Android as Google intends it, without the often unnecessary software extras that come with most Android phones.

The Nokia 8 Sirocco is the most ambitious of Nokia’s new phones, offering an edge-to-edge, 5.5in display, waterproofing and other enhancements – but with a hefty price rise from the first-generation Nokia 8’s A$899 to A$1199. The 6in Nokia 7 Plus for A$749, or the 5.5in Nokia 6 (2018 edition) for A$449, look like better value.

A few surprises

Land Rover Explore.
As usual, MWC featured a number of mobile devices from out of left field. None were officially available in Australia at the time of writing, but each offers an interesting point of difference.
  • Land Rover isn’t a brand you’d usually associate with smartphones, but as a rugged handset, it makes sense. The Land Rover Explore has a 5in display with a screen protector and a rubberised back. It’s also IP68-rated water resistant and drop-tested to 1.8 metres. The Explore is modular, with snap-on components such as an Adventure Pack that includes an enhanced antenna for better GPS accuracy and an extra 3620 mAh battery that brings the phone’s total battery capacity to a huge 7620 mAh. (In comparison, the Samsung Galaxy 9 has a 3000 mAh pack.)
  • Also on display at MWC was the ZTE Axon M, the first smartphone with foldable dual screens. The Chinese maker’s device has two 5.2in displays connected by a hinge which, when folded out, create a 6.75in screen. There are a few practical concerns about the Axon M, including the potential to scratch the bottom screen when it’s folded back, but there’s no denying it would be handy to have a tablet-sized display available at times, particularly when typing with the on-screen keyboard.
  • There’s still life in the old-fashioned mobile phone and, in fact, HMD still sells bucketloads of them. Following the success of the Nokia 3310 relaunch last year, the company announced a revival of the Nokia 8110 slide phone – that’s the one Neo used in The Matrix. The new 8110 will be 4G capable and will offer a few useful apps, including Google Maps and Facebook. 

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