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Tuesday, April 16, 2024

The Most Intriguing Launches at MWC 2022 Weren’t Phones

Mobile World Congress in Barcelona has returned. But it's not the same as before. Yes, the event has been changing over recent years—from Samsung holding its own events for its Galaxy flagships before the showcase comes around to the pandemic disrupting the annual event for the past two years.

But MWC 2022 has found itself in a strange middle ground. True to form, Samsung revealed its latest Galaxy S22 series weeks in advance of the event, while major brands such as Sony said they wouldn’t have a presence at the event at all. Furthermore, OnePlus, often a big reason to tune into MWC each year for its latest flagship launch, has been strangely AWOL (it launched the OnePlus 10 Pro in China and nowhere else thus far).

Instead, mobile brands like TCL, Nokia, and Motorola are holding the fort. This may not be the most prestigious of fields, but they came with a raft of announcements to keep things interesting.

Outside of the companies whose products are readily available in the US, there was more on the agenda. Brands like Realme, Honor, and Xiaomi all had hardware to show. Perhaps most interesting for US onlookers is what Oppo unveiled. Oppo is a sister brand to OnePlus, and their ties have grown ever closer of late. The Oppo Find X5 Pro, revealed just ahead of MWC, even sports a Hasselblad partnership—a new team-up that came to the OnePlus 9 Pro last year.

Fortunately, aside from this oddly limited showing from the phone world, there was more to get excited about at MWC 2022. Laptops, 2-in-1s, tablets, and a few surprises have come to the rescue of the Mobile World Congress this year.

Samsung’s New Ultra Galaxy Books

Despite lacking a flagship phone launch at the event, we actually return to a top tech brand for one of the most interesting sets of products for MWC 2022: Samsung, which revealed the Galaxy Book2 Pro and Galaxy Book2 Pro 360.

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The first iterations were no-frills in terms of design, just well-built, stylish, and super thin—alongside top ultrabook specs. The Galaxy Book2 Pro and Book2 Pro 360 look to continue the trend. You still get all that we just mentioned but with a 2022 dose of the latest Intel chips, Thunderbolt 4, FHD 1080p webcam, and 65W USB-C charging capabilities. The Samsung Galaxy Book2 Pro has a starting price of $1,050 (£999) and the Galaxy Book2 Pro 360 starts at $1,250 (£949).

Lenovo’s Latest ThinkPad

While Samsung’s laptops are top notch and great for right now, they aren’t devices to get you excited about the future of computing. At this year’s MWC, Lenovo and Huawei have covered that in the laptop space.

Lenovo announced a lot of productivity laptops for home and business, as well as some gaming laptops, tablets, and more. However, the pick of the bunch is the Lenovo ThinkPad X13s Gen 1.

This is a new device for Lenovo, and what makes it a standout is that it's the first device to be announced that features the Snapdragon 8cx Gen 3 chip—Snapdragon’s latest PC system-on-a-chip (SoC). It’s exciting because Windows on ARM has shown it can facilitate excellent hardware like the super thin and stealthy Surface Pro X, but compatibility and performance issues have reigned thus far.

Following the success of Apple moving to ARM for the likes of its MacBook Air and MacBook Pro 14-inch—providing big efficiency gains while still maintaining performance—Windows transitioning to a similar chip architecture feels like an inevitability. But it has been a rocky road, and every new Snapdragon PC chip and Windows update seems to bring promises of improved compatibility. The ThinkPad X13s Gen 1 will be the first opportunity to put an 8cx Gen 3 chip and Windows 11 on ARM combination through its paces.

Huawei First 2-in-1 and an iMac-alike

While this next product from Huawei won’t be landing on US shores, it’s worth consideration in markets where Huawei remains available—like the UK, Europe, and China. The Huawei MateBook E is the company’s first attempt at a Surface Pro–like 2-in-1 device.

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The tablet component is very thin—a hurdle the rejuvenated Surface Pro 8 attempted to clear but then fell foul with poor battery life and active fans. It will be interesting to see if Huawei has been able to get the balance right.

Then, there's the Kindle and reMarkable-like Huawei MatePad Paper—a 10.3-inch e-ink tablet looking to address both your e-reading and note-taking needs.

Rounding things out for Huawei is the MateStation X, an all-in-one with serious iMac vibes. There's no dedicated GPU, just an AMD mobile chip, putting it in competition with the latest colorful M1 Mac.

TCL Goes Tab-Tastic

Returning to one of the brands that tried its hardest to keep the “mobile” in Mobile World Congress, TCL wasn’t shy about venturing into other categories, too. TCL expanded its tablet range with its NXTPAPER MAX 10, TAB 10 HD 4G, and TAB 10s 5G. TCL’s NXTPAPER devices offer a paper-like canvas to accommodate drawing and note-taking while still giving you other tablet goodness such as a slim bezel FHD+ display for showing off movies and TV shows.

TCL’s other tablet options are more traditional and get much of their appeal from big battery life: 5,500mAh for the TAB 10 HD 4G, and 8,000mAh for the TAB 10s 5G, as well as low prices.

Information on availability is to come for the NXTPAPER MAX 10 in the US and Europe, with pricing starting at €269 (~$304/£227). The TCL TAB 10 HD 4G is available now in Europe, with US availability to come, at a starting price of €179 (~$202/£151), while the TCL TAB 10s 5G will go on sale later in the year, starting at €349 (~$394/£294). TCL also revealed a new higher-end TAB PRO 12 5G is on the way, with a large display for an entertainment and productivity focus.

Mobile No Show

All these new and interesting non-mobile-phone products beg the question: Why are other product categories taking center stage? Yes, after the pandemic not all companies seemed keen on MWC 2022, like the aforementioned Sony. Also, phone manufacturers that don’t have a big presence in the US now make up a sizable chunk of the show’s lineup—such as Xiaomi, Oppo, Realme, and Honor. The absence of a new OnePlus flagship really doesn’t help, either.

However, to see why the markets outside of phones—in particular, compact devices for productivity and entertainment—Microsoft chief product officer and Surface hype man Panos Panay may have given us the answer on January 26 in a Windows blog post titled “A new era for the PC.” Panay cited analysts Canalys who noted that the PC market had seen its largest growth in a decade over 2021—a level of growth that was 27 percent higher than 2019.

Moreover, brands like Qualcomm are keen to push the narrative that PCs are becoming more of a mobile experience, too, an argument that is getting easier with Apple’s move to traditionally mobile-phone housed ARM chips on its laptops.

“The PC is here to stay. It’s going to become more powerful … It’s going to become more mobile,” are the words of Qualcomm senior vice president and general manager Alex Katouzian in a blog post on the future of the PC.

Why is the mobile phone show full of other devices that facilitate working and playing from home? These companies believe it’s what the people want, and are keen to oblige.


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