MWC 2017: Everything you missed from the world's biggest phone show

Retro phones, shrinking bezels, 5G on deck and Samsung's no-show: That was the Mobile World Congress that was.

Stephen Shankland/CNET
Phones
Close
Drag
Autoplay: ON Autoplay: OFF

That's a wrap for another Mobile World Congress. With the exhibit halls in Barcelona cleared out and the press conferences long done, it's time to look back on the week that was -- and what it means for the future of the wireless industry in 2017 and beyond.

1. What's old is new: Nokia, BlackBerry and Moto

As we said in the glory days of Nokia, the company's stubby phones would last forever. Nokia, or at least the company now licensing its brand, did its best to remind us of that in Barcelona when it rebooted one of its best-selling models ever, the 3310. The device isn't pretty, and it does barely anything, but neither of those attributes has stopped a wave of fascination (and the requisite backlash) over the "new" version of a phone that landed in our pockets 17 years ago. You get a month of battery life, but you'll have to give up your apps and touchscreen. The new Nokia 6, and the 5 and 3, have all of the modern phone smarts, but they were overshadowed at the show by their smaller, simpler sibling.

The Nokia lineup is just one refrain in a nostalgia theme that dominated Mobile World Congress. With the BlackBerry KeyOne, TCL revived the phone that gave us all sore thumbs. Though running Android, it has signature BlackBerry characteristics like BlackBerry Hub and -- gasp -- a physical keyboard.

nokia-mo2.gif

All aboard the nostalgia train with the rebooted 3310.

CNET


Meanwhile, Lenovo kept the historic "Moto" brand burning by unveiling the Moto G5 and G5 Plus. It's even going to revive the Motorola brand name.

Nostalgia is emotional, powerful and positive. Tech is just one of a multitude of industries to adopt a nostalgia theme. It's easy to see why: We always remember the first time we saw Star Wars or the first time we banged out an email on an original BlackBerry keyboard. But the strong counterargument to nostalgia is that it just means we've run out of ideas. Mobile World Congress did feel that way. Thanks to the 3310, the Nokia name is back in the spotlight, but will anyone actually buy the phone? And can the KeyOne's keyboard make people forget why they ditched BlackBerry in the first place? Comebacks are heartwarming, but they're also hard.

2. No Samsung phone, and it showed

When a Goliath the size of Samsung hangs back on a phone, you notice. It still launched an interesting Android tablet and a 2-in-1 Windows hybrid for power users (both of which even come with their own S Pen stylus), but with no Galaxy S8, the show lost some of its verve. (Samsung still teased the upcoming device, which will launch March 29 in New York.)

While its absence opened the door for high-powered phones like LG's G6, it was that dead-simple Nokia 3310 that captured all the attention. (Too bad Moto missed its chance!)

Here's more on why the Samsung Galaxy S8 is the elephant in the room.

With no S8 unveiling, we had to settle for two Samsung tablets.

Josh Miller/CNET

3. 5G everywhere

Is it hype or real? That's the constant question surrounding 5G -- which stands for the fifth generation of wireless technology. It promises a blazing connection that smokes even your fastest home broadband connection, and is supposed to transform the way we live by connecting everything around. More importantly, 5G will unlock the potential of many other tech trends like virtual reality and self-driving cars.

The answer is somewhere in between. Companies are showing off the hardware necessary to pull off those crazy speeds, but there are still tons of hurdles. The industry hasn't come to an agreement on what 5G will actually look like, and there's the issue of getting the necessary airwaves to power these new networks.

Close
Drag
Autoplay: ON Autoplay: OFF

Still, that hasn't stopped companies like AT&T and Verizon from going forward with an early 5G-like service that will replace home broadband in select markets. Verizon will start looking for test customers at the end of this month.

There is reason to hope. A bunch of companies have come out and said they will push to get 5G here for mass deployment by 2019 -- a year ahead of schedule. A Verizon executive also hinted at the Samsung press conference that he might come back to Barcelona next year with a 5G phone.

But we wouldn't hold our breath.

4. 'Bezel-less' phones

The G6's barely-there bezels are on point.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Slim is in, but it isn't just phone thickness anymore. We're talking about bezels, too. The LG G6 has a slender border that helps make more of the phone face about the screen. And it isn't alone. The Huawei P10 and P10 Plus and the Sony Xperia XA1 and XA1 Ultra have slim frames as well.

This is a trend you'll continue to see on high-end phones, including the Galaxy S8, if these leaked photos and render are to be believed.

5. Who had the most interesting gadgets? Startups

It's not just the big boys at Mobile World Congress; you increasingly have to pay attention to the startup scene brewing at this trade show. Held alongside MWC is 4YFN (four years from now), a startup conference where mobile companies exhibit, pitch and learn from huge players like Facebook.

While virtual reality wasn't as visible on the main trade show floor, it was a popular theme at 4YFN. Also a trend were products and services aimed at families.

One of best pitches came from SkyGuru, which uses a combination of weather and flight plan data along with the sensors in your phone to quell your fear of flying. It does so by guiding you through your journey with explanations of noises and movements.

Another hot trend is the Internet of Things, or IoT -- the idea that anything "dumb" can wise up with a little connection to the web. Think a connected beehive designed by a startup from South Korea to make beekeeping easier for humans and less stressful for bees.

There was also a super-light, ultra-thin phone made from composites by a company called CarbonWorks. Good luck finding that in your local carrier store.

6. A few more things besides

CNET Magazine: Check out a sampling of the stories you'll find in CNET's newsstand edition.

Tech Enabled: CNET chronicles tech's role in providing new kinds of accessibility.