This year’s gathering of the phone nerds has just taken place in Barcelona, with Mobile World Congress 2014 seeing stacks of new mobiles revealed by the likes of HTC, Sony, LG and Samsung, all jostling for the prize of securing your 2014 phone contract upgrade.
Key trends this year were the arrival of 4K video capture on several mobiles and a continued emphasis on larger displays that’ll push trouser pocket capacity harder than ever in 2014, plus there was the enormous shock of seeing Microsoft-owned Nokia release a whole range of budget smartphones running on rival Google’s Android OS.
While there was lots of new tech to see and poke, the event didn’t quite expose all of 2014’s phone plans, though. Apple wasn’t there and Nokia didn’t bring any new Windows Phone models, so what we saw was mostly the Android consortium battling to come up with something that stood out from the crowd. These are the ten that got our fingertips the most flustered.
1. YotaPhone 2
Not likely to arrive before very late in 2014, the next-gen YotaPhone was at MWC 2014 in the form of a concept device. And what an exciting concept it is too, expanding on the genius idea of sticking a low power epaper display on the back of the phone by making this B&W display now a full touchscreen.
This means many key phone functions can be carried out via the vastly more efficient epaper screen, meaning battery life ought to be immense when using this always-on screen alone for your notifications. Internally, the ubiquitous Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 runs the show, with the "main" colour screen a 5-inch unit outputting at 1080 resolution – and the epaper screen managing a decent 960 x 540.
2. LG G Pro 2
LG’s well-teased 5.9-inch whopper was one of the hits of MWC 2014, with the phablet device and its knock-knock screen unlocking tricks, post-shot refocusing and clever display scaling for one-handed use showing that LG’s really getting on the ball with its software features. The hardware’s about as impressive as it gets too, with the G Pro 2 running on a 2.26GHz Snapdragon 800 processor with 3GB of RAM, plus its 13megapixel camera has 4K video capture and a 120fps slow-motion recording option for… whatever that might be for.
3. Sony Xperia Z2
Sony’s big new flagship for 2014 is the Xperia Z2, which somehow squeezes even more oomph into a chassis just 8.2mm thick. It’s slightly bigger than last year’s impressive Z1 slab too, with the Z2 offering a 5.2-inch display that operates at the "full HD" resolution of 1920 x 1080.
Interestingly, Sony’s using the Z2 to encourage punters to upgrade their home TVs, with the phone’s 20.7megapixel camera able to capture 4K video at the ludicrously high 3840 x 2160 resolution. That ability comes thanks to the upgraded internals, with the Z2 powered by Qualcomm’s brand new Snapdragon 801 series chipset clocked at 2.3GHz and paired here with 3GB of RAM. A 3,200mAh battery ought to keep it running for a good couple of days, too. We hope.
4. Huawei Ascend G6
As far as Huawei is concerned, the big selling point of the Ascend G6 is its five-megapixel wide-angle front-facing camera, meaning that, if you like looking at your own face, you can do so in better clarity than on rival hardware. The rear camera’s an eight-megapixel unit manufactured by Sony, so proper pics of things other than your gurning face ought to come out nice too.
The G6 is bordering on the ‘budget’ spec for 2014 elsewhere, though, combining a quad-core 1.2GHz chipset with 1GB of RAM and a low-ish resolution display of 540 x 960. On just a 4.5-inch IPS screen that resolution shouldn’t be too much of a deal-breaker, with Huawei compensating with a low RRP of around €249 (£205). Not bad for a slim 4G phone.
5. Samsung Galaxy S5
Android’s best-selling series returns for 2014, with Samsung offering a strangely muted and not entirely thrilling update to the Galaxy S range. The Galaxy S5 is a little more angular than the curved Galaxy S4, with Samsung still sticking with the physical Home button and once again eschewing a move to software buttons. While it’s not hugely thrilling to look at, the insides of the S5 are more than capable, with a top-of-the-line Snapdragon 801 processor running the show and backed by 2GB of RAM.
The Galaxy S range has had great cameras since the Galaxy SII blew everyone away with its colour reproduction and speed, and Samsung’s continuing to lead here with a 16-megapixel sensor in the Galaxy S5. Plus, as we’re seeing many other phone makers introduce, the S5’s camera lets you adjust shot focus after you’ve taken a photo, if you fancy entering the required mode. And it’s waterproof now, too.
6. ZTE Grand Memo II
ZTE’s updated phablet now features a whopping six-inch display, which sits atop a chassis just 7.2mm thick. The display, which runs at only 1280 x 720 resolution, isn’t quite as impressive on paper as the 1080p units in many of its big-boned rivals, plus its Snapdragon 400 processor won’t be challenging the likes of the Xperia Z2 for the power-user money.
If these small compromises mean ZTE can sell it at a decent price, it might do pretty well for itself, as it does the basics well by having a 13-megapixel camera, five-megapixel front-cam, microSD card support and a large 3,200mAh battery.
7. HTC Desire 816
The smartphone world’s moved on a lot since the first HTC Desire blew us all away. The Desire 816’s 5.5-inch 1280 x 720 display is positively middle-of-the-road in terms of dimension and resolution in 2014, as screen sizes continue to explode and resolutions reach ever higher levels.
The plastic casing of the 816 may look a little cheap in comparison with the gloriously premium HTC One it takes many design cues from, but that’s part of the compromise – HTC wants to make a cheap phablet for the mass market. With the same big, front-facing speakers and that huge screen, it’s one for the heavy media consumers.
8. Nokia XL
Poor old Microsoft’s only gone and started making Android phones, with its newly-acquired hardware buddies at Nokia binning Windows Phone and using Google’s OS to power a series of budget mobiles. The highlight of Nokia’s Mobile World Congress Android showing was the Nokia XL, a staggeringly affordable 5-inch model costing just €109 (around £90).
There are compromises galore, mind, with the key Google services like Gmail and, ahem, Google+ missing from the heavily modified Android code, and Nokia relying on a 1GHz dual-core chipset to run its OS. So it won’t be winning any late night, pub car park benchmarking showdowns. It’s all about selling the big phone dream to the kids, then hoping they upgrade to one of Nokia’s more premium models in a year or three.
9. Sony Xperia M2
Also fishing for buyers at the budget end of the spectrum is the Xperia M2, which is a smaller, less powerful and not quite so attractive take on Sony’s smartphone designs. The M2 features a 4.8-inch screen that outputs at the qHD resolution of 960 x 540, with its Snapdragon 400 chipset backed up by 1GB of RAM. With 4G support, an eight-megapixel camera, dedicated shutter button and respectably low RRP of €220 (around £180), it’ll tick a whole lot of boxes with people after solid features at a decent price.
10. LG G2 Mini
There’s nothing particularly "mini" about a phone with 4.7-inch display, so this is quite a puzzling name for LG’s smaller take on the G2 Pro. Internally it’s been scaled down in terms of performance, with the G2 Mini powered by a quad-core Qualcomm chipset clocked at 1.2GHz and its display running at the non-HD resolution of 960 x 540.
But with Android 4.4 as its OS and a 2,440mAh capacity battery inside it, the G2 Mini ought to make for a decent compromise between size, power and decent battery life. After all, a superphone is only super if the battery hasn’t died.