As I sip my coffee and stare down another long day on my feet here in Barcelona, I wanted to get a few quick notes down on my initial impressions of Mobile World Congress 2018 thusfar.
For starters, it has an decidedly *odd* feel this year. Maybe that's because there's no congruent theme running through the show like, say, Smartwatches in 2015 or VR in 2016, or even IoT in 2017. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but so far I have the feeling most exhibitors are kinda going through the motions here - a few iterative updates, a couple of retro re-releases, and of course, thinner and thinner bezels.
But where's the real innovation?
Samsung really set the tone on Sunday with the rather pedestrian 'upgrade' to their S8 Smartphone. The S9 does lots of things well - and even slightly better than the S8 - but really, there's no 'innovation' that makes us stand up and cheer. Iterative updates have their place - just ask Apple - but with no major new handset release from LG, a slightly boring Sony XZ2 handset, and a few Alcatel slabs, the MWC 2018 'award' is in danger of going to Nokia (again) for the re-release of the famous 'matrix' banana-phone 8110.
So here's the thing, I have long hated Chinese handset manufacturer ZTE. I find their handsets generally derivative, cheap feeling, and totally uninspired. But I have to hand it to them - their new 'concept phone', the Axon M, is pretty damn cool.
I have read a lot of derisive comments online and on twitter about the dual-screened phone. Sure it's a little clunky at first, the screen resolution is lacking, and even the chipset (Snapdragon 821) is so 'last year'. But I found myself spending the majority of Day One 'stand time' at ZTE - something I wouldn't have believed just yesterday morning.
While ZTE is actively marketing the Axon M - it's really only available in three territories (the U.S. with AT&T, Italy with TIM, and here in Spain with Vodafone). You can't find it unlocked on eBay, and there's no word when the phone will migrate to the rest of Europe (or other carriers abroad). But after an hour playing with this phone, I simply can't wait for it to come to the UK.
The software still needs some ironing out, but the concept of a dual-screen Android phone is exactly what the industry needs right now. Android, for the most part, works incredibly well on two screens - allowing you to run two apps simultaneously - blowing the doors off multitasking and the split-screen concept we have all 'attempted' to adopt.
The build quality of the Axon M has ZTE punching well above its weight. The hinge is sharp, sturdy, and incredibly well machined. It's super fun to just open and close the back screen, launching a YouTube video on one side, while reading a web page on the other. This is the flexible advantage Android has over iOS - and it's high time manufacturers started exploring the possibilities.
Sure there's a LOT I would change on the Axon M - the chipset and the bezels for starters! But here is company innovating. And from the crowd stacked around the tables exhibiting the Axon M - people are responding.
Don't forget, Microsoft is soon to jump into the dual-screen game with their upcoming Project Andromeda phone/tablet thingy. So this category certainly has legs.
ZTE's odd little concept phone may indeed be the start of something significant - something that soon may become the next 'hot concept'.
Heck, it may even be the next theme for MWC 2019.
At this rate, it's definitely going to need one!