Best of MWC 2013: Sapphire screens, superphones, and Sony’s sexiest tablet yet

Best of MWC 2013

Mobile World Congress 2013 was both larger than ever before, and quieter. Though we expected some big announcements from the big players in handsets and tablets, the actual show provided few major announcements. Mostly, we saw a lot of new mid-range devices show their faces. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a great show. If anything, the lack of big announcements highlighted the real benefit of shows like MWC: shining a light on cool new ideas. There’s always a lot of noise and news out of these shows, but since we didn’t have to spend our time covering Galaxy S4s and HTC Ones, we were able to look around, and what we found were some really cool ideas. There’s a lot of innovation coming up in mobile. Here are our picks for the best ideas and products we saw at MWC 2013.

LG Optimus G Pro

LG Optimus G Pro at MWC

The Optimus G Pro was no surprise, but using it was a treat. It’s a complete reaction to the Galaxy Note 2, but LG has one-upped Samsung in almost every area, from hardware specs, to feel, and even the camera. The G Pro has a 13-megapixel camera, which will come in handy if you like to pick out fine details. We also liked the new dual-sided recording, which lets you record yourself (picture-in-picture) on the front camera while recording video on the rear camera. It’s a silly feature that isn’t really “necessary,” but could be fun in a party or social event. LG’s new QSlide function lets you have pop-up windows for some key apps like the calendar and calculator as well, and adjust the transparency of them. Overall, the most impressive thing about the G Pro though, is how well it hides its size. This has a 5.5-inch screen (massive), but thanks to thin bezels and a clean design, it can still be held in one hand without a ton of trouble. This is definitely still a ‘phablet’ and isn’t for everyone, but for those who like large phones, the Optimus G Pro may be our new favorite.

Read our full Optimus G Pro hands on.

Sapphire: The unscratchable screen

gt advanced technologies sapphire screen

Gorilla Glass is great, but it still scratches, cracks, and shatters more than we’d like. At MWC, a company called GT Advanced showed us the future of screens, and it’s crystal. Sapphire is the second hardest material on earth. It’s so hard that it takes diamond-tipped saws to cut it. Though it’s currently only used in the high-end Vertu TI screen, sapphire is set to start invading phone and tablet screens everywhere in the next year or two. And even if your next iPhone doesn’t come with an unscratchable screen, you may be able to buy a screen protector that does.

Check out our full coverage of GT Advanced and the potential of sapphire screens.

Sony Xperia Tablet Z

Sony Xperia Tablet Z

Sony does not have a good track record with tablets, but its luck may turn around with the Xperia Tablet Z. We were impressed by how thin and fast Sony’s newest Android tablet is. It doesn’t re-invent the idea of a tablet … at all, but with cool features like a full waterproof body (you can stick it underwater for up to 30 minutes), it may be one of the best tablets to buy this year. In fact, it’s so ‘cool’ that our own Simon Hill is already figuring out ways to convince his wife to let him buy one. Sony seems to have finally found a consistent style and design that could resonate. Let’s hope the price is right.

Read our full Xperia Tablet Z hands on.

New operating systems

Firefox OS

MWC was full of fun gadgets and new inventions, but it also housed a lot of new mobile operating systems, all hell bent on taking some attention away from Android and iOS. Mozilla’s Firefox OS made the biggest splash. The foundation hopes to “free mobile” by creating an OS that caters exclusively to HTML5 apps that connect right to the Web and adhering to Web standards. But don’t expect a Firefox phone in the U.S. just yet. It will debut exclusively in international markets and on lower-end devices at first. Ubuntu for mobile and Sailfish OS also showed off their latest designs, which focused on new interface ideas built around gestures. Samsung and Intel’s Tizen also showed its goods. The key idea behind all of these operating systems is open source. All of these companies say they are unhappy how much Google and Apple control and lock down their phones, and each one believes they are the answer to the problem. We have no idea if any of these operating systems will take off, but it’s great to see new ideas and competition continuing to brew in the mobile space.

Fujitsu Stylistic S01

Fujitsu Stylistic phone

There’s nothing sexy about the Fujitsu Stylistic S01, but it is an extremely cool, and well-executed idea. This is a phone designed for those who don’t yet have a smartphone, or just aren’t as techy as you or me. Though it’s built on Android, the Stylistic has a simplified interface with large buttons for tasks like calling or texting. The coolest innovation is in the touch, though. Fujitsu has actually developed a way to make the touchscreen feel more like pressing actual buttons, with a unique kind of haptic feedback. Older adults, or anyone using the phone who doesn’t use touch devices regularly, will find the interface easy to use, and also full featured. We applaud Fujitsu for trying something new and hope the Stylistic makes its way from Europe to the U.S. soon.

Read our full Fujitsu Stylistic S01 hands on.