Smartphone picks of Mobile World Congress 2019

(Clockwise from top left)  Huawei Mate X,  LG G8 ThinQ, Nokia 9 PureView, and Samsung Galaxy S10 5G.
(Clockwise from top left) Huawei Mate X, LG G8 ThinQ, Nokia 9 PureView, and Samsung Galaxy S10 5G.PHOTOS: HUAWEI, LG, NOKIA, SAMSUNG

BARCELONA - A smartphone that uses the unique structure of the veins in your palm to authenticate your identity. Yet another model combines five rear cameras for a highly detailed photo. There was plenty of innovation on show from smartphone makers at this week's Mobile World Congress, the largest annual gathering of the mobile industry. Here are some of the key products that caught our eye:

Huawei Mate X

Arguably the most exciting device at Mobile World Congress this year, the Huawei Mate X was kept behind glass, away from the prying hands of the hordes of journalists.

But while I could not touch it, I did get a very close look at only the third foldable smartphone to be unveiled after efforts from Samsung and Royole.

The Mate X has a thin, squarish foldable Oled screen measuring 8 inches when unfolded. This is slightly larger than the 7.3-inch Galaxy Fold, Samsung's foldable device announced a week ago. Both devices have a flexible polymer layer instead of rigid glass over the screen.

There are other differences. The Mate X resembles a typical smartphone when folded, but with a 6.6-inch screen at the front and a 6.4-inch screen at the back. This asymmetry is because of a sidebar, which acts as a handle for you to grip the phone.

It also houses the camera modules and the USB Type-C charging port.

In contrast, the Galaxy Fold opens like a book and has a second 4.6-inch screen, dubbed Cover Display on its front (when closed).

The Huawei Mate X device is seen during a pre-briefing display ahead of the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, on Feb 23, 2019. PHOTO: HUAWEI

Due to the way it is designed, the Mate X only has a single set of Leica-branded cameras - there is no distinction between front and rear. On paper, this should lead to more impressive-looking selfie shots than a standard smartphone because the latter usually has an inferior front camera.

The bonus - there is no display notch because there is no need for one now with this design.

Huawei boasts that the Mate X's patented hinge, which enables the screen to fold completely flat with no space between the two layers unlike the Galaxy Fold's gap, is made of over 100 components. Based on the visuals provided by Huawei, the hinge reminds me of the interlocking links used by the one in the Lenovo Yoga computers.

Like the Galaxy Fold, the Mate X has a side power button, which doubles up as a fingerprint sensor.

To accommodate the foldable design, it comes with dual batteries - because batteries cannot yet be folded - for a total capacity of 4,500mAh. This is slightly higher than the 4,380mAh on the Galaxy Fold.

Powering the Mate X is Huawei's Kirin 980 processor, which is also found in its other flagship devices. But Huawei has also added its own Balong 5G chipset, which the Chinese firm says makes the Mate X the world's fastest 5G smartphone. The Galaxy Fold, too, will be available in a 5G variant.

There are still question marks over how apps would appear and adapt to the larger unfolded screen, but Huawei plans to sell the Mate X in the middle of the year. Prices will start at 2,299 euros (S$3,524) for a model with 8GB memory and 512GB internal storage.

LG G8 ThinQ

Instead of using your fingers or voice to control the G8 ThinQ, you can control it from a short distance away from the screen using hand gestures. PHOTO: LG

You cannot fault LG for lack of innovation as its latest LG G8 ThinQ smartphone, unveiled at Mobile World Congress this week, throws a bunch of interesting technologies at the wall.

With any luck, some of these new features will stick and find traction in the industry. But I am skeptical about a couple of them, namely the Air Motion gestures.

Instead of using your fingers or voice to control the G8 ThinQ, you can control it from a short distance away from the screen using hand gestures. Some of the moves include turning an imaginary dial in mid-air with your hand to control the volume of the device. Other possible commands include taking a screenshot and switching between apps.

Unless you are trying to use the phone while eating fried chicken with both hands, I do not quite see the appeal of these gestures. Moreover, they take a while to get used to, as the gestures need to be executed at the right distance away from the phone, for the G8's Z Camera to capture them.

The Z Camera, which is a time-of-flight camera based on Infineon's 3-D image sensor, can accurately record depth information. This capability, together with infrared sensors, enable palm vein authentication.

Dubbed Hand ID, this authentication scheme can identity individuals by recognising the shape and thickness of the veins in their palm. LG says the chances of two persons having an identical vein structure is less than one in one billion, making it less likely to be fooled than with a fingerprint sensor or face recognition.

From what I saw, it is relatively fast, too, once you know where to place your palm over the camera. Face unlock is also supported if the palm method is not your cup of tea.

The Z Camera is also used to enable some nifty camera tricks, such as creating background blur, or bokeh, for videos and not just photos.

Besides the Z Camera, another innovation is the use of the G8's 6.1-inch Oled screen as a diaphragm, with a motor vibrating the screen to produce sound. This screen also doubles as the phone's earpiece speaker.

The rest of the G8 is more mundane. Like most smartphones this year, it will use Qualcomm's flagship Snapdragon 855 processor. It will have 6GB of memory and 128GB of internal storage. It has a triple camera unit at the back, comprising a camera with a standard lens, a telephoto camera and an ultra-wide angle camera.

But I am somewhat concerned about the 3,500mAh battery, which is on the smaller side nowadays. The LG V40 ThinQ did not have the best battery life and the G8 may suffer a similar fate. We'll find out when it goes on sale sometime this year - no price or availability have been announced yet.

Nokia 9 PureView

The Nokia 9's five cameras all have a 12-megapixel Sony sensor and a f/1.8 aperture. PHOTO: NOKIA

The long-rumoured Nokia 9 PureView finally made its debut at the Mobile World Congress this week.

And it did not disappoint, with a unique five-camera system arranged in a circular layout that reminds me of the eyes of an insect or the holes in a lotus seed pod.

Three of the five cameras have monochrome sensors while the other two have RGB colour sensors.

While other smartphone makers have added telephoto and ultra-wide cameras to complement the main camera, the Nokia 9's five cameras all have a 12-megapixel Sony sensorand a f/1.8 aperture. They use Zeiss optics.

HMD Global, which designs and builds Nokia smartphones, says the monochrome sensor captures more details, given that it captures 2.5 times more light compared to the colour sensor. The data from all the cameras, said to range from 60 megapixels to 240 megapixels (when taking panoramas) are used to create a single 12-megapixel image with lots of details.

This five camera system also captures a lot of depth information - 1,200 layers - that can be used to change the focus of a photo after it is taken. The monochrome sensors on this phone will also lead to better dynamic range for photos shot in black and white.

Design-wise, I found the Nokia 9 to be slightly dated compared to other recent Nokia smartphones. For one, it does not have a display notch for its 5.99-inch Oled screen while the top and bottom bezels are not the slimmest.

Furthermore, it is powered by last year's flagship Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 processor, not the new 855 model that is found in almost every new smartphone released this year. HMD Global did say they worked with Qualcomm to enable the processor's image signal processor to support five cameras. Perhaps the long incubation period for this device is the reason for its lack of trendiness.

It does have other flagship features, such as wireless charging as well as water and dust resistance (IP67 rated). It even has an optical in-display fingerprint sensor.

The Nokia 9 PureView is expected to be available globally next month and is priced at US$699 (S$943).

Samsung Galaxy S10 5G

The S10 5G also has an extra 3-D depth camera at the back, effectively making it a four-camera phone. PHOTO: SAMSUNG

Samsung's 5G variant of its flagship Galaxy S10 smartphone was announced last week at the South Korean firm's Unpacked event.

But it was only at Mobile World Congress that Samsung let everyone have a taste of what would likely be one of the first smartphones to support 5G networks.

In terms of design and build, the S10 5G is similar to its stablemates in the series. It is an all-glass smartphone with two hole-punch style front-facing camera at the top right corner.

What is different from the other S10 phones is the size of the Oled display. It is a 6.7-inch QHD+ Amoled screen, up from the 6.4-inch display on the S10+.

As a result, it feels big in the hand, though not to the same extent as the massive 7.2-inch Huawei Mate 20 X.

The S10 5G also has an extra 3-D depth camera at the back, effectively making it a four-camera phone compared to the three rear cameras on the S10+.

This depth camera and the information it captures is used for a new Live Focus Video feature, which lets you adjust the amount of background blur or bokeh effect for videos by using a slider in the camera app. It is an extra trick that is not possible with other Galaxy S10 phones.

Other S10 features, from the super-fast wireless charging feature to the in-display ultrasonic fingerprint sensor, are present on this 5G variant.

If you live somewhere with 5G networks rolling out in the near future - in other words, not Singapore - a key part of the S10 5G is its support for these fast, next-generation mobile networks.

Depending on the market, the 5G functionality will be enabled by Qualcomm's X50 modem or Samsung's own 5G modem. The version I tried is powered by Samsung's Exynos processor and has 8GB of memory and 256GB of internal storage. Notably, it does not have a microSD card slot.

Samsung does not have a confirmed release date or pricing. The former likely depends on when telcos roll out their 5G networks. You can expect it to cost more than the S10+.