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5 Great Ideas From 2014’s Mobile World Congress

Cellphones? We got those. But we’ve also got some futuristic tech, some unexpected hardware, and a very welcome redesign of one of the world’s most successful phones.

Barcelona’s Mobile World Congress is the biggest annual mobile-only electronics show. This year, companies unveiled a whole bunch of perfectly marketable products, but here are the five that really cut to the heart of where mobile is headed next.

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SAMSUNG GEAR FIT


Samsung has tried the smartwatch route before, where what amounts to a tiny Android phone is strapped to your wrist. But the Gear Fit is more of a fitness tracker like the Fitbit or Nike Fuelband. It has a pedometer, stopwatch, timer, and, unusual for fitness trackers, a heart-rate monitor. But like a smartwatch, it can connect to your cellphone and receive little bits of information, like missed calls, texts, app alerts, and updates. It also looks cool, with a stretched, curved screen that wraps around your wrist. Only problem: it’s facing the wrong direction! The text runs perpendicular to your arm, rather than parallel, which might make it hard to read.

Takeaway: A welcome blend of the fitness tracker and smartwatch.

GOOGLE PROJECT TANGO

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A surprise this year was Google’s crazy future-y Project Tango, which is attempting to essentially integrate a smartphone and a Microsoft Kinect. Similar to the Kinect, which uses depth sensors and cameras to see movement, Project Tango would employ a depth tracker and visual sensors in a phone to track your surroundings. It could be used to create a really detailed indoor map, make complex augmented reality games, or even help visually impaired users better understand their environment. No word on release date or price or anything like that–this is all research.

Takeaway: A phone that sees the world even better than you can.

SAMSUNG GALAXY S5’S BACK


The Samsung Galaxy S5, the newest version of the wildly popular Galaxy S series, has the usual updates for speed and size, plus some fairly obvious attempts to match the updates in the newest iPhone (a fingerprint scanner, a new gold color). But the biggest change might be one of the cheapest: a brand-new back. Samsung’s Galaxy line has long been dogged with the accusation that the low-cost plastic used in its body feels cheap and flimsy, not befitting a major manufacturer’s flagship product. But instead of going the aluminum-and-glass route like Apple and HTC, Samsung’s newest Galaxy S has a rubbery, rippled back, very similar to that of Google’s Nexus 7 tablet.

Takeaway: The world’s most popular Android phone may finally feel like it deserves the title.

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NOKIA X


Though they were bought by Microsoft last year, Nokia introduced a phone at MWC which uses an operating system that Microsoft is directly competing against: Android. It actually makes sense when you see the big picture–longer explanation here–but it was still a surprise. The phone has a new kind of Android software, made by Nokia specifically for this line, and it blends the looks of modern-day Nokia with the compatibility of Android.

Takeaway: Nokia’s first Android phone is like nothing else.

YOTAPHONE

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The YotaPhone is two devices in one: a regular Android smartphone on one side, and an electrophoretic display on the other; basically, a phone and a Kindle in one. Why would you want that? Well, electrophoretic screens don’t emit any of their own light, so they’re much easier on the eyes than a regular smartphone screen. Plus, they use hardly any battery life at all–YotaPhone says the electrophoretic display can get up to 68 hours of battery life, which is just nuts. Of course, you won’t want to do much more than read books on the ebook-reader side; those types of screens are black and white, and can’t handle video or images very well.

Takeaway: A smartphone and an ebook reader, all in one little package.

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About the author

Dan Nosowitz is a freelance writer and editor who has written for Popular Science, The Awl, Gizmodo, Fast Company, BuzzFeed, and elsewhere. He holds an undergraduate degree from McGill University and currently lives in Brooklyn, because he has a beard and glasses and that's the law.

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