Phones at CES 2017 were a warmup for what’s to come

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CES may be lean on phones this year, but the 17 we saw pointed out some trends that will help define handsets through 2017, especially as we head into next month’s Mobile World Congress, the phone world’s best and biggest show.

Biggest trends

  • AI will be big as companies integrate artificial intelligence in new ways that help anticipate your needs.
  • AR and VR (augmented reality and virtual reality) will inch closer to the mainstream as companies integrate Google’s Tango and Daydream software into thin, attractive packages.
  • Budget hardware will improve, thanks to last year’s tech making it into this year’s cheap-but-good devices.

Most interesting phones

  • Asus ZenFone AR: The first phone with both Google Tango and Google Daydream has a lot of potential to layer immersive digital experiences onto the real world. Unfortunately, since the demo didn’t work, this is all theoretical for now, but something to keep an eye on.
  • Huawei Honor Magic: With its built-in AI, this phone — which only sells in China right now — promises to more conveniently surface notifications, offer up a flashlight when it’s dark and generally help you out with useful information that comes to you.
  • BlackBerry “Mercury”: BlackBerry lives! The brand’s rescue by Alcatel parent company TCL means we’ll start seeing more BlackBerry phones soon, keyboard and all. We got a sneak peek at the “Mercury” and should see the real deal at Mobile World Congress next month.
  • LG Stylus 3: With the recalled Samsung Galaxy Note 7 out of the picture, this phone is currently the only one you can buy with a stylus. It doesn’t have all of the Note 7’s premium appeal, but it’s a viable option for die-hards.
  • Huawei Mate 9 with Alexa: The Mate 9 is already on sale globally, but it’s now in the US, too. Next month it’ll be the first phone to get Amazon Alexa, the assistant that ties into smart devices all throughout the home. That makes the Mate 9 basically an Amazon Alexa remote, even if you don’t have the Echo.

More to come from HTC and MWC

2017’s year in phones is just kicking off, with more to come next week. HTC will launch a new product on January 12. The event, called “U”, doesn’t offer much of a hint of what we should expect, but rumors say there will be two phones called the HTC U Ultra and U Play.

A few weeks after that, we have Mobile World Congress (MWC), the world’s largest mobile conference. It’s there that we see flagship devices, a mountain of accessories and oddball concept devices from companies hoping to gain ground.

One big change we expect this year is Samsung’s lower-profile presence at the show. Its Galaxy S phone has been the anchor for years, but given the Note 7 recall and uncertainty over what caused the explosion, it’s probable that Samsung will hold off its Galaxy S8 launch until it can confirm that its next flagship won’t suffer the same fate.

CNET will be on the ground covering MWC live from February 26 to March 1.

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