The coolest (phone-related) things we saw at IFA 2023

The coolest things we saw at IFA 2023
IFA (Internationale Funkausstellung Berlin a.k.a. Berlin Radio Show) is an annual event where all things tech come to play. While smartphones aren't as prevalent there as they are on an event like MWC (Mobile World Congress), there are still some major players and a ton of fun accessories to check out. Not to mention, a plethora of tech like robotics, AI, virtual reality, so on and so forth.

Naturally, if one were to walk the full assembly of show floors, they'd get... hmmm, let's say slightly overwhelmed? But since we at PhoneArena specialize in mobile tech, we visited with Samsung, Honor, Motorola, and also anything and everything that was mobile phone related and kind of looked cool! So, here's what we had fun with:

Samsung showfloor — the sustainable future
Honor Magic V2 — super-thin foldable
ThinkPhone Windows 11 stream — "cloud computing" from your phone
Fairphone 5 and Fairbuds — sustainable, repairable smartphone and earphones
Belkin — first-ever Qi2 wireless chargers
Solum Ear X — fitness-tracking earbuds that also check your posture
Withings ScanWatch 2 — awesome "hybrid" smartwatches
Urbanista Malibu — great-sounding Bluetooth speaker with solar panel
Soundcore Motion X600 — 5 drivers, 50 W of power, spatial audio from a Bluetooth speaker
Sangean speakers — classic "radio"-looking speakers that will look great in a living room
UB+ speakers — spherical speakers of bass and destruction that come with their own tripods
Pitaka cases — aramid and carbon fiber weaves that now come in fun colors with a unique flair

Samsung's floor

Samsung talked a lot about the future of sustainability, the smart home, AI-optimized energy-saving appliances, smart monitors with baked-in mobile gaming, and cloud gaming hubs. It also showcased how its latest foldables are made in a heavily stylized "conveyor belt" construction:

Honor Magic V2

Yes, yes, the Honor Magic Purse was the talked-up conceptual device from the company this year. But we couldn't take our eyes and hands off the Honor Magic V2 — for one, it's a phone that may actually come to western markets, while the Purse is probably not going to be for sale anywhere at all. Secondly, the Magic V2 fits a Snapdragon 8 Gen 2, a vapor chamber, and a 5,000 mAh battery in a body that is so wafer-thin that it was about as thick as a Galaxy S22 Ultra when folded!

Motorola ThinkPhone with cloud-streamed Windows 11

While everyone is looking at cloud streaming for gaming purposes, Motorola and Lenovo asked a different question — what if we just stream a Windows 11 platform to your phone? In theory, it's better than mobile desktop solutions like Samsung's DeX, because it's not trying to "simulate" a desktop operating system — it literally gives you access to a Windows 11 machine of your own (that's always on in the cloud). The new service will be available right this month, as Motorola is in the final pre-launch stages.

Fairphone 5 and Fairbuds XL

Fairphone is kind of a weird name, but here's the philosophy behind the product: everything needs to be easily repairable, the phone is made out of sustainable materials, and the device itself should be able to last you a long time. With the new Fairphone 5, the company aims for a 10-year software update cycle — that's quite optimistic, but they do realistically promise 8 years, which previous devices like the Fairphone 2 have proven is not impossible.

At IFA, Fairphone also introduced the new Fairbuds XL — wireless over-ear headphones, which follow the same philosophy — easily replaceable parts and batteries. We tested their sound and found them to be quite OK. Not the best headphones in terms of wide soundstaging or deep bass, but definitely not bad-sounding. We'd say "upper midrange".

The first-ever Qi2 wireless chargers?

Quick recap — thus far, all major smartphone manufacturers have embraced the Qi standard for wireless chargers. In 2023, any phone and charger you buy will work via Qi and it's all streamlined. But it's also a bit old by now... The good news is that Qi2 is right over the horizon! And the better news is that Apple has joined up with the manufacturers that dictate how the standard operates and has "given away" the MagSafe tech to become a part of Qi2. This means we will be seeing a lot more magnetic chargers and possibly Android Qi2 smarthpones with magnetic rings on their backs.

For now, Qi2 chargers will be able to deliver 15 W of power, which is noticeably faster than the commonly-used 7.5 W and 10 W pucks. But manufacturers are optimistic that the new magnetic aligment of the coils will allow them to rapidly improve the tech and deliver even faster wireless charging.

At IFA, we got to see the first-ever Qi2 wireless chargers — they were prototypes by Belkin that didn't have the smoothest construction but definitely worked as intended. Now it's only a question of — who will launch the commercial models first?

Solum Ear X

Solum is a company that specializes in biosensor tech and now they've put their expertise in a set of earbuds. These will track your heart rate and temperature, but also employ an accelerometer to alert you if you have a wrong posture while exercising. Yes, we did ask — unfortunately, the posture warning doesn't work when simply idling, it's only active when you are in a workout. These haven't launched yet, but look like a very interesting smartwatch alternative for those that don't want to run with a watch.

Alternatively, Solum is also thinking of ways it could integrate the readings of the Ear X with other sensors that are feeding data to your health app of choice. Seeing as they are tied to Samsung — this could grow into some Galaxy Health integration, but this is just us riffing on the idea, nothing is official.

Withings ScanWatch 2 and ScanWatch Light

Withings levereged their expertise in health-tracking to introduce two new hybrid smartwatch models. You've got the mechanical timepieces with tiny digital screens embedded in them to deliver notifications, and a plethora of sensors on the back. This is all backed up by a very, very detailed app with tons of health-tracking statistics. Temperature readings, an accurate accelerometer for precise activity tracking, oxygen saturation, sleep tracking, cycle tracking, and enhanced power-saving featurres — it is packed to the brim. The ScanWatch Light doesn't shave a lot off — you mainly lose the temperature sensor — but comes at a lower price.

Urbanista Malibu

No joke — there were a ton of wireless speakers to check out at IFA 2023. Among them, a few models stood out and the new Urbanista Malibu really caught our attention. The company partnered up with Powerfoyle for this one — the latter develops thin, non-toxic, flexible plastic solar cells that allow for wide applications. So, essentially the Malibu's battery life is being extended, improving the speaker's efficiency. It also helps that we found it to sound really good, with stereo sound shooting out of it and a good amount of bass to provide a thump. You can even pair multiple Malibu speakers for more volume.

Soundcore Motion X600

Soundcore (Anker sub-brand) calls this the "world's first portable high-fidelity speaker". What does this mean in the post-Hi-Fi era? Well, it has 5 drivers with 5 separate amplifiers that shoot out spatial audio in all directions. They are grouped in 3 channels, so that would be stereo plus a sub. It has a massive 50 W power output, 12 hours of battery life, supports LDAC (on Android) and is Hi-Res Audio certified. What sets it apart from any other speaker? We found it to sound fantastic and it's definitely the boombox you want to bring when the party needs some extra oomph.

Sangean speakers

We've seen Bluetooth speakers reach for the "retro style" before, but this selection of Sangean products does look special. Some models combine FM radio with Bluetooth connectivity, others simply look cool. Those turntable-like models with the horns? Yeah, the horn itself is a bass reflex, which is pretty fun. Fair warning, some of them are there more for looks than for sound.

UB+ speakers

Rounding off our trip around the speakers isle is — very appropriately — UB+ with its spherical Bluetooth speakers. The flagship DB1 is a shiny ball with a bass driver and tweeter, and two passive radiators that shoot sound out of it. Yes, it can pair up to other DB1 speakers. They also come with bundled tripods, so you can place them in any corner of the living room and keep them off furniture that could unpleasantly amplify some frequencies. The compact and colorful S1 Circle and the internally-lit Elite also caught our attention. 

Pitaka's cases now come in color

Pitaka is quite popular for its form-fitting aramid fiber cases. They are thin, they are stylish, they are hard, and they... come in black. In fairness, a few models had a tinge of color in them, but now Pitaka is going all in. By weaving together aramid fiber and carbon fiber — we don't imagine that's easy — they have come out with some limited-edition iPhone 14 cases and a plethora of Apple Watch bands.

Yes, yes "Colored cases is exciting?". Well, the Pitaka ones have a unique look to them due to them still being... well, a weave construction. The iPhone cases are already sold-out, which makes us believe the "experiment" was successful and we are eager to see more fun colors on Pitaka cases in the future!

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