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The Best and the Weirdest of Mobile World Congress 2014

Brian Heater
Tech Columnist
Yahoo Tech

What was big at the big Mobile World Congress trade show in Barcelona this week? Phones. They’re getting massive screens. Also big: watches and wearables. Here are our picks from this important conference.

Best Phone: Sony Xperia Z2

I’m not the only one who went to MWC expecting the Samsung Galaxy S5 to be the smash hit. But it was Sony that blew me away. You’d have a hard time finding a more beautiful device running Android than the Sony Xperia Z2. 

It’s beautifully designed, sports a stunning screen with technology borrowed from the company’s Bravia HDTV line, and it has an impressive camera, including 4K support. It’s also water- and dustproof, even if it doesn’t look like it.

Best Wearable: Samsung Gear Fit

Samsung’s Gear Fit might look like another me too fitness tracker, but this wrist-worn device has a curved, full-color, gorgeous AMOLED display. 

The 1.84-inch screen does display miles walked and calories burned, but it also delivers incoming calls, texts and other alerts from your smartphone. It’s both a fitness tracker and a smartwatch, and it’s a smart combination. 

Biggest Surprise: Nokia X

With the Nokia X, the Microsoft-aligned mobile manufacturer oddly embraced Google’s Android operating system, and in a way that surprised everyone. The company abandoned all ties to Google’s own apps (like Gmail, Maps and the Play store), and put Windows Phone-like tile design on top of Google underpinnings.

The result:  A low-cost “starter” phone for users in developing nations,  that doubles as an on-ramp into the mobile Nokia/Windows ecosystem (itself a developing economy). 

Coolest Emerging Technology: Fujitsu’s Haptic Touchscreen

In the future, your phones and tablets might touch you back. Fujitsu demonstrated a haptic feedback display that let you “feel” images on the screen. The company demoed images of an alligator, turntable, and a stringed instrument, all of which gave off the sensation of touching what you were seeing. The technology uses ultrasonic frequencies, vibrating to create either friction or pockets of air to make the surface feel smoother or rougher.

The demo wasn’t perfect — the alligator, for instance, didn’t quite feel like an alligator and the whole thing gave off a sort of high-pitched hum. But it’s a great start. 

A special runner-up award in this category goes to Eye Tribe, which lets you play Fruit Ninja with your eyes.

Best Trend: Waterproofing

For years, I’ve said there are two things smartphone manufactures need to embrace: better battery life and waterproofing. Sony and Samsung both acknowledge the latter with their new flagship phones. And earlier in the week a company called DryWired showed off a machine that coats your existing device with a thin later of waterproofing. Hopefully 2014 is the year that waterproofing becomes standard on new handsets.

Worst Trend: Selfies
The word was everywhere this year. In fact, companies like Acer, Huawei and LG are now using it to describe decent specs on forward-facing cameras. In fact, CamMe, an app almost solely devoted to taking fancy selfies, walked away with the App of the Year award from MWC’s parent company, the GSMA.

Most Strangely Appealing Convergence Device: Huawei TalkBand B1

I wouldn’t be caught dead using a Bluetooth headset, but there’s something to TalkBand B1, a wrist-worn fitness tracker with an ear-piece inside. Getting a call while running? No problem — just pull the headset out from the rubber bracelet and you’re ready for that impromptu business meeting — assuming your clients don’t mind a little heavy breathing.

Scariest Product: MotoMount

The MountMount is a motorized arm designed to test the sound quality of new smartphones. It’s also the stuff of nightmares.