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It (kinda) floats!

There were some pretty unconventional phones at MWC 2018

We picked out some of the more interesting handsets at the show

This article originally appeared on ABACUS

Walking around the Mobile World Congress can be an overwhelming experience. With hundreds of exhibitors spread out in eight giant exhibition halls, there’s an endless array of smartphones on show. But among the iPhone clones and Samsung Galaxy copycats, there were some unique handsets that stood out among the rest...

A phone that (kinda) floats!

It (kinda) floats!

In this age of smartphones, it’s easy to forget that there’s a sizeable number of people who still use feature phones: Cheap mobile devices that let you make calls and do basic web browsing... and not much else.

One of the most interesting ones we saw in Barcelona was the Vano V96, billed as a waterproof “floating” phone that also doubles as a power bank.

When I visited their booth, the team excitedly suggested that I throw the phone into a water tank. So I did.

As promised, the handset didn’t drop like a stone to the bottom... but neither did it float like raft. Instead the top of the phone stayed just above the water while the rest hit the bottom (like the ending of Titanic).

Still, it’s hard to beat the price: It sells for just US$18.

A PDA with a QWERTY keyboard

The Gemini's keyboard makes it a great device for productivity -- but I decided to play games on it instead
It may be hard to remember a time before the iPhone, but once upon a time people used phones with real, physical keyboards. (I have to admit: When I was a teenager, all I ever wanted was the T-Mobile Sidekick that Paris Hilton had.)
The Gemini combines the look of a 90s Psion PDA with a modern smartphone interface. Crowdfunded through Indiegogo, it brings back the nostalgia of typing on a physical keyboard that doesn’t cover half the screen like an on-screen keyboard does. It runs Android, Linux or Sailfish OS, and lets you take phone calls when closed.

Will I replace my regular smartphone with this? Probably not, given how bulky it is. But I can definitely see the advantages of using this as a handheld computer on the go -- my shoulders will definitely appreciate not having to carry a full-size laptop.

A Land Rover-branded phone

This is what happens when you try to make a handset look like an SUV

From Porsche to Bentley, once in a while car companies lend their brand to smartphones.

The latest comes in the form of the Land Rover Explore, a device that somehow tries to blend a handset with the aesthetics of an SUV. The phone sports a car-like grille at the bottom and is built to withstand the elements, so you can drop it from up to 1.8 meters or take it for a swim.

For hikers and cyclists, the phone comes with a navigation app called the ViewRanger that provides topographic maps and suggested routes. On top of that, users can add an “Adventure Pack” to the back that doubles the battery capacity and includes a GPS antenna.

If you’re the kind of person who spends weekends trekking or skiing -- or if you're a really big Land Rover fan and want the world to know it -- this phone might be for you.

The Matrix/Banana phone

Nokia's latest attempt to recapture the past is a revival of the 8110 made famous by the film The Matrix
As far as Nokia phones go, retro seems to be the new modern. During last year’s Mobile World Congress, the company unveiled a new version of the budget 3310, one of the most popular handsets of its time. This year, it’s the 8110, otherwise known as the banana phone or the Matrix phone.

The main feature here is the cover that slides open to reveal the keypad (a series of buttons marked with numbers you had to press to call people, which older people tell me was a common way to communicate back in the 1990s).

Another feature you won’t find in most smartphones now is a battery that lasts for weeks. On standby, the 8110 can last for an astounding 25 days.

But my favorite thing about this phone is the new Snake game. Proper 3D games are standard on smartphones now, but once in a while, there’s nothing quite like the simple pleasure of guiding a 2D snake through a tiny screen to eat apples.

For more insights into China tech, sign up for our tech newsletters, subscribe to our Inside China Tech podcast, and download the comprehensive 2019 China Internet Report. Also roam China Tech City, an award-winning interactive digital map at our sister site Abacus.