Mobile World Congress: More Than Just Phones
Every year, the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, sets the stage for the year to come in mobile technology. Highlights of this year's show included the launch of three new mobile operating systems--Intel and Nokia's MeeGo, Windows Phone Series 7, and Samsung's Bada OS--plus a slew of powerful new handsets. Plenty of intriguing apps and accessories appeared as well. Take a look at some of the highlights from the mobile industry's biggest trade show.
At Last: Windows Phone 7 Is Here
At long last, Microsoft unveiled Windows Phone 7 Series (the official name for Windows Mobile 7) at a packed press conference on the first official day of the Mobile World Congress. Slated to launch on handsets by holiday season 2010, Windows Phone 7 Series is a complete overhaul of previous versions of the OS. If you're familiar with the Zune HD's user interface, you'll feel right at home with Windows Phone 7.
Overall, Windows Phone 7 impressed me: I found the interface clean, user-friendly and socially connected. The Quick Launch screen (pictured) is one of the most intriguing features and certainly a far cry from the old Windows Mobile start screens of yore. Large, colorful tiles serve as shortcuts to your most-used or favorite apps or Web sites. You can also place live tiles on the screen with links to your Facebook profile or friends.
Every Windows Phone 7 Device Is a Zune
Sorry, folks, no official "Zune Phone" was launched this time around, but every Windows Phone 7 Series device will have a Zune music and video player. This is a feature I've wanted in Windows phones for a long time, as I love the Zune interface but despise the Windows Media player. Windows Phone 7 users will also be able to sync their media using the slick Zune PC client. Adios, Windows Media Player!
The successor to the popular HTC Hero, the Legend is a solidly designed phone. Shaped from a single block of aluminum, the Legend has a seamless, smooth surface with separate front and back pieces. The Legend has a gorgeous 3.2-inch AMOLED display, which is an upgrade from the Hero's 3.2-inch LCD screen. The display nicely showcases the new HTC Sense, which runs over Android 2.1 (Eclair). Like the Hero, the Legend has a 5-megapixel camera; it took pretty decent photos at the show.
As RIM did with its most recent BlackBerry models, HTC made the switch from a physical trackball to an optical trackpad. This is a welcome update, since trackballs tend to get dirty or fall out. I found the trackpad nicely responsive, letting me scroll quickly through the Legend's menus.
HTC HD Mini
A smaller version of the gorgeous Windows Phone-based HTC HD2, the HD Mini sports a 3.2-inch capacitive touchscreen (as opposed to the HD2's monolithic 4.2-inch display). Though perhaps not as striking as its older brother, the HD Mini nevertheless offers a display that is equally bright and crisp. In design, the HD Mini has sort of an industrial look with exposed fasteners. And for whatever reason, HTC has given the HD Mini a bright yellow internal structure and battery.
Like the Palm Pre Plus and the Pixi Plus, the HD Mini can turn into a mobile Wi-Fi hotspot for your computer or other wireless devices. HTC didn't give further details on how this capability would work in terms of data plans or pricing. The HD Mini will be offered in Europe and Asia by various carriers starting in March. Availability in North America has not been announced.
Garmin Nuvifone A50
A joint effort between Garmin and Asus, the nuvifone A50 is a globetrotter's dream phone. The Android-based A50 includes Garmin navigation software with turn-by-turn voice directions for walking or driving. Because the maps are stored on the device, you can navigate even while roaming out of the country or if you lose your signal.
The A50 has a crisp, bright 3.5-inch HVGA capacitive touchscreen (perfect for map reading), a touch QWERTY keyboard, a 3-megapixel camera with geotagging, and 4GB of memory, as well as an expandable microSD slot. The nuvifone A50 will be available in Europe in the first half of 2010, but pricing has not yet been announced.
HP Compaq AirLife 100
One of the most interesting gadgets shown at the Mobile World Congress was the HP Compaq AirLife 100, which melds smartphone technology with netbook usability. Powered by a 1GHz Snapdragon processor, this super-portable smartbook boasts a 10.1-inch AMOLED touchscreen, an almost full-size keyboard, and version 1.6 of the Android OS. It also has 3G, Wi-Fi, and GPS connectivity, as well as a front-facing 0.3-megapixel VGA Webcam.
I had some hands-on time with the AirLife at the show and was impressed by its ease of use and responsiveness. The AirLife will be sold exclusively through Telefonica and is is expected to be available in Spring 2010 in select countries. Pricing has not been announced.
Nokia + Intel = MeeGo OS
Nokia and Intel have joined forces to develop yet another mobile platform: MeeGo. A hybrid of two operating systems, Nokia's Maemo and Intel's Moblin, the OS will be open-source and based on Linux.
MeeGo is intended for advanced smartphones, tablets, netbooks, in-vehicle technology, and even connected televisions. It supports ARM architectures as well as Intel's Atom processor. The first devices should launch in the second half of 2010.
Motorola Cliq XT (Quench)
Motorola revealed its eighth Android phone, the Motorola Cliq XT (as it will be known stateside) or Quench (its name everywhere else). Like the original Cliq, Motorola's first Android device in the United States, the Cliq XT runs Motorola's MotoBlur user interface over Android 1.5. The Cliq XT has a 3.1-inch touchscreen, which is a bit small compared with other smartphones on the market; Flash Lite support; and pinch-and-zoom capabilities in the browser. It also sports a 5-megapixel camera and comes preloaded with all of the Google services you'd expect on an Android phone. The Cliq XT will land on T-Mobile next month, but pricing hasn't been confirmed.
Opera Mini on the iPhone: Wishful Thinking?
At the show, mobile browser company Opera demoed a version of its Mini browser on the iPhone. In my hands-on time with it, I found that pages loaded quickly--faster than on Safari, even--and the interface was a breeze to navigate. But Mini on the iPhone is almost too good to be true: Opera hasn't submitted the app to Apple yet, and App Store approval may be a bit of a pipe dream: Apple has rejected a number of apps in the past that supposedly duplicate the functionality of the iPhone's built-in applications. Similarly, a third-party browser alternative to Safari might not go over so well, unfortunately.
Opera Mini renders pages on a server and then compresses them by 90 percent. It uses relatively little of the phone's resources, resulting in a quicker mobile Web surfing experience.
Samsung's Splashy Bada Launch
On the eve of the Mobile World Congress, Samsung launched its first Bada OS phone, the Wave, in what can only be described as a splashy event. Wall-to-wall videos of waves, blue-colored cocktails, shark fins (pictured), and sea-creature-like dancers almost made me forget I was at a phone launch. Samsung sees Bada phones as being accessible to everyone, no matter what your income or tech experience may be. But can the Bada OS compete with the legions of Android phones now storming the mobile world?
Samsung's First Bada Handset: The Wave
Whether Bada will succeed or flop is unknown, but the Samsung Wave, the first phone to feature the OS, has some pretty hard-to-ignore specs. The Wave also showcases Samsung's new Super AMOLED technology, which has touch sensors on the display itself as opposed to creating a separate layer. Super AMOLED is fantastic; my low-light photos truly don't do it any justice. Colors burst out of the display, and animations appeared lively and smooth. Samsung also says that this design reflects less light and therefore handles better outdoors.
The Wave is powered by a 1GHz processor--the same speed as the Snapdragon processor in the Google Nexus One. It also runs the new TouchWiz 3.0 interface, which didn't feel as muddled and confusing as previous versions.
Xperia X10 Mini Pro: Compact With a Keyboard
Its small size (as its name suggests) sets Sony Ericcson's Xperia X10 Mini Pro apart from most other Android phones (it runs Android 1.6). It has a 2.55-inch capacitive touchscreen display with a resolution of 240 by 320 pixels; a backlit QUERTY keyboard slides out from beneath the display. Other features include a 5-megapixel camera with an LED flash, Assisted-GPS, and an FM radio. It can access the Internet via either HSPA or Wi-Fi.
The phone will start shipping in some markets outside the United States in the second quarter, and it may come to the U.S. later.
Sony Ericsson Vivaz Pro: Sexy and Symbian
One of the new Sony Ericsson "fabulous five" smartphones showcased at MWC, the Vivaz Pro has a full QWERTY keyboard, runs on Nokia's Symbian platform, and features a 3.2-inch display (360-by-640-pixel resolution) in a 16:9 aspect ratio. The slick-looking phone also has a 5.1-megapixel camera with autofocus and face detection, plus a flash and an image stabilizer, together with video recording capabilities. I snapped a few photos with the Vivaz Pro on the show floor and was impressed with the quality of my images--especially as showcased on the Vivaz Pro's brilliant display. Sony Ericsson's Vivaz Pro comes with an 8GB microSD card included, but is expandable up to 16GB. The 3G phone is expected to arrive in the second quarter; pricing is still to be announced.
Docomo's Eye-Controlled Earphones
Japan's Docomo never fails to deliver the most unique technology (as well as the cutest show-floor booths), and this year's show was no exception. Though they look like regular earphones, Docomo's eye-controlled earphones have sensors that can track your eye movement. By far it was one of the most intriguing--and strangest--demos on the floor.
Almost identical to the Google Nexus One, the HTC Desire boasts a 3.7-inch AMOLED display, a 1GHz Snapdragon processor, and a slim, full-touchscreen design. The hardware has a few key differences, however. Like another HTC phone, the Legend, the Desire trades the trackball for an optical trackpad. The HTC Desire also has an FM radio, which the Nexus One lacks.
In terms of software, the Desire--like the Legend and the HD2--will run the updated HTC Sense interface, rather than the out-of-the-box Android 2.1 interface that the Nexus One sports. The Desire will be available in Europe and Asia around March or April from a number of carriers.