Latest mobile gadgets: Hands on at MWC

Photos: From smartphones to smartbooks, designer kit to eye-controlled earphones...
By Natasha Lomas, Contributor
1 of 25 Natasha Lomas/ZDNET

Photos: From smartphones to smartbooks, designer kit to eye-controlled earphones...

Mobile World Congress - the world's biggest mobile phone trade show - takes place in the Fira de Barcelona exhibition space in Spain (pictured above).

This year's event saw around 49,000 attendees - up slightly on last year when 47,000 mobile industry professionals walked through the door. More than 1,300 exhibitors showed off their wares this year but there were a few high-profile absentees: Nokia, which set up a press and analyst meeting area just around the corner from the Fira inside Once - the National Organisation of the Spanish Blind (see photo below), and LG which paid a flying visit with an off-site press pavilion.

Two high-profile mobile companies with no presence inside or outside Congress were Palm - and of course Apple, which only participates in its own conferences.

Nokia's meeting area outside MWC

Nokia set up camp outside MWC - but there was no mobile hardware on show, just chit-chat

Photo credits: Natasha Lomas/silicon.com

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The star of this year's show was arguably Microsoft - which unveiled the next generation of its Windows Mobile OS - a completely overhauled operating system dubbed 7 Series including an elegant new-look UI that integrates with a variety of third-party web services, such as Facebook and X-Box live.

Michael Chang, senior product manager at Microsoft, confirmed 7 Series has been completely rebuilt from the ground up. The look of the new UI draws from Microsoft's Zune HD MP3 player interface but Chang said Nike was also involved in the design process. 7 Series devices won't be able to be skinned with a proprietary UI by device manufacturers as Microsoft is keen to preserve the look and feel of its next-gen smartphones.

At MWC Microsoft demoed an early build of the OS running on a prototype handset which silicon.com got its hands on - pictured above and below. Devices running 7 Series will be in the market in time for Christmas, according to CEO Steve Ballmer.

"We hope 7's our lucky number," he said.

Microsoft Windows Phone 7 Series prototype at MWC

Microsoft's Windows Phone 7 Series UI has a strong social networking flavour

Photo credits: Natasha Lomas/silicon.com

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HTC also made a big splash at MWC with a pair of flagship smartphones running Google's open OS platform, Android.

Pictured above is the HTC Desire - a smartphone sporting a 3.7-inch Amoled WVGA display and a 1GHz Snapdragon processor. The device resembles Google's branded Nexus One handset, which is also made by HTC.

Pictured below is the HTC Legend, the company's follow-up to last year's HTC Hero. Both the Desire and the Legend run HTC's Sense UI atop the Android platform.

HTC Legend

Who needs a Hero anymore? HTC unveiled the Android-sporting HTC Legend smartphone at MWC

Photo credits: Natasha Lomas/silicon.com

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Another high-end smartphone that made a splash at MWC was the Samsung Wave (pictured above) which has a 3.3-inch Super Amoled display. The Wave is the first device to be launched on Samsung's Bada open OS platform - which was announced towards the back end of last year - and sports the company's TouchWiz 3.0 UI.

Samsung had a big presence inside and outside the Fira - plastering a nearby building with a giant advert for Wave (shown below).

Samsung Wave

Samsung splashed some cash on billboard advertising of its Wave handset just outside the Fira

Photo credits: Natasha Lomas/silicon.com

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Mobile maker Sony Ericsson had a small stand at the show but used its traditional pre-MWC Sunday evening press conference to show off its latest line-up of handset kit - including its first Android smartphone, the Xperia X10 (pictured above, left).

The touchscreen X10 was one of three Android devices demoed by the company in Barcelona - with two smaller versions also announced: the X10 Mini (pictured above, centre) and the X10 Mini Pro which adds a slide-out keyboard.

All three handsets are skinned with Sony Ericsson's UX user interface.

The mobile maker also announced a slide-out keyboard version of its Vivaz smartphone - the Vivaz Pro - which runs the Symbian OS. A Sony Ericsson spokesman said the ability to type on a smartphone was becoming increasing important to consumers, not just business users, because of the rise of mobile social networking (pictured below).

Sony Ericsson slide-out keyboards

Sony Ericsson reckons physical keyboards are increasingly important to smartphone users

Photo credits: Natasha Lomas/silicon.com

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Motorola also had a new Android smartphone up its sleeve at MWC - the Motorola Quench (pictured above), a 3.1-inch touchscreen device which runs the company's MotoBlur UI. It was also showing off the Android-powered Backflip, which launched earlier this month.

There was a lot more than smartphones on show at its MWC stand, including an LTE internet cafe and a 3D TV demo (pictured below).

Motorola 3D TV

Motorola demoed a 3D TV system at its MWC stand

Photo credits: Natasha Lomas/silicon.com

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Yet another Android-powered handset popped up at MWC, the U8800 (pictured above) - this one, the first Android handset made by Chinese kit-maker Huawei.

The company also had an LTE-powered telepresence videoconferencing demo at its booth, pictured below.

Huawei LTE telepresence

Huawei demos telepresence videoconferencing via long term evolution (LTE) cellular tech

Photo credits: Natasha Lomas/silicon.com

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Another first at MWC was the launch of a phone by sportswear brand Puma. The Puma Phone is a joint effort with Sagem Wireless, running a proprietary OS.

The sports-focused device has a pedometer, compass, accelerometer, GPS and stopwatch.

In keeping with the majority of the smartphones du jour, the front of the device offers a touchscreen but the back has a solar panel (pictured above) for topping up the battery when out and about.

Photo credit: Natasha Lomas/silicon.com

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Designer phones were in evidence elsewhere at MWC, especially handsets aimed at the Asian market.

This clamshell device made by Samsung is called the Diva Folder and promises "glamorous design" and "feminine fascination" - aka a variety of lady-friendly UI themes and "security features" such as SOS messages and 'fake call', presumably for easy escape during a bad blind date.

Photo credit: Natasha Lomas/silicon.com

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Also aimed at mobile lovers in the Far East are these clamshell mobiles on show on the NTTDoCoMo stand - designed to look like bars of melting chocolate.

Photo credit: Natasha Lomas/silicon.com

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Colour was also key on the ZTE stand where this wall of designer 3G dongles was on show.

Photo credit: Natasha Lomas/silicon.com

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And accessories got a look in too - with Golla showing off bags and 'phone pockets' for "generation mobile".

Photo credit: Natasha Lomas/silicon.com

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One of the stranger sights at MWC was NTTDoCoMo's 'eye-controlled earphones' demo. As their name suggests the earphones can be used with MP3 players or mobile phones for hands-free control of music playing. The wearer's eye movements are tracked by disk-shaped electrodes connected to the earbuds and tracks can be played/paused, skipped and more, and volume can be turned up or down by a variety of eye gestures including looking left, right, up, down or by rolling the eyeballs left or right.

The Japanese mobile operator was also demoing a location-aware mobile concierge service that sends local alerts to a mobile user such as weather conditions and discount offers in shops (shown below). The service can be personalised by the user with the demo avatar resembling a sheep.

NTTDoCoMo mobile concierge

NTTDoCoMo showed off a mobile concierge service

Photo credit: Natasha Lomas/silicon.com

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As mentioned earlier, Samsung had a massive presence at this year's MWC, colonising an area occupied by Nokia last year and then some. And it was not just smartphones on show on its booth - netbooks were also in ample evidence, as shown below...

Samsung netbooks

Samsung shows off a wall of netbooks at its MWC stand

Along with a handful of enterprise app demos, pictured below, for its smartphones.

Samsung enterprise apps

Samsung shows off enterprise apps at its MWC stand

Photo credits: Natasha Lomas/silicon.com

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The kit maker was also showing off a netbook with embedded LTE (pictured above) - aka 'long term evolution', the likely upgrade path for 3G technology.

Samsung LTE dongle

Samsung shows off a wall of notebook hardware at its MWC stand

It was also demoing an LTE dongle (pictured above) - shown here streaming live video content.

Samsung WiMax netbook

Samsung displays a WiMax netbook

And a WiMax netbook (pictured above).

Photo credits: Natasha Lomas/silicon.com

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Hybrid hardware was the name of the game at the ARM stand where this ebook-cum-laptop (pictured above) was on show. With two touchscreens, the hinged creation offers e-ink on one of its screens, coupled with a colour touchscreen on the other side.

The dual-screen set-up allows the device to be used in an e-book or laptop-style position. In the latter case, an ARM spokesman said a keyboard could be displayed on the e-ink screen, enabling the colour screen to be used for normal computing.

ARM smartbook

One of the smartbooks on show on the ARM stand

Also on the ARM stand was this smartbook reference design (shown above), using Marvell chips.

ARM smartbook

Lenovo's smartbook

And this Lenovo Skylight smartbook (shown above), which was unveiled at CES.


A PC in a box - the Ebox

ARM was also demoing a PC-in-a-box called Ebox, made by Quanta and running Ubuntu.

Photo credits: Natasha Lomas/silicon.com

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Qualcomm was taking mobility in a different direction by showing off a 'connected car' - complete with Flo TV screens for passengers in the back (pictured above).

The tricked out Audi has a built-in 3G web connection enabling live traffic updates, navigation and entertainment. The connection also acts as a wi-fi hotspot for passengers who want to get their mobile kit online during the journey. Car sick individuals should look away now.

Photo credit: Natasha Lomas/silicon.com

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Vodafone had an even bigger bit of kit on show - this solar-powered 'green' mobile base station, pictured above, designed to extend GSM coverage to remote areas and with very low power consumption.

Photo credit: Natasha Lomas/silicon.com

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Vodafone's presence was also evident elsewhere in the Fira - sponsoring the inaugural App Planet event and holding sessions for developers for its 360 service.

Photo credit: Natasha Lomas/silicon.com

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Developer conferences took place in the App Planet hall but the show floor was given over to stands from the likes of BlackBerry (pictured above), IBM and Skype. . .

BlackBerry at App Planet at MWC

Vringo hoping to make an impact at App Planet

... to smaller players such as video ringtones outfit Vringo (above) and mobile comic content company Mobima (below).

App Planet at MWC

Mobima brought some much needed colour to App Planet

Alcatel-Lucent used the App Planet hall as an idea forum, asking delegates to submit ideas to the ideas wall and making a chandelier out of famous designers' sayings (pictured below).

App Planet at MWC

Alcatel-Lucent wanted delegates' ideas at App Planet

Photo credits: Natasha Lomas/silicon.com

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However being positioned in the far distant top corner of the Fira, up an escalator and over the road from the rest of the MWC action, App Planet felt a little low key compared to the main show floor. Apps spilled out onto various booths - with BlackBerry's main stand largely given over to a wall of app demos (shown above).

Photo credit: Natasha Lomas/silicon.com

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Another key app maker - Opera Software which makes the Opera browser - also took a space on the main show floor where it demoed a version of its browser for Apple's iPhone which it claims is up to six times faster than Apple's Safari browser.

As Opera for iPhone has not been approved by Apple it's not yet available on the App Store and consequently the company was not allowing photos of the app running on its demo iPhones.

Photo credit: Natasha Lomas/silicon.com

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Another big announcement came in a keynote given by Erik Huggers, the BBC's head of future media and technology. Auntie is to get into the app-making business with a BBC News app (above left), a sports results app (above right) and an iPlayer app.

The Beeb will develop the apps for the iPhone initially but aims to get them onto as many smartphone platforms as possible.

Photo credit: Natasha Lomas/silicon.com

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Google also showed off a new app - a German language version of its photo translation software, running on a smartphone. A Google exec demoed a photo of a line from a German menu being translated into English.

Photo credit: Natasha Lomas/silicon.com

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And from apps to widgets - Telmap was demoing its Active Widgets service that sits atop a digital mapping service and displays symbols to indicate nearby services, such as Starbucks (shown above).

A Telmap spokeswoman said the company is currently in discussions with a UK mobile operator to rollout a widgets service for the London Congestion Charge zone - with users of the service able to click 'yes' once to pay the charge. The payment would then appear in their monthly mobile bill.

Photo credit: Natasha Lomas/silicon.com

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