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Mobile World Congress Mania

We take a look at the hottest phones and the latest stuff to come out of MWC

What’s new at MWC?

Mobile World Congress, or MWC as it’s popularly known, is the world’s largest exhibition for the mobile industry. This year the much awaited event was held in the Spanish city of Barcelona from February 15th — 18th. As expected the event was privy to some really hot phones and the birth of some promising operating systems. Here we shortlist three phones which we feel are worth keeping an eye on in the near future, followed by a report on the Windows Mobile 7 platform. So let’s check out some of these cellular wonders first.

Samsung Wave

Samsung had previously launched their proprietary Bada OS back in November last year and at this year’s MWC we finally got to see it in action as Samsung unveiled their first Bada OS enabled smartphone called the Samsung Wave (S8500).

Samsung Wave has a 3.3 inch super AMOLED screen having an 800 x 480 pixel WVGA resolution. Normal AMOLED screens have a glass layer and an electric sensor layer separated by air, but super AMOLED has merges these two layers. This, claims Samsung, to reduce reflections by five times than a normal AMOLED screen.

The phone runs on a Cortex A8 1GHz processor which is the same that runs on iPhone 3GS and the Palm Pre albeit on lower clocks. A 5MP autofocus camera is located on the rear side with an LED flash. Wave has features like integrated contacts — which gets all the various channels of communication like calling, messaging, Facebook, Twitter on one screen; push to calendar — which integrates Google, Yahoo and other calendars.

Samsung claims that their main idea behind developing Bada was to make the smartphones more accessible to the masses. It is partly built on a Linux kernel and the company plans to release the Software development kit (SDK) to developers in March for building applications.

Samsung Apps is the apps store from where you can download applications.

Xperia X10 Mini and X10 Mini Pro

Sony Ericsson launched their credit card sized smartphones Xperia X10 mini and Xperia X10 mini pro at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. The most striking aspect about these phones lies in the operating system. For the first time Sony Ericsson have used the Android OS on their phones.

Android seems to have become the preferred OS if the number of mobile phone manufacturers adopting it is anything to go by. Sony Ericsson is the newest Android convert on the block. While the Xperia X10 mini has a touchscreen interface, the Xperia X10 mini pro has a QWERTY keypad which slides from beneath its tiny body.

The basic spec of the Xperia mini-series includes a 2.55 inch TFT scratch resistant touchscreen, a 600MHz Qualcomm processor running Android OS v1.6. This sleek phone boasts of a 5 MP camera with auto focus and geotagging.

It has an interesting interface which has four contextual corner buttons which can be customized according to your needs. Sony Ericsson’s Timescape is being hailed as an interesting feature which tends to integrate all your contacts in one place such that it is easier to access their call history, Facebook, Twitter, messaging etc. all in one screen. But then we have seen this feature in HTC’s Sense UI, so it’s nothing really new.

“With the X10 mini and X10 mini pro we have pushed the boundaries of what is possible with smaller devices and are giving consumers exactly what they want; two high performance mobile phones with a fully customizable user experience platform and a stunning ultra-compact design,’’ said Rikko Sakaguchi, EVP and Chief Creation Officer, Sony Ericsson.

HTC Legend

Taiwanese mobile phone manufacturing giant, HTC, launched as many as three smartphones at the Mobile World Congress. According to speculations in the tech world, HTC is rumored to launch over 10 smartphones in the year 2010. If MWC launches are any indication to go by, it might just be true.

The HTC Legend is the successor to the hugely popular HTC Hero, although it has many differentiating features. The chin is less prominent in the HTC Legend, but the striking aspect of the phone is that its body is carved out a single aluminum block, making it the first Android based phone with a unicasing. The trackball has been replaced by an optical track pad.

Legend boasts of a 3.2 inch AMOLED screen which promises a rich experience with its enhanced graphics and a capacitive touchscreen. It runs on Android Éclair (v2.1).

It has some other nifty features like the smart ringer sensor. The phone hides a G-sensor which on detecting that a phone has been picked up, reduces the ringer volume.

The Friend stream window gets all your contacts’ Twitter, Facebook streams on one platform, very similar to the Sense UI. With Friend stream you don’t have to go the contacts page to access the integrated contacts.

Leap is an application that allows you to get thumbnail sized versions of your home screens which is also a great addition as it saves time.

HTC Legend is expected to hit the markets in April 2010.

Windows Mobile

One of the most talked about launches at MWC was the much awaited Windows 7 Mobile.

The new operating system dubbed Windows Phone 7 Series comes after several lackluster offerings from Microsoft in previous version including Win Mo 6. All eyes are naturally focused on this new avatar especially since Android is rapidly gaining popularity. Since the time Apple set a benchmark in how OSes for phones should be designed, many of Win Mo’s earlier versions came under a lot of criticism for being ill designed. The start menu for instance was exactly like the one found on the PC version i.e. in the form of a list, making it extremely cumbersome for touch input. “Phones looked like PCs, but a phone is not a PC, it’s smaller, more personal,” Joe Belfiore, vice president for Windows Phone is reported to have said at the launch. No kidding! Still, better late than never. This time around Windows has designed the OS to more suit the touch interface with large ‘tiles’ making up the quick launch screen. These connect the user to the most used elements in the phone, be it favorite apps, websites or even links to Facebook profiles.

The tiles are dynamic or live, so they change when the underlying content changes. Overall the interface is quite a shift from any of the previous flavors of the OS, and more closely resembles the Zune HD player. Instead of going by individual applications for performing a set of functions, the OS makes use of Hubs which are basically like activity centers. The people Hub lets you access all your social networking functions in a single place. You have three distinct streams — recent, all and what’s new. Recent shows the most recent changes your friends have made to their profile, all is the general news feed, while what’s new is the aggregation of status updates. Similarly, the Pictures Hub aggregates pictures while the Office Hub takes care of your productivity needs. Under the office Hub you have OneNote, Documents and SharePoint.

In a rather surprising move Microsoft has locked customization of the OS by hardware manufacturers. HTC for instance earlier replaced the UI shell with their own version called TouchFlo found on phones like HTC Touch 2. It’s doubtful whether anyone will miss it. Ms has even fixed hardware requirements from their hardware partners. These specifications include capacitive touchscreens and a fixed set of hardware buttons for Home, Search and Back. This should work well with the developer community since as much as users appreciate flexibility, app developers wouldn’t mind knowing that certain hardware features will always be present when coding software. This is a major gripe with Android. In any case, we’ll know how users react once the first of these phones start rolling out end of this year.

MeeGo – Is it a me too?

Finnish mobile phone giant Nokia did not have any phone launches this year which surprised quite a lot of tech enthusiasts. But, Nokia made its presence felt in the MWC in the form of a collaboration with processor manufacturing behemoth Intel, where they announced plans to merge their mobile operating systems into MeeGo.

MeeGo, a Linux based open OS is targeted at everything from cellphones to set top boxes. “MeeGo blends the very best of Moblin and Maemo software into one Linux based computing platform. MeeGo will be targeting a wide range of devices including popular mobile computing devices as well as netbooks, tablets, connected TVs, media phones and in-vehicle infotainment,” said Renee James, SVP Software and Services, Intel Group.

Now it wasn’t really clear as to why Nokia and Intel are collaborating on an operating system, which is not the strong point of either companies. The concept sounds promising, but whether it will deliver or not can only be confirmed once we get to use this OS. Like Win Mo 7, it is expected to be used in digital devices by the year end.