There's an absolute flood of new phones, tablets, and other gadgets being introduced this week at Mobile World Congress 2012, and we're here to go through the mass and bring you our hands-on impressions with the best devices we see this week. Already we've seen Huawei's quad-core Ascend D, the LG Optimus 4X, and Samsung's Galaxy Beam — and we're just getting started. We'll be updating throughout the week with all the standout products we see right here.
Mar 2, 2012
Tegra 3, Nvidia's new quad-core chip for smartphones and tablets, has been the most talked-about new processor at MWC 2012. Its popularity continues a habit the company established last year when almost every phone maker had a Tegra 2 handset to show off. Today's a little different from yesteryear, however, in one very important aspect: America's top two carriers demand LTE in their high-end phones. That poses a conundrum for Nvidia as Tegra 3 is most evidently a high-end part, but without LTE connectivity, it won't find its way into any of AT&T or Verizon's hero devices.Read Article >
Faced with that contradiction, we did the only thing we could do: we went straight to the source, in the form of Tegra division General Manager Mike Rayfield, to see how Nvidia will overcome the challenge. Mike reminded us that Nvidia is already working on its own LTE modems and has partnerships in place with modem makers that will allow for LTE-enabled Tegra 3 phones in the latter half of 2012. Until then, he says, Nvidia will simply have to accept being second to Qualcomm and its integrated LTE connectivity in the new Snapdragon S4 for "a very short period of time."
Mar 1, 2012
Microsoft's Windows 8 Consumer Preview was made available to download yesterday, giving everyone a chance to experience the company's most revolutionary change in user interface since Windows 95. The interaction paradigm has shifted from a mouse-centric desktop to a touch-friendly, highly visual Metro style UI. The old Start orb has been retired and replaced by a Charms bar, which is brought to life with an inward swipe from the right. A swipe from the top down dismisses the app you're in and returns you to the home screen, and the left and bottom edges also have actions associated with them. Gestures play a very significant role in Windows 8, but they're only one aspect of a truly gargantuan list of changes.Read Article >
While the Consumer Preview software remains at the beta stage, its central concepts have now been fleshed out, so we thought this would be a fitting time to compare them against Apple's iPad, the incumbent leader in the tablet space Microsoft is seeking to become a player in. iOS 5 and Windows 8 share a few similarities, but the user experience is fundamentally different and informed by different interaction metaphors. You can see those detailed in the video below, and if you care to learn more about what else has changed under the Windows hood with version 8, feel free to peruse our comprehensive preview of the Consumer Preview.
Feb 29, 2012Read Article >
Microsoft is releasing the Consumer Preview of Windows 8 today, a highly anticipated software release from the company that marks the introduction of a full touch interface for Windows. The software giant has attempted to bring touch functionality to Windows over a number of years, but Windows 8 goes a huge step further by introducing a separate environment for new applications, designed with touch and Metro style in mind, to the masses of Windows users.
Feb 28, 2012
Nokia CEO Stephen Elop is on hand at MWC this week to help spread the company's message to business partners, carriers, and the press. Ever gregarious and approachable, Elop gave us a few minutes of his time today to discuss the first year of Nokia's transition, which got started with the announcement of a strategic alliance with Microsoft in February 2011. He was candid about the downsides of this fundamental change in strategy, noting the number of jobs Nokia has had to cut in an effort to streamline operations.Read Article >
Today, Nokia remains very much in the middle of its transition, says Elop, but a lot has been accomplished in those short twelve months. His present assessment of the decision to move to Windows Phone is no less sanguine than it was a year ago:
Feb 27, 2012
Microsoft announced today that it will bring a Windows Phone 7.5 update to existing handsets in April. Codenamed Tango, the update lowers Microsoft's minimum specification for Windows Phone and introduces some new features to existing devices. We got an early hands-on look at several builds of Windows Phone today, all of which include new MMS features and several restrictions for devices with 256MB of RAM.Read Article >
Microsoft is removing background agents with Windows Phone Tango if a device has 256MB of RAM, meaning certain background tasks will not work. Microsoft believes around 95 percent of existing applications will work fine on 256MB of RAM, but the company is encouraging developers to test their applications and is undergoing a testing process of existing Marketplace apps. Windows Phone users will also be warned in applications or in the about screen of their device about limitations from using a Tango device. SkyDrive automatic uploads and Bing Local Scout have both been removed from devices with 256MB of RAM too.
Feb 27, 2012
As Paul Otellini said at the Intel press event at Mobile World Congress, "it wouldn't be an Intel presentation without a roadmap." The company has laid out the long-term plans for its mobile processors, aiming to move from the current 32nm architecture of the Medfield Atom Z2460 to 22nm next year, and to just 14nm by 2014. The rate that these architectures are shrinking at mean that Intel is aiming to move faster than Moore's Law, which states that the number of transistors you can fit into an integrated circuit doubles roughly every two years. This doubled density leads to equal power in chips half the size, or alternatively double the power from the same sized chips.Read Article >
A key factor in the rapid acceleration in size reduction is Intel's planned adoption of FinFETs next year, which allow a single transistor to act as a multi-gate device. This means that one transistor can perform far more calculations than in a traditional setup, with far fewer electrodes needed and therefore greater space efficiency. This in turn means that chips can get smaller while still becoming more powerful.
Feb 27, 2012
Belgian firm Option — a longtime player in the USB modem and embedded wireless module market — had yet to follow competitors Novatel and Sierra Wireless down the MiFi-style mobile hotspot path, but it just launched a product here at Mobile World Congress today that rethinks what exactly the term "mobile hotspot" means. The so-called Xyfi looks a lot more like a traditional USB stick than a hotspot (in fact, Option bills it as the world's smallest 3G hotspot), but it's actually both: when you plug it into your PC, it automatically prompts you to install drivers. If you do, you can use it just like you would a traditional 3G modem. If you like, though, you can ignore the driver install and simply use the USB port to power the Xyfi in hotspot mode, where it can accept up to 8 attached devices.Read Article >
That alone is interesting, but the Xyfi has another trick up its sleeve — it can use either Wi-Fi or 3G for its outbound connection, and route all connected devices to use either network type in real time. In other words, it'll use Wi-Fi when you're in range of a remembered network and 3G if you're not. Your laptop, tablet, iPod touch, PS Vita, and your friend's laptop are none the wiser — they just need to be connected to the Xyfi's SSID and everything else takes care of itself. That's a big deal if you're on the road, you've got a team of laptop users (or a lot of Wi-Fi-enabled gadgets), and you want to make sure that you're always using the best network available. Option points out that carrier-branded versions of the Xyfi would have their own hotspot network (AT&T, for instance) burned into firmware out of the box, so you're automatically offloading to Wi-Fi whenever you're near, say, a Starbucks. The concept of Wi-Fi offloading is worthless unless it requires zero user intervention and it's a seamless experience, and it would seem that Option might have figured it out.
We first reported that Google's next version of Android would be called Jelly Bean back in September, but now we're feeling even more confident: not only has a trusted source confirmed the name for us, but it's sort of impossible not to notice the enormous bowl of candy Google's placed in the middle of its private meeting area. That candy? Jelly beans. We asked Andy Rubin what the story was, and he declined to confirm anything — although he did say we could take as many as we wanted.Read Article >
They were delicious.
Google's Andy Rubin led the charge to acquire Motorola, but the Android boss won't have anything to do with the company once the deal closes — he told reporters at Mobile World Congress today that he "sponsored" the acquisition but now has "nothing to do with it.... I don't even know who's running it." Questions about Motorola's future are starting to heat up now that the EU and US have approved the deal, which is expected to close soon, and Google's move to replace Motorola CEO Sanjay Jha with its head of ad sales Dennis Woodside has raised a few eyebrows. Rubin said he was "painfully aware" of concerns, but stressed that Google has "literally built a firewall" between the Android team and Motorola. "I don't even know anything about their products, I haven't seen anything," he said. "They're going to continue building Motorola branded devices and it's going to be the same team doing it."Read Article >
Asked if other OEMs would be disfavored once Motorola's team comes in-house, Rubin also said that the open source nature of the platform makes it "physically difficult for me to advantage somebody," although manufacturers selected to build Google's Nexus devices do receive early access to future versions of Android. Rubin also demurred when asked if Motorola would still ship phones with custom skins and older versions of Android, saying it was up to Motorola's team. "They're separate from me, and I'm going to continue to do my thing."
Feb 27, 2012
We stopped by Mozilla's booth at MWC today, and in addition to all the Firefox promotion the company's doing, it was also showing off something a little different: its Boot to Gecko project. Boot to Gecko is, in essence, a phone operating system that is entirely web- and HTML5-based. From the moment you turn the phone on, everything you see is HTML5. Even the dialer uses Mozilla's "telephony APIs," and is itself web-based. There are no native apps, just a series of the most impressive bookmarks you've ever seen.Read Article >
We got to use an early version of Boot to Gecko, running on a flashed Samsung device that used to run Android, and we were really impressed. The operating system's not totally smooth — reps told us over and over that "this is a project, not a product" — but apps worked as advertised. Sending messages, taking pictures, playing Cut the Rope, browsing the web, and nearly everything else we tried worked correctly, if not always gracefully. It was actually really hard to believe that we were using an entirely web-based device — we kept asking if they were lying, and it wasn't really HTML5. Of course, there was an easy way to prove it: you can see the source code of any app at any time, to see exactly what's behind what you're seeing.
It's no secret that Android tablet sales have lagged far behind Apple's iPad, and Google's planning to do something about it. In a meeting with reporters today at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Android chief Andy Rubin called the 12 million Android tablets sold thus far "not insignificant, but less than I'd expect it to be if you really want to win," and said that "2012 is going to be the year that we double down and make sure we're winning in that space."Read Article >
Rubin said that the biggest problem for Android on tablets is "there's no organized way for consumers to recognize it as a viable platform," and that Google wants consumers to see its tablets as part of the broader Android ecosystem. "The educated consumer realizes it now that they're either picking the Apple ecosystem or the Microsoft ecosystem or the Google ecosystem... we're going to do a better job at making people understand what ecosystem they're buying into."
Feb 27, 2012
Here it is: the modular, transformative, Asus Padfone, in what we're fairly confident is in its final form. The 4.3-inch device on its own is actually pretty nice — decently thin with a nice texture on the back cover. The screen is bright and fairly snappy.Other than the 3.5mm headphone jack on top, all ports and connectors hug the left side of the phone. Which is important, of course, for its tablet dock, the Padfone Station. The lip that houses the smartphone sticks out farther than the rest of the chassis, with just one air hole for the camera to see through. The aesthetic is familiar to the Transformer Pad (née Eee Pad Transformer) series, and in fact I'm pretty sure it uses the same keyboard dock as the Transformer Pad Prime. As Asus puts it, that's three devices with one SIM. The Power Rangers will be thrilled.Read Article >
What won't be familiar is the Stylus Headset. Unlike the commonly-used hard plastic tips, Asus' electronic pen uses a soft, rubbery ball that'll squish on impact. It's responsive, to be sure, but requires a bit more pressure than you might be used to. We tried it on one app that let us sketch large symbols on the screen that it would then shrink and add as a "hieroglyph" of sorts on faux-lined paper. (Look for this app in future science fiction movies about creatures from another world trying to take notes on our whereabouts in their alien language.) And as Asus' Jonney Shih so energetically demonstrated on stage, the stylus can also be used as a headset when you get a phone call. Talk into the pen, talk into the pen...
Nokia rather blew the doors off MWC 2012 this morning by announcing a 41-megapixel camera sensor ensconced within the confines of a smartphone, the 808 PureView. The product of five years of development work, the collection of technologies under the PureView umbrella is only starting off with the Symbian-based 808 and should make its way to other devices and platforms over time. Nokia is promising amazing image quality from this camera thanks to some oversampling wizardry — taking data from seven pixels in order to fill just one — that uses the full 41-megapixel canvas to generate excellent 5-megapixel stills. At the same time, as a sort of creative mode, Nokia's also allowing users to capture images as large as 38 megapixels in size. They'll be nowhere near as pretty, but the option's there if you want to mess around.Read Article >
In order to understand what lies beneath the large bump on the back of the 808 handset, I spoke with Nokia's Damian Dinning, the man in charge of keeping the company's leadership in camera performance. He was able to elucidate the finer points of the technology, while also bringing a little surprise out of his inside jacket pocket. Watch the video interview below to uncover the mystery for yourself.
It's rare that we have to put news about a smartphone in our photography hub, but that's just what Nokia has merited today with the introduction of the PureView 808. The headline spec is that the brand new camera sensor inside it is composed of 41 million pixels, however as you might have surmised, this handset doesn't take full 41-megapixel stills. Instead, it oversamples — taking the image data from seven neighboring pixels and consolidating it into one pixel's worth — and generates pictures roughly 5 megapixels in size. That's still plenty of dots for most uses, and the image quality you can obtain from such a system is frankly ridiculous. Nokia showed me poster-sized samples captured with the 808 PureView (printed entirely unprocessed) that basically had zero noise in them.Read Article >
Update: Nokia has clarified to say that you are able to take true 38- and 35-megapixel photos with the 808 PureView. It's just that their pixel-level quality will pretty much suck, with Nokia admitting that it added those options as a sort of creative mode more than anything else. To get the real quality, you'll want to benefit from the oversampling technique and downsize to 3-, 5- or 8-megapixel shots.
Feb 26, 2012
HTC has shortened startup time for the camera to 0.7 seconds and autofocus time to 0.2 seconds. Onscreen buttons for recording video and stills are now right next to each other (no more mode switching), there's an intelligent burst mode that lets you pick only the best shot, and you can extract stills from video with a single tap. The only thing that would've made this a more appealing phone to camera enthusiasts is a physical shutter button.Read Article >
One of the other ways in which HTC diverges from the stock Android 4.0 experience is by omitting the trio of onscreen menu buttons and instead offering them to you as a set of capacitive keys below the display. That may seem like a retrograde step, but its practical impact is actually positive: moving those buttons off the screen gives you more real estate to work with. Only aesthetics snobs will find reason bemoan this decision. Less forgivable is HTC's decision to leave the One S without a microSD card slot or a user-replaceable battery. While ultrathin phones will necessitate compromises, I hate to see storage and power flexibility being among them.
HTC's new flagship is here: the HTC One X is in the vanguard of not just the new "One" lineup, but of HTC's mini-revival for 2012. Based on our brief time with it, we think the phone will manage to pull off both of those heavy tasks, though whether it will be enough to fend off Samsung's rumored Galaxy S III is sadly going to be an open question until later this year. For now, the HTC One X impresses on its own terms and specs, and what great specs they are.Read Article >
The first and most important thing about the One X is its screen: a 4.7-inch 720p "Super LCD 2" panel that is simply better than anything we've seen on the market. It's bright and crisp, of course, but as we turned and twisted the phone we were literally unable to come up with a viewing angle that contained any distortion or discoloration.
Feb 26, 2012
We just had a quick chance to play with the new Sony Xperia P, and... it's a slightly smaller riff on the Xperia S packed into an aluminum unibody case. The big draw is the "WhiteMagic" LCD display, which adds an additional stripe of white pixels to the traditional RGB layout. Sony says it's a dramatically better display and allows the phone to perform better in daylight — it certainly looks beautiful, with super sharp text, excellent contrast, and solid viewing angles. It's only qHD, sadly, but it's nice to see a midrange phone with a highish-end display.Read Article >
Software-wise, you're looking at Android 2.3.7 with a ton of Sony customizations — Sony says it'll deliver an Android 4.0 update in the middle of Q2. Obviously that's disappointing, but there's still some interesting stuff going on: integration with all of Sony's content services, and a zero-lag camera that can go from "sleep to snap" in just a second. There's also the SmartDock with TV Launcher app, which mirrors the phone's display on a TV over HDMI. Output is at 1080p, and you can control the phone with your TV remote over HDMI-CEC. If you've got an older TV, the dock has two USB ports, so you can plug in a wireless keyboard and mouse and control the phone that way. It's all a little clunky and weird since the TV Launcher UI is just a bunch of shortcuts to regular Android apps that look silly on a TV, but it works.
Feb 26, 2012
We've seen waterproof phones in various guises over the past few months, but HzO WaterBlock is demonstrating some impressive technology at Mobile World Congress that might make its way into your next smartphone. HzO has several concept devices, including an iPhone 4S and a Galaxy S II, that are covered in a thin film nano-coating to provide a near invisible layer of protection for your favorite gadgets.Read Article >
The coating is highly water resistant and HzO seemed happy to dunk various tablets and smartphones into a bowl of water today to prove its point. If you watch the video demo (below) closely, you'll even see how water droplets get trapped under the screen. The company isn't discussing which manufacturers will use the technology in future devices, but it has previously hinted that Samsung is "really excited" by WaterBlock. Either way, it might not be too long before you have to worry about dropping your smartphone in a beer, toilet or bath — WaterBlock could save the day.
It was barely an afterthought in Huawei's MWC press conference, but the company is also getting ready to launch a seriously high-end tablet. The MediaPad 10 FHD has a 1920 x 1200 display, an 8-megapixel camera, and Huawei's new and impressive K3 processor — and it all fits in a body that's just 8.8mm thick. The device is still in its early stages (reps told us the model on display was hand-made for today's event), but even now it's already impressive. The pixel-rich 16:10 display looks fantastic, with great viewing angles and sharpness to spare. It's running Android 4.0, and we zipped around the browser and Gallery apps, plus a few games, without so much as a hiccup.Read Article >
The tablet's due to be available in the second quarter of this year, though reps wouldn't say how much it would cost or where it will initially be on sale.
Huawei's latest flagship device, the Ascend D quad, is supposedly "the world's fastest smartphone." So, naturally, as soon as the company's MWC press conference was over, we had to go take a look for ourselves. The D quad is definitely a sight to behold, particularly the 4.5-inch 720p display — the screen's very bright, and the viewing angles are excellent. It's not the thinnest phone we've seen, but its 8.8mm body definitely cuts a slim figure, and actually feels smaller in the hand than most 4.5-inch phones.Read Article >
Of course, most of the appeal of the D quad is its internal processing power, and that's hard to grasp fully from only a couple of minutes with the device. We'll keep trying to put the phone through its paces, and we'll keep you updated as we go.
Feb 26, 2012
What struck us in playing with the Beam, though, is that it could pass as an "ordinary" phone that doesn't have an integrated projector, no question about it. Projection isn't necessarily better than in pico projecting phones of years past, though — it doesn't work at all in a bright room, though you could pass it off for a quick slideshow among friends if you dim the lights.Read Article >
The Vu has a small button on the top that brings down a custom menu where you can select different pen sizes and colors, and then you can doodle on the screen. We use the word "doodle" intentionally, because this is a straight-capacitive screen and the styli that LG have on their display are the large, rubber type. Proper note-taking requires a full tablet or a more accurate stylus, neither of which apply to the Vu.Read Article >
If somehow the 4:3 aspect ratio and large size don't deter you, there is a lot to like with the Vu. The 1024 x 768 display is easy on the eyes and we weren't able to detect too much lag within any of the apps. Outside of the apps in LG's skin we did get a bit of lag from time to time, despite the dual-core 1.5GHz Qualcomm processor inside. Unfortunately, the Vu is running Android 2.3.6, but LG promises than an Ice Cream Sandwich update is on the way within the next three months.
We played with the 4X for a few minutes here in LG's booth ahead of the official opening of Mobile World Congress tomorrow, and it definitely feels like a departure from every other Optimus model we've used in the past — the texturing on the rear and the clean squared-off styling is definitely indicative of a high-end device (which the 4X certainly is). In our brief testing, it's fast, but you really can't be sure about how well the Tegra 3 is going to hold up under pressure until you load the phone down with apps and full desktop versions of websites.Read Article >
Is it ready to take Samsung's next-gen Galaxy S model head-to-head? We've got a couple complaints that knock it down a notch: for one, there's some odd design in the chrome styling along all four edges, which looks more suited for a low-end device that's trying to look aspirational (and failing). Don't get us wrong — the appearance of the 4X overall is quite nice — but this particular detail is oddly out of place. Perhaps more importantly, the 4X has just three capacitive buttons along the bottom (as most native Android 4.0 devices are expected to have), but strangely, the third button is operating the menu, not the multitasking screen. This seems like it's probably just a nuance of the pre-release firmware, though, because a hard menu key simply doesn't make sense here — and the iconography leads us to believe that multitasking is the intended function anyway.