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Mobile World Congress 2010 (MWC) – A tech bloggers recap

The Mobile World Congress 2010 closed its gates recently, and we got plenty of interesting stuff to see. Android gained a lot of speed due to many new device announcements, Nokia suprised most people with the decision to fuse their Meamo OS with Intels mobile OS, but Microsoft actually had the biggest news day with their new Windows Phone 7 Series overhaul. Let’s take a look at the most interesting news the players had to offer at the MWC 2010 for me. I won’t talk about each and every smartphone that has been shown off, but only about the ones that stood out somehow. For complete overviews you should actually consider reading the big gadget blogs out there like Engadget or Gizmodo.

Androids everywhere you look

It seems like Android is finally were it was planned to be. Many hardware manufacturers presented their newest Android handsets in an avalanche of Android smartphone announcements. HTC made a great appearance and showed off two Android 2.1 devices called HTC Desire and HTC Legend. The HTC Legend is actually the follow-up device to the HTC Hero. You can clearly see the heritage of the HTC Legend because of it’s prominent chin.

The technical specs are not really groundbreaking though, as the HTC Legend comes with the same old HVGA resolution (like the HTC Hero did). But you will get more RAM (384MB compared to 288MB on the HTC Hero), an AMOLED capacitive touchscreen display and a proximity sensor. The biggest attraction about the HTC Legend was actually the aluminium casing, which seemed to impress many people from the gadget media, and the new optical trackpad which replaces the trackball we know from the HTC Hero and other HTC Android devices. I wasn’t really that impressed, because as an HTC Hero owner that’s just not enough additional value for me to take the HTC Legend into account for my next Android smartphone purchase. But for Android newcomers this might be a very good device to start with, as it has a nice and compact single frame aluminium body, good technical specs, a great HTC Sense user interface and is not as expensive as the HTC Desire.

HTCs new flagship Android device is the HTC Sense branded counterpart of the Google Nexus One. So HTC basically took the Nexus One design and specs (HTC built the Nexus One for Google), changed some hardware details like physical buttons, added HTC Sense on top of Android 2.1 and gave it the name HTC Desire. Similar to th Nexus One the HTC Desire sports a 1 Ghz Qualcomm Snapdragon CPU, 3.7 inch WVGA AMOLED touchscreen, 576 MB of RAM (60MB more than the Nexus One) as well as all kinds of sensors we come to expect. Check out the detailed technical specs of the HTC Desire on the official HTC Desire product page. I really like the fact that HTC chose physical buttons instead of the touch sensitive buttons of the Nexus One, because this allows you to use it in cold weather wearing gloves too, whereas the touch sensitive buttons would force you to take of the glove in order to take i.e. an incoming call. Also i prefer the feedback of real physical buttons to touch sensitive ones, but this is just my personal preference.

Both devices leaked prior to the MWC 2010, so one of the things which i was more curious about was the newest HTC Sense version, especially after HTC was and is still hesitant to announce a release date of the Android 2.1 update for the HTC Hero. The official reason is that it takes some time because of the changes that had to be done on HTC Sense in order to run on Android 2.1. I think this is only part of the truth, because providing the update prior to the MWC2010 and the release of the new HTC Android smartphone generation would steal the thunder of their MWC2010 announcements. This might be reasonable from a marketing point of view, but as a consumer which bought their last Android flagship called HTC Hero i was expecting to get Android updates on a regular basis. Instead Android 1.6 was never released for the HTC Hero, and shortly after that HTC announced that the 2.0 update won’t be provided too because they plan to jump directly to Android 2.1. It sounded great at first, because everybody thought: “Great! we’ll get 2.1 soon, who needs 1.6 anyway?”. But that announcement was made in november 2009, and most people expected to get the update probably at the end of 2009. So right now HTC Hero users are still stuck with Android 1.5 and can’t use MANY apps which are released in the market because they don’t support Android 1.5. HTC Sense is great and i really love it, but if having HTC Sense means that we will only get some Android updates with huge delays, i’m not sure if it’s really worth it. HTC and all other Android phone manufacturers really need to step their game up regarding those Android updates, since currently none of them seems to be committed in providing updates as soon as possible.

Back to the HTC Sense update for HTC Desire and HTC Legend. HTC added a few new widgets like the “Friendstream” which shows a combined view of Facebook, Twitter and Flickr updates and a new calendar agenda widget which provides a scrollable list of upcoming calendar items. You’ll also find the option to download more HTC widgets, so it seems like HTC is planning to expand their offering here. Currently there are already two different widgets available on the market for battery usage and another one called “today in history” which will show historical events of the current date.

Furthermore HTC Sense will also support animated wallpapers, and the so called leap view as HTC calls it. By pinch zooming on the homescreen, or double clicking the home button, you’ll get an overview of all 7 homescreen in order to quickly switch to the needed one. This view reminds me a little bit of the Palm Pre cards, and should be quite helpful especially if you use all 7 homescreens regularily.

Not everything HTC presented was about Android though, as they also introduced the HTC HD Mini Windows Mobile 6.5 device. This smartphone is basically the small brother of the HTC HD, and sports an HVGA screen, 600MHZ CPU, 384 MB RAM, capacitive touchscreen and of course HTC Sense. The physical size of the device is very small with only with only 2,27″ width, 0,46″ height and 4,09″ length.

Overall the HTC lineup was very solid, but there weren’t any real surprises. It was more like the expected evolution of Android handsets, and the continuation of the Windows Mobile productline. It will be hard to resist getting the HTC Desire though, after i had the Motorola Milestone testdevice i know the benefits of a WVGA resolution when browsing and reading RSS feeds. And having HTC Sense on this kind of hardware is really tempting too.

As already mentioned there have been a lot of new Android device presentations on the mobile world congress 2010. Here is a short overview of some:

Sony Ericsson Xperia 10 mini/ Sony Ericsson Xperia mini pro: Sony presented two new Android devices with a very small form factor and sleek design. Both smartphones sport Sonys own UI-overlay, while the Xperia 10 mini pro also has a full slideout qwerty keyboard. What i don’t like is the fact that they only come with Android 1.6 and QVGA screens. Sony should have given them at least HVGA screens in my opinion. Also on first sight Sonys UI overlay for Android looks more like eyecandy without much substance, as some apps like the contact card view rely too much on animation and i can imagine that this will slow down your daily work after the initial eyecandy effect has worn off.

Acer Liquid e, BeTouch E110, BeTouch E400, neoTouch P300/ P400: The Acer E110 is an entry level Android device with an QVGA screen. Looking at the Acer E400 and the neoTouch P400 you’ll find exactly the same hardware, but different OS for each device. While the E400 runs on Android, the NeoTouch P400 is a Windows Mobile 6.5 device. Acer also introduced a device with a slideout keyboard called neoTouch P300 running on Windows Mobile 6.5. Last but not least Acers new Liquid e smartphone will be shipped with Android 2.1. All of those phones don’t look bad, but i’m missing the unique selling point here.

Samsung Wave: As some of you might know, Samsung is yet another company which announced an open source OS, called “Bada”. On the mobile world congress 2010 they presented the Samsung Wave which is the first device sporting this OS. It has some quite impressing technical specs like over 512 MB of RAM, 1GHZ CPU, 3,3″ WVGA AMLOED touchscreen. It is based on Samsungs TouchWiz UI which already has been used for Windows Mobile devices like the Samsung Omnia. To me the TouchWiz UI is just not competitive enough as it lacks style and substance. This might change with the new OS underneath, but as it looks now i don’t see many people choosing this over the competitions offering like iPhone OS, Android or WebOS.

Motorola MOTOROI: I was really impressed by the Motorola Milestone, and came to the conclusion that its one of the best smartphones available after having a testdevice for a while. Imagine the Milestone without a hardware keyboard, this is basically what the Motorola MOTOROI is. It looks like Motorola has another winner at hand here, since the built quality is said to be on par with the Milestone (Droid), and it has the same hardware specs. While i really like the slideout keyboard on the Motorola Milestone (Droid), i think that the MOTOROI might be very interesting to all those touchscreen only users.

Microsoft Windows Phone 7 Series – It’s a real reboot!

Some time ago i wrote a little piece about how the early Windows Mobile 6.5 screenshots were a huge disappointment for me, as i was expecting much more from the new version. Back then i thought that Microsoft will drop the ball, and just won’t be able to make a clear cut with a new OS concept, since they weren’t able to bring anything new to the mobile OS table for many years. Now it’s 2010 and Microsoft presented the long awaited new generation of their Windows Mobile OS called “Windows Phone 7 Series” on the Mobile World Congress 2010. And i have to say that i’m surprised at how much of a real reboot Windows Phone 7 Series OS is. Microsoft did the only right thing to do, they overhauled the complete Windows Mobile experience, and even better they were daring enough to try a new and innovative (yes you heard it right: Microsoft was innovative here!) approach which gives Windows Mobile 7 Series a distinct touch. And it doesn’t stop here, Windows Phone 7 Series is NOT compatible to Windows Mobile apps. That means you won’t be able to install Windows Mobile legacy apps on Windows Phone 7 Series smartphones.

windows_phone_7_series_logo

This was also ineviteable because everything else wouldn’t be a complete start from scratch. In my opinion this approach is the only way that could get Microsoft back into the mobile phone game, where their marketshare was continously declining in the past years. Furthermore there are much stricter rules out there for any Windows Phone 7 Series manufacturer, as Microsoft clearly defines the hardware requirements an Windows Phone 7 Series device has to met. Contrary to some overly optimistic articles about the Windows Phone 7 Series OS i consciously say that the new OS “could” become a winner, because the reboot of Windows Mobile is only the first step in a long marathon to retake an important and leading role in the mobile industry.

windows_phone_7_series_device

While other OS like Android or Apples iPhone OS provide appcentric views (you have to open the appropriate app in order to find the needed information), Microsoft went for the data centric view. On Windows Phone 7 Series devices the information and data aspect will be in the foreground, while switching through apps is something which happens on the fly as you move through the information streams and is not something the user has to do consciously like i.e. on the iPhone. Microsoft calls this new UI concept “Metro”.

Let’s start with the new homescreen, which is set up by different “tiles”. Each tile represents different kinds of real-time information like new messages, emails, calls, facebook updates and more. It’s possible to rearrange the tiles to the users liking, and the setup which was shown on the Microsoft presentation had many tiles which could be seen by scrolling vertically through the screen. This brings up another big change: there will be no support for 3rd Party UIs anymore. No HTC Sense, no TouchWiz and no SPB Mobile Shell. This is also completely new ground for Windows Mobile app developers, as their solutions just have been killed for Windows Phone 7 Series. It’s not as bad as it sounds though, since there will be new Windows Mobile 6.5 devices in the future too, called “Windows Phone Starter Edition”. So it’s not like Microsoft cut off all previous efforts of 3rd Party developers at once.

windows_phone_7_series_start_screen

The new homescreen with the tiles looks quite nice and clear, you can see important updates on a glance, and touching any tile will lead to further details. One thing i didn’t see was an agenda tile which shows your upcoming appointments, but i’m sure that Microsoft will provide something like this. They mostly chose the contacts or facebook tiles for the presentations, so an agenda tile is probably already there but wasn’t exposed as much as the mentioned tiles.

windows_phone_7_series_people_app

All apps that were shown off on the MWC2010 had one thing in common: navigating through them looked like browsing wide webpages by scrolling horizontally. So after opening the contacts, you’ll see the recently called contacts and on the right edge of the screen you can see the next “page” of this app. This visual concept is used on every app. The next page is accessible by swiping to the right. To me the way that Windows Phone 7 Series presents the informations on-screen looks somehow like multi-page wallpapers. Their official screenshots also leave such kind of impressions. This is really a fresh flavour as the style and presentation is distinct, and nothing like any of the competitors operating systems.

windows_phone_7_series_music_app

Overall i think Microsoft had a very strong presentation, and proved that they indeed are capable of innovating instead of just copying. The new Windows Phone 7 Series OS looks very interesting and has potential. We have to see how the big changes are welcomed by the 3rd Party developers as well as the customer, but i’m very curious to get my hands on a Windows Phone 7 Series and this is the first important step Microsoft had to tackle: raise interest.

Nokia and Intel Team up for Mobile OS – What is this supposed to mean?

Nokia is still the biggest phone manufacturer world-wide, but their last attempts on the smartphone market were outdated. Except of the N900 no other high-end Nokia smartphone really has what it takes to compete against the Android and Apple competition, since Nokia still bets on the old Symbian OS. Maemo is a linux based OS which was originally developed for tablets, but it has potential to grow, and is definetly more flexible than Symbian. On the MWC2010 Nokia and Intel announced, in an unexpected step, that they will merge their mobile OS into one. So Nokias “Maemo” and Intels “Moblin” will become a new open source OS called “MeeGo“.
Well, i’m not too sure what to think about this. Merging two seperatly developed OS sounds like a mess to me, and to be honest i have never heard of the Moblin OS before this accouncement so it’s hard to tell. MeeGo will support different screen resolutions and form factors, so we will see a variety of smartphone shapes. Nokia will of course continue to support Symbian too, but MeeGo seems to be their choice for the high-end devices. I hope they will invest the needed time and money to get this thing going, as Apple and Android are already going full force, and Microsoft impressed a lot of people with their new Windows Phone 7 Series. So there is not much time left for Nokia to change the tides.

Blackberry was there, but without any big news

Blackberry didn’t show anything really interesting for me. They presented their new webkit browser, which seems to be quite better than the very basic browsers Blackberry devices came preinstalled with. And there is now a free BlackBerry Enterprise Server Express available. Other than that there was not much else to talk about, as BlackBerry probably prefers to show off their most important inventions on their own seperate conferences just like Apple and Palm.

Mobile World Congress 2010 – Conclusion

Despite the Android news, and the many new devices it’s just fair to say that this years mobile world congress was Microsofts show. Other manufacturers presented their new devices sporting different Android versions, or announced new operating systems like MeeGo, but the big news was from Microsoft which managed to develop a truly unique operating system which is not just an evolution of Windows Mobile but a complete restart. Finally Microsoft decided to take the next big step, and by introducing the Windows Phone 7 Series they not only took a risk but also clearly indicated that they won’t be backing out of the mobile industry anytime soon. With this reboot Microsoft could become one of the mobile phone heavyweights again.