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World’s biggest mobile show boasts LTE phones, Android tablets, Gigabit Wi-Fi, Firefox OS and more
Mobile World Congress - the mobile industry’s biggest international showcase – features an outpouring this week of gadgets, arcane core network innovations, deals, promises, and of course hype. Here’s our take on what’s hot for 2013. Check back throughout the week for updates.
Huawei’s LTE haymaker
Raising its sights to the mid-range phone market, Huawei Technologies announced the latest in its P series phones unveiled in January: the Ascend P2, with a theoretical maximum LTE data rate of 150Mbps, making it the fastest cell phone yet from any vendor, according to Huawei.
The overview: quad-core 1.5GHz processor; Gorilla Glass 2-protected 4.7-inch 720p screen that can be used with gloves on; 1GB RAM, 16GB of storage; 13-megapixel camera, with dedicated physical key and High Dynamic Range mode (a technique to better show the range of light from darkest to lightest in an image); near-field communications (NFC) chip; and a battery with a whopping big 2,420 mAh capacity. Ships: Q2, for about $525.
Lenovo’s new Android-tablets-without-names
The forgettably-labeled S6000 and A300 tablets have a lot in common: the same look and finish, the same MediaTek MTK 8389/8125 quad-core processor running at 1.2GHz; the same 5-megapixel rear camera and 0.5-megapixel front camera; the same Android 4.2 (Jelly Bean) firmware; and optional 3G connectivity.
The S600 (shown) differs in size: it has a 10.1-inch screen, with 1280 x 800 resolution, weighs 19.7 ounces, and is 0.34 inches thin. Lenovo promises 8 hours of battery life on Wi-Fi. The A3000 sports a 7-inch screen, with 1024 x 600 resolution. Both offer optional 3G connectivity. A third tablet, also 7-inches, has a dual-core chip and runs Android 4.1; it’s available only with Wi-Fi.
The tablets will be available worldwide in the second half this year.
Qualcomm’s “gigabit Wi-Fi” play for smartphones
Qualcomm confirmed it will introduce so-called gigabit Wi-Fi -- 802.11ac -- by pairing it first with its high-end mobile system-on-chip, the Snapdragon 800, set to appear in premium smartphones starting in the second half of 2013, according to a Qualcomm executive.
The single-stream Atheros WCN3680 is a combination chip that includes 11ac, Bluetooth 4.0 and FM radio. In June, Qualcomm announced its portfolio of planned 11ac products. The single-stream chipset has a data rate of 433Mbps and throughput of about 200Mbps. In January, the chipmaker unveiled the high-end of its newest Snapdragon processors, with the 800 series targeted at top-of-the-line devices. The just-announced 200 and 400 series are aimed at low-to-mid tier devices.
A phone with universal LTE support?
Qualcomm announced the RF360 a radio front end: a package of components that will let a smartphone or tablet make use of most of the varied LTE frequency bands in use around the world. Importantly, the size of the package is up to 50% smaller than current technology, according to Qualcomm.
LTE phones today are designed for a given carrier’s radio frequencies and there is no universal LTE frequency. The RF360 “enables for the first time a single, global 4G LTE design for mobile devices,” as well as existing 3G and 2G cellular modes, according to Qualcomm. That means, among other things, that future LTE phones will be able to roam on various carriers’ networks, as many 3G phones can do today.
Lightning-fast mobile device charging Well, not quite that fast. Qualcomm announced version 2.0 its Quick Charge technology, first introduced in 2012 to speed recharging of mobile devices by up to 40%.
Now it’s even faster: the vendor says its lab tests show tablets that usually took over 7 hours to recharge, took less than 3 with Quick Charge 2.0. The technology is embedded in the device and its companion charging device. It will be available first on devices using Qualcomm’s high-end Snapdragon system-on-chip, sometime in early 2014, according to the company. And all the 1.0 and 2.0 products are backward and forward compatible.
First phone with the “non-operating system” Firefox OS
Mozilla.org revealed its Firefox OS project a year ago at MWC 2012. This year, Mozilla confirmed that four phone makers will release devices later in 2013. Mozilla’s early partner, ZTE, is showing off the ZTE Open, due out later this year. The Open is pretty basic: 3.5-inch screen, at 480 x 320 pixels; a Qualcomm processor based on the older ARM Cortex A5 CPU, with 256MB of RAM; 512MB of expandable storage, and a 3.2-megapixel camera.
The firmware is the merest sliver of an OS: a small Linux kernel and other low-level elements, which act mainly to support device drivers and to launch the Gecko rendering engine, the heart of Mozilla's Firefox browser.
Alcatel fires up its own Firefox OS phone
Alcatel may be the first to market with a Firefox OS phone, when it releases the One Touch Fire in Europe around mid-2013. The phone’s specs are similar to that of the ZTE Open: 3.5-inch screen, 1GHz processor, 256MB of RAM, 512 MB of storage, 3.2-megapixel camera without LED flash. No pricing was indicated for either phone. But these features indicate it's aimed at entry-level, cost-conscious buyers.
The homescreen acts as the app launcher. Side-to-side swipes bring up panels with apps or browser shortcuts. Some semi-permanent icons find a home along the screen bottom. There’s a pull-down status bar with more of Firefox OS on a prototype phone, shown last month at the Consumer Electronics Show.
HP tries again with the Slate 7 Android tablet
HP’s first mobile tablet was the ill-fated WebOS-based TouchPad, introduced in 2011 and killed by the company about a month later.
The newest attempt is the Slate 7, a tablet with a 7-inch screen, Android 4.1 (Jellybean), and a dual-core processor based on the ARM Cortex-A9 CPU, clocked at 1.6 GHz. Other details: 1024-by-600 pixel resolution, 13 ounces in weight, stainless-steel frame with soft black paint in gray or red on the back, 8GB of storage, SD card slot, 3-megapixel rear-facing camera and a VGA camera on the front. Ships in April in the U.S.; starting price of $169.
Samsung’s Galaxy Note “mini”
As expected, Samsung announced an 8-inch touch tablet, the Galaxy Note 8, which fills in between its 5.5-inch smartphone, the Galaxy S Note II, and the full-sized tablet, the Galaxy Note 10.1. In terms of specs, it’s a direct rival to Apple’s popular iPad mini.
Other details: 1280 x 800 pixel resolution (versus 1024 x 768 for iPad mini); Android 4.1.2 (Jellybean), 1.6 GHz Cortex-A9 processor with 2 GB of RAM; 1.3-megapixel front-facing cam, 5-megapixel rear-facing, and a 4,600 mAh battery. Weight, 11.9 ounces; dimensions: 8.3 x 5.3 x 0.31 inches. It has a pressure-sensitive pen based on technology from Wacom; 11n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0 standard; HSPA+, LTE optional. No news on pricing.
Nokia’s new low for Lumia phones
The Lumia 520, at about $184 before taxes and subsidies, becomes Nokia’s lowest-priced smartphone. It the Windows Phone 8 OS on a dual-core 1GHz processor with 512MB RAM. It has a 4-inch, 800-by-480 pixel screen and a 5-megapixel camera, which includes many of the same camera features available on the high-end Lumia 920. Also: 8GB of storage, expandable via the microSD card slot; HSPA support; 4.7 ounces, 0.39 inches thick.
The new mid-range Lumia from Nokia
Nokia fills out the mid-range of its Windows Phone product line with the Lumia 720, priced at about $329 before taxes and subsidies. It shares some features of both the lower-end 520 and the top-of-the line 920. Like the 520, it has but the same 800-by-480 pixel resolution (but a slightly larger screen at 4.3 inches), 1GHz dual-core processor with 512MB RAM, 8GB of storage expandable via microSD card slot, same 4.7 ounces weight, but very slightly thinner at 0.35 inches. But like the 920, it has a better camera, with a 6.7-megapixel sensor, tweaked to do well in low light conditions; the same battery as the high-end Lumia 920, with wireless charging via a snap-on cover.
HTC’s Onederful new smartphone
HTC’s just-announced, redesigned HTC One is getting good reviews, like this one from PC World’s Kevin Lee. The solid-aluminum bodied phone sports a 4.7-inch screen, 1920 by 1080 resolution, and 468 pixels per inch. It’s powered by a quad-core Snapdragon processor running at 1.7 GHz. Also: Android 4.1.2 Jelly Bean, with the newest version of the HTC Sense UI, which incorporates a feature called BlinkFeed to automatically add updates to your homescreen with a series of tiles. The redesigned 4-megapixel camera can capture sharper images and deeper colors than comparable rivals, according to the vendor. There’s a front-facing 2.1 megapixel camera. Dimensions are 5.4 x 2.7 x 0.36 inches, 5 ounces in weight, with 32G or 64GB of storage.
LG’s prime Optimus smartphones
LG launched the Optimus F5 and F7 smartphones, intended to bring LTE to a "mass audience,” according to the vendor. No prices were disclosed but the specs suggest LG is aiming for widely affordable phones. The Optimus F5: 4.3-inch screen, 256 ppi, a 1.2 GHz dual-core processor, with 1GB of RAM, and a 2,150 mAh battery, 5 megapixel rear facing camera. Optimus F7: 4.7-inch screen, at 312ppi, dual-core 1.5 GHz processor with 2GB of RAM, 2,450 mAh battery, 8.0 megapixel rear-facing camera. Both run Android 4.1.2 Jelly Bean.
The F5 ships first starting in Q2 in Europe, then the F7 in selected markets.
Metaio augments reality with silicon
Best known for its augmented reality software (which lets you view a street scene or other location and have it layered and flagged with information tags, distances, and other data) Metaio has spent the last year designing silicon for AR. The result: a chip that can be integrated with a smartphone CPU to do for AR what a dedicated graphics processor does for gaming and video: speed things up, and deliver “drastically reduced” power demands. You can use AR frequently all through the day without worrying about draining your battery.
LG goes wide
Besides the new lower-end additions to its Optimus smartphone line, LG Electronics also announced a big-screened, premium smartphone, the 5.5-inch Optimus G Pro, apparently a direct challenge to Samsung’s popular Galaxy Note 2. But the LG rival boasts a much higher resolution: 1,920 by 1,080, or 400 pixels per inch, on an IPS (in-plane switching) screen with stronger colors and wider viewing angles, according to LG. By contrast the Note as 267 pixel-per-inch Super AMOLED screen with resolution of 1,280 by 720. It has a removable, 3,140 mAh battery; supports wireless charging; a 13-megapixel camera; and a 1.7 GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon processor with Android OS 4.1.2 Jelly Bean.