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Smartphones, tablets, wearables on display at the show
This week’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain is a high-tech Nirvana. There’s ultrasonic haptics, new flagship smartphones, 64-bit hysteria, and just plain cool stuff. Here’s our continuously updated selection of the eye-catching, intriguing, and odd.
Samsung Galaxy S5
Samsung tweaked rather than overhauled its flagship smartphone. The S5 is dust-and-water-resistant, has a faster 2.5-GHz quad-core processor, still with 2GB RAM, and Android 4.4. The 5.1-inch screen has the same 1920 by 1080 pixel resolution as the S3; storage options are 16G or 32GB, along with a microSD slot. New: a fingerprint scanner, and a main camera with higher specs, like 16 instead of 13 megapixels. Networking: category 4 LTE and 802.11ac with MIMO. It has something called “download booster,” which allegedly boosts data speeds by “bonding Wi-Fi and LTE,” according to Samsung. Battery life: up to 10 hours on LTE. Available: April 11.
Asustek Fonepad 7 LTE tablet
The latest Fonepad Android tablet from Asustek features LTE connectivity, and a 7-inch IPS (in-plane switching) screen, with 1280 x 800-pixel resolution, and an LTE modem. It’s powered by an Intel dual-core Atom Z2560 processor code-named Clover Trail+. It’s also offering a new 3G model, the Fonepad 7, possibly with improved battery life compared to existing models, because it’s using a slower, lower-power Intel Atom Z2520 processor. There’s a 1.2-megapixel front camera and a 5-megapixel rear camera. Pricing and shipping were not announced.
Yota’s improved two-screen phone
Yota Devices will release an improved version of its front-and-rear screen phone by year’s end. The Yotaphone idea offers a conventional front screen (5-inch AMOLED) but, on the back, a second e-paper screen, which can remain on all the time without draining the battery. The new model will let users respond to notifications, SMS messages and email appearing on the e-paper screen without having to flip back and wake up the front screen. The 4.7-inch e-paper screen will have higher resolution, finer pixel density and a light. The vendor claims a battery life of around 50 hours when using the e-paper screen. The display is suitable for text-based applications but is monochrome only.
Nokia’s first Android smartphone family
Not one, not two, but three new Nokia smartphones, running a forked version of Android that looks nothing like rival implementations. The idea is to support Android app compatibility while linking users with Microsoft and Nokia online services. The new smartphones are the Nokia X, X+ and XL (which is shown here). All three are aimed at the “fast growing affordable smartphone segment,” according to Nokia. The top of the range XL, roughly $150, has a 5-inch display, 800 x 480 pixels resolution, a 1-GHz dual-core CPU, 768MB of RAM and up to 32GB storage, bundled with a 4GB microSD card. The XL will start ship in Q2.
Accenture’s mobile wallet
Accenture extended its mobile wallet platform with new features that include the Accenture Recommendation Engine, which can offer shoppers personalized recommendations in real time, based on the retailer’s predefined business and merchandising rules. Accenture Mobile Wallet is a set of software applications that let business customers create personalized, mobile e-commerce applications. The software can work with Bluetooth Low Energy geofencing beacons, such as Apple’s iBeacon, and handle proximity transactions and payments via Near Field Communication (NFC) technology or QR codes. The platform APIs are available on Android and iOS.
Intel shifts to 64-bits
Intel unveiled a 64-bit Atom chip, which it says will start appearing in phones and tablets by June. The dual-core Atom Z34XX chip, called Merrifield, is aimed at devices starting at $250; the quad-core Z35XX chip, Moorefield, is aimed at higher-end products. Intel promises longer battery life, and better application and graphics performance compared to previous Atom chips. Intel has finished development of 64-bit Android 4.4.
Pansonic gets small and tough
Panasonic has unveiled a 5-inch ruggedized tablet-phone that can stand up to rough, and wet, treatment. The two Toughpad models offer a 5-inch shatterproof touchscreen, ruggedized casing, integrated bar code scanner, and an 8-megapixel rear camera. The FZ-E1 version runs Windows Embedded 8 Handheld on a Qualcomm 2.3GHz processor; the FZ-X1 runs Android 4.2.2 on a Qualcomm 1.7GHz processor. These are the first Toughpads with 3G and LTE support. They’ll go on sale in Japan this summer, for about $1,268.
Fujitsu showed a prototype tablet that uses ultrasound to let users feel realistic textures of images displayed on the screen. The ultrasound technology changes the friction between the user’s fingers and the touchscreen surface. To create a floating, slippery effect, the tablet generates a high-pressure air layer just above the screen. To create a bumpy or rough effect, the device generates high- and low-friction zones through ultrasonic vibrations. At MWC, the prototype gives users the sensation of plucking the strings of a koto, a traditional stringed instrument from Japan. No anticipated release date.
Ford’s smarter car
Ford showed off its new ford Focus, its best-selling vehicle, with a battery of new sensors and code to manage your parking and your on-board digital life. Existing Focus models have a parking assist feature to partially automate parallel parking. But two new sensors at the rear now help when when you drive or back into a space to end perpendicular to the curb, as in a parking garage. They also warn drivers if cars or pedestrians are about to cross behind them when the car is in reverse. Also new: an updated version, Sync 2, of Ford's in-car connectivity and entertainment system.
Sony’s new Experia tablet
The Experia Z2 tablet offers a 10.1-inch high-definition display (with a 5.2-inch model due later this spring), running Android 4.4 KitKat. Sony claims it’s the slimmest, at 0.25 inches thick, and the lightest, at 15 ounces, of the waterproof tablets on the market. Inside, it runs a Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 quad-core processor, a big large 6000 mAh battery (with a promised life of up to 10 hours), an 8.1-megapixel rear camera and a 2.2 megapixel front camera. It features digital noise-canceling technology, which Sony says can reduce ambient noise by 98% when paired with a separate noise canceling headset.
Sony’s two new smartphones
Sony announced two new Experia smartphone models. Shown is the M2, the lower-priced model shipping in April, with a 4.8-inch display, Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 1.2 GHz quad-core processor, LTE modem, 2300 mAh battery, and a rear 8 megapixel camera. Other details weren't immediately available. The high end Z2 smartphone is very similar to the existing Z1s: all-glass front, aluminum edges. It has a 5.2-inch screen, 20.7-megapixel camera and a 4K camcorder. It’s powered by a 2.3 GHz Qualcomm processor, running Android 4.4.2 KitKat firmware.
Qualcomm thinks 64-bit is smart
After Apple unveiled the first 64-bit mobile processor last fall, Qualcomm said 64-bits was “dumb.” Not any more. The chipmaker unveiled the eight-core Snapdragon 615 chip for mobile devices, with integrated LTE and 4K video rendering. The cores are based on the latest ARM 64-bit architecture called ARMv8. The company announced a quad-core version of the same chip, the Snapdragon 610. Mobile devices will be able decode and wirelessly transmit 4K video at a resolution of 3840 x 2160 pixels with an integrated H.265 hardware decoder.
Huawei’s new G6 smartphone
The Ascend G6 4G has a 4.5-inch, 960 x 540 pixel display, a 1.2 GHz quad-core processor with Android 4.3, a 5-megapixel front-facing camera, an 8-megapixel camera on the back, and LTE connectivity. It also includes a chip for NFC (near field communication) and mobile payments. It will ship in April. Huawei didn’t talk about pricing or whether the G6 will be outside of Europe.
The MediaPad X1 has an aluminum alloy body, a 7-inch, 1200 x 1920 pixel touch display features an unusual 80 percent screen-to-body ratio. It's just 0.28 inches thick and weighs only 8.4 ounces. It packs a 1.6 GHz quad-core processor running Android 4.2 Jelly Bean. The 5000 mAh battery promises over five full days of continuous use, and offers “reverse charging,” so you can power other devices with the X1. A SIM card slot provides LTE connectivity. It was a 13-megapixel Sony rear-facing camera and a 5 megapixel front-facing camera. It will ship first in overseas markets, priced at about $548.
The HP Pavilion x360 has a hinge that allows its 11.6-inch touchscreen to fold back almost 360 degrees, letting it be used as notebook or a tablet. The Windows 8.1 machine goes on sale Feb. 26, starting at $400 which gives you: quad-core Intel Pentium N3520 processor (Bay Trail class), 4GB of memory, integrated graphics, and a 500GB hybrid hard drive; the LED-backlit, 11.6-inch IPS, 10-point touch display delivers native resolution of 1366 by 768 pixels. Also: three USB ports (two USB 2.0; one USB 3.0), a full-sized HDMI port, a 720P webcam, and stereo speakers with Beats Audio; 802.11n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.
Lenovo’s more practiced Yoga
The original Yoga tablet last year was not well received. Lenovo hopes for a better response to the new Yoga Tablet 10 HD+. Priced at $349, the tablet has a 10-inch screen with 1920 x 1200 pixel resolution, Qualcomm 400 Snapdragon processor.
The company has retained some of the key features from the original Yoga 10. The Yoga Tablet 10 HD+ has a cylindrical battery that the company claims gives the device 18 hours of battery life, and a kickstand that allows the tablet to stand upright at 30-degree to 80-degree angles.
Other features in the tablet include an 8-megapixel rear camera, a front camera, micro-USB port, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. The tablet has the Android 4.3 OS.
Samsung’s Gear shift
Samsung unveiled two new Gear smartwatch models: , the Gear 2 and the Gear 2 Neo, which both run its Tizen operating system instead of Android.Both have a dual-core 1 GHz processor with 512 Mbytes of RAM, 1.63-inch Super AMOLED screen with 320 by 320 pixel resolution and 4GB of integrated storage. The Gear 2 has a 2-megapixel camera; the Gear 2 Neo has none. Both feature a heart-rate sensor and a pedometer. The main difference: Gear 2 weighs 68 grams and the Gear 2 Neo 55 grams. Samsung says both will run for two to three days of “typical usage.” They’ll ship in April; price was not announced.
LG’s new L for “low-end” smartphones
LG Electronics unveiled the third generation of its low-end L series: three new smartphones that all run Android 4.4 KitKat – the L40, L70 and L90 models. The L90 is the most advanced: 4.7-inch screen with a 960 by 540 pixel resolution, quad-core processor clocked at 1.2 GHz with 1GB of RAM, 1.3-megapixel front camera, 8-megapixel rear camera, and 8GB of storage. A 1.2 GHz dual-core chip powers the L70 and L40, both have 4GB of storage.
The L70 has a 4.7-inch screen with a 800 by 400 pixel resolution, an 8-megapixel or a 5-megapixel camera and 1GB of RAM. The L40 has a 3.5-inch screen with a 480 by 320 pixel resolution, a 3-megapixel camera and 512MB of RAM.
Samsung fitness Gear
The Samsung Gear Fit is an “activity-tracking wristband” that has an appropriately low body-mass index. The 1.84-inch, curved, 432 x 128 Super AMOLED screen shows a modest complement of health data and Galaxy smartphone notifications: basic pedometer data, heart rate information, and alerts for incoming calls, SMS, alarms, email, calendar items and even third-party apps. Built-in sensors include an accelerometer, gyroscope and heart-rate sensor, though Samsung didn’t explain just how the heart sensor actually works. No word on price, but it goes on sale April 11.
BlackBerry outsources itself
BlackBerry’s John Chen (shown here at left) unveiled a new BlackBerry phone, Z3 codenamed Jakarta, which is actually a Foxconn phone (Foxconn CEO Terry Gou is at right). The Taiwan contract manufacturer has a new contract to design and build low-end phones for the Canadian company, which will keep high-end phone design inhouse. In this case, low-end means “under $200.” As the codename hints, the Z3 will ship first in Indonesia in April. All we know now: it has a 5-inch touchscreen, and runs BlackBerry OS 10.2.1.
WhatsApp and the spoken word
WhatsApp is a 5-year-old mobile text messaging company that Facebook just bought for $19 billion, plans to supplement its SMS alternative with an alternative to carrier-based voice calls. WhatsApp Internet-based voice calls will be offered by the end of June, according to CEO Jan Koum, in a Monday speech at Mobile World Congress. He didn’t go into details; speculation is that it will work as does the text messaging service: sign up, and use your data plan to send free text messages, and now voice calls, instead of being charged for them by your carrier. WhatsApp for Android and iOS is free to download and use for the first year; you extend your service for $0.99 per year.
ZTE’s new Firefox OS phones
ZTE was one of several vendors to unwrap low-priced smartphones that run Mozilla’s Web-centric Firefox OS. ZTE’s offerings are the ZTE Open C and Open II. The Open C, shown here, is the more advanced: a 4-inch 800 x 480 pixels multitouch screen, dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 200 CPU running at 1.2 GHz with 512MB of RAM, 4GB storage, 3 megapixel camera, support for GPRS/WCDMA/HSPA+, 1400 mAh battery with a promised lifepspan of six to eight hours. The Open II pares back on the specs, with a 3.5-inch 480 x 320 pixels screen, less powerful processor, less RAM and storage. They’ll be offered first in Latin America in Q2 by Telefonica.
Mozilla’s Firefox OS update
New, more advanced phones and tablets running the latest version of Firefox OS were unveiled at MWC, from ZTE and Alcatel. Fabless chipdesigner Spreadtrum announced a chipset aimed at $25 smartphones on WCDMA and EDGE networks, along with a set of turnkey reference designs. Mozilla previewed a range of planned OS improvements including: a broader range of customizations, a new universal search feature available on any screen with a swipe down from the top, new navigation features for multitasking, NFC-based content sharing, and LTE support.