Mobile World Congress highlights: A mobile for your nan and movie-streaming in the bath

Ever had the urge to record a gig and your reaction to it simultaneously?  David Phelan reports from the mega mobile tradeshow in Barcelona on the new mobiles and tablets that will let you do that and more

By Wednesday the dust is beginning to settle. The press conferences are done, the manufacturers' products checked out and the incessant late-night parties have taken their toll on the faces of increasingly jaded hacks trudging the halls.

And while in some ways it's been a quiet show (HTC, Samsung and LG revealed their stuff in advance, while the big announcement – the next Samsung flagship phone will be in two weeks' time in New York) there was lots on offer.

Samsung, for instance, debuted its HomeSync box. This is a small, high-capacity hard drive that works as a connected server. So you can stream movies from the 1TB box to your Samsung phone or tablet from around the house, or around the world.

Since many smartphones come with some cloud backup for free, but limited to a few gigabytes of space, the 1,000GB here is a neat alternative. It'll be out in the next few months, though no price is set yet.

Nokia's emphasis was on value, with two new Lumia smartphones and, just as interestingly, two super-budget phones that will cost £13 and £55 each. The £55 Nokia 301 has cute gimmicks like a voice-controlled self-portrait feature. When you've turned the phone's camera to face you, you can't see whether you're in shot. The 301 squawks "Up, right, right, left" until you're perfectly placed, then takes the shot automatically without you scrambling for a shutter button. Add in Nokia's trademark build quality and this becomes a compelling phone for those who feel a smartphone is just too much.

LG continued to innovate with items like Audio Zoom. When you're shooting video, you tap the screen where you want to focus and the phone chooses the relevant microphone (there are three on the Optimus G) to optimise the sound. It also had a feature where you could record on the phone's front and rear cameras simultaneously – so you could film a gig and your reaction to it at the same time, if you must.

LG detailed a range of phones, several at budget prices. But its recurring theme was powerful batteries – LG is aiming to create smartphones that last two days or more between charges. Imagine that.

Then there were the off-the-wall prototypes that dominate shows like this. Many never materialise, but hopes are high that the Yotaphone, from Russia will make it to production later this year. It's an Android smartphone with a 4.2 in display on the front. And another on the back. The back one is e-ink, that black-and-white technology used on the Amazon Kindle Paperwhite and rivals. E-ink is supremely miserly on energy drain so if you want to conserve battery, you can flick content like an ebook to the rear screen. It looks great and offers something genuinely different.

More and more companies were making smartphones for elderly or impaired users. Doro, Emporia and Fujitsu had models with bigger, clearer icons, simplified interfaces or screens which vibrated to let you know you'd pressed on it successfully.

And there were many stylish gadgets on display, though few more attractive than the thinnest tablet with 4G connectivity, the Sony Xperia Tablet Z. It's 6.9mm thick and feels great in the hand thanks to a soft-touch back. And it has a stunningly sharp 10.1in display with realistic colour palette and good contrast levels. Oh yes, and it's waterproof, which is handy for watching movies in the bath without panicking you'll drop it through your soapy fingers. It's out soon and is easily the best-looking Android tablet around. It was one of the highlights of a variable but largely satisfying Mobile World Congress.

The new exhibition centre made the most of its massively enlarged space, even if this meant the exhibitors, retailers and journalists were walking further than ever, so they may be regretting that late night party now, perhaps.

 

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