Hot products at Mobile World Congress 2013

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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

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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 in the US.

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Lenovo’s new Android-tablets-without-names

The forgettably labelled 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.

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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 grey 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; starting price of $169 in the US .

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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

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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.

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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. Image Credit: Postdlf from w, under GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2

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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.

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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

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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.

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All this phone needs is tank bulldozer tracks.

Heavy equipment, and sometime smartphone, builder Caterpillar revealed its latest ruggedised Android smartphone, the B15. It has silver-anodised aluminium body with shock absorbent rubber: the company says it can take repeated drops of up to 6 feet onto concrete, and stay dry inside for up to 30 minutes when submerged up to 3 feet underwater. Other details: Android 4.2, dual-core 1 GHz Cortex A9 processor with 512MB RAM, 4-inch WVGA, 800 x 480 pixels, protected by Corning Gorilla Glass (and responds to wet fingers); 4GB storage, expandable via microSD slot. Ships: March. Price: about $390. The “Catphone” website was not yet updated with the B15 at this posting.

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