What mattered at Mobile World Congress day zero: Samsung Gear, Firefox phones, fierce convertible competition

The biggest mobile show technically starts on Monday, but the news won't wait. We've wrapped up the biggest news from MWC 2014's press day so that you don't have to hunt for it.

The Fira Gran Via in Barcelona, home of Mobile World Congress.
The Fira Gran Via in Barcelona, home of Mobile World Congress. Stephen Shankland/CNET

BARCELONA, Spain--While the rest of the world sipped Sunday coffee and took weekend strolls, journalists at Mobile World Congress got down to the gritty business of unearthing the news of the biggest mobile show in the world. CNET's team came together from London, San Francisco, New York, Singapore, and Sydney and we won't say we didn't eat some tapas along the way. But we also reported countless stories for our whopping Mobile World Congress special package. Short on time? Here's the TL;DR debrief on MWC day zero.

Samsung ditches Android for two Tizen-based Gear smartwatches

The new Samsung Gear watches ditch Android. Samsung
Clearing the way for its Galaxy S5 news coming Monday, Samsung sneaked out the news on the next generation of its smartwatch, the Samsung Gear 2 and its baby brother, the Gear 2 Neo -- both with Samsung's take on the open-source Tizen OS instead of Android. Presumably to address the poor Galaxy Gear sales, these new smartwatches ditch some of the sillier Gear details from the first product, including the wart-like camera on the band of the first model (which moves to the watch face on the Gear 2). The Gear 2 also picks up a heart rate sensor and a music player, making a much more legitimate sports accessory. No word on price for either, though.

Firefox makes a $25 smart phone possible
Think the mobile OS wars are over? Maybe in some parts of the world, Android and iOS can claim near-total victory, but Mozilla plans to elbow into developing markets with Firefox OS, which may just drive the price of a basic smartphone down to $25. An avalanche of partners including Alcatel, ZTE, and Huawei showed off inexpensive, global Firefox phones. And while many amount to a simple proof-of-concept, we're convinced that the browser company is on to something.

And there's a lot more in store for the Firefox OS. Mozilla showed off the interface changes -- notifications, task switching, app discovery, search -- that we can expect to see this year.

Huawei's biggest western news yet?

Huawei's TalkBand is a fitness tracker with a Bluetooth headset built in. Really. Sarah Tew/CNET
Speaking of Huawei, the Chinese behemoth Huawei came out swinging today with more phone announcements than you probably need to know about. If you're going to focus on any of them, consider the fashionable metal 4G MediaPad X1 tablet (at 7 inches with a SIM card slot, for all the world a phone, too) or the selfie-centered Huawei Ascend G6 coming to the UK in April with a 5 megapixel front-facing camera. But you must not miss the weirdest product we've seen yet at Mobile World Congress: the Huawei Talkband B1. The TalkBand B1 enters the fitness band race with an attempt to stand out by doubling as a Bluetooth headset. Say what? Yes, that's right: you can snap the tiny capsule out of the band and hold it to your ear. But you have to have a smartphone nearby for the device to work, so we're not quite sure yet why you wouldn't just use your phone unless you're a dedicated Zoolander imitator.

LG shows off its top-shelf phone, finally

The LG G Pro 2's 13-megapixel camera features optical image stabilization and 4K video recording. Sarah Tew/CNET
Today's LG news started with a bang, with our own Roger Cheng discovering that LG and Google will jointly launch a smartwatch at Google I/O in June -- news perhaps leaked to get just one turn on the Mobile World Congress wearables dance card. But LG's official news at MWC include an in-the-silicon appearance of LG's high-end G Pro 2, a quad-core monster phone that Lynn La liked quite a bit in her hands-on evaluation.

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Microsoft lays out lots of plans, few gadgets
Microsoft flew east for MWC and didn't come packing much in the way of hardware, but did bring a new reference design based on Qualcomm technology that the company says makes it faster and easier for companies to make Windows Phones. In other words, as CNET's Shara Tibken writes, the company is essentially begging partners to build Windows phones based on Microsoft's design. Microsoft also expanded the number of companies supporting Windows Phone (now Lenovo, LG, and a bunch of low-cost manufacturers) and let us know that a Windows 8.1 update is coming in the first half of the year. Oh, and Facebook Messenger will finally arrive on Windows Phone in the near future, too.

HP and Lenovo compete with convertibles

The HP Pavilion x360 takes the Lenovo Yoga head-on. Sarah Tew/CNET
Lenovo's foldable laptop-or-is-it-a-tablet Yoga has long reigned supreme in the land of convertible computers, so we don't blame the company for introducing yet another version of its popular machine, the Yoga Tablet 10 HD+, which tries to shore up a previously dull screen and improve battery life. Meanwhile, HP tried to poke a hole in Lenovo's convertible tablet dominance with the Yoga-lookalike HP Pavilion x360 and threw in a phablet, the Slate 7 VoiceTab for good measure.

Really, there's so much more news from the MWC pre-show that we could go on for quite some time. Instead, we'll say this: Alcatel released practically a zillion products, we saw a lot of crazy cases and some interesting devices (Bluetooth iPhone camera lens, anyone?) at a pre-show press event called ShowStoppers, and we did the same all over on the hunt for nonstandard wearables and fun extras at Pepcom, a rival press event at which we also saw a nanocoating product that renders a phone entirely waterproof.

So what's next? Just as the U.S. starts to say good night, the action will heat up again in Barcelona. Nokia and Sony are holding simultaneous press events that kick off at 11:30 p.m. PT. We'll report live from both, so you can follow Nokia's news here and Sony's event here. And we'll pick right back up with Mark Zuckerberg's keynote address Tuesday morning (9 a.m. PT; 6 p.m. in Barcelona). That will be followed by what will surely be the biggest press event of the show, where we expect Samsung to introduce the Galaxy S5 (11 a.m. PT; 8 p.m. in Barcelona).

And of course you can always check in on our special coverage page to find the latest.

CNET's full coverage of Mobile World Congress
 

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