Practical, affordable phones take center stage at MWC 2013

There were a few superphones here at Mobile World Congress, but for the most part, it was budget-friendly fare that hogged the spotlight.

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BARCELONA, Spain--Although mobile phones will always have a central role at Mobile World Congress, this year the red-hot buzz went to software, tablets , wearable tech, and other geeky-cool oddities .

With heavy hitter HTC announcing its flagship HTC One days before MWC, and Samsung saving its Galaxy S4 announcement for March 14 , it was the sensible, midrange Android phones that made up the bulk of the announcements.

However, it was the outlier operating systems that really stole the show .

Firefox, Ubuntu, Tizen: The other, other OSes

The mobile, browser-based Firefox OS appeared on several smartphones, like the Geeksphone Peak (our pick of the bunch), the Alcatel One Touch Fire , and the ZTE Open .

LG and Huawei Firefox phones also made an appearance under glass, and Firefox has locked down carrier partners to bring its -- frankly, rather green -- OS to emerging markets for cheap.

Ubuntu Touch OS impressed on an LG Nexus 4 and Google Nexus 7 tablet, and Samsung's Tizen OS came out for an early look.

The usual suspects

MWC 2013 saw a mini trend of large-screen devices (you might call them phablets), like the LG Optimus G Pro , the ZTE Grand Memo , and the Alcatel One Touch Scribe Easy .

LG Optimus G Pro
The LG Optimus G Pro is a Samsung Galaxy Note 2 contender. Sarah Tew/CNET

There was also a larger trend of wallet-friendly options like the Samsung Galaxy Grand , the Alcatel One Touch Snap , and the Acer Liquid E1 and Liquid Z2 .

On the Windows Phone side, Nokia took top honors with the Nokia Lumia 720 , a nice midrange Windows Phone 8 device with many of the features you also see on the higher-end Lumia 920 .

A step below, the Lumia 520 is notable for its low price, but strong feature set -- 139 euros (a little under $200) unlocked. U.S. customers should pay attention, since a variant will also arrive on T-Mobile as the 521.

SpareOne Plus
The SpareOne Plus can live for up to 15 years in your car on a single AA battery. Sarah Tew/CNET

Weirder fare

We also enjoyed unique devices like the rugged Cat B15 Android Jelly Bean smartphone and the dual-screen NEC Medias W N-05E .

In nonsmartphone land, we liked the SpareOne Plus , an emergency cell phone that runs on a AA battery. The Nokia 105 also made headlines for its ridiculously low retail price of 15 euros.

As with CES last month, MWC 2013 gave the smaller brands a chance to prove their worth.

 

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