Mobile World Congress (MWC), the biggest wireless party of the year, begins Sunday in Barcelona, Spain. This will be the seventh year that CNET Reviews has attended the event, and we're spending the next few days gearing up for what promises to be a wild ride of new device announcements, company news, and many helpings of jamon and patatas bravas.
So until the fun begins, join me for a look back at some of the hottest phones to come out of Barcelona. Starting with 2008, which was the first MWC that I personally attended, I've selected three handsets that were the talk of each year's show. If applicable, I've also added a link to CNET's review of the final device and told you whether it made the carrier rounds. If anything, you'll see just how the pace of innovation has changed at MWC.
CNET's coverage will begin in full force on February 23, so check back then.
The unchallenged star of the show that year, the Xperia X1 was the first device in the still popular Xperia series. The smartphone had a powerful feature set (for the time), an interactive panel interface, and a slide-up keyboard. Getting our hands on the device in Barcelona proved to be a challenge, but eventually we came away impressed with what we saw. Unfortunately, the high price and lack of global carrier support kept it out of the hands of most consumers.
CNET's review said: The Sony Ericsson Xperia X1 is a well-designed and fully stocked smartphone that offers great customization through the interactive panel interface. However, with its high price tag, the X1 will be a hard sell for most customers and will be a purely luxury item.
Samsung made a big push for its new phone with banners appearing almost everywhere in Barcelona. Though not a smartphone, the Soul had a touch pad with control icons that changed as you moved through different features. It never made it to a U.S carrier, but did appear abroad.
CNET's review said: You won't mistake it for a smartphone, but the Samsung Soul is nonetheless an attractive and well-designed multimedia phone.
Camera phones with more megapixels were a big part of the action that year. The Nokia 6220 had a 5-megapixel shooter with a Xenon flash, a 20x digital zoom, a Carl Zeiss optics lens, and autofocus. We never got it stateside, but our colleagues in the United Kingdom and Singapore put it through its paces.
CNET's review said: The Nokia 6220 Classic is a great phone if you want a lot of features but don't want to carry around a large handset. Our only disappointments are that the camera isn't as good as the one on the Nokia N82, and that there's no Wi-Fi
The second Android phone to come into the world, the Magic made a sneak appearance at MWC almost as the show was ending. A huge improvement on the original T-Mobile G1, it had a sleeker design, higher-end features, and the Android 1.5 OS. It eventually came to T-Mobile as the MyTouch 3G and to carriers around the world.
CNET's review said: The HTC Magic is the Android device for which we've been waiting. A few complaints remain, but its eye-catching design and interface, improved features, and satisfying performance make us excited about Android's full potential.
Part of Nokia's N Series, the N86 boosted the resolution to eight megapixels while sporting a Carl Zeiss Tessar lens, variable aperture for better pictures in superbright or low-light environments, a dual-LED flash, and a fast mechanical shutter that should reduce motion blur. It made it to a few carriers outside North America, but it carried a high price tag.
CNET's review said: If you can afford it, the Nokia N86 8MP is one of the more advanced and better camera phones on the market today, but there are cheaper alternatives.
Introduced in Barcelona as the Idou, the handset was a top attraction. Sony wouldn't let us play with it very much on the show floor, but even a brief tour was promising. A focus on entertainment gave it a 12.1-megapixel camera and a Walkman player.
CNET's review said: The Sony Ericsson Satio packs in a lot of multimedia power, particularly in the camera department, but it also has a number of annoyances.
HTC deepened its love affair when it unveiled the Legend. An upgrade to the HTC Hero, it had an AMOLED touch screen and Android 2.1 with HTC Sense. It landed with carriers in Europe, Asia, and Canada.
CNET's review said: With its design improvements and feature enhancements, the HTC Legend is a worthy upgrade from the Hero and one of the most solid and well-built Android phones we've seen in its class.
No, it wasn't a phone, but it gave birth to a long line of devices to come. Microsoft chose MWC to debut its new OS, which completely rebuilt the declining Windows Mobile from the ground up. The Start screen featured live tiles that provided one-touch access to your favorite apps and contacts, and alerted you to new messages, calls and status updates.
That year Sony decided to shrink its existing Xperia X10 into the Xperia 10 Mini Pro (pictured here) and the Xperia X10 Mini (which lacked a physical keyboard). It was powerful for its size, which was was just a bit too small to be comfortable. Also, an old Android OS distracted from Sony's likeable Android skin. It never made it to a U.S. carrier.
CNET's review said: The Sony Ericsson Xperia X10 Mini Pro is still too small for a full-fledged Android smartphone, but the added physical keyboard greatly improves usability.
The second-gen Galaxy phone delivered a load of high-end specs plus a sleek, eye-catching design. Over the next few months it came to many carriers around the world, and it spawned a number of companion versions.
CNET's review said: Despite a few complaints, the Samsung Galaxy S2 hits all the high notes, making the unlocked handset Samsung's most advanced and successful smartphone to date.
The highly anticpated "PlayStation" phone made its formal debut in Barcelona. The full gaming integration was the biggest draw, of course, and its hardware design stood far out from the smartphone crowd (even if it looked a little weird). Verizon Wireless got the handset first.
CNET's review said: The Sony Ericsson Xperia Play is a significant step forward in mobile gaming, but it suffers from key hardware limitations.
HTC's entry into the tablet space was a bit unusual, not only for its size and its digital pen. It was eye-catching, the feature set was impressive, and the pen held promise, but it would get lost in the Android tablet sea. A variation later came to Sprint.
CNET's review said: The HTC Flyer puts a new spin on the 7-inch Android tablet, but its high price and smartphone-style OS are a tough sell next to its bigger, cheaper Honeycomb kin.
A phone like no other, the 808 PureView harked back to Nokia's earlier efforts to up the camera phone ante. This time, however, we got a mind-blowing 41-megapixel shooter and a million camera features. The Symbian OS also was mind-blowing, but not in a good way.
CNET's review said: Even if you're only interested in its sharp, innovative camera, the Nokia 808 PureView's weak Symbian Belle OS and slower processor make it a questionable investment considering the price, especially since Symbian's days are numbered.
HTC launched its ambitious "One" series with the sharp One X. In Barcelona, at least, the highlight was the quad-core processor, but it also brought Android 4.0, Beats Audio, a 4.7-inch display, and an 8-megapixel camera. It made it to a few countries, but U.S. carrier AT&T ditched the quad-core processor in favor of 4G LTE support.
CNET's review said: Quad-core processing isn't everything, and AT&T's new $199.99 HTC One X proves it. This advanced Android has style, speed, blazing 4G, and power galore.
Equipped with a 5.5-inch screen, the phone marks LG's second attempt at a "phablet"-size handset in the US, with Verizon's LG Intuition being the first. While the Intuition didn't quite take off, the G Pro is a much better device.
CNET's review said: Though it lacks a stylus, the Optimus G Pro is not only armed with high-end specs, but it's also still cheaper than the Samsung Galaxy Note 2 -- making it the best AT&T phablet available now.
The most high-end smartphone Nokia introduced at the show, this Lumia had a familiar Lumia-unibody design, a decent camera, plenty of Nokia bundled apps, and a microSD card slot for use with cards up to 64GB.
CNET's review said: The Nokia Lumia 720 is good looking and easy to slide into your jeans, but it doesn't really offer enough over the Lumia 620, which costs half as much.
The debut of Mozilla's Firefox OS was one of the biggest stories of last year's show. The Geeksphone Keon was just one example, but it was the handset with which we got to spend the most time after we left Barcelona. Since it was a developer model we didn't give it a full review, but Jessica Dolcourt found that it was a rare opportunity to watch the development of an alternative mobile OS, one uniquely formed around Web apps and set to help bridge the digital smartphone divide.
Caption byKent German
/ Photo by Stephen Shankland/CNET