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Highs and lows from Mobile World Congress

It was a full Mobile World Congress, with plenty of new cell phones, smartphones, and tablets. CNET breaks down the highs and lows from Barcelona.

Another Mobile World Congress is in the bag, and as the CNET crew leaves Barcelona we can take stock of the mobile madness that was. It was my fourth year attending the show, and I can report that 2011 was one the busiest I've seen, with a ton of new smartphones and tablets. It was a lot to handle, but Bonnie Cha of CNET Reviews; Ariel Nunez of CNET TV; and Maggie Reardon, Stephen Shankland, and Elinor Mills of CNET News were along for the ride.

As with any trade show, Mobile World Congress offered a series of satisfying devices and a couple of instances where companies fell short. Here's the report from Barcelona as we saw it. And don't forget to check out Maggie's insights in her Ask Maggie column.

The highs

Sony Ericsson
Even before Mobile World Congress began, almost everyone knew about the PlayStation Phone. It wasn't just the endless leaks, but Sony Ericsson also teased us with a Super Bowl commercial a week before the company held its MWC press conference. Indeed, I was glad to finally see the Xperia Play for real, and shocked by the news that it would come to Verizon Wireless. I liked the the handset when I finally got my hands on it, though I wasn't blown away completely. And my colleague Scott Stein thinks it's not quite the gaming device he wanted.

Mobile World Congress had a lot to offer. Kent German/CNET

Sony Ericsson also debuted the Xperia Pro and Xperia Neo (the former has a physical keyboard, the latter doesn't). They're not especially powerful devices, but they offer attractive hardware in the style of the recent Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc. I hope they make it to a U.S. carrier.

We got only two devices from our friends at LG, but they were more than enough. The LG Optimus Pad, and its G Slate counterpart at T-Mobile, won Bonnie's outright approval (that's not an easy feat, mind you). She liked the hardware and display and thought that the 3D video was cool, if not entirely necessary. I felt similar when I looked at the Optimus 3D smartphone. It's also a lovely device that feels good in the hand. And the 3D capability is nifty, but it's not a big selling point for me.

In an effort to be different and "simply brilliant," HTC revealed its new products on the second day of the show. It certainly succeeded on the first front when it put another rumor to rest by introducing the elusive Facebook phones. The Salsa and ChaCha (no relation to Bonnie) aren't really more than regular Andorid smartphones with Facebook content surfaced at a high level. The hardware doesn't look like much right now, and we're still wary of the whole concept, but we'll give them a closer look once we have the opportunity.

HTC also introduced the Flyer tablet and the Desire S, Wildfire S, and Incredible S. The Flyer has a few things going for it, including HTC's Scribe technology, but Bonnie didn't like it as much as the G Slate. The smartphone trio weren't bad either, but they're not much more than upgrades of previous models.

Sammy also kicked off MWC with a Sunday night press conference and did its best to entertain (for proof, check out the above slide show). It unveiled the Galaxy Tab 10.1 and Galaxy S II. Both devices have dual-core processors.

Yeah, Android was huge in Barcelona. Kent German/CNET

Judging from Google's booth alone (again, see the slide show), its operating system ruled Barcelona. Almost all of the 24 new phones introduced at MWC run Android, and Sony Ericsson wasn't shy about its desire to be No. 1 in that space. If you're still doubting that Android is on a roll, than MWC will convince you.

Just as they did at CES, tablets arrived at MWC in force. Seven new tablets had their debut from not only the manufacturers mentioned above but also Huawei and ViewSonic.

The lows

Moto had a big booth, but that was it. Stephen Shankland/CNET

After going big at CES, Motorola made barely a dent at MWC. It had a big, flashy booth but revealed only that it was bringing the existing Moto Droid Pro and Xoom to the European market. We were hoping for more, but perhaps the company needed a breather.

RIM was another company that kept a low profile in Barcelona. It announced plans for two new PlayBook tablets, but it didn't demonstrate any new devices. Maybe it knew about the Android onslaught and is biding its time for CTIA.

And the in-betweens

Stephen Elop, CEO of Nokia, speaks at an MWC keynote presentation. Stephen Shankland/CNET

Nokia entered MWC with a lot of buzz, having announced only days before that it was pursuing a partnership with Microsoft to introduce Windows Phone 7 devices. Much of the mobile industry is still trying to digest the news--and opinions vary widely on how fruitful the relationship will be--but Nokia CEO Stephen Elop made his case at a press conference and a keynote address.

It may still be growing in the U.S. market, but ZTE tried to make its presence known at MWC. Yet, its three new phones, the Skate, the Amigo, and the Blade didn't leave a lasting impression.

The same was true for ZTE's main Chinese competitor. Though Huawei's new Ideos X3 was kept mostly behind glass during the show, we got to handle the company's Ideos Slim S7. But when compared with the tablets I mentioned above, I liked it least of all.