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Adios, Barcelona: GSMA 2009 wrap-up

CNET takes a look back at Mobile World Congress and reflects on the highs and lows of GSMA 2009.

Till next year, Barcelona. Kent German/CNET Networks

We're all slowly making our way back to the States and back to our regular schedules now that the Mobile World Congress show has come to an end, but before we completely close the door on GSMA 2009, we wanted to take a moment to reflect on what was (and wasn't) revealed at the show. After all, MWC often lays the groundwork for what we'll see in mobile space in the upcoming year.

For all intents and purposes, Microsoft provided the most news at MWC, as the company previewed the latest version of its mobile operating system and its partners unveiled upcoming devices. Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer was in Barcelona to deliver a keynote address on opening day, during which he showed off Windows Mobile 6.5. He also participated in a panel about openness and innovation in the mobile market.

The big news: Windows Mobile 6.5. Microsoft

The revamped OS brings a handful of enhancements, such as an application store, a back-up and restore service, and an improved mobile Web browser. While welcome additions, it didn't particularly move the mark on innovation and, even worse, Windows Mobile 6.5 won't be released till the second half of 2009 and by then, who knows what Microsoft's competitors will have done.

Still, we were pretty excited about some of the upcoming devices that are set to run Windows Mobile 6.5. First, LG revealed the LG-GM730 and went one step further by committing to making Windows Mobile the primary operating system for its smartphones--a promise that would increase the number of Windows phones available in 2009 tenfold.

Acer also announced its entry into the smartphone space and held a press conference to reveal not one, but eight devices to debut in 2009 (with more to be announced in Q4), all running Windows Mobile. Despite joining the Open Handset Alliance, Garmin-Asus took the wraps off its second Nuvifone model, the M20, which will run Windows Mobile (and we finally got a chance to check out the Nuvifone G60). Meanwhile, longtime Windows Mobile partner HTC introduced its next-generation devices, the HTC Touch Pro2 and the HTC Touch Diamond2. The two smartphones will actually run Windows Mobile 6.1 when they ship during Q2, but the company said they will be upgradeable to Windows Mobile 6.5.

HTC also made another announcement that stole some of the spotlight away from Microsoft. The company, along with European carrier Vodafone, debuted the Android-powered HTC Magic on the second day of the show. It's the first Android device for Vodafone. HTC plans to bring the smartphone to market by spring. The HTC Magic features a 3.2-inch HVGA touch screen and trackball navigator, but doesn't have a slide-out QWERTY keyboard like the T-Mobile G1. The quad-band smartphone will offer support for Google's various applications as well as access to the Android Market, and includes a Webkit browser, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, HSDPA/WCDMA (900/2100MHz), and a 3.2-megapixel camera.

HTC Magic
The HTC Magic is the first Android phone for Vodafone. Andrew Lim/CNET UK

CNET U.K.'s Andrew Lim got a good hands-on look at the Magic at the show, and we also got a peek at it while visiting the HTC booth. While giving us a demo, the company representative was very clear to say that the Magic was not the T-Mobile G2, which brings up our next point. As much as the Magic was news, the general lack of Google Android announcements was also news in itself. Sure, Huawei said it plans to launch Android handsets later this year, but it's doubtful we'll see those in the States. Plus, we didn't see the T-Mobile G2. Samsung delayed its Android phones until the second half of the year. All in all, a disappointment for Android fans.

Per its usual fashion, Sony Ericsson kicked off the GSMA World Congress by holding a standing-room only (that's a hint, Sony Ericsson, to give us chairs next time) event the night before the show began. The Idou quickly emerged as one of the most talked-about devices in Barcelona. Though still a concept phone, the Idou's expansive display, attractive interface, and multimedia-heavy features look promising. Sony Ericsson will officially launch the device later this year, at which point it'll change the name, so we'll be watching. The company also unveiled a new Walkman phone, the W995, which, to our surprise, has a 3.5mm headset jack and a nifty kickstand. Also at Sony Ericsson, we had the chance to check out the C903 Cyber-shot and W395 Walkman, which Sony Ericsson launched the week before GSMA began.

In addition, Samsung unveiled four media-friendly devices of its own. The Samsung Omnia HD and Ultra Touch focus on video, while the Beat DJ and Beat Disc major in music. All of the phones offer touch screens, but the Omnia HD and Beat DJ stand out for their unique interfaces and designs. Samsung revealed a release date and pricing for T-Mobile's Samsung Memoir and showed, albeit rather carefully, its Solar-powered Blue earth phone. We could look, but not touch.

Nokia N86
The Nokia N86 sports an 8-megapixel camera. Bonnie Cha/CNET Networks

Nokia didn't make too much of a splash, despite having one of the biggest and most crowded booths on the show floor. The Finnish company took the wraps off the new E75 and the E55. Though both are smartphones, only the E75 offers a full keyboard. Its slider design is appealing and the feature set is functional. The E55 is a bit trimmed down and it offers just a SureType-esque keyboard. Nokia also sneaked in the 8-megapixel camera-toting Nokia N86 on the second day. The Nokia 5630 Xpress Music sat next to the E55 and E75 in Nokia's booth, so we checked it out as well.

Meanwhile, Moto was almost a no-show at GSMA. It had a bright booth in a prime location, but it offered only phones we've seen before, like the bling-worthy Aura. ZTE stepped in with its own solar-powered phone, the Coral-200-Solar, and LG offered the conversation piece GD900, which offers a never-before-seen (at least to us) transparent keypad.

Overall, we'd have to say Mobile World Congress 2009 was a quieter show than last year's, but obviously, it was still chock full of news. You can catch up on all the show's news, photos, and videos in our full coverage of GSMA 2009. And don't forget, the CTIA 2009 spring show is just around the corner (April 1-3) where there will be more North America-specific news, and once again, we'll make the trek to Las Vegas to bring you all the details.