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The best of Mobile World Congress 2012

LG Optimus Vu at MWCLG Optimus Vu

Truthfully, we weren’t overly fond of LG’s supersized 5-inch Optimus Vu, but it remains notable if only to prove that “fablets” – oversized phones or mini tablets – are becoming a legitimate product category outside Samsung’s experimental Galaxy Note. The 4:3 aspect ratio is also a unique twist, and you can’t deny how luxuriously thin this thing is at 8.5 mm thick: a dimension that only seems exaggerated by its otherwise sprawling footprint.

Asus PadFoneAsus PadFone

It’s a phone inside a tablet. The 4.3-inch PadFone locks into a hatch in the back of a special tablet dock, which in turn snaps into another dock that turns the entire contraption into something resembling a laptop. In practical terms, this means that the same apps and documents you keep on your phone now carry across to your tablet and laptop without any need for the cloud or syncing, you just need one 3G connection, and battery life gets better with every accessory you add. Asus even built a stylus that works as a Bluetooth headset, so you can pick up the phone without yanking it out of the back of the tablet when someone calls. We’ve known this thing was coming for months now, but now it’s real, official, and going on sale this year.

Nokia at MWC 2012 - Lumia 610Windows 7 Tango

Windows Phone Tango will be less of a new release and more of a greased up version of the last release: Microsoft engineers primarily spent time optimizing code so it could run on less expensive hardware. If you already live life on the bleeding edge of technology, that’s boring news, but the two new budget handsets that ran it at MWC (the ZTE Orbit and Nokia Lumia 610) felt surprisingly snappy even with their relatively lame specs. Impressive. And if you’re already running better hardware, Tango should speed that up, too, so there’s still something to look forward to.

The slideGoogle’s Android booth

With Apple nowhere to be found at an event like Mobile World Congress, Google suddenly becomes big man on campus. And for once, the typically low-fanfare tech giant acted the part with a booth that was one part exhibition and one part fanboy amusement park. You could grab a literal ice cream sandwich, try to snatch Android plush dolls in a crane machine, watch a robot create a custom-jeweled back for your Galaxy Nexus, or hop into a two-story slide that twisted around an equally tall Android. See Google? You can pry open that wallet to reward the faithful now and then.

eric schmidtEric Schmidt’s keynote

Most expected Google chairman Eric Schmidt to rattle on endlessly about the future of Android at his MWC keynote, but the plucky (and occasionally caustic) ex-CEO actually went a lot deeper. His lecture on the capability of mobile technology to change the world as we know it implored listeners to look beyond the convenience it has brought to first-world countries to see how it could radically affect impoverished nations. While Schmidt cautioned that technology had the potential to only widen the gap between rich and poor, he believes that technology like mesh networking could also help entrepreneurial people in less fortunate areas reach beyond their borders and educate themselves.

Besides the thought-provoking keynote address, we particularly enjoyed the Q&A, in which Eric Schmidt inadvertently proved that he may be the closest man now living to a human Wikipedia. The path of the fiber-optic cable that connects Nigeria to Portugal? Yea, he knows all about that off the top of his head. Somebody get this man on Jeopardy. 

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