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Mobile World Congress is paradise for the gadget-obsessed. There was no shortage of shiny new smartphones at this year's show in Barcelona, and some manufacturers went above and beyond what many people thought was possible (or even useful.) A 41-megapixel camera phone? A built-in projector? Why not? Here, we round up the top smartphones that wowed the crowd at MWC 2012.
In terms of design and form factor, slim and understated reigns supreme. Many smartphones this year are slightly wider but thinner. As InformationWeek's Eric Zeman wrote earlier this week, for some smartphones a non-removable battery ensures the skinny factor. Lightweight, unibody construction with ceramic, aluminum, or polycarbonate was prevalent in many phones.
As we all continue to push our smartphones harder, it's not a surprise that serious processor power has emerged as a recurring theme for new phones. Quad-core processors like the nVidia Tegra 3 were everywhere at MWC 2012 and show up in many of our top smartphone picks.
Large, striking displays are critical, some with Corning Gorilla Glass. Screens are bright and clear, with 1280x720 resolution becoming more common. We even saw one phone with an extremely high-quality 326ppi pixel density. Cameras remain a highlight of top-tier phones for both photos and video. Almost standard for the main camera was a rating of 8 megapixels, although the cameras range from 5 MP to 41 MP.
[ See our complete Mobile World Congress 2012 coverage, live from the mobile industry's hottest event. ]
In terms of operating systems, Android dominated MWC, with most Android devices featuring the newest version: Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich. Android phones running 3.2 Gingerbread generally had an upgrade path to Ice Cream Sandwich in the near future. Android was certainly not the only OS in attendance. We also saw phones powered by Symbian and Windows Phone 7. However, RIM was noticeably absent from the showcase of new devices this week.
One of the most entertaining things about MWC is the weird and wild factor, and this year's show was no exception. From a Samsung projection phone to an over-the-top 41 megapixel camera from Nokia, there were some very creative takes by manufacturers on what a phone can and should do.
Check out our slideshow to see the most interesting phones on display at Mobile World Congress this year.
The HTC One X quad-core phone features high-end media components, including Beats Audio integration and an 8-megapixel camera that's made incredibly fast by new ImageSense technology. A 4.7-inch Super LCD 2 screen provides 1280x720 pixel full HD resolution. HTC's latest version of Sense, its user interface, provides 25 GB of premium Dropbox storage for two years, enough room for over 10,000 high res photos.
For more on the HTC One, see our related story, including video coverage: HTC One Smartphones Debut At MWC 2012.
Nokia surprised MWC attendees this week with a jaw-dropping 41-megapixel camera phone, the 808 Pureview. The specs behind this phone are equally surprising. It runs the Symbian Belle OS and has a 360x640 pixel touchscreen. The camera can also shoot continuous focus HD video at 1080p. For serious camera phone users, it's an extraordinary device. The Pureview 808 is expected to launch in Europe in May.
ZTE's Era phone has a quad-core Nvidia Tegra 3 mobile processor and a 4.3-inch touch screen display with 960x540 resolution. The Era runs Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich and is expected to launch in Europe and China by the second half of 2012.
The Optimus 4X HD, like the HTC One X, features a 4.7-inch True HD IPS display with 1280x720 resolution. The phone features an 8-MP rear camera and a 1.3-MP front-facing camera. It also uses the nVidia Tegra 3 quad-core processor, but is slightly smoother and more minimal in terms of the hardware and user interface layer. LG has not revealed pricing, but the phone is expected to launch soon.
The Huawei Ascend D Quad's 4.5-inch multitouch LCD capacitive screen has a 1280x720 resolution and a sharper pixel density than many of the phones featured at 326ppi. Huawei is using its own KV32 quad-core processor and runs Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich.
Fujitsu joins the nVidia Tegra 3 club with its unnamed and still under development smartphone. This 4.6-inch display phone has a 1080p resolution and runs Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich. Fujitsu has plans to ship this phone in Japan and the U.S., but the arrival date is unknown as the phone is still under development.
ZTE launched several new phones at Mobile World Congress, only two of them running the Windows Phone operating system. The ZTE Orbit has a nice 4-inch 800x480 display and a 5-megapixel camera. It runs the latest version of Windows Phone and has 4 GB of memory. The Orbit is scheduled to be available in the second quarter of 2012.
What's Samsung's Galaxy Beam's claim to fame? Its integrated 640x260 pico projector can project up to 50 inches on any nearby wall. Or even a ceiling, if you're lying in bed and feel like watching a video. The Galaxy Beam runs on Android 2.3 Gingerbread and is due to be available in Q2 of 2012.
Sony's Xperia P features a new "transparent element" around the phone's base, which lights up when calls or notifications are received. Xperia P integrates with Sony's Entertainment Network, allowing you to watch movies or listen to music. While the Xperia P ships with Android 2.3 Gingerbread, an upgrade to 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich will be available soon. The Xperia P will be available to users in the second quarter of 2012.
RIM had no new products at Mobile World Congress 2012, nor did it provide any additional information on the availability or launch of its BlackBerry 10 smartphone devices. Their mini-site, set up just for MWC2012, seemed interesting--but the lack of announcements or devices spoke volumes.