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Gphone and Other Highlights From Barcelona Tech Show

BARCELONA -- The 2008 Mobile World Congress has come to a close.

Hopeful cellular manufacturers are breaking down their display booths and tens of thousands of weary showgoers also are packing up and wending their way back home -- to nearly every corner of the planet.

My producer/videographer Dee Robertson agreed that while the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas was a somewhat larger show, this Mobile World Congress was smaller but much more global in scope -- with English-speaking attendees in the minority.

Maybe it's because the U.S. cell phone market is out of step with the rest of the world with not only GSM phones (used everywhere on the planet) but also Verizon (VZ - Get Report)/ Sprint (S)-centric CDMA handsets.

But this show did provide us with some new items that we'll be talking about for the rest of the year.

We got our first glimpse of what is being called the Gphone -- or at least the operating system rumored to be inside it. We were allowed to look at a number of devices running, in some shape or form, the Android platform -- an open-source operating system for future mobile phones and devices.

Since Google (GOOG - Get Report) is a big player in Android's development, it was no surprise to find Gmail, Google Search and Google Maps as integral programs in the new platform. We were told that Android would look and act differently on different devices.

I can tell you that even in this very early state Android looked very cool -- and was able to run nicely on a somewhat ancient handset with a low-powered ARM processor. I can only imagine what it can do on more capable hardware.


And, while we're talking about pipe dreams, we got to see what I've dubbed the Pheasant phone. It's really Garmin's (GRMN - Get Report) nuvifone GPS/cell phone offering. I call it Pheasant because the only working models were kept under glass. That way Garmin didn't have to say what features nuvifone will have when it's released later this year.

From what I could tell from holding a nonworking model, it seems nice. Time will tell.

Not to be outdone by anyone else, Skype (part of eBay (EBAY - Get Report)) was proudly showing the first of many Skype phones. Actually, they will be phones upon which new Skype software will let you make VoIP calls over your cellular provider's data network instead of being tied to a laptop or desktop computer connection.

The test phone I saw works everywhere except on U.S. networks. But Skype is in discussions with a number of U.S. providers to solve that problem.

Sony Ericsson's new Xperia X1 world phone looks like a winner -- despite that questionable name. Based on Microsoft's (MSFT) Windows Mobile 6 operating system, Sony Ericsson (co-owned by Sony (SNE - Get Report) and Ericsson (ERIC - Get Report)) goes one step further -- adding its own super-configurable home page with nine interactive thumbnails for your favorite phone features.

It seems to combine the best of Windows Mobile and graphical features from elsewhere -- including a dose of iPhone graphical prowess thrown in as well.

We'll be waiting breathlessly to test a full production model.

Nokia N96

And Nokia (NOK - Get Report) was proudly displaying a bunch of new handsets -- up to and including a redesigned N95 luxury phone -- soon to be called the N96.

Sixteen GB of memory is standard (take that Apple (AAPL - Get Report) iPhone), and other new features keep Nokia's flagship phone in the hands of the world's beautiful people.

We'll see if a U.S. cellular provider will decide to market the phone.

We hope they do.

As a whole, I can safely predict that your next cell phone will have a lot more features --possibly including some sort of GPS-personal mapping system to tell you where you are and help you to get where you want to go. As for price, we saw a lot of handsets in the super-popular, under-$100 range and even more selling for hundreds -- and even thousands -- of dollars.

At least, we'll continue to have a huge choice.

I'd like to say that's it. There was a lot more -- but these were the highlights.

For now.

Because just a few weeks from now we'll be heading back out west to Las Vegas for the U.S. version of the spring 2008 cell phone industry show -- CTIA -- beginning April 1.

We'll see you there.
Gary Krakow is's senior technology correspondent.

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