The Mobile World Congress is an annual international event where the latest devices are being showcased under one roof. It is an event not to be missed especially if you’re a big gadget junkie. Being able to attend has always been a dream and recently it was made possible by Acer.
When we got the news that we are selected on the first week of February, we were truly ecstatic. We couldn’t imagine what to expect and this was different from the usual regional launches. We departed from Kuala Lumpur International Airport on 24th February together with Amanz and a product manager from Acer Malaysia. Yours truly nearly missed the flight as there was some confusion with the gate numbers (C2 vs C22) where both flights are flying to Barcelona about the same time.
Travel Tip #1: To avoid running from one end to another, always be sure of your flight number especially when it involves code sharing with several other airlines.
Journey to Barcelona
The journey to Barcelona took about 19 hours including a 4 hour stop over at Amsterdam Airport. Interestingly you’ll only need to chop your passport once upon entering Europe and you won’t need to go through the typical immigration checks when flying within Europe.
When we reached Barcelona, it was already noon on the Day #1 of MWC. At this point, most of the big name media would have covered most product events. Nevertheless, we are there to get a hands-on with a Malaysian perspective for our readers back home.
Getting to our Hotel was quite an adventure as well. The hotel which we are supposed to check in (Gran Hotel Rey Don Jaime) is located just 10-15 minutes from the airport but the taxi driver took us to another hotel in the city which also has a very similar name (Rey Don Jaime). The small misadventure costs us time and a rather costly fare (30 Euros from Hotel to City).
Travel Tip #2: Always have the exact name and location of your hotel. A print out of the address with map would help.
To commute between our accommodation and MWC venue, the thoughtful folks at Acer had arranged shuttle bus service during the 4 days. During the event duration, we departed from the hotel as early as 7AM and we took 8PM shuttle bus home.
The Main Event
MWC this year was held at Fira Gran Via and security was rather tight at all entry points. Participants had to undergo passport ID checks upon entering however those with NFC enabled device can fast track by verifying just once. NFC was quite a big thing at MWC and they even provided special deals with merchants across Barcelona. One of such offer is free Latte/Cappuccino at McD with every set meal purchased.
The event spans across 8 halls and it took us about 3 days to cover key devices. We skipped a couple of halls as some are by invitation only or telco/enterprise focused booths. The biggest booths are coming from Asian brands such as Samsung, ZTE, Huawei and Sony. Getting a hands-on at those booths is relatively easier due to bigger space with plenty of units to go around. Overall it was quite a pleasant experience and there are plenty of product guys that offer one on one walk-through and explanation of the devices.
At times we face challenges of poor lighting or spotlights that causes flicker/banding with videos. The toughest device to get a hands-on would be Firefox as we get turned down for 3 days to record a hands-on even when their booth isn’t as packed as the others.
Here’s the list of hands-on coverage we have covered at MWC:
Acer Liquid C1 & Liquid E1
ASUS FonePad & Padfone Infinity
HP Slate 7
Huawei Ascend P2, Ascend Mate & Ascend W1
LG Optimus G Pro / Optimus G
Motorola RAZR i & RAZR HD
Nokia Lumia 520 & Lumia 720
Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0
Sony Xperia Tablet Z & Xperia ZL
Ubuntu for Tablets & Phone
ZTE Grand S LTE & Grand Memo
When it comes to WiFi, Malaysians are really having it good back home. Free WiFi is rather scarce and even airport WiFis at Amsterdam and Barcelona often impose session limits of 30 minutes. Once your time is up, you are prompted to subscribe at insane rates (Amsterdam Airport charges 3Euros for 15 minutes).
For our live tweet updates and personal Whatsapp communications, we subscribed to Orange’s Internet Everywhere package that costs 10 Euro. The Starter pack which comes with 5 Euros pre-loaded (before taxes). It costs 3.50 Euros per day which gives us 250MB quota at full speeds before it gets throttled down. In terms of speed, it is rather decent with about 1-2Mbps average download and upload speeds between 300kbps-1Mbps depending on location.
At the event, they have provided free WiFi throughout the halls but it was too slow and unreliable for our live tweeting needs. Thankfully for the members of the press, they provided a Media Village which is an exclusive area with workstations and high speed WiFi/LAN connection. Having speeds of 22Mbps download and 45Mbps upload was absolute bliss especially when uploading 1080p HD videos to YouTube.
There are 3 working halls such as pictured above available and by noon it is packed with various media from all around the world. This is where all the live coverage of MWC happens. You could see some media bringing their whole crew with active journalist hammering away on the keyboard while the rest of them scatter around the halls for hands-on review, photo taking and video shooting. We pale in comparison as merely a single man crew doing the best we could. Attending MWC ain’t cheap with passes starting from 699 Euro (That’s RM2800 per pax) and that’s excluding the air ticket and accommodation.
It was only the 4th day that we got a chance to take a stroll around the beautiful city of Barcelona. During the first 3 days, Barcelona was rather sunny with a manageable 4-5 degrees Celsius. On the 4th day, it started with rain with temperature going at 1-2 degrees coupled with strong winds.
Packaged with the MWC pass was Barcelona’s 4-day metro pass which lets us roam around the City within Zone 1 for free. The organisers of MWC has done a pretty good job in coordination and they have clear MWC signage and MWC volunteers to guide foreign attendees at various stations.
With Google Maps at hand, getting around Barcelona is pretty easy thanks to its fairly reliable transit directions. Barcelona is also known for pick-pockets, which is probably one of our biggest concerns when moving around. Since we are no stranger to snatch thieves back home, being extra alert was very important especially in public places. Thankfully none of us had any untoward incidents during our trip.
Travel Tip #3: When traveling overseas, always get additional protection by buying a travel insurance. It doesn’t cost that much and it ranges anything from RM50-180 for a 7 day travel protection in Spain for injury, theft, lost luggage and flight delays. There are couple of insurance providers that lets you buy travel insurance online.
One of the places we visited was Sagrada Familia which apparently is a must see architectural marvel. It’s a church in the middle of the city that is still under construction since 1882. The building is expected to be completed in 2026, marking 100 years after its architect Antoni Gaudi had passed away. Like the saying goes, better late than never.
Food & Drink
In terms of food, a typical fast food meal costs between 6-9 Euros while fine dining will set you back around 20-30 Euros. English isn’t widely spoken here but smiling and a bit of patience would do the trick. Most Barcelonians are rather friendly and they will try their best to understand you despite the language barrier.
One thing we noticed is that Coke is a rather premium beverage in this part of the world. The vending machines at MWC are offering coffee at 1 Euro, Mineral Water at 1.80 Euro, Beer at 1.85 Euro and Coke at 2.00 Euro. Lucky Amanz even managed to get 3 bottles of Mineral Water for the price of 1! For those looking for cheap booze, Carrefour is selling 500ml of their local Estrella Damm beer as low as 0.50 Euro (That’s just RM4).
Overall it was an incredible experience but like all good things, it must come to an end. On the fifth day, we made our way home battling the 7 hours time difference forward. It was a tiring week but certainly a great one with big thanks to Acer that has made this live coverage possible. Also not forgetting our awesome readers that have being following us closely on Twitter during our live hands-on coverage. We definitely can’t wait for the next in 2014!