Greetings from one of the coolest cities on Earth: Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain. After about 20 hours of travel across nine time zones (SFO to JFK to BCN), I arrived early Saturday morning local time and soaked in all I could while struggling to keep myself awake for long enough to acclimate to the time change. Barcelona's widely known for being the real city that never sleeps (sorry, NYC), but I barely made it past 9pm last night before finally succumbing to sweet, sweet sleep.
But that doesn't mean I didn't take in some sights, sounds, and pre-MWC gossip yesterday. I wandered the narrow cobblestone streets and gazing in awe at the beautiful buildings that somehow maintain their rich European history while housing thoroughly modern shops, cafes, and tapas bars (and yes, I found myself some fried little fish, chorizo, and a glass of Rioja along the way), and somehow found myself on a street packed full of mobile phone shops. Yes, kids, it was a cell phone geek's dream come true.
For all of you reading this from the United States, what they say about mobile phone culture in Europe is true: even the tiniest, dingiest phone stores here in Barcelona are packed full of handsets that make us Americans drool with envy. The Vodafone shop (akin to your local AT&T or Verizon store) offers high-end gear like the Nokia N95 & 5800, SE Xperia X1, and LG Viewty alongside the BlackBerry Bold and Storm, while indepedent stores were packed to the gills with these devices and other treats like the Nokia N96, SE C905, and virtually every LG and Samsung phone I'd ever heard of.
Even better, virtually all of the phones are offered unlocked. While we in the States are used to signing up for two year contracts in order to get a semi-reasonable deal on a new handset, buying unlocked devices contract-free is more the order of the day here in Europe. While subsidized phones are available with a contractual agreement, Europeans are used to paying up front for unlocked devices and using them with whatever service provider and rate plan they like.
As such, I was tempted to fork over 295 Euros (about $380) last night to pick up a Nokia XpressMusic 5800 just because I could. But luckily I remembered - even in my jet-lagged, dazzled by Barcelona frame of mind - that I was just a day or so from entering the world's biggest mobile phone playground: MWC 2009. Soon I'll be up to my ears in all of the newest, highest-tech phones in the world, so why pay for the cow when you can get the milk for free, right?
So I handed the 5800 back to the shop owner with an American-accented "Gracias," and found my way back to my hotel where I managed to upload some photos to Facebook before drifting off to sleep at long last. I've added a few of them to this article so you can see what I dreamt about in my hotel room last night.