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MWC 2013: Samsung's Tizen phone hands-on preview

The wait for a Tizen phone isn't over yet, but it's now a little closer to becoming a reality. At Mobile World Congress, Tizen officially launched version 2.0 of its open source mobile operating system. We also caught a glimpse of the man behind the curtain, in the form of a prototype Tizen phone from Samsung.

From a hardware perspective, Samsung's Tizen phone is nothing we haven't seen before. The size, shape, and plastic build all bring to the mind the Samsung Galaxy S2. It has a nice big display and a thin design, but so do most phones nowadays. Samsung assured us this isn't final hardware, which I hope is the case, because right now it doesn't stand out.

On the software side, the home screen is a collection of icons, a la Apple's iOS. On the demo unit, there was only one home screen, which I suspect is because there aren't enough apps to warrant a second page. The OS still looks and feels very young, but some of the core functions, like the web browser, phone dialler, and camera are in place.

There's a sliding lock screen, along with a pull-down notifications and settings screen that are straight-up Android. Ditto for the camera app, which if you look at the image above, you’ll see is almost identical to what you get on a stock build of Android. It was also pretty slow. Now, this build of Tizen is only weeks old, but I experienced a lot of lag in pulling down that notifications menu, not to mention uncomfortably long load times for apps.

Speaking of apps, there weren't many on display. Tizen showed some handsets running Vimeo, some with Fruit Ninja, and others with Need for Speed, but there wasn't much else. Representatives explained that mobile ecosystems are being equated with apps nowadays, and with HTML5, Tizen can put a huge number of apps at your fingertips. Still, there were just those few on display, despite claims that it should only take a few hours to port an app over from another platform.

Although Tizen has been kicking around for some time, it looks like the new HTML5-based Firefox OS will beat it to the market in the form of phones like the ZTE Open and Alcatel One Touch Fire. Both operating systems are meant to power lower-end devices, although the Samsung prototype we got our hands on is certainly of a higher quality than either Firefox phone.

On top of showing off the new OS, Tizen also announced that Huawei has signed on as a partner to offer devices in addition to Samsung, and that the first Tizen phones will be available through Orange (in France to begin with) later this year. When pressed for more details on the release date, a representative explained that Tizen "is in no rush." Judging from the demo we saw last night, that's probably a good thing.