Dialed In: Get Ready for Multipurpose Cell Phones

When was the last time you came across a mobile phone that only made voice calls? It seems like ages ago to me. These days, most of the handsets in stores are camera phones. Standard phones are passé--ideal only for those who don't want to pay extra for a phone that's linked to a service contract.

So it shouldn't come as a surprise that nearly all forthcoming handsets are increasingly capable. In addition to including 1-megapixel cameras, some of these mobile phones pull triple or quadruple duty as MP3 players, video recorders, or all of the above. At this year's Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association show in Atlanta, I saw a plethora of such phones from major players including Kyocera, LG Electronics, Motorola, Samsung, and Sony Ericsson.

This month I highlight several upcoming models that caught my eye. Many of them will be available by the second half of this year, although prices have not yet been announced. Keep your eyes peeled for hands-on reviews in the coming months.

Innovative, Slide-and-Shoot Design

I don't know what it is about swiveling and sliding designs, but they impress me. Maybe it's the way part of a device smoothly shifts from side to side or up and down. Or perhaps it's the way a gadget conceals and reveals its interior features. Whatever it is, I'm drawn to it.

Apparently I'm not alone. Sliding covers on clamshell-design phones are all the rage. Kyocera, Samsung, and Sony Ericsson are each offering camera phones with swiveling covers.

Kyocera Koi

The front of Kyocera's Koi features a large, 262,000-color LCD that swivels 180 degrees to the right to reveal a keypad. The Koi is equipped with a 1.2-megapixel camera, a tiny flash, and a 5X digital zoom. With 16MB of on-board memory, the device can store up to 40 images in its highest resolution setting, according to Kyocera.

The Kyocera phone also plays and records 15-second videos in MPEG-4 format. It has the company's new pinwheel user interface, which displays the menu options in a pie chart-like format. It supports the CDMA network, BREW 2.1, and WAP 2.0.

Samsung d415

Samsung offers two camera phones with sliding covers. The d415 comes with a 262,000-color LCD that slides up and down to uncover the keypad. Its built-in camera has a maximum resolution of 640 by 480 pixels.

Samsung p735

Samsung's p735 is a notch up, offering a 1-megapixel camera, MPEG-4 video recording, and support for infrared and USB connections. Unlike the d415, the p735's 262,000-color front LCD rotates sideways.

Sony Ericsson goes one step beyond the slick, sliding-front LCD cover by designing its new S700i 1-megapixel camera phone to look and function like Sony's Cyber-shot digital cameras. The back side of the S700i has a tiny lens, a miniature flash, and a small right-hand grip. The side panel has a camera button for picture-taking and a Memory Stick Duo slot for additional storage (a memory card is not included, however). The extra storage will come in handy if you use the phone's MP3 playback feature. You can also store a few MP3s on the S700i's 16MB of internal memory. And like all of Sony Ericsson's current phones, this one supports Bluetooth.

Breaking New Ground

Going beyond sleek design, LG and Motorola are moving forward with phones that support promising new technologies.

LG Electronics 8000

LG's 8000 will be the first phone in the United States to support both the 1X EvDO (Evolution Data Only) and CDMA networks. EvDO promises download speeds at 300 to 500 kilobits per second, with bursts of up to 2 megabits per second; in our tests on Verizon Wireless's EvDO network in San Diego, real-world speeds were somewhat slower but still impressive. Currently Verizon Wireless is the only carrier to offer EvDO service, through wireless PC Cards, and the service is currently limited to San Diego and Washington, D.C. The company plans to expand EvDO service to other U.S. cities this year.

The clamshell-design 8000 is equipped with a 1.3-megapixel camera, a flash, and a fairly large 262,000-color LCD. The camera features macro mode, night mode, and 10X digital zoom. The 8000 also records 15-second videos and supports WAP 2.0.

Also moving to a high-speed network, Motorola's A845 supports UMTS (Universal Mobile Telecommunications Systems), which AT&T Wireless plans to launch in several cities later this year. The A845 is equipped with an MP3 player, a VGA (640-by-480 resolution) camera, and videophone capabilities that, according to Motorola, allows users to conduct video chat sessions with other A845 users on the same network.

Motorola A840

Motorola is also busy upgrading its camera-phone line with two 1.2-megapixel, clamshell-design handsets, the A840 and the V710, that feature a new fingernail-size memory card format called Removable TransFlash from SanDisk. The card comes in capacities of 32MB to 128MB, with prices ranging from $14 to $39. SanDisk says Motorola phones will probably ship with 32MB TransFlash media. When purchased separately, SanDisk says the media will likely come with a Secure Digital memory card adapter so that users will be able to read a TransFlash card in existing SD card readers.

The A840 and the V710 both feature a short-range flash, 4X digital zoom, MPEG-4 video capture and playback, an MP3 player, 16MB of internal memory, and independent voice dialing that doesn't require prerecorded voice tags. The A840 supports both CDMA and GSM networks, which means it can be used worldwide, though exactly where depends on the carrier.

  
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