The Cream of the New Cell Phone Crop

Sleek sliders, colorful clamshells, and the fastest Internet tablet yet: There was something for everyone at 2008 CTIA, the largest North American wireless telecom show.

CTIA Wireless: The Class of 2008

CTIA Wireless 2008 is history, but the handsets we saw in Las Vegas are far from it. Here's a look at some of the most interesting cell phones--some influenced by the red-hot iPhone, some not at all--slated to appear in the weeks and months to come.

Samsung Instinct: Best of Breed Among iPhone Competitors

The phone everyone was talking about--the Instinct--a collaboration between Sprint (which badly needs customers) and Samsung (always interested in cutting-edge design) shapes up as the most serious iPhone wanna-be yet.

It has true 3G data support (via Sprint's EVDO network), real (not cleverly triangulated) GPS to support its navigation app, plenty of customization features, the possibility of third-party support via its Java/Brew underpinnings. . . and, oh yes, did we mention it should significantly undercut the iPhone in price? It's a little thicker and a tad narrower, but it certainly in the ballpark for those enamored of the iPhone form factor, and it is a touch-screen phone--with haptics feedback, no less. Could it be an iPhone killer? Maybe not, but given Sprint's intention of spending $100 million to market it, we'll be interested to see how things play out.

Anti-iPhone: The Itsy Bitsy Neo Plays Music and Video Too

I'm not sure it's quite accurate to call Neonode's N2 an iPhone wannabe, given its diminutive size--it weighs only about two ounces and is generally about the shape of a mid-size restaurant match box. It does have a proprietary touch screen interface, and support for music and video playback, as well as browsing and e-mail (although with no Wi-Fi or high-speed data support, you might not enjoy the latter tasks--read Dialed In columnist Grace Aquino's recent review of the N2TEXT). Neonode says it will launch by mid-summer as an unlocked phone, for people who mean it when they say small is beautiful.

Casio's G'z One for Verizon Wireless

Casio bills the G'z (pronounced Geeze, or they'll be very unhappy with you) One as shockproof and waterproof; at the show, they displayed it in a goldfish bowl. There's nothing fancy in terms of mobile broadband here--just a slightly (but not incredibly) bulky rubberized clamshell that appears to work, even when dripping wet. I also like the way they've made a design minus (the antenna) into a design plus by curving it and turning in to a sort of handle for a lanyard.

The target market would appear to be people who can't wait to make a phone call after surfing or scuba diving--or who are just pool accident-prone. The G'z One is supposed to be available from Verizon Wireless in June for about $100.

A RAZR-Slim Slider from Motorola

The Moto Z9, expected to appear mid-month on AT&T Wireless, is a slider designed in the skinny tradition of Motorola's hit super-slim RAZR clamshell, with support for AT&T's high-speed HSDPA/UMTS network and assisted-GPS technology to power AT&T's navigation service (it has AT&T's brand now but is basically just good ol' TeleNav). The Z9 will be the first Motorola handset to support AT&T's application for sharing video in real time between handsets. Expect to pay $250 (with a two-year contract, before any mail-in rebates).

A Pearl 8120 for the Masses

Just a few weeks ago, Research in Motion sent me a neat new BlackBerry Pearl 8120 to review--then said it would only be available to AT&T Wireless' corporate customers. Well, now T-Mobile has remedied that annoyance: On April 14, it will begin selling a light silvery-grey version of the 8120 to its consumer customers. No price was announced, but the T-Mobile version will support HotSpot at Home, which lets you use the handset's Wi-Fi connectivity to make unlimited nationwide voice-over-IP calls using your home Wi-Fi network (everywhere else you will be using T-Mobile's GSM/EDGE network for voice and data). Here's my review of the AT&T Wireless version of the BlackBerry Pearl 8120.

RIM Introduces an EVDO BlackBerry Curve

Speaking of BlackBerries, here's the new BlackBerry 8330, a Curve that supports EVDO mobile broadband. The day before CTIA opened, Verizon Wireless announced it will offer the 8330 next month (this is the model shown) for $320, with a $50 mail-in rebate available as well as an additional $100 off if you sign up for a qualifying voice and data plan when you buy. The next day, Sprint announced that it will offer the phone later this month for $280 with a two-year contract; an additional $100 mail-in rebate will bring the cost down to $180. Sounds like a price war to me. (The 8330 also supports GPS, but not Wi-Fi.)

LG: Still EnV-ious

A couple of other phones are also refreshes of popular handsets. LG showed its enV2, the successor to the enV, an EVDO messaging phone that flips open to reveal a landscape-mode keyboard and 2.4-inch color display (there's also an external 1.4-incher, not too shabby). LG says it's generally sleeker and easier to use than its predecessor--aren't they all?

An LG Vu for TV Viewing

Speaking of LG, here's the new touchscreen Vu, one of the handsets on which AT&T Wireless will debut its new mobile TV service. This is the same Qualcomm-created MediaFLO service that Verizon Wireless debuted at CTIA last year (a true broadcast service, as opposed to streaming video over the Internet). AT&T Wireless says it will cost $15 a month, but we have no hard details on exactly where it will be available and when. LG says the phone will appear in May--which may be a clue. No pricing info for now.

HTC's Re-Touching Experience

HTC's major handset announcement at CTIA was the HTC Touch Dual, basically an HTC Touch enhanced by addition of a slide-out 20-key keypad. The Touch Dual uses predictive text entry similar to the scheme that powers text entry on RIM's BlackBerry Pearl. Due to appear by summer, the Touch Dual is a quad-band HSDPA phone; it will likely be one of the first to support Windows Mobile 6.1, the point update to Microsoft's mobile operating system that was announced at CTIA.

HTC, by the way, also announced a Verizon Wireless counterpart to the original HTC Touch (an EVDO handset with HTC's proprietary TouchFlo technology), which up to now has only been available on Sprint. On Verizon Wireless, it will be called the Verizon XV6900.

Motorola Moto Q Goes Colorful

It's nice to see that even business phones are becoming more colorful. Here's a lime green version of Motorola's Q9c--to arrive on Alltel and U.S. Cellular this summer. Alltel says it will charge $200 (with the possibility of an additional $100 off via mail-in rebate) for this Windows Mobile 6 smartphone with a nice QWERTY keyboard and EVDO broadband support. Speaking of Q's, Verizon Wireless also announced that it's adding the Q 9c to its lineup--but only in basic black.

Colorful and Shiny, Too: Sony Ericsson's Z750a

Announced last year, Sony Ericsson's Z750a is finally coming to AT&T Wireless with a splash: Models of this mirrored-surface HSDPA clamshell will be available within the next week or two in Rose Pink and Mysterious Purple (Sony Ericsson's words, not mine). Oh yeah, a boring Phantom Grey one will be available too. All three feature sub-surface OLED (organic light-emitting diode) displays that will show time of day, caller ID, and music track information (as appropriate) in glow-through type. They won't break the bank, either: Sony Ericsson says AT&T will charge $150, with a $100 mail-in rebate available (with the usual two-year contract).

More Glow-through Displays: Sanyo's Katana LX

The Katana LX is another mirror-encased handset that will display call and other info via a glow-through OLED sub-surface external screen. The latest iteration of Sanyo's popular, affordable skinny GPS-enabled Katana clamshell, the LX will be offered in the U.S. through Sprint later this month (no pricing info yet, but as there's no mobile broadband, it shouldn't be too expensive). It will come in Pacific Blue (shown above), Elegant Pink, and Liquid Graphite (that's blue, pink and grey to you and me).

The Blue Streak Kyocera's Neo E1100

Kyocera is no stranger to color handsets: Virgin Mobile announced that it will offer blue and green versions of its Marbl this spring. But with the Neo E1100, Kyocera adds a new twist--a pipe that runs down the middle of the clamshell's external housing and lights up in bright blue when you receive a call or message. This one too has a sub-surface OLED display that shows key info in an almost ghostly-like fashion. It's a CDMA phone (although Kyocera at CTIA did announce its first GSM models).

Nokia Gets Ready for WiMax

With WiMax looking more solid as Sprint's next-generation data network (the service will be called Xohm and people are now talking about a 2009 commercial launch), we're starting to see devices that will leverage anticipated network speeds of 2- to 4-megabits per second or more.

One such device at CTIA 2008 was Nokia's N810 WiMax Edition, a 4.1-inch touchscreen Internet tablet that has a roomy slide-out portrait mode keyboard, yet is not much larger than an iPhone when you slide up the keyboard and use your fingers or the included stylus. Nokia says the N810 will likely cost close to $500 when launched--which will probably be when commercial WiMax service appears (although it also supports Wi-Fi). In the meantime, non-WiMax versions are available.

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