Next-Gen Cell Phone Stars Shine in Barcelona

They’re thinner, smarter, more multimedia-savvy and customizable than ever. Many of the phones unveiled this week at Mobile World Congress are touch-enabled, too—but will any give the iPhone a run for its money? We'll want to touch them first, but in the meantime it's fun to window-shop.

Samsung’s Green Blue Earth Phone

Samsung really pulled out the stops this year In terms of innovation, and one of the most unusual handsets in its lineup is the Blue Earth, which the company bills as "the first solar-powered full-touch phone." It has a solar panel on the back and comes with a couple of eco-conscious applications, including an eco-walk calculator that uses a built-in pedometer to figure out how many steps you've taken--and then calculates how much CO2 emission you've saved by walking instead of driving.

Even the packaging for the phone is eco-friendly (made from recycled paper), and its charger (for when there's not enough sun to power the device) is rated 5-star energy efficient and uses less than .03W of standby power.

The Blue Earth is made from recycled PCM plastic, extracted from water bottles, and (according to Samsung) is "free from harmful substances such as Brominated Flame Retardant, Beryllium and Phthalate." Kind of makes you wonder whether the rest of the phones we use typically have this evil-sounding stuff in them.

Omnia HD Takes High Def to New Highs

If high-def video recording is your thing, you'll definitely want to check out Samsung's Omnia HD, a full-touch handset which can record and decode 720p video (for playback on an external HD display). The device itself boasts a roomy (3.7-inch) 360-by-640 Active-Matrix Organic Light-Emitting Diode (AMOLED) display, a technology known for its brilliance. Based on the Symbian S60 5.0 operating system, the Omnia HD is one of several phones at the show that sport a high-performance 8-megapixel camera; it also has GPS. The Omnia HD is a quad-band GSM handset that supports the fastest HSDPA and HSUPA data networks.

Samsung's Got the Beat--Two of Them, Actually

Going after hard-core music aficionados, Samsung is introducing a new line of Beat phones with two handsets: The Samsung Beat Disc, left, and the Samsung Beat DJ (right). Both feature AMOLED touchscreen displays, Bang & Olufsen-powered speakers and an application for recognizing, tagging and recommending music. The Beat Disc has a slide-out keyboard; the Beat DJ has an application that lets you add voice and sound effects (like scratching) to your tunes. Both are quad-band GSM phones that support high-speed (HSDPA) data networks.

Thanks for the Memoir

Samsung's 8-megapixel Memoir is one of the few handsets here with a scheduled U.S. launch date (T-Mobile is slated to put it on sale for $300 on Feb. 25). Its high-end camera features include blink detection, face detection, anti-shake to reduce blur, and geo-tagging; others include white balance adjustment, five different shooting modes (single, continuous, panorama, "smile shot" and mosaic), and presets for a dozen or so types of photos. Support for popular photo-sharing sights rounds out the package.

Sony Ericsson Goes for the Big-Pixel Experience

Speaking of high-pixel count: Sony Ericsson's low-end entry, the Walkman W995 (left) camera has 8.1 megapixels (plus all the top-of-the-line multimedia playback features you expect of a Walkman) and its upcoming Idou (pronounced "I do") boasts an amazing 12.1 megapixels, the most we've seen on any unit at the show to date. Then again, the Idou at this point is a concept camera that might well be released under a different name. Sony Ericsson, which showed four new and recently announced handsets at the show, says the Idou is coming later next year.

HTC's Touching Experience

Taiwanese phone design powerhouse High Tech Computers (the company that created the first Android handset) is also focusing on touch with a pair of new handsets that refine and expand upon previous models. The HTC Touch Diamond2 will be one of the first phones to introduce Windows Mobile 6.5--but like other vendors, HTC has developed its own custom overlay, TouchFLO 3D, which the company believes is more user-friendly. Among other things, TouchFLO 3D is highly customizable so you can organize your information the way you want it, keeping important contacts and content close at hand.

Compared to the original Touch Diamond, the new model has a larger (3.2-inch) screen and a touch-sensitive zoom bar to easily magnify portions of Web pages, messages and the like. HTC says the Touch Diamond2's battery life betters its predecessor's by 50 percent, and it has a five-megapixel camera. It should appear in Europe and Asia this spring, with wider availability to follow.

Touch and Speech Run the HTC Touch Pro2

Also based on Windows Mobile, the Touch Pro2 has a slide-out keyboard, making it particularly well-suited for e-mail. It additional has a few business-friendly audio features based on new HTC technology: HTC Straight Talk integrates voice, e-mail and speakerphone, allowing you to transitional seamlessly between communication modes. And when you flip the phone over,it automatically turns it into a conference room speakerphone. (Read IDG News correspondent Dan Nystedt's hands-on report about the Touch Pro2.)

The HTC Touch Pro2 is due out this summer.

LG's Touch-Based Multimedia Marvel

LG Electronics' assault on the iPhone is led by the new Arena (LG-KM900), which sports the company's new 3D S-Class touch-based user interface. One unusual feature is its Reel Scrolling, which put various menus (contacts, settings, etc.) on horizontal strips that you scroll through by dragging them to the left or right. These reels in turns live on four home screens that form the faces of a virtual cube that you flip through to access.

The Arena features Dolby Mobile surround sound and a 3-inch WVGA touchscreen. It provides a 5-megapixel camera, 8GB of internal storage (plus support for 32 more via SDHC card). The handset supports high-speed (HSDPA) GSM networks and Wi-Fi, plus assisted GPS. All this, in a package less than 12mm thick, is slated to ship in Europe in March.

LG-GM730 to Debut Windows Mobile 6.5

The LG-GM730 will be among the first handsets to ship with the new version of Windows Mobile (6.5), which sports a redesigned, touch-friendly interface. But LG (like HTC) is still going to slap on its S-Class UI over Microsoft's. The GM730 will be less than 12mm (under half an inch) thick, and it wil have rounded edges, but otherwise specs have not been released. The phone is slated to appear by midyear.

Transparently Speaking

The LG-GD900 looks like a fairly typical touch-screen phone when closed, but its slide-down numeric keypad is translucent and glows when opened. It's a cool design innovation on a quad-band 3G (HSDPA) phone due to ship this spring.

Watch… and Talk

Forget the Dick Tracy watch: LG's GD910 watch phone not only supports voice, but video calls as well. (An LG executive demo'd it by chatting with a blurry but still recognizable Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer during the demo.) LG announced the watch phone at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last month, but this was one of the first times people had seen it in action.

Nokia Goes Against the Touch Flo

Neither of the two handsets Nokia announced at its MWC press conference are touch-enabled, but both are represent slimmed-down versions of handsets that weren't too beefy to begin with. Above is the E55, which at under four-tenths of an inch thick is Nokia's skinniest messaging handset--and possibly anybody's.

The E-55 is the first Nokia candy-bar handset to adopt a Research-in-Motion-BlackBerry Pearl-like keypad with two letters per key; its 320-by-240 2.4-inch display supports landscape mode browsing. Nokia is also touting the E55's unusually long battery life: The company says it can run up to 28 days on standby and support up to 9 hours of talk time on GSM networks. It's due in the second quarter of the year.

Bye-Bye to the Brick

Nokia's E75, meanwhile, replaces its old 9000-series Communicators, which was bulky enough to be dubbed "the brick" by some. Available in several colors, the E75 has a slideout QWERTY keyboard, yet still measures under six-tenths of an inch thick. Like the E55 it has a 3.2-megapixel camera. Nokia says its main strength is its ability to manage e-mail. It's slated to ship in March in Europe.

Garmin-Asus Nuvifone: An Exceptionally Petite GPS Handset

Garmin's Nuvifones keep getting smaller and the first fruit of the company's collaboration with Asus is the tiniest Nuvifone yet, the M20. The M20 won't ship for a while (the press kit says pricing and availability will be announced later this year), but it will be based on Windows Mobile 6.1 (even though Windows Mobile 6.5 may be out by the time it ships) and will offer tri-band connectivity, Wi-Fi and fast 3.5G network connectivity as well as advanced GPS features on a par with those you'd find in a dedicated personal navigation device.

Other features include a VGA (640 by 480) touchscreen display, 3-megapixel camera with automatic geotagging, and a number of location-based services such as the Ciao application for showing where your friends are (with their permission, of course).

Still no details about a promised Eee phone, or an Android model.

Acer Stakes a Claim in the Mobile Handset Market

Acer, a company best known for notebooks and netbooks, wants to parlay its success into a mobile phone business--and it kicked off the campaign by announcing eight handsets it intends to ship this year. Between them, the models in Acer's Tempo Smartphone line address pretty much all segments of the mobile phone market, from high-end to entry level. Leading the list of upscale models is the Acer M900, shown above, an HSDPA handset with a slide-out QWERTY keyboard, a 3.8-inch WVGA touchscreen, GPS, a 5-megapixel autofocus camera with flash, and built-in FM radio. The M900 also has a built-in fingerprint sensor, a feature security-minded customers may welcome. The M900 will run Windows Mobile 6.1.

Two Phones In One

Another Acer Windows Mobile model, the DX900, can accept two SIM cards, essentially functioning as a two-line cell phone. One of the slots can support HSDPA high speed data networks, the other accepts only a slower EDGE card. Who would need a two-line phone? Acer suggests that it might be useful for customers who want to keep their professional and personal calls on different accounts, or for people who live in areas where no single network provides adequate coverage--near a border, for example.

The DX900 features a front-side VGA camera for video calls as well as a 3.2-megapixel autofocus camera with flash. It has a 2.8-inch VGA touchscreen display.

Modu Express: Maybe the Cutest Phone At MWC

Here's a phone from an Israeli company I'd never heard of before. Modu, the name of the company and its product line, claims to have created the most lightweight mobile phone -- and apparently the Guiness Book of Records last year agreed. The 1.4 ounce handset is about the size of a domino (2.8 inches by 1.4 inches by .3 inch), but that's not what you're seeing here: rather, you're looking at one of several "jackets" designed to hold and add functionality to the base unit. This jacket is called the Modu Express; others are optimized for music (the underlying phone has 2GB of storage) and other esthetic tastes. No immediate word on availability or pricing; stay tuned.

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