2004 Holiday Pre-Preview
On-the-scene report from the Holiday Spectacular media event in New York. Plenty of hot info and new photos of the latest from Nokia, Motorola, Samsung, Siemens, Sony Ericsson, and more.
It's almost that time of year again... time for companies to start getting their ducks in a row for the all-important holiday shopping season.
With Halloween still almost six week away, it's not something most of us want start thinking about just yet. (Including me, hence the extra "pre" in the article title.) But part of any smart company's holiday promo strategy is getting coverage in the magazines that will hit the stands during the peak shopping season, and print magazines usually have very long lead times. With that in mind, 50 tech companies converged on lower Manhattan earlier this week for the "Holiday Spectacular" media event, to show off their holiday wares to the New York press.
Phone Scoop was there, as were Nokia, Motorola, Samsung, Sony Ericsson, Siemens, Research In Motion, and Wildseed. While no earth-shattering announcements were made, everyone had a little something new to show off.
Siemens announced two new phones for the U.S. market: the S66 and CT66. However, as usual for Siemens, both models are simply U.S. versions of models already announced for Europe, with few differences other than frequency bands supported.
Still, the S66 is a very notable model. It sports a very large color display, megapixel camera, Bluetooth, and an RS-MMC memory card slot.
Wildseed was also exhibiting at the event. Their first SmartSkin phone - the Curitel Identity - was recently launched by Cellular One / Dobson, a smaller regional carrier. Additional carriers are pending.
I covered Wildseed's SmartSkin concept in depth in my 3GSM report back in February.
Wildseed's main new product was the first gaming SmartSkin. Featuring the game Mortal Kombat, the skin includes extra buttons that transform the phone into a gaming device. That's one of the really neat aspects of the SmartSkin concept - that new hardware features can be added as easily as snapping on a new faceplate.
And it makes a lot of sense for Wildseed to focus on gaming right out of the gate, since graphics performance is one of the phone's strongest areas. But games are not the only way the Identity puts its graphics prowess to use. In fact, smooth animation and slick transitions are completely pervasive in the phone's menus and interfaces. And in camera mode, the viewfinder has one of the fastest refresh rates I've ever seen.
Samsung was pimping one all-new phone, and showing off a couple of other notable upcoming models.
The all-new phone is the SCH-N330, an entry-level CDMA phone with a unique pop-up display. The pop-up mechanism is very similar to the one in Samsung's Matrix Phone from last year.
The N330's spring-loaded display is raised by pressing the two white release buttons on the sides of the phone. You have to press both buttons at the same time, which is a bit cumbersome, but it does help prevent the phone from accidentally popping open in a pocket or purse.
Features include downloadable games and ringtones, a speakerphone, and an internal antenna. Since this is an entry-level model, the display is the cheaper STN type, so it's nothing to write home about.
One extra little feature is that the N330 can vibrate in sync with ringers and games. Although increasingly common with other brands, this feature is apparently new for Samsung.
Samsung has not yet announced carrier or pricing info for the SCH-N330, but "SCH" models typically go to Verizon, and the demo model I tried had a menu for "Get It Now", Verizon's brand for BREW services. Plus there's the Get It Now logo on the keypad, so I think it's pretty obvious that the blue tape you see in the photos was covering up a Verizon logo. Since this is an entry-level model targeted at youth, the price should be reasonable.
The N330 is expected to be available around October. The timing, price, features, and unique design all seem to scream "holiday gift", and I'm sure that's exactly what Samsung has in mind.
It's been a while since Samsung first launched the i600, but that was with Verizon, and with the old 2002 version of Microsoft's Smartphone software...
In the meantime, a lot of people have been wondering when Sprint would get into the smartphone game. Sure, they offer PDA-phones, but a smartphone is something different, and so far Sprint's been the only top-five carrier without such a device. But now, finally, they are about to join the smartphone party. Meet the Samsung i600 for Sprint:
There's not much to see, since it's the same exact hardware offered by Verizon. But it does have the 2003 version of Microsoft's Windows Mobile software, which is what Sprint was waiting for. (Verizon now offers the i600 with the 2003 version as well.)
Key features include a large color display, an SD card slot that supports SDIO, an infrared port, and speakerphone. Sprint will begin offering the i600 by the end of this month, for $649.
The other notable phone coming soon from Samsung is the SGH-P735, Samsung's first megapixel GSM camera phone.
The P735 has Samsung's unique "swing" hinge design. At first glance, it looks a lot like the "twist" design of Samsung's A600 and A610 models, which allowed the display to face in or out, open or closed. But the swing design is actually a major improvement, because it adds a fifth position: a 90-degree landscape orientation, something previously seen only on the swivel-style Motorola V80. The landscape mode lets you use the whole display area to frame your shot, while keeping the body of the phone vertical so it's easy to hold one-handed.
The nifty hinge is just the top of the iceberg, though - the P735 is quite a feature-packed phone. The excellent 262,000-color main display is complemented by a color external display, and as I mentioned, the camera is megapixel. Other features include a memory card slot, MP3 player, video capture, and infrared.
The P735 is expected to be released by T-Mobile USA by the end of the year.
The most important new device being shown by Nokia was probably their new communicator device - the 9300. Running Nokia's Series 80 platform, the 9300 is a close cousin of the 9500, announced back in February. The main difference is that the 9300 sheds crucial millimeters and grams, by also shedding the camera and wi-fi.
I was pleasantly surprised by the feel of both the keyboard and the device overall. The larger 9500 has a keyboard that's too big for thumb-typing, but too small for normal touch-typing. The 9300 remedies that flaw with a keyboard just small enough that it works for thumb typing. In my short test, I found it to be a very capable keyboard. The large key spacing does mean a lot of thumb movement, but at least no one can call it cramped. In fact, I would say it's the largest usable thumb-keyboard you can get.
The 9300 also has a nice thin and light feel to it when open, and the fact that it opens a full 180 degrees is a big plus.
Quick rant: I'm a bit miffed at Nokia's decision to put both a camera and wi-fi in the 9500, but leave both out of the 9300. These devices are both targeted at business users, and there are two types of business users: those that spend most of their time in the office, and those that work mainly in the field. I'd think the field workers would have the most use for a camera, but probably care less about wi-fi. Whereas I'm guessing that wi-fi would be much more useful to the office-bound crowd, and not only would the camera not be useful, but it might not be allowed at all. So I don't really understand Nokia's all-or-nothing strategy on these two crucial features.
The other Nokia phones on display were a couple of the new "art deco" fashion phones announced recently.
Whether the style matches your tastes or not, you have to give Nokia credit for taking some major design risks. In a sea of silver plastic, these phones certainly do stand out.
The most striking of the series is the 7280. It's hard to know if this should even be called a "phone", simply because it's so different and unique. If you want something different - something to show off and talk about - this is your phone.
The first thing you notice is the lack of a keypad. Instead, the 7280 has extensive voice-control features, and a unique jog wheel control on the face. The jog wheel works well, but using it to select numbers and enter text gets very old very quickly.
For talking, the 7280 is held up to your ear just as you'd expect. But when you want to interact with it, it's strictly a sideways affair. Two hands aren't required, but it's very awkward to hold by just one end.
The interface is technically Series 40, but it's so heavily modified from the core platform that it's hard to tell. The display is an unusual 104 x 208 pixels, and the soft key labels take up nearly half of the screen area.
Clever details like the fabric tag with the Nokia logo help emphasize the fashion-accessory aspect, but high-end features like Bluetooth, EDGE, a VGA camera, FM radio, and speakerphone make this phone a bit of a paradox. This is an interesting choice for the fashion-conscious power user, provided you don't do much text messaging.
When not in use, the display turns into a small mirror.
One design detail not apparent from the publicity photos is that the cross-section of the device is not rectangular. In other words, it has a kind of a slanted shape when you look at it end-on. The fourth photo above shows the shape a bit. That same photo also shows the status light. It wasn't working on this prototype, but apparently the top end of the phone glows in a soft pulsing action to indicate new messages, etc.
Next up is the 7270. This clamshell model is based closely on the 6170 model announced a few months ago. The key difference is the art-deco design, and the optional fabric covers (not shown below).
Speaking of the 6170, that model has now been pushed back until early 2005. It was originally slated for the holiday season. The delay is unfortunate, since the 6170 would compete closely with the Sony Ericsson Z500, which will be out literally any day now.
Motorola's next big mainstream push is their refresh of the "triplets" series. The original models - the V300, V500, V600, (and many spin-off variants,) have been extremely popular and played a major role in Motorola's recent rebound in market share.
The "refresh" adds video capture, more memory, and in some cases EDGE. Two such models were recently announced for Europe - the E550 and V550. Both models look similar to previous triplets models, just with different paint and finishes. The E550 has a black outer finish and is exclusive to T-Mobile Europe, while the V550 sports an eye-catching shimmering etched silver area on the outside. The two phones are otherwise the same.
For the U.S. market, Motorola will be coming out with the V551, which is the first model with an entirely new outer design since the original triplets. The V551 also adds two extra keys on the keypad, which can be linked to features like the camera and browser. Otherwise it's the same as the V550 and E550.
Another hot phone on the horizon is the long-awaited MPx Pocket PC device. The device is still slated to hit the global market by the end of the year, but just barely, and the U.S. release won't come until 2005. This is consistent with what I was told the last time I talked to Motorola about the MPx.
In testing, one issue that has come up with the MPx is battery life. The device is jam-packed with battery-intensive features, like a huge touchscreen display, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth. To account for this, Motorola has designed a new extended battery, which some carriers may ship as standard. The comparison shot above shows how this affects thickness.
And finally, when asked about future 3G phones for the US, a Motorola representative mentioned that there was a chance the E1000 would see a U.S. version. An E1000 prototype was on hand as well, which curiously had "mMode" listed in some of the menus...
The E1000 is one damn impressive phone. The feature list is never-ending, including a fantastic QVGA display, megapixel main camera, secondary video-calling camera, TransFlash memory card slot, Bluetooth, and MP3 player. And most importantly, it's dramatically smaller than first-generation 3G phones like the A845.
Naturally, RIM's big new thing is the 7100, the first BlackBerry with a truly phone-like form factor. The 7100 is a radical departure from previous BlackBerry models. (Of course, that's pretty easy, since the previous models all looked pretty much the same.)
What's most obvious, of course, is the new "SureType" thumb-keyboard design, which is the main innovation that allows the smaller size and more phone-like shape. The idea is similar to the T9 found on most regular phones, except with two letters per key instead of three. Some people have already nicknamed it "T14".
I spent some time testing it out, and my verdict is a big "two thumbs up". (Sorry - couldn't resist...) If you're used to T9 on a regular phone, it takes some getting used to the different layout, but if you're used to QWERTY, I think you'll feel right at home with the 7100. The predictive text software works well, and a dedicated "next" key makes it easy to correct it on the rare occasions it guesses incorrectly.
The other big new features compared to past BlackBerries are speakerphone and Bluetooth. Speakerphone was previously only available on the 7510 model for Nextel. Unfortunately, the Bluetooth feature only supports the headset and handsfree profiles, which means you can't use Bluetooth to exchange files, connect your laptop to the Internet, or sync the 7100 with your PC.
Another major change is the display. On all previous BlackBerries, the display was easy to read in all lighting conditions, especially in sunlight. Since first adding color their lineup, RIM has always used a very unusual type of super-reflective LCD display that looks eerily like paper. The backlight was very weak, but it didn't matter because you hardly ever needed it.
The 7100 completely ditches that special reflective technology in favor of a more traditional transmissive TFT display. The upshot is that the 7100 has a backlight that looks 50x brighter than older models, but at the expense of visibility in direct sunlight.
And finally, one very welcome change is that you can now dial directly from standby mode. On previous BlackBerries, you had to enter the phone application before you could dial.
Two very different-looking versions of the 7100 have been announced already - the 7100t for T-Mobile USA, and the 7100v for Vodafone in Europe. Each is a completely exclusive design, so if a carrier like Cingular ever picks up the 7100 series, it will look very different.
For die-hard BlackBerry users not sold on the new 7100 form factor, I was assured that the company would continue to produce new models in the "traditional" form factor. In other words, the new design will supplement the existing style, not replace it.
A pleasant surprise at the event came from Sony Ericsson, who was showing off the S710a publicly for the first time. As expected, it closely resembles the
S700i, but what wasn't revealed until now was the color. Unlike the silver finish of the S700i, the S710a will sport a matte black finish.
As announced earlier, the S710a also features EDGE high-speed data, which the S700i lacks. But to add EDGE, they had to remove the FM radio. Not a big deal for most people, especially since the phone includes a memory card slot and MP3 player. The S710a also supports U.S. frequency bands, including GSM 850, while the S700i supports GSM 900 for Europe instead.
Other than EDGE, FM radio, and the frequency bands, the S710a and S700i are similar, including a gorgeous QVGA display, megapixel camera, Bluetooth, and much more.
The S710a is currently slated to be available in the U.S. around Thanksgiving.
In other Sony Ericsson news, the Z500a should hit shelves any day now. Since PTT deployment is progressing slowly among the major GSM carriers, the Z500a will initially ship without that feature, (just like T637). Then look for the P910a to ship in late October.
P910a/ Cingular (AT&T Wireless)?
I noticed it said it should be shipping late October. Any update on that? Do you know what this price is going to be?
Anything for cingular coming soon??
Nothing new for Verizon?
There are also other phones in the pipeline, that just weren't new at this event, like the Motorola A840, V260/V265, the LG VX-8000 and VX-6100, and the Audiovox 9900 & 8910.
new sanyo(s) for sprint?
Any of the SE for T-Mo?
V550 and the V505
Here's how the model numbering works:
Start with the V500. That's the base model with quad-band and Bluetooth.
Then the V505 and V525 are just cosmetic offshoots of the V500, created so that certai...