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CTIA 2005

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Mar 15, 2005, 11:00 AM   by Rich Brome and Eric Lin

Live daily coverage of CTIA Wireless 2005, North America's premier cell phone event. Exclusive photos and hot info from the show floor in New Orleans. Major announcements from Samsung, LG, Kyocera, Nokia, and more.

Intro 

It's that time of year again - time for the big CTIA show. CTIA Wireless is the event of the year for the North American cell phone industry. Every spring around this time, absolutely every company that does anything remotely related to cell phones makes the annual pilgrimage to hawk their wares to the rest of the industry.

The size of the show is intimidating. The number of companies in this industry is more than you might think. This year the lucky host city is the Big Easy, New Orleans. The show completely fills the massive 3/4-mile-long convention center.

For the third year in a row, Phone Scoop was on the scene, reporting live from the show floor. This year we had a two-man team - Rich Brome and Eric Lin, enabling us to bring you more and better coverage than ever before.

The big phone news this year was from LG, Samsung, Kyocera, Nokia, and Motorola. There's also the launch of a whole new carrier - Amp'd, which is pretty exciting.

This article was expanded and updated through March 21st, so if you only saw the first few parts, check out the final sections to see what you missed!

Part 1

Samsung A970 

Like past years, Samsung is using CTIA to make some major announcements for the U.S. market. As Korean companies love to do, they tried their best to grab as much attention as possible at the show and make a big splash. This year, Samsung's "splash" was quite real. The company had a huge 2-story-tall, computer-controlled digital water fountain that created images with falling water. It was pretty impressive - if you have a fast connection, check out this video of the fountain in action:

(samsung fountain)
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But what about the real "splash" - the cool new phones? Well, Samsung delivered there, too. Samsung broke out the big guns this year with the SCH-A970, a no-holds-barred CDMA phone with nearly every feature under the sun:

 

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The key features are EV-DO high-speed data, a 2 megapixel camera with 2x optical zoom, Bluetooth, and an internal antenna.

 

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As you can see from the photos, it also has a twist-and-flip design. The top half has dual color displays, which can flip out sideways for camera mode. Paired with the side-facing camera, the display allows you to hold the phone camcorder-style. The display can twist 90 degrees in either direction, so you can film something else normally, or twist it the other way and see yourself to frame a self-portrait or self-video. The display does not turn far enough to let you close it with the main display facing out.

Check out the video below to see the A970 twisting display in action:

(a970)
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Of course a 2-megapixel camera is a big deal, but perhaps the more impressive feature is the optical zoom. Unlike digital zooms, this will let you zoom in on a subject without sacrificing image size or quality. Normally optical zooms require extra space for the moving lenses and motor, but the unique side-facing camera design lets the mechanism fit into the phone without making it too bulky. The camera is complemented by an LED flash, and of course it captures video as well.

The A970 is expected to be available around mid-year (possibly June). Although Samsung is not discussing which carrier will offer it, we did notice a small "Get It Now" logo on the keypad...

Samsung A880 

The other major, all-new phone from Samsung for the U.S. is the SPH-A880, a sleek-looking clamshell phone with a 1.3 megapixel camera, internal antenna, and dual color displays. While there's no official word on which carrier will get it, let's just say we expect it to be marketed as the MM-A880.

 

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We spent a little hands-on time with the A880. Both displays are excellent quality, although the main display is a little on the small side. Most of the phone has an excellent feel to it - really great size, weight, and ergonomics. The one glaring exception is the numeric part of the keypad, which - in the current prototype - is so badly designed that it's basically unusable, but we trust Samsung will tweak this before launch.

 

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One very cool feature of the A880 is full speech dictation input technology from Voice Signal. That means you can actually "write" text messages just by speaking into the phone, and it will recognize whatever you say. Samsung first launched this feature in the SGH-P207 GSM phone they announced at CES.

The A880 also has video mail, video screen savers, streaming video, (like the MM-A700, but with a dedicated button under the display,) and a 3D interface. Unfortunately, the prototype on the show floor couldn't power up completely, so we can't show you any of these features in action (same story for the A970 featured on the previous page). And finally, the A880 also has PictBridge, for printing photos directly to your home printer. The A880 is currently expected to be available early in the third quarter (May or June).

Also on display was the SCH-A570, which is actually the same phone as the SCH-A720 Samsung showed off at CES. It has been renamed the A570 to better reflect its place in the Samsung lineup (pretty much entry-level).

Samsung E217 

Samsung is also showing off a number of GSM phones. Most of them were also previewed at CES, so we won't waste space recapping them too much, but there is one new one we hadn't seen before. The SGH-E217 is an interesting new clamshell camera phone:

 

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The E217 seems much like a replacement for last year's E317. The immediately obvious difference is the internal antenna. That seems to be a major new push for Samsung this year, with both GSM and CDMA models.

The E217 also adds a number of major features compared to the E317. These include Bluetooth, EDGE high-speed data, and speakerphone. The E217 does step "down" to a monochrome outer display, but many people prefer monochrome outer LCDs because it's much easier to read the time without manually activating the backlight.

Also on display are the SGH-X475 and SGH-E335, two similar clamshell phones for T-Mobile, both with internal antennas and monochrome outer displays.

The SGH-X475 should be out very soon (a few weeks, at most). It's a fairly basic (for a Samsung) dual-band GSM model:

 

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The SGH-E335 should be out a couple months after the X475. It steps up to tri-band GSM and a larger external display, and adds a camera and speakerphone:

 

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Nokia 

Nokia played it a little conservative this year, which is par for the course. They just announced all their new GSM phones a few weeks ago, so all they rolled out were a few new CDMA models. Despite the fact that it still isn't out yet, the 6255 is still on the roster. The 3 new models fill in the gaps between that and the entry level candybar style phones in their CDMA lineup.

 

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The 6155 (above) isn't the all-out feature-packed jaw-dropper that the 6255 or many of the other phones announced this week are, but it is a solid flip phone with a decent VGA camera and a very sharp, if a little small, screen. It must be pretty powerful whether it's loaded with features or not, because it played back videos like a champ:

(6155V)
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However, we didn't get to test out video ringtones, which play on the external display.

 

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The 3155 clamshell phone looks like it has changeable covers, but it doesn't. It's just going to ship in a variety of colors and patterns which the carriers can choose from. The 3155 has the same screen as the 6155, but lacks the camera, and location based services, limiting the phone's cool factor.

 

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Remember the days of black and white displays and the Series 30 interface? Step back into history with the 2115i. This phone was designed for pre-paid service in "emerging markets," which usually means Latin America. So imagine our surprise when Virgin Mobile announced they would rename the 2115i as the Shorty and start selling it here in the US this month. Like Series 30 phones from the days of yore, the 2115i has changeable faceplates.

Part 2

LG 1 

There were at least two major live demos of HSDPA at CTIA this year.

HSDPA is a new version of UMTS (AKA WCDMA) 3G technology, that speeds up the data rates significantly - as in up to 10x - compared to the initial versions of UMTS, which was already about twice as fast as technologies like EDGE. Since HSDPA is starting to be available from the equipment suppliers this year, and Cingular is also doing their big 3G deployment this year, they will be moving directly to HSDPA, basically skipping the non-HSDPA version of UMTS (not counting the small WCDMA networks acquired through the AT&T Wireless merger).

What's really exciting for us phone-heads is that a couple of actual, working HSDPA phones were shown off at CTIA. We'll show you the Samsung / Siemens demo later in the article, but the Samsung we saw is not a phone that will actually come to market, so it's not as interesting as...

The LG U8400 - the first HSDPA phone to be demonstrated to the public on U.S. spectrum bands, (850 MHz and 1900 MHz,) and, we believe, the first Cingular-branded 3G phone to be shown publicly:

 

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LG reps speaking on the record insisted the phone shown above was only an early prototype. But we've heard from other reliable sources that this phone could be launched as soon as six months from now.

As you can probably see, it's a slide-style model with a rotating camera on top. The screen is great, but the buttons are relatively small and didn't stick out much on the one we tried, so they were kind of hard to press. Hopefully that will be fixed by launch time.

Keeping with the slider theme, and on the subject of phones for GSM carriers, LG also announced the F7200, LG's first GSM phone with Push-To-Talk (PTT). It's slated be launched in the second quarter (April - June).

 

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We're not supposed to tell you whose logo is under the black box in the photos above, but let's just say it's a really huge U.S. carrier. What really got our attention was when we were told by an LG executive that the F7200 would use Kodiak's RTX client for PTT.

That implies to us that the particular unspoken major carrier could be planning to deploy Kodiak's PTT technology instead of the PoC standard. (PoC is backed by practically every major manufacturer, including Sony Ericsson, Motorola, Nokia and Siemens, and the OMA standards group.) If this is indeed the case, it could be a really major blow for PoC as a standard, but of course a huge win for Kodiak.

LG 2 

LG's headline official announcement at the show this year was undoubtedly the VX-8100, the successor to Verizon's flagship EV-DO phone, the VX-8000.

 

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Looking only at the specs, you might be led to believe the VX-8100 is pretty much the same size as its predecessor. But that is certainly not the case. While the VX-8000 was very boxy and large, the VX-8100 is very rounded, making it much smaller, both in actual volume and how it feels in your hand & pocket.

The VX-8100 also adds Bluetooth and a miniSD card slot. However, it appears that a certain carrier has imposed their infamous "crippling" on these features. First, the Bluetooth feature only supports the Headset, Handsfree, and Dial-Up-Networking profiles - no OBEX. As for the card slot, in our hands-on tests, the miniSD card slot was strictly limited to playing MP3s loaded onto the card from a PC or other source. The card could not be used to store or transfer photos or videos, nor transfer ringtones, wallpapers, etc.

But on the good side, the 8100 does have a full MP3 player feature (something that was promised for the VX-8000 but didn't make the final version). We emphasize "full" because it has a shockingly large 512 MB of internal memory. That much built-in memory is unheard-of. In fact, it may be a world-first.

512 MB of built-in memory almost makes the miniSD card slot redundant, but then again, if you like music, just pop in a 512 MB miniSD card, and bam - you basically have a 1 GB music player right in your phone. Right now, a 512 MB miniSD card runs about $65, while a 1 GB iPod Shuffle goes for $150 (over twice as much). That makes a phone like the VX-8100 a pretty interesting way to carry around and listen to about 240 songs...

Moving along, the VX-5200 is another clamshell CDMA phone coming soon. Despite the lower model number, LG is positioning the 5200 as a replacement for the VX-6100.

 

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Compared to the 6100, the 5200 is definitely smaller and sleeker. It also steps up to a color external display, and adds LG's "driving mode" feature, which some people may be familiar with from the VX-4500. For those not familiar, driving mode is basically a souped-up voice control system. It's designed to let users control all the basic features of the phone through voice commands and speech prompts, without looking at or touching the phone.

The VX-3300 is another newly-announced model at CTIA. As you might guess from the model number, it's designed to replace the VX-3200. The only major new feature is changeable outer faceplates.

 

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DISCLAIMER: Yes, LG asked us to us black out the carrier logos. We agreed, because it helps us keep a good relationship with LG, which we know from experience allows us to bring you better information, faster. Plus... we know that the more industry-savvy members of our audience will be able to pick up on other clues that might point to certain carriers...

LG 3 

LG's other new CDMA phones are fairly straightforward, and many of them have a lot in common.

First up is the VI-125, a basic new phone for Sprint with an internal antenna. It's the follow-up to the VI-5225. Compared to its predecessor, the VI-125 is smaller, and upgrades to a two-way speakerphone.

 

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One really unique feature of the VI-125 is an avatar designer. This lets you create your own custom cartoon-like characters by mix-and-matching various hair and clothing options, etc. Then you can save the characters and assign them to contacts in your phone book. So it's kind of like photo-caller-ID, except with cartoons instead of photos.

 

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The downside, though, is that since the outer display is not color, the phone has to be open to see avatars.

Next is the PM-225, which adds a VGA camera, color external LCD display, and naturally, photo-caller-ID:

 

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There are also at least two other variants in LG's new lineup of mainstream CDMA clamshell phones, with small feature differences from the ones already mentioned.

The VX-4270 is similar to the VI-125, except with an external antenna and no voice dialing. The AX-5000 is very much like the VX-5200 (previous page), but trades color on the outer display for video capture (up to 15 seconds).

 

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The AX-5000 also has the avatar feature like the VI-125.

Sony Ericsson 1 

We get the feeling Sony Ericsson is playing their cards close to their chest. Like Nokia, Sony Ericsson announced several new GSM phones a few weeks ago, however since they don't deal in CDMA phones, they had nothing to announce other than a few new Bluetooth headsets. Sony Ericsson promises they're not abandoning the US, which probably means new models for this side of the pond will probably be announced later. All the 2G models announced in March will be available in the US through Sony Ericsson's website. The entry level models they announced back then - the J300 and K300 - could come to US carriers, since an "a" version (supporting the 850/1800/1900 bands) will be available.

Whether it's the deluxe music player and a 2-megapixel auto-focus camera, or the bright orange and white styling, the W800i is catching everyone's attention.

 

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This phone eschews the lines of the K700 and returns to the T637 styling that everyone was so fond of, however it is about the same size and weight as a K700. The Walkman software was not ready yet (this phone isn't due out for a few months), so we can't tell you how good of a music player this phone will actually be. We can tell you that, since it shares the same hardware as the K750, it's going to be a heck of a camera.

 

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The biggest difference between the K750 and the W800 - other than the obvious lack of the Walkman music player and bright Sony sport colors - is the shutter cover for the lens. The K750 has a large (but thin) slide cover instead of a small switch activated bit. Size, menus and keys are pretty much the same otherwise.

One look at this phone and you can really see the resemblance to the T637. Sony Ericsson never announced an "a" version of the K700 for the Americas. It will be a real shame if the K750 isn't re-engineered for release here, and an even bigger shame if it never gets EDGE to send all those pretty pictures to your friends at a good speed.

Sony Ericsson 2 

The J300 and K300 are entry level phones, so Sony Ericsson obviously had to sacrifice some features to make the phones affordable. What they didn't sacrifice was style.

 

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The J300 borrows many of its styling cues from the premini (pictured below) with a cool integrated, but external antenna, and it will come in lots of colors (pink and white are likely to be popular choices). The K300 borrows its lines from the K700. Neither of these phones will be called "just some ugly free phone I got," but neither will break the bank either.

 

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The best and worst part about trade shows is drooling over the phones that will never be sold on American shores. Sony Ericsson showed off their new 3G phones for Europe, and the absolutely diminutive premini, a 2G for DoCoMo in Japan. It was a Goldilocks and the three bears affair.

Papa bear is played by the Z800, a 3G clamshell with a 1.3 MP camera and the same huge screen from the S710.

The K600 is the mama bear, which isn't just smaller than the Z800, it's smaller than most other 3G phones, especially with the features it has. If you've ever seen the Motorola A845 AT&T Wireless was selling, you can appreciate just how far 3G phones have come in terms of size and style.

The baby bear is the premini, a phone so small you might actually lose it in your pocket. For Americans, we have pretty small hands, and the buttons were almost too small for us.

Part 3

New Moto CDMA 

Motorola turned a casual night of appetizers and drinks into the main event on Tuesday at CTIA. You probably noticed when the show started on Monday we had no announcements from Moto. Later that day we were told not to miss Tuesday's soiree, and for good reason. Motorola is finally giving CDMA users the attention they've been begging for.

 

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After recently adding a 3G version to the RAZR lineup, Motorola finally announced a CDMA RAZR, one-upping the GSM version with a 1 Megapixel camera. Initially this RAZR is single band only, and will be launched in South Korea and China. However Motorola CEO Ed Zander assured the audience his team is working their behinds off to have a version ready for the US by late 2005 or early 2006.

 

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The v266p (above) is a CDMA Clamshell with Push to Talk, a VGA camera and dual displays.

 

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The v323 (above) is an entry level CDMA flip phone, but it has a larger screen than most other entry level Motos and a monochrome external display.

 

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The MS550 is a "camera first" model designed for Korea. Like similar models from LG and Samsung, the MS550 is a rather large slider style phone with a 3 Megapixel camera that flips out from the back. In addition to a high resolution sensor, the camera also feature optical zoom and a real flash.

Motorola PEBL 

Although Rich got to spend time with the new designer line of phones at 3GSM, at least the PEBL V6 and SLVR V8, this is the first time we could spend some real time with each one and get some good pictures for you.

 

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When they're all spread out on the table before you, it's not really like phone porn since there's no soft lighting or ugly guy to make the hot girl look hotter. They're just a bunch of well designed phones, but viewed one at a time, you can see the effort that Motorola put into the design and finish of each of the phones. While doing it in an American way, each of these phones seems to represent a shift to a more Japanese way of thinking about handsets. They aren't just something you make calls on, they are something you spend alot of time with, and that should be as elegant an experience as possible.

Although it may not be the top of the designer line technologically, the PEBL is probably the most impressive design wise.

 

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From the dark chrome finish to the smooth uninterrupted lines, the PEBL is a looker, which we can't help compare to the Penck - a round black phone recently launched on KDDI in Japan. The vertical external display is set into the surface of the cover and dark enough (it's a white on black lcd) that it doesn't even break the curves. The cable port is even integrated into the hinge to preserve the curve of the phone's edges. The hinge is also unique - Instead of flipping the phone open you actually pull the lid down towards the bottom of the phone a bit and it pops open, which makes the phone much easier to open one handed.

Considering Motorola wouldn't even let anyone snap pictures of the keypad at 3GSM, we expected something different. What they did was change the color to match the finish better. Otherwise, it's still a smooth surface like many of the other designer phone keypads, however it feels like plastic instead of metal, which kind of makes it feel like a microwave oven keypad. Moreso since like the RAZR and other designer phones, there is a solenoid click beneath each "key."

The last photo shows Motorola's new SCREEN3 technology. Basically it's a homescreen plugin that allows the carrier to push news and other content to your phone, like RSS on your phone. The intention is that carriers could send you news, weather and other useful information. Before you flip out that your carrier will use it to push spam non-stop to your homescreen, relax. If it gets bad, you can turn it off and hide it.

Motorola SLVRs 

I have a personal problem with the SLVR V8. Technologically it's great, it has a great form factor and has excellent features, however the black makes it look heavy and the silver keypad looks out of place. But much of that can be overlooked when when you're holding the phone in your hand.

 

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Since, like the Penck, it's hard not to hold KDDI phones as the gold standard in design, we naturally compared the SLVR V8 to the Talby when it was announced at 3GSM. But the Talby is cute and white. The light color makes the phone look smaller and friendlier. Motorola apparently knew they had missed the Talby mark too, and answered us with two silver SLVRs (SiLVRs?) announced at CeBit.

 

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This was the first time we got to see and touch the new silver SLVRs, and few things about them surprised us. First, in the initial pictures the keypad looked much smaller than the V8's keypad. It's not. It's nearly, if not exactly, the same size, and just as easy to dial. Second, we thought to ourselves, who's going to miss the TransFlash slot when the v280 looks so slick and will cost less than the v8?

 

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As shown in the initial pictures, the buttons on the v270 are actually raised like buttons. While this sacrifices the super smooth profile of the other designer phones, it adds to the usability. It was easy to feel around and text on this keypad. Considering this phone has clean lines, relatively simple (but high tech) styling, no camera, Bluetooth, and a more traditional keypad, it's a no brainer to predict this will be every salaryman's dream phone when it is launched.

If you think this year's SLVRs are thin and hot, just wait til next year. Motorola CEO Ed Zander said they are working on making the SLVRs half as thick - just 6mm - for the 2006 line. Where will they put the battery?

Motorola GSM 

When is a Motorola not a Motorola? When it looks like someone else's phone, even though it isn't. For all their stress on a "visual language," the v360 shocked us when it came out since it looks more like something we'd expect from Siemens or maybe Samsung.

 

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Whether it has the lines of a classic Motorola V- series phone or not, the V360 is still a sold contender. It has a Bluetooth and camera, plus a decent keypad and big, bright screens. However it's a bit thick, and well, square. Motorola told us all the design effort they've put into their 4 letter phones will trickle down to the rest of their lineup like it has for the v270 and v280. The internal antenna may have trickled down, but the pipes must have gotten clogged before the design could. Maybe the next version will look more like the PEBL.

Motorola had plenty of other recently announced phones that looked exactly like they belong in the classic V- series.

 

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The V176, V230 and V235 are all entry level phones with classic Motorola lines. We have to admit we were too captivated by all the new handsets that are actually different to spend much time with each of these.

Part 4

Kyocera KX5 

Kyocera Wireless is a company that focuses almost exclusively on CDMA phones for the Americas. That means CTIA is a hugely important show for them, and so they always use it as a platform to launch most of their lineup for the upcoming year.

Two years ago at CTIA, Kyocera announced the Slider SE47. Last year, it was the Koi KX2.

This year, the new flagship is the Slider Remix KX5, a stylish phone that combines the sliding design of the SE47 with the the features of the Koi, plus a few major upgrades to boot.

 

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The Remix is a bit larger than the Slider, but the extra real estate is put to good use with the large display, and the remix is not as thick as some other sliders, keeping it pocket-friendly.

Going down the list of features for the Remix, it's pretty much everything you'd expect from a modern, mid-to-high-end phone. The display is a respectable 176 x 220 pixels and 262,000 colors, the camera is of the megapixel variety, with a flash and video capture, and a TransFlash memory card slot and MP3 player are also included.

We spent a little time with the Remix. For the most part, it's pretty impressive. The build quality is top-notch - it really feels solid and reliable. The screen is great, and the camera quality decent. The ergonomics are mostly good, with the glaring exception of the "up" key on the direction pad. In the prototype we tried, it's too close to the raised ridge under the logo, that's supposed to help you grip the top half when opening the phone. That makes it really tricky to press the "up" key without using a fingernail or mashing the center-select key by accident, so hopefully they'll fix that before release.

We managed to take a few sample photos with the Remix camera and save them to our TransFlash card. (As usual, we're showing you both an overview of the whole photo, scaled down to fit the page, and also a cropped area at 100% so you can inspect the level of detail for each photo.)

 

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In our meeting this week with the fine folks from Amp'd, they showed us a version of the Remix that adds EV-DO high-speed data (since all Amp'd phones will have that technology). It's very similar the Remix KX5, but with a tweaked appearance that's even more stylish.

Kyocera KX9 / KX7 

The Kyocera KX9 and KX7 are basic clamshell phones. Kyocera's specialty has long been mass-market phones that carriers can sell at very affordable price points. Previously, that mainly meant basic bar-style phones, but now Kyocera seems to be shifting more toward clamshell and other form factors.

The KX9 is the more feature-rich of the two, and it's the one we're more likely see here in the States. It has a simple but well-rounded feature set. Actually, it's nearly identical to the SoHo KX1 in terms of features. Mostly it just has a more rounded and smooth design.

 

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Moving down the line, the KX7 Topaz is more basic, and is aimed at markets outside the States for now. It does have an interesting one-piece rubber keypad design, though - kind of like the Nokia 1100.

 

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LG SV360 

LG was also showing off the SV360 at their booth. It's only for Korea for now, but it's a very cool concept for a gaming-oriented phone, (and we noticed something else about it, too....)

(By the way, you might have also seen this same phone called the KV3600. The SV360 is the version for Korean carrier SK Telecom. The KV3600 is simply the version for KTF.)

First, the basics. It's a phone designed to emphasize 3D gaming. It's one of the first phones with true hardware acceleration for 3D graphics. It also runs on CDMA EV-DO networks for fast data rates and smooth streaming video. The large QVGA display presents ample detail for advanced games. A color outer display and numeric keypad provide full phone functionality when you're not fighting the enemy.

 

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As you can see, it has a unique sideways-clamshell design that makes it sort of a cross between a Motorola A630 and a GameBoy Advance.

While I had seen this phone at CES, it had faded from my memory a bit. When I spotted this phone again on the show floor at CTIA, it instantly reminded me of something I'd seen recently on the FCC web site - a mysterious LG phone called the VX-9800. See for yourself why this came to mind:

 

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There is a distinct resemblance, in my opinion. Could LG be planning to bring their 3D gaming phone to the US as the VX-9800? Perhaps.

But I think it's equally possible that they have taken the same hardware platform and made a smartphone out of it. At CES in January, LG's director of testing Curtis Wick specifically told me that LG was planning to get back into the smartphone game in the U.S., with a Windows Mobile Pocket PC device using EV-DO technology, like the SC8000 for Korea.

The SV360 has EV-DO and a QVGA display, which would make it an ideal candidate to be morphed into an EV-DO Windows Mobile device. It wouldn't be hard for LG to replace the gaming keys with a QWERTY keyboard...

Is that what they've done with the VX-9800? Perhaps... I honestly don't know. The FCC documents don't yet include photos of the inside, so it's hard to say. But it looks like they've taken a more conservative and business-like approach with the styling of the VX-9800 - the outside doesn't look like something that would appeal to the gaming crowd - so I think a smartphone is a definite possibility.

What I can tell you for certain is that the VX-9800 is dual-band CDMA 800/1900, and it includes Bluetooth. Looking at the photos above, you can draw your own conclusion about what it all means...

Moto iDEN 

Motorola also had some new iDEN phones on display in their booth. All of them are fairly modest updates to existing models, adding slightly larger displays, VGA cameras, etc. None were as impressive as the new i930 or i605 shown off at CES (although those models were in the booth at CTIA as well). We have heard some unconfirmed rumors of some really exciting iDEN phones slated for this year, but none of those models were on display at CTIA.

All of the new models have SDGC - Selective Dynamic Group Call - which lets you create PTT (walkie-talkie) groups on the fly, right from the phone. (Older iDEN phones require special advance configuration of PTT groups.) Many of the new phones also have MotoTALK, the new off-network feature that lets you use the phones as walkie-talkies even when you're out of range of an iDEN network.

The i760 is an update to the i730 / i740 that steps up to a larger display:

 

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

The i850 is the i760 plus a camera:

 

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

The i560 is simply a ruggedized version of the i740:

 

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

The i275 is basically an i265 with a camera added:

 

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

And finally, the i355 is the new super-rugged iDEN phone that meets MilSpec (military specification) standards. It's pretty similar to the i315, but with a color display, or the i325, but with a retractable antenna. The color display is also larger.

 

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

Part 5

Samsung Int'l 

Although not slated for release in the U.S., Samsung was also showing off a few phones at CTIA that include world-first technologies.

 

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

The SGH-i300 is the first GSM phone to be announced with a built-in hard drive. What's really nice is that the i300 also includes a solid set of high-end technologies to complement the massive storage space of the 3 GB drive.

Among these technologies are Microsoft's Windows Mobile Smartphone OS, a high-resolution QVGA display, a 1.3 megapixel camera with video capture, and support for nearly every popular music and video format, including MP3, AAC, AAC+, H.263, H.264, and even Ogg Vorbis. A spinning scroll wheel (similar to the Nokia 7280) provides fast, iPod-like navigation through playlists, etc.

The i300 also has a full array of connectivity, including USB 2.0, stereo Bluetooth, and a TransFlash memory card slot.

Unfortunately, Samsung has a very poor track record of actually releasing high-end GSM phones with industry-leading features like the i300. For example, they never released the Watch Phone, the X410 Bluetooth phone, the D700 or D710 Symbian phones, the P705 TV phone, or the i250 Microsoft Smartphone... But if they do ever release the i300, it's supposed to be a tri-band GSM model, so it should be available for import and use on GSM 1900 networks in the U.S. like T-Mobile.

Samsung's other headline-grabber this season is the SCH-V770, the world's first 7-megapixel camera phone.

 

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

Samsung will only be releasing this one in their homeland - South Korea. It's definitely on the large side, but still an impressive size, considering that there aren't really any ultra-compact 7-megapixel standalone digital cameras on the market yet.

It's clearly not designed for the casual camera-phone user. It's really more camera than phone - probably designed for people who would carry a 7-megapixel camera around everywhere anyway, and don't want to a carry a separate phone device. So basically, the opposite idea compared to most camera-phones.

Samsung A800 

Since I get more questions about the A800 and i730 these days than just about any other phones, I took the opportunity at CTIA to track down and spend some quality time with actual Samsung engineers working on these two projects. I learned some pretty interesting things:

The Samsung SPH-A800 is fairly large, but that space holds an impressive array of features.

 

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

The banner feature of the A800 is the 2-megapixel camera with auto-focus. This is complemented by a TransFlash card slot for storing photos and video. It's also part of a growing family of phones with PictBridge, which lets you link the phone directly to a printer to print your photos.

However, what may end up being the more significant feature for many people is the gorgeous QVGA display. Unlike some previous Samsung phones, you can set your custom wallpaper to cover the full display area.

The animated menus really show off the display. The default is a standard grid layout with a smoothly-animated "blob" of water to indicate the current selection. (Shown above.) Another option is this 3D animated "stacked rings" menu:

(a800menu2)
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A multi-format music player with stereo output and playlists is part of the package. Also on the feature list is the same speech-to-text dictation technology as the SGH-P207. And not only can it understand speech, but text seen through the camera as well, via the handy business-card-reader function.

The A800 is also one of the first Samsung phones to use eZiTap from ZiCorp for predictive text entry (instead of the more-common T9). It's a very similar technology, but those used to T9 will need some time to adjust to the differences.

Samsung i730 

The SCH-i730 is the highly-anticipated successor to the Samsung SPH-i700. We covered it when it was first revealed, and again at CES, but at CTIA we learned some new facts about it that we're sure many people will be interested to hear...

For starters, the first version likely to hit the market will have Wi-Fi (802.11b), but will not have a camera. It will also have a 520 MHz Intel Bulverde processor and 128 MB of flash memory. The Bluetooth features support version 1.1 of the standard, and the OBEX profile. I was told it probably will not support the DUN (dial-up-networking) profile.

Additional hardware features include 3D stereo speakers, and a handy dual-purpose slide switch on the side for quickly locking the keys and turning the display on or off.

On the software side, Samsung has chosen to really pack the i730 full of useful software to make this baby a real powerhouse.

First of all, it will most likely ship with BlackBerry Connect for push-email support. Next, the Picsel Browser will provide an alternative to Internet Explorer, and also supports viewing all major file formats, such as PDF. Sprite Backup is also included, which lets you back up absolutely everything on the device to an SD card and encrypt it.

VoiceSignal software provides speaker-independent voice-dialing. It's fully integrated with the hardware, with a dedicated button on the side, and full support for voice-dialing via a Bluetooth headset.

Finally, Remote Control software is included to make use of the full-spectrum infrared (IR) port. Yes, the i730 can control your whole home-entertainment system:

 

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

The i730 is currently planned for launch around May or June, although as always, carrier testing and tweaking can cause delays.

Oh, and one more thing... although they couldn't make any official promises, the Samsung engineers I spoke with said the i730 was specifically designed to be forward-compatible with the the next version of Windows Mobile (Magneto), and pending carrier approval, (which is not guaranteed,) Samsung does plan to offer a software upgrade to that OS for the i730.

HSDPA 

CTIA this year featured several separate live demos of HSDPA, using real HSDPA phones. One included the LG U8400, although the demo took place in the booth of an infrastructure vendor that was so rude to us, we would prefer not to give them the satisfaction of mentioning their name.

But at the much friendlier Siemens booth, there was a live demo of a Samsung HSDPA phone running on a small but real Siemens HSDPA network set up in the booth.

 

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

No one at CTIA was demonstrating any kind of multimedia actually running on a phone; the demos were all using the phones as modems with a cable connected to a laptop. The demo at the Siemens booth showed eight simultaneous video streams running over the live HSDPA connection:

(hsdpa)
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The video streams were a bit choppy, but that's no surprise, since the CTIA show is always chock-full of experimental networks that interfere with each other like crazy. It's actually the worst possible place to demo the speed of a new wireless technology, precisely because that's what everyone else is trying to do. It doesn't help that the convention center is also packed with more people carrying and using cell phones than just about any other spot on earth.

The Samsung "HSDPA phone" was clearly just an SGH-Z107 with an HSDPA chipset shoehorned in. In other words, it's just a prototype created for testing only, not an actual new model.

But LG's U8400 looked like a new design to us, and it was sporting a Cingular logo. Since LG is one of Cingular's publicly-named handset partners for their upcoming 3G launch, (and Samsung is not,) we would argue the LG U8400 is actually the more significant demo, since it seems likely that phone will actually come to market in the U.S.

Wrap-Ups

Eric's Wrap-Up 

Before the show started, Rich commented on the number of mapping and location based services (LBS) exhibitors and announcements. He suspected this was finally going to be the CTIA where LBS really hit the States. LBS and navigation for phones are huge in Asia and slowly catching on in Europe, would they catch on here? Once we got to CTIA we saw the answer was still no. Out of everyone we talked, only Sprint has concrete plans to launch LBS this year, and the services will initially be limited and predictable.

Instead, other trends emerged - some that we had suspected, and some that were a big a surprise. For instance, iTunes phone or not, music was big news - whether downloaded, transferred from a PC, or streamed. No surprise there. Every manufacturer showed off phones with music playback, many with dedicated control buttons on the phone and memory cards to store songs (for Verizon phones it seems that's about all the memory cards can do... still). Amp'd, Sprint and Verizon both talked about streaming and the eventuality of downloads over the network.

Other than current partnerships like Sprint's tie-up with Music Match, the carriers were hush hush about potential partners. That being said, the CDMA carriers and their MVNOs (Sprint, Verizon, Virgin, Amp'd) all seem to be more on the ball when it comes to content than Cingular or T-Mobile. Maybe it's just because 3G speeds are a near term reality for them while the GSM boys won't have anything until fall at the earliest.

Now that cellular subscribers are discovering stuff like ringtones and music and video, content has finally reached a stage where people are talking about it realistically. One thing that all the carriers, and in turn the software and phone makers are realizing is that it's really hard to find the content you might want to download. The solution that seems to have been reached simultaneously by Amp'd, Sprint, Motorola and more is themed channels that bring together wallpaper, ringtones, streaming media, games and downloads all around a specific brand, artist or lifestyle. Buy the phone, download a channel or theme or whatever your carrier will call it, and viola, you have a Jay-Z or Jeremy McGrath or Prada handset. Openwave, Qualcomm's BREW team and others were also at the show demoing the necessary software to support these new content services.

It's too bad that while so many are getting content software right, so few seem to be getting interface or menu software right. I saw so many hot phones that I just don't want to own because i know the software will drive me crazy. I saw so many average or slightly above average phones that may not be lookers but were a pleasure to use. And there were very few phones that had that achieved the holy grail of brains and beauty. My prediction? That's going to be everyone's next challenge, and we'll hear tons of talk about it 6 months from now. The features and form factors are no problem anymore, now it's all down to usability.

Rich's Wrap-Up 

This year's CTIA was disappointing. Yes, there were a few neat new phones and demos, but it just didn't have the same energy as past years.

To be fair, last year's CTIA was pretty hard to beat. In Atlanta, we saw the country's first EV-DO phone, our first WCDMA/UMTS phone, the first CDMA+GSM phones, the first megapixel camera phones, and the first feature phones with memory card slots. Plus there was excitement about swivel-style phones, EDGE, video capture, CDMA phones with Bluetooth, and better displays.

This year's crop of new phones was far less ground-breaking. There were demos of HSDPA, but no official phone announcements. There were two new EV-DO phones with Bluetooth, megapixel cameras, and memory card slots, but they weren't the first. (The Motorola E815 announced at CES claims that title.) There was very little innovation in form factors.

I was expecting more: more music, more megapixels, and more memory (hard drives, specifically). There was a little of each, just not as much as I expected.

On the music front, there was the Sony Ericsson Walkman phone, but they haven't announced a U.S. version yet. Same story for Samsung's SGH-i300. The LG VX-8100 is interesting, with its 512 MB of built-in memory, built-in stereo speakers, and dedicated media-control buttons on the front. Still, the much-hyped Motorola iTunes phone remains elusive, and I heard the same tune from everyone else - no real "music-first" phones just yet.

On the camera front, I was really expecting more 2-megapixel phones at the show. Samsung was showing off the A800 again, and introduced the impressive A970, but that was about it. As with the Walkman phone, Sony Ericsson's 2-megapixel K750i isn't for the U.S. yet, and there were no 2-megapixel models from LG, Motorola, or Nokia.

The only real camera-phone innovation was the 2x optical zoom on the Samsung A970. That is a first, and is a little exciting, but not completely unexpected.

As for memory, I really was expecting someone to announce a phone for the U.S. with a hard drive. I'm pretty disappointed that didn't happen. Samsung did tell me they're "considering" bringing a hard-drive phone to the U.S. later this year, but if it's three months into the year and they haven't made up their mind yet, I wouldn't bet on it.

There was plenty of other memory news, though. As expected, most new high-end phones now have a memory card slot. Some manufacturers are going with the miniSD format, while many others are choosing the newer and smaller TransFlash format. (Which is now being renamed microSD, but that's a rant for another day.)

Shifting to a broader theme, I was also disappointed with the relative lack of new GSM phones for the U.S. I guess it shouldn't have been a surprise. Within the last year, Cingular has absorbed AT&T Wireless, meaning there is now one less national GSM carrier. That means far fewer different GSM models for the U.S. Less handset competition among GSM carriers could also potentially mean less GSM handset innovation for the U.S. I guess I knew that would be one consequence of the merger, but it didn't really "click" until I came to CTIA and saw the relatively anemic lineups of new North American GSM phones from most of the major players.

In contrast, the advent of EV-DO technology seems to be sparking a new wave of high-tech phones for CDMA carriers. And with new MVNO carriers like SK-Earthlink and Amp'd focusing on EV-DO phones, we can expect even more diverse, innovative CDMA EV-DO phones in the future.

HSDPA is the one bright spot on the horizon for Cingular, and it was great to finally see the technology in action. But with EV-DO here already, it will be crucial for Cingular to bring HSDPA to market quickly and make it a reality. And regardless, it will be interesting to see how Cingular's HSDPA lineup will fare against the dizzying array of EV-DO phones that appear to be on the horizon for the four or more EV-DO carriers (including MVNOs) that should be up and running by the end of the year.

Near the end of the event, I asked several people what they thought was the most interesting thing on the show floor. More than one person said it was Samsung's digital fountain. These were hard-core industry people, mind you, and I'm not sure I disagree. Am I saying the show a bust? Certainly not. EV-DO is going strong, HSDPA is around the corner, and phones are getting better every day. But in the end, it's saying somethig that the most interesting new thing at CTIA might have been a fancy water fountain.

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Subject Author Date
Samsung MM-A880? br14nguy3n May 18, 2005, 7:07 PM
CCD Camera Phones notacop Mar 22, 2005, 9:14 PM
I think what is missing casualsuede Mar 30, 2005, 10:19 AM
Samsung i730 celljack Mar 15, 2005, 2:15 PM
FasTap ?? viper Mar 22, 2005, 5:10 PM
About "Cingular" on the F7200 screen... Rich Brome Mar 17, 2005, 5:40 AM
i930 drago22 Mar 16, 2005, 12:09 PM
  • Re: i930 by Rich Brome   Mar 16, 2005, 11:11 PM
    • Re: i930 by nextel18   Mar 19, 2005, 2:13 PM
      • Re: i930 by HeroPsychoDreamer   Mar 22, 2005, 11:38 AM
        • Re: i930 by nextel18   Mar 22, 2005, 8:02 PM
speakerphone on the Samsung 970??? cwcanty Mar 21, 2005, 7:35 PM
SIDEKICK TMAC26NYC Mar 16, 2005, 7:12 AM
Lack of Quad-Band GSM phones bones boy Mar 17, 2005, 10:55 AM
thanks rich temp Mar 18, 2005, 3:10 PM
Thanks Rich. muchdrama Mar 15, 2005, 10:38 PM
Moto A840 world phone at CTIA? philpurdy Mar 17, 2005, 1:48 PM
Samsung i645 MobileRob2 Mar 16, 2005, 12:29 PM
 
 
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