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CTIA Fall 2005

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Sep 28, 2005, 2:00 AM   by Eric Lin and Rich Brome

On-the-scene coverage of CTIA Wireless IT & Entertainment 2005. Exclusive photos and hot info from the show floor in San Francisco. Announcements from Kyocera, Audiovox, Cingular, and more.

Intro 

CTIA's Wireless IT & Entertainment trade show took place this week in San Francisco. This annual show is much smaller than CTIA's spring show, yet still never fails to provide a handful of interesting announcements for the US market. When it first started, the show focused on mobile data and the enterprise market, but in recent years has expanded to include other types of data services and content, such as entertainment.

The focus is still squarely on data services and content, not phones per se. That's why many larger phone makers like Motorola, Samsung, and LG don't even bother to exhibit on the show floor. But each year a few smaller manufacturers like Kyocera and Audiovox (now UTStarcom) take advantage of the silence from the big boys, and announce a few phones while the industry is gathered in one place and they can get some attention. This year was no exception.

Part 1

Treo Secrets 

Monday's big news didn't turn out to be quite as big as we had hoped. It's not that the announcement of Treo running Windows Mobile isn't groundbreaking, because it is. After all it was important enough to merit the presence of three very powerful CEOs on one stage. But we sure would have felt like it was more exciting - more news-worthy - if Palm, Microsoft and Verizon had been forthcoming with more details.

 

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Very early into the presentation, before Ed Colligan, Bill Gates and Denny Strigl could congratulate each other on their coup, we were told something along the lines of "all we will be saying today as far as specs is that the new Treo has an Intel processor and EV-DO. Also, there is no official name for this model yet."

Later, during the extensive question and answer period, we learned that Windows Mobile Treo would be out on Verizon "early, early next year," and then would probably be available from other major carriers (i.e. Sprint) in the second half of 2006 - implying Verizon has a six month exclusive on the smartphone. We were also told that the phone will come out on additional 3G networks (such as UMTS and/or HSDPA) in the second half as well.

 

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Although we still don't have full specs on the new Treo, persistence paid off. We have confirmed that the screen is 240 x 240 pixels - the same as on HP's mobile messenger series. It also has a camera and an SD card slot, just like its predecessor. It won't have Wi-Fi.

Palm has also added a few neat software tweaks that they demoed briefly. One is a photo-speed-dial feature on the home screen, and another provides a visual interface for any voicemail system. The final tweak they demoed provides a one-click option to reply to a new missed call with an SMS message (handy during a meeting, etc.)

We can also tell you Palm OS fans out there that you can breathe a sigh of relief. Palm will definitely bring out new Palm OS Treos next year too - most likely in the same new form factor.

 

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So what do we think about the Treo that shall not be named? Well it's hard to say since we couldn't actually play with a working model yet. But it will be very interesting to see how it sizes up against the Motorola Q, which is due out around the same time.

Samsung D307 

The SGH-D307 is Samsung's answer to the QWERTY-keyboard phone trend started by phones like the Nokia 6800 and the Motorola A630. LG recently entered the fray with the F9100, and now Samsung is finally joining the fun with yet another new form factor idea.

 

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Actually, this form factor is not completely new - if it looks familiar, it should - the design is clearly inspired by the ill-fated Motorola MPx. The difference is that the D307 is not a smartphone, and doesn't try to pack in every possible feature, so it is much smaller.

The features are very business-oriented. Naturally it has a full suite of messaging applications, and a high-resolution main display for reading lots of text. Bluetooth is also included. Although full specs were not provided at this event, FCC documents indicate the phone will have EDGE and possibly be quad-band. There are no unnecessary frills, though: the outer display is a practical black-and-white LCD, and there is no camera.

The D307 is a good shape and size, with clean lines kept smooth by an internal antenna. The dual-twisting hinge is well-designed. It feels solid, and operates smoothly in each direction. As it should, if you start to open the phone one way, the hinge locks the other way, making it easy open and keeping the display from flopping around all over the place.

Similar praise cannot be lavished on the keypad, however. Alternating rows of color on the keys combined with very small text make it hard to read. In "phone" mode, the keys that form the 5-way direction pad feel exactly like all of the other keys, making it very difficult to navigate. It's also not immediately obvious which keys are the softkeys that correspond with the options on the display. Worse, though, is that in "messaging" mode, those softkeys are at the bottom, and are keys that have other uses. This leads to incredibly counter-intuitive situations like needing to press the "Back" key to start a new message.

 

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In some respects, the D307 will compete against LG's new VX-9800 for Verizon. There is quite a size difference, however.

Part 2

Kyocera 1 

I never thought I'd say this before, but Kyocera made the show for us, and they will be making the fall for a number of carriers, especially two MVNOs. They were the only manufacturer to launch new handsets at CTIA - Nokia did not show off their recently launched 3250 nor did anyone other than Palm even officially announce any new models. So without Kyocera, we'd have very little to tell you about that you can buy in stores in the coming weeks.

Not one, not two but three (three and half, even) versions of the Slider Remix will be launching this Fall. First to launch will be Slider Sonic on Virgin Mobile, which will be available during October. This version only has a VGA camera, and plays back mp3 and WMA files. When you hold it, the only obvious difference between it and any other Remix is the huge Virgin Mobile logo below the screen and the distinct round navigation buttons on the face, instead of the large silver rectangle of buttons on the standard Remix.

 

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The headphone adapter that Virgin will sell with the phone features a play / pause / answer button, next and previous track, volume buttons and a hold switch in a fairly small hourglass shaped unit (which could have used Karim Rashid's touch considering its shape). Though it comes with a pair of headphones, they use a 3.5 mm plug so you can use your own.

Following the launch of the Sonic will be the Slider Remix Bluetooth. Kyocera told us when they showed off the Remix in March, all the carriers thought it was pretty hot, but they all begged for one with Bluetooth. Kyocera lit some fires under their engineer's behinds and now this version should launch on major carriers in November. It is BREW, so we know Sprint is not one of carriers. Kyocera has blessed the phone with headset, handsfree and OBEX profiles, however carriers may choose to disable the OBEX.

 

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During the holiday season, Amp'd will launch the EV-DO phone based on the Remix. First out will be the all black version known as the Jet (shown above). Amp'd came through with their plan and the "pulse" logo in the center of the D-pad will glow blue when the phone has EV-DO coverage. A few weeks after the Jet launches, Amp'd will follow it up with a pearl white version that has a mirrored screen called Angel. It will have the exact same specs and styling as the Jet, just a different candy colored shell.

Kyocera 2 

Kyocera has restructured their American operations and is very excited about it. The way the company is now organized they feel they can bring more innovative models to the US as well as create carrier variants of popular models like they have done with the Slider Remix. Kyocera is also pretty pumped about finally adding Bluetooth to their lineup and bringing it to midrange phones many can afford.

 

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In addition to the Remix Bluetooth, Kyocera also announced the KX160 Xcursion (not to be confused with the Excursion - that's an oversized SUV). It is a relatively unassuming clamshell with a VGA camera and medium sized screen, but it also packs Bluetooth with the same profiles as the Remix.

 

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To complement their affordable Bluetooth phones, Kyocera will also launch an affordable Bluetooth headset. At $50, this headset should be well within most purchasers' grasp. Although the design may not be terribly stylish, the headset is small and is one of the most comfortable we have ever worn. The headset is light and the hook that goes over and around the ear is coated in a smooth soft rubber. The ear piece is also soft rubber and fits into the ear canal, which helps block out background noise.

 

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Kyocera also added to their Push To Talk lineup with with a ruggedized version of the Dorado called simply KX12. As expected with any ruggedized phone, the KX12 is larger than an average handset, but not so big that it's uncomfortable to hold or won't fit in a pocket. However, while all the rubber ridges on the phone make it easy to grip, they also make it tougher to get in and out of a pocket. The KX12 also has some new accessories which also allow you to make or answer PTT calls either from a headset or from a desktop unit that looks like a small black version of the original Macintosh mouse.

 

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Kyocera was also showing off the Candid. The is another VGA clamshell, which looks similar to the new Xcursion but is smaller and less feature packed in most respects.

UTStarcom 1 

UTStarcom Personal Communications is very much a company in transition. The most obvious transition is the phasing out of the Audiovox brand, now that UTStarcom's acquisition of the old Audiovox Communications is complete. But there is more going on behind the scenes that many people don't know about.

First, a quick history review: Audiovox never actually manufactured any phones themselves. Instead, they operated by acting as a sort of US sales and branding team for Asian companies without a real US presence in the phone industry. They had several lineups, including the 8000 series, made by Pantech & Curitel (formerly Hyundai), and the 9000 series made by Toshiba. Audiovox was also involved with a few random Sharp and HTC devices from time to time.

A couple of years ago, Toshiba seemed to fall out of favor with US carriers. So Audiovox turned to another Asian company: KTFT. And now (as UTStarcom) the company is starting to show off the fruits of their new relationship with KTFT, in the form of a new 9000 series, starting with the 9200 and 9945.

Unlike the old Audiovox parent company, UTStarcom is actually a mobile phone manufacturer. They didn't used to make CDMA phones for the US, but they are now getting into that area, in the form of their new 7000 series phones. The first is the ultra-basic 7000, which will be offered by Sprint very soon. Since they're new at this game, they're wisely starting with entry-level phones first, with plans to expand the lineup to higher-end phones as time goes on.

But UTStarcom being a manufacturer is a problem for Pantech & Curitel, who has major global ambitions of their own. So instead of selling phones via a competitor, P&C is severing ties with UTStarcom and intends to make a go of it on their own. That basically means the end of UTStarcom's 8000 series.

That will leave just the UTStarcom-made 7000 series, and the new 9000 series from KTFT (to fill in the gaps where UTStarcom themselves isn't ready to go just yet). We can expect assorted HTC devices to be handled by UTStarcom as well, although those usually end up carrier-branded, like the new Sprint PPC-6700.

UTStarcom 2 

The last UTStarcom phones made by Pantech & Curitel will be the CDM-180 and the CDM-8945.

The CDM-180 is a funky wide-screen phone that we covered at CES earlier this year.

The 8945 would sound like a replacement for the 8940 currently carried by Verizon - and at one point that was the intent - but as it progressed through development, it evolved into something designed to be more of an ultra-affordable VCast phone.

 

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It has the basic features you'd expect, and EV-DO, but everything else about it is designed to keep the cost down. That means the camera is only VGA - not megapixel - and there is no memory card slot. Look for the 8945 to hit shelves in a few weeks.

Looking further down the road, UTStarcom was also showing off a potential EV-DO phone in the new 9000 series made by KTFT. The 9945 won't be out for about a year, and a lot can change in a year, so this is more of a concept than a real product. The specs have already changed since this mock-up was made - it now looks like the 9945 may have Bluetooth.

 

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Features of the 9945 include dual color displays, a megapixel camera, and a microSD (TransFlash) memory card slot.

The 9945 is much closer to what you'd expect for a modern EV-DO phone, although a year from now when it actually comes out, the specs will probably seem every bit as basic as this year's 8945.

Part 3

Mobile ESPN 

ESPN doesn't just know sports, they know sports fans. And they know exactly the information that sports fans want. The all-sports all-the-time network already offers a great deal of content for mobile phone and PDA users, so packing enough new features into an MVNO to lure subscribers away from their current service was going to be a challenge.

After playing with Mobile ESPN on their first phone (the MVP), it's clear the only challenge the network hasn't firmly beaten is one of clear branding. The ESPN brand is strong in every aspect, but there is a great deal of confusion about ESPN Mobile versus Mobile ESPN. ESPN Mobile is the division of ESPN responsible for all things mobile - the MVNO, the WAP content for other operators and more. Mobile ESPN is the name of the MVNO and of the application that subscribers to it will spend 90% of their time with. We suspect that it won't be long before the distinct red and black MVP and the service will just be know as "that ESPN phone" or just "ESPN."

 

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ESPN will launch online sales of their first phone, the MVP, this holiday season. The MVP is looks like a Black Sanyo MM-5600 with red keys. It shares many of the same features as the Sprint phone, however it adds EV-DO high speed data and a special UI client.* Although it is a 3G service and takes advantage of the data speed and video capabilities, Mobile ESPN will not launch with other 3G features like Push To Talk and may not even include MMS. It will however include a music player and access to other WAP sites for non-sport content.

The Mobile ESPN application is a sports lover's dream. Even as the application launches and downloads the home screen, the sports trivia begins. Once the application is running you have total access to ESPN. It features full access to almost every aspect of ESPN online as well as the TV channel(s). Most of the pages look more like TV and less like a web page, making the service more fun than ESPN online. It also takes advantage of every pixel on the MVP's QVGA screen. Like the full web site, every aspect of it is customizable from your favorite teams to your fantasy league players so you can track their performance without gluing yourself to your couch or desk. In addition to stats, scores and news, there will also feature a live gamecast - a sort of animated graphic representation of games as they are happening. Plus there will be video clips and audio clips and streams.

 

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Despite the overwhelming amount of information, navigating through it and how it is presented on screen is actually rather clear. ESPN built a slide out menu that can slide completely away for full screen viewing, pop out a little for media options, or practically take over the screen for finding just the right information. The menus and display screens are quite animated as well as good looking. most screens even feature a ticker for up to the minute news and scores.*

Although the MVP and the service will be available through online sales in time for the holidays, the full launch will not be until the Superbowl. At that time it's possible the MVNO will launch additional handsets (we hear they're already very interested in a few new models) and may activate additional features. No doubt those phones, too, will have QVGA screens - we can't imagine the Mobile ESPN application working at lower resolutions.

Remember when giving subscriptions to Sports Illustrated used to be a popular holiday tradition? This could be the Sports Illustrated of 2006. If his contract is up soon, we imagine an MVP will be on your sports lover's Christmas list.

HTC Wizard 

While the Windows Mobile Treo was the big Microsoft news at the show, and their big news for the US, there are some other Windows Mobile devices about to hit the global market that are equally interesting.

The first is an HTC device known generically as the "Wizard". Like most HTC devices, the Wizard will reach carriers and resellers under a wide variety of different names, and a couple of different outer shell designs.

Below is one design that was (very securely) shackled to the Microsoft booth on the show floor:

 

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The style of it won't appeal to everyone, but it does have a great keyboard - basically the same type as HTC's Universal and Apache (PPC-6700) devices.

The other Wizard design has the same features, but a more streamlined outer design, and a different keyboard (that unfortunately didn't feel as good to us.)

 

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This is the one i-mate will be offering overseas as the "K-JAM". They hope to officially distribute it in the US next year, although that hasn't been finalized.

Samsung i300 

On the Smartphone side, another interesting Windows Mobile device moving closer to release is the Samsung SGH-i300. This is the one with the 3GB hard drive inside.

 

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Finally having a chance to hold it in hand, the i300 feels smaller than it looks under glass. It's a great size considering the hard drive and extensive feature list. There's almost nothing it doesn't have. It even has a microSD (TransFlash) memory card slot. (The competing Nokia N91 hard-drive phone lacks a memory card slot.)

 

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The QVGA display is very impressive. It is small compared other recent Windows Mobile Smartphones, but Microsoft has made all of the fonts proportionally larger at QVGA resolution, so most of the text is no smaller than if the display were the standard 176 x 220. Everything is simply sharper and crisper with QVGA. Therefore the extra resolution is most useful for graphics, such as photos, maps, and games.

 

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The potential best part of the i300 might not even be the hard drive, but the spinning scroll wheel / jog dial in the center. Borrowing a page from the original iPod, the central silver wheel spins to make it easy to scroll through long lists of songs.

That great and all, but the scroll wheel also works in regular Windows Mobile applications, potentially making it dramatically faster and easier to navigate the user interface (UI).

...unfortunately, this capability is horribly crippled. In the version we tried, and as far as we could tell, absolutely zero tweaking has been done to the UI to make it work well with the scroll wheel.

For example, the wheel makes it so easy to scroll through lists that it would just take a quick, intuitive flick of the thumb to find the application you wanted in a list as long as 50 items or more. But the main menu is still divided up into one-screen chunks, so you still have to press "more" to go to the next page. This has always been annoying with Windows Mobile, but with the scroll wheel, it's absolutely infuriating.

The same kind of mistake is made with the calendar application. In month view, you would expect the scroll wheel to scroll from one day to the next. But because it is merely linked to the up/down button functions, it only scrolls vertically. So if you're on Monday the 10th and you scroll the wheel one click, you'll go to Monday the 17th, instead of Tuesday the 11th, as you'd expect.

It's difficult to convey in words why this is such a major flaw, but take our word for it that - trying it in person - these issues are extremely obvious and frustrating.

Of course, what we tried was still a prototype, so it's possible Samsung will fix these issues before release. We hope that they do.

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Subject Author Date
Samsung - Shameful D307 SB2002 Sep 28, 2005, 2:14 PM
where is the razr? skyjet15 Sep 28, 2005, 11:20 PM
No new LG phones for Verizon? FAUguy Oct 4, 2005, 8:39 PM
I300 specs??? pauldg Oct 4, 2005, 9:24 AM
Samsung A940/A970? tuolumne Sep 29, 2005, 12:21 AM
 
 
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