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CTIA Fall 2006

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Sep 15, 2006, 8:21 PM   by Eric Lin & Rich Brome

In Depth coverage of CTIA Wireless IT & Entertainment 2006 in Los Angeles. Hands on with the Treo 750, Casio G'zOne, HTC S620 and Hermes, BlackBerry Pearl, Nokia E62, and more.

Part 1

HTC 

HTC was showing off all their new phones, but of the four recently announced, only the Excalibur (now called the S620) is due to come to the US any time soon. The S620 is surprisingly small. Pictures do not do it justice, and it is packed with features.

 

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What it is not packed with is the JOGGR that was supposed to let you scroll through text simply by running your fingertip down a touch strip on the side of the screen. HTC tells us the first version didn't work as well as they had hoped. Instead there are touch-sensitive volume up and down keys in place of the full touch scroll strip. The company is hoping to improve the touch-scroll technology for use in future products.

Even though HTC had to remove one of the most unique features, there are still a few unique surprises in store. For example, the S620 finally eliminates the need to keep hitting the Alt key to type numbers or punctuation. Instead you simply hold down a key for a second to type whatever its alt character is.

 

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With the launch of the Q, Motorola set the bar for Windows Mobile phones as far as packing features into a small, slim phone. But the S620 actually beats Moto at their own game. The S620 might not have an iconic name, or the iconic looks, but it has Wi-Fi and a keyboard that beats the Q's hands down.

Eric felt the keys on the S620 were a bit small (see the picture of his thumb mashing a couple of keys) and way too soft, but he was still able to type with better than 90% accuracy. Rich really liked the keyboard and thought it was small but perfectly usable. Either way it is a big improvement over the Q's tiny, stiff pucks.

 

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It should be noted the S620s we were using had a T-Zones logo that the company had made attempts to obscure. This lends further credence to the rumors it will launch on T-Mobile sometime this fall.

The other HTC phone that is definitely coming to the states was code-named Hermes, but launched by HTC as the TyTN. The final TyTN design has cleaner lines and more keys than the original Hermes prototypes seen in the spring.

 

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Cingular is due to launch their own version with a slightly curvier design more reminiscent of the original Hermes - but with the extra keys - this October.

 

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Called the 8525, it will best the new Treo 750 in terms of wireless options, offering quad-band GSM, tri-band HSDPA (the 750 will initially only have WCDMA), Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth. Although it has not been confirmed, it is very likely Cingular asked HTC to remove the video-calling camera and key.

Although it is not due to launch in the US, we spent some time with the P3300 GPS phone. HTC explained to us that the trackball and scroll wheel combo are meant to simplify using the device for navigation. You can use the trackball to move around the map quickly and the scroll wheel to zoom in and out without have to change modes or press buttons. The trackball is exactly like that on the BlackBerry Pearl, and the scroll wheel is unique in that it physically spins around the trackball.

 

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HTC's new phones clearly show attention to design and detail that the company's previous efforts did not always exhibit. The company is not just strengthening its design, but also its brand. While HTC will continue to allow carriers to re-brand their devices, they are cutting off other companies from doing so. I-mate, UTStarcom and others will no longer be re-branding HTC's handsets as their own for resale. Although HTC will continue using its own Dopod brand for select Asian channels, its is killing off its QTek brand completely.

Pearl 

The Pearl, AKA the BlackBerry 8100, is RIM's first real multimedia device for consumers.

They made their first consumer play with the 7100 series, introduced almost exactly two years ago. The 7100 series introduced the SureType text keypad, and RIM's first real phone-like form factor. It lacked a camera however, and RIM has also fallen behind other manufacturers in the introduction of music players and memory card slots, and hasn't really kept up with thin trend started by Motorola's RAZR.

The Pearl catches up with all of those trends, and even takes a slight lead with innovations like a trackball.

 

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Getting some hands-on time with the Pearl, two things immediately jumped out: the finish and the size.

The glossy black finish has an unfortunate knack for showing fingerprints and face grease. (We spent over a minute cleaning it just to take these photos.)

RIM usually offers slightly different styling for each major carrier, so hopefully non-T-Mobile versions won't have the same glossy finish. The Cingular version is due in roughly six weeks. Although we're not sure exactly what it will look like, we do know it will add PTT to the feature mix.

Fortunately, the fingerprint issue is more than offset by the impressive light weight and small size. It's the first BlackBerry that can fit comfortably in a pocket almost as well as a RAZR. It's small enough to make the 7100 series BlackBerrys look like bricks.

 

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The interface has also been updated, although not as much as I had hoped. It's still distinctively BlackBerry-like, and most of it is still clearly designed around up-and-down list scrolling. Unfortunately, RIM did not take advantage of the new four-way trackball to implement intuitive four-way navigation like most other phones.

 

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Speaking of the trackball, it's surprisingly small. It spins freely and easily, although it feels a bit tricky to press down (to select things.)

Voice dialing in the Pearl is another welcome (and long-overdue) addition to the BlackBerry lineup.

To make the Pearl so small and light, RIM had to skimp a bit on a battery. To make up for the relatively short battery life, RIM added external battery contacts on the back that enable the Pearl to work with a dock-like desktop charger. The optional desk charger can charge the Pearl and a spare battery at the same time, giving road warriors some extra power options.

Nokia Phones 

Nokia fessed up to the E62 some time ago, and it was a poorly kept secret at best that the device would launch on Cingular, the only real question left to answer was when. Yesterday the two companies answered that and let everyone know the E62 would go on sale before the end of this month.

 

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Once the E62 was announced, then both companies revealed how closely they worked together on this project. Cingular basically hand picked which hardware and software features from the E61 would be inculded in this smartphone. Cingular wanted to bring out a QWERTY phone that was affordable enough and simple enough to appeal to a broader range of people. Cingular executives admitted they chose to leave out features like 3G and Wi-Fi to keep costs down. They also asked Nokia to drop their Pop-Port connector from the E62 and use mini-USB instead.

But Cingular also added a few bits to the E62 as well. We knew the smartphone had a "My Own" key which serves as a shortcut to 5 applications the users can choose. The interface for it looks very similar to the media key on Nseries devices. It also has a version of Oz IM - a multi-IM client which can do Yahoo!, MSN and AIM. The E62 includes email software for syncing to Good, Blackberry, Exchange Server, and Cingular Xpress mail.

The E50 trades the E62's keyboard for a 1.3 Megapixel camera, but otherwise the two match nearly spec for spec (the E50 has a Micro SD slot not Mini SD). However the E50 doesn't look like a smartphone at all.

 

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It is shockingly thin and actually rather small. It looks like a classic Nokia candybar - almost like an 6310 because of its rounded top, curved face, and clean thin form. Compared to Nokia's other Eseries phones, which are squarish and clunky, the E50 looks positively sexy.

They keys of the E50 feel large and nice, making it comfortable to tap out a reply to an email on the keypad, even though it would probably be shorter than one written on the E62. The QVGA screen is much smaller than the E62s, which makes it look much sharper - much like how the N80 / E70 screen looks even though that screen is much higher resolution.

The E50 is not for sale yet, but should be out this year. No American carrier has officially placed it on their roster yet, but considering it has all the same specs as the E62, Cingular could choose to pick it up if the E62 sells well. Maybe even T-Mobile will dabble in S60. At the very least, Nokia will offer it in their flagship stores and online.

Nokia Browser 

Nokia's unique full-web browser for the S60 platform is far and away one of the most innovative and advanced mobile browsers on the market. It allows browsing of full web sites with great, unique navigation controls. Based on the same engine that powers Apple's Safari browser, it renders sites exactly the way you would see them on a PC.

As impressive as version 1.0 is, it does have a few glaring omissions. Which is why (with version 1.0 barely out the door) Nokia is already showing off early builds of version 2.0, which fixes all of our gripes with the first version, and even adds a whole slew of impressive new technologies.

The biggest and most important change is that the web browser is no longer a separate application from the WAP browser; they're integrated now. You can view WAP 1.0, WAP 2.0, xHTML, and HTML pages all in one place.

On a device like the E70, it's great to be able to open the keypad to rotate the display for browsing in landscape (wide-screen) mode, but what about a more standard phone like the N73? Nokia is addressing this in the new browser, with a "rotate display" option to explicitly choose landscape mode.

 

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The new browser also supports saving of pages for offline viewing:

 

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Clicking the cursor on a part of the page that isn't a link brings up a new little pop-up toolbar with common commands:

 

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The toolbar contains icons for recent pages, page overview, reload, search, and RSS.

Speaking of RSS, that part of the software had been overhauled and dramatically improved. It's now pretty much on par with Sony Ericsson's feed reader.

 

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You can now subscribe to a site's RSS feed directly from that site (the feed is automatically detected.) Once in the RSS reader, icons appear with each site's logo for easy visual identification, and once in a feed, you can see full HTML layout including images. You can also specify intervals for the phone to update all of the feeds automatically, so the freshest news is always on your phone, even if you have no signal at the moment.

The feed reader also supports the Atom format now, in addition to RSS.

The site icons (called favicons) also show up in the bookmarks:

 

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Other features of the new browser include auto-complete of forms, and a password manager, to make logging into sites less cumbersome on a numeric-keypad device like the N73.

The browser also integrates support for SVG-T and Flash Lite 2, which opens the possibility for some really interesting interactive applications right in the browser.

Part 2

Treo 750 

An insider who got the Treo 750 before it was launched, told us he was sneaking it into meetings simply by holding his hand over the top when he had to pull it out. It's true that at first blush, the 750 looks like a 700w without an antenna, but further inspection yields additional differences.

 

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It's difficult to say whether the other physical changes from the 700 to the 750 are actually improvements or just changes. Either way the 750 continues Palm's evolution not revolution mantra. They feel they have a good thing going with the Treo and don't want to blow it.

The majority of the plastic (the dark blue parts) on the 750 now has a soft-touch feel, like a Motorola PEBL. The grippy feeling makes the Treo feel secure in your hand. It no longer feels like the slippery hard plastic will slide right out of your fingers when you're typing.

The edges and corners also have a different shape. Instead of a point ridge down each side, the sides have been shaved down with a gentler curve that is now extended to the corners too. You don't really feel the change the shape of the corners until you try to slide the Treo into a pocket. When it slides in just a bit easier than the older models, then you stop to notice the difference.

Finally, you may notice the send and end keys have also grown, stealing some size from the Windows and OK keys to accentuate their importance.

 

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The changes you can't see are probably much bigger. The quad-band GSM of the 650 is now joined by tri-band UMTS, meaning out of the box, the 750 is now capable of about 300 kbps data speeds. However Palm has noted that the radio is software-upgradeable, and that the 750 will get a 10x speed boost when an HSDPA update is issued later.

Although the 750v was announced as a "Vodafone exclusive," that exclusivity only applies to Europe. Considering it has tri-band 3G, it's reasonable to expect that the Treo 750 will launch on Cingular as well.

UTStarcom 

UTStarcom continues to be a unique player in the US cell phone market. While they are finding success bringing their own entry-level phones to US carriers, they also continue to help overseas manufacturers bring unique phones to America.

The most interesting example of that this year is the G'zOne from Casio-Hitachi.

 

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The phone has been rumored and demo'd for almost a year, but now it finally seems on track for a holiday-season release. At the spring CTIA show, we only got to see the Japanese version, but now UTStarcom is showing off the US version. The one we saw had a Verizon logo on the back and was running the full Verizon menu interface.

It's fairly well-spec'd phone, with a 2-megapixel camera and EVDO high-speed data, although it lacks a memory card slot, music player, and Bluetooth.

The big feature however is its rugged and completely waterproof design. It's not just water-resistant; you can actually submerge it completely, as UTStarcom demo'd at the last CTIA show.

 

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While Casio is a big name in phones in Japan in general, Casio's watch division also clearly had a hand in the design of the G'zOne. Not only does the external display look like a watch, but it works like one, too. Holding down a side button activates the stopwatch and timer features, which look and work just like they would on a Casio watch.

UTStarcom was also showing off a very thin clamshell phone they call the CDM-8932.

 

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If it looks familiar, you might recognize it as the Pantech PN-3200 / PN320. While Pantech is bringing it directly to Telus and soon Disney Mobile, UTStarcom will handle its launch with some other carriers. They claim it is on track for release soon with at least two Teir 1 or 2 US carriers.

Last but not least (except in thickness) is the SLVR-like PCS-1400.

 

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This little number is actually made by UTStarcom. We've covered it before and speculated that it was headed to Virgin Mobile, which has since been confirmed by documents on the FCC web site.

A 1450 model with slightly upgraded specs was also on display, although there's no word yet on when or if it will be picked up by a US carrier.

i-mate 

Looking at i-mate's new line, it's tough not to feel sorry for them. Just when HTC gets everything right and starts to make some good looking, solid smartphones, they decide they don't want to play with i-mate and other brands any longer. i-mate has been forced to turn to other ODMs for new devices.

 

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The JAQ is a Pocket PC phone designed by Inventec. It is clearly meant to evoke the design of the Nokia E62, (it features nearly the same specs) but this is a poor copy at best. The JAQ does not have the sleek, simple form of the Nokia; instead it has bulges everywhere - on the front, on the back and on the sides. These bulges do nothing but accentuate the plastic construction, they do not enhance the way the JAQ fits in your hand or any other sort of usability.

Nor do these bulges enhance the JAQ's looks. There is no nice way to say it, they make the JAQ look - and feel - cheap. It does not feel particularly solid, creaking and flexing quite a bit.

However the JAQ is surprising decent to use. Though the keys are shaped oddly, the keyboard is rather easy to use. It is so large that we had no trouble typing quickly and accurately on it. The navigation keys weren't quite as pleasant. The joystick is rather stiff and unresponsive, and the placement of the soft keys and Windows / OK keys all in a small row led to many mistaken keypresses.

 

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We didn't get to spend quite as much time with the SPL, the Smartphone manufactured by TechFaith. From the front, the SPL has a SLVR-meets-Chocolate quality about it. Although the keypad is plastic not metal, it looks like the SLVR's and has the same sort of feel to it. But that's where the SLVR similarities end. The phone is not super slim or angular and metallic.

In fact, the plastic keypad melds into the phone body in one smooth line like on the Chocolate. And the SPL's thickness is much closer to that of the Chocolate as well.

While the JAQ has quad-band GSM, Bluetooth and a miniSD slot, the SPL is only tri-band GSM.

Kyocera 

Kyocera had two new phones to show off. Both are entry-level models. One - the K122 - is so entry-level that it's only targeted at "emerging markets" that are even more price-sensitive than the US. The one we'll see stateside is the K132.

 

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The K132 is very basic, with no external display or downloadable game capability, although it does sport a color display. The internal antenna keeps the relatively stylish clamshell design simple and clean-looking. It has a nice, solid feel to it.

The previously-announced K320 and K340 series phones are still on track for release, with the first K320 models launching later this month, and the K342 coming early next year. Unfortunately the higher-end K822 has been shelved due to lack of interest from carriers, although Kyocera has some more exciting phones in the pipeline for next year.

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Subject Author Date
LG VX9900 willy_55 Sep 16, 2006, 7:41 PM
LG showing the VX8600 FAUguy Sep 14, 2006, 6:16 PM
  • no by eric Lin   Sep 15, 2006, 4:51 PM
    • Re: no by Steve5   Sep 18, 2006, 5:15 PM
      • Re: no by shooptek   Oct 5, 2006, 6:07 PM
gzone qwerthr333 Sep 21, 2006, 2:36 PM
  • Re: gzone by theyellowdart   Sep 25, 2006, 11:21 AM
    • Re: gzone by qwerthr333   Oct 2, 2006, 5:50 PM
How Waterproof Is it? cilvzwagent Sep 28, 2006, 11:05 AM
Wow... motoBOY Sep 25, 2006, 9:14 PM
GZONE SPECS 3am Sep 21, 2006, 12:21 AM
G'zOne AshDizzle Sep 21, 2006, 5:16 AM
  • Re: G'zOne by theyellowdart   Sep 21, 2006, 11:18 AM
Waterproof Phone kingstu Sep 15, 2006, 9:42 PM
T-Mobile Dash (HTC Excaliber) question terryjohnson16 Sep 17, 2006, 12:12 AM
That Kyocera... AwpdsR Sep 16, 2006, 9:12 AM
Nokia N73 to have WIFI? JaxPhone Sep 15, 2006, 6:36 AM
T-Mobile S620 vs. T-Mobile MDA terryjohnson16 Sep 14, 2006, 2:47 PM
What about Pantech jdmountford Sep 14, 2006, 12:43 AM
Samsung at CTIA Fall? tuolumne Sep 13, 2006, 10:51 PM
Samsung PDAs jdmountford Sep 14, 2006, 12:41 AM
 
 
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