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CES 2004

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Siemens & Wildseed Bluetooth / Accessories  

Siemens introduced two new entry-level phones at the show, both dual-band GSM (850/1900) models for AT&T Wireless.

The C61 is the U.S. version of the C60 introduced in Europe not too long ago. It brings a color display to Siemens' entry-level lineup. It's one of the smallest, most affordable color-display models available.

Features include polyphonic ringtones, MMS, speakerphone, and class 8 GPRS. It also supports an attachable camera with flash, and has 1.8 MB of memory for storing photos and Java applications. Speaking of Java, the C61 has considerably faster Java performance than past Siemens models.

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The A56i is the other "new" model. It's Siemens' first model available for AT&T's popular GoPhone prepaid service. It's not really a whole new phone - the prepaid features are all that separates it from the A56, which in turn is very much like the C56.

Wildseed introduced their "SmartSkin" technology over a year ago. They were originally planning to have Kyocera make a CDMA version, (the Kurv,) but that relationship turned sour and is now the subject of a lawsuit.

But Wildseed didn't give up, and this year they're back with a new partner - Korean contract manufacturer Curitel - who will make a GSM version called "Identity".

The SmartSkin concept is pretty neat. The idea is to make intelligent faceplates that contain themed content. This can indude ringtones and graphics that match the faceplate design, but can also include advanced content such as music and games.

In the last year, Wildseed has improved the technology even further, boosting the memory capacity to 64MB, permitting MP3s and video clips to be packaged into a SmartSkin.

The added memory also permits extremely advanced games. Game skins will include extra buttons just for gaming, customized for each game. Wildseed is working with leading game houses to offer major well-known game titles, some of which will retail for up to $60-70.

The Identity is a well-designed phone, considerably smaller than the Kurv (which is definitely good, since size was my main gripe with the Kurv). It's still a bit thick for my taste, but not terribly so.

The embedded camera is also new, and is VGA resolution. The display is excellent.

Another improvement is a unique layout for multi-tap text entry. Wildseed phones have the most commonly-used letters first. So on the 7 key, for example, the letter "S" is first. So each time you want to type "S", (quite often in most cases,) you only have to press "7" once, instead of four times like most phones. Since all the letters are still on the same keys as any other phone, T9 is not affected.

The Identity will be available in the U.S. in the 2nd quarter.

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