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CTIA 2006

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We'd really love to bring you tons of info on new Motorolas, but unfortunately Moto didn't really give us a whole lot to work with.

Motorola CEO Ed Zander announced a while back that he wants to start keeping phones secret until they're almost ready to ship. That's not easy in this industry, but he appears to be following through and trying his best, hence the lack of new phones at trade shows this year.

There was some news, though. The most exciting new phone is the i580 for Sprint Nextel's iDEN network. This is easily the most feature-packed ruggedized phone ever brought to the consumer market.

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They really mean it when they say "ruggedized", too. This isn't just a regular phone with some rubber grips tacked on; it actually meets military spec for resistance to water, dust, and shock (being dropped). Motorola has offered such protection for its low-end phones before - and it's not a big deal for a no-frills bar-style phone - but it's pretty impressive for a clamshell phone with features like a megapixel camera and microSD memory card slot. Rugged usually means compromising on features, but certainly not in this case.

The feature list continues with Bluetooth, a music player, and whole slew of new and strange "push-to" features. (I can't say I really understand the benefit of sending text messages over the PTT walkie-talkie network as opposed to the regular cellular network.)

The i580 is a good deal larger than the i560, but between the extra features and the shock protection, that's to be expected.

 

The i670 (above) is the other new iDEN phone Motorola showed at CTIA. It's pretty no-frills, right down to the lack of an external display, but it's pleasantly small and light. It's pretty much a replacement for the i710, but dramatically smaller.

Moving on to CDMA, we have the W315 and C290. Since the C290 went on sale with Sprint right before CTIA, the W315 is the only real "new" one.

There's not too much to say about the W315. It's a basic clamshell phone with an external display. It's quite stylish - almost PEBL-like - and the ergonomics are great. It feels solid and the keys are excellent. It has BREW, but few other features.

 

At first glance, the W315 and C290 might seem like pretty much the same phone, just with and without the outer display. But upon closer inspection, they seem to have been developed separately. The keypad, hinge design, and connector placement are quite different. There is also a size difference. The C290 is a nice, small phone, while the W315 is a tad bigger. Size is the C290's only advantage, though; the keypad isn't as stylish or ergonomic as the W315, and the lack of an outer display is annoying.

The last thing worth mentioning is the significance of the C290 in Sprint's lineup. It's significant for Sprint simply as their first new phone in four months. It's not unusual for there to be a lull in carriers' lineups after the big holiday push, but four months without a single new phone is a bit extreme. Phone technology changes too fast to let a lineup stagnate like that.

What's more significant is that the C290 is Motorola's first phone for Sprint in quite a while. Motorola used to have a good relationship with Sprint in the StarTAC days, but then they had trouble with their home-grown CDMA chipset when Sprint moved to 1xRTT. Motorola ended up switching to Qualcomm chips, but they had trouble with that at first, too, and they fell out of favor with Sprint. They tried again a couple of years ago with the V60v, but that didn't seem to go very well.

Now that Motorola seems to have regained their footing in CDMA, (phones like the E815 generally have top-notch performance,) Sprint seems willing to give them another shot. It's pretty typical for a carrier to test the waters with low-end phones when starting up a relationship with a new manufacturer, so it's not surprising to see the C290 instead of something higher-end. But if the C290 performs well, we should see higher-end phones from the two companies down the road.

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