The shape of rings to come
Samsung, Motorola and other wireless biggies show off the new phones at the CTIA Wireless show.
NEW YORK (FORTUNE) - Scores of new phones were on display last week at the CTIA Wireless 2006 trade show in Las Vegas, ranging from simple handsets for making voice calls to fancy phone-shaped computers that receive television signals. Following are a few that stood out from the crowd.
Motorola (Research), the top-selling brand in the United States, started a global trend toward skinniness a couple of years ago with its Razr and Slvr fashion phones. Samsung (Research), which was on the verge of overtaking Motorola as the world's second-largest phone maker until the Razr came along, is trying to take a slice out of Motorola's market share with its own ultra-slim phone, the t509.
Only 9.8 millimeters thick, or less than four-tenths of an inch - and a couple of millimeters thinner than Motorola's Slvr - the bar-shaped t509 won't cause any unsightly bulges in your tight jeans pocket when it arrives stateside in May, and it has the added bonus of resembling an iPod Nano.
Samsung had not announced at press time which carrier would sell the phone - "Pay no attention to the giant T on the screen," a Samsung spokesman says - or how much it would cost, but the t509 is an EDGE (Enhanced Data for Global Evolution) phone, which offers data rates of more than 100 kilobits per second over GSM phone networks. Cingular and T-Mobile (Research) are the two leading GSM carriers in the US.
EDGE falls way short of broadband speeds, but it's faster than the GPRS system used by the Razr. The t509 doesn't have a hefty feature list, but it does manage to squeeze in Bluetooth, a barely adequate VGA camera, and the ability to play MP3 ring tones. There's no room for an expansion card slot, alas.
Samsung is also planning a summer debut for the d807, a black-and-chrome slider phone sleek enough to slip into your tuxedo pocket or little black purse. It comes with a micro-SD card slot for storing digital music or photo collections.
The round click-wheel on the lid looks suspiciously familiar to a popular portable music player, but no, the new LG550 phone from South Korea's LG (Research) is not the long-rumored Apple (Research) iPhone.
As one might guess from the iPod-like looks, though, the LG550 is a mobile music monster. It comes with a micro-SD card slot for storing up to a gigabyte of MP3 files (a 64MB card is included), and it can beam the music wirelessly to a Bluetooth stereo headset or to your car's stereo system. Other features include EV-DO high-speed wireless data, speech-activated dialing, and a built-in 1.3-megapixel digital still camera, which can also capture videos.
LG says the phone can be customized with interchangeable face plates and special software that allows the user to record a custom ring tone by humming a tune into the phone's microphone, although I was unable to test that feature. LG did not say when the phone would be available or how much it would cost, but I'm guessing summer from Sprint (Research) or Verizon (Research).
Here's a news flash: Sony Ericsson (Research) has finally made a camera phone with a really good camera. The new K790 Cyber-shot phone is a good-looking EDGE handset, offering relatively speedy Web browsing and e-mail on the GSM network.
But flip it over, slide down the lens cover, and it becomes a 3.2-megapixel Cyber-shot digital camera with autofocus, a Xenon flash and a particularly clever feature called BestPic, which blasts a series of nine rapid-fire shots when you press the shutter button. Somewhere in the series, surely, there will be one in which no one is caught blinking.
The flash is handy, because, let's be honest, a lot of camera-phone photos are taken in bars. The pictures can then be blackmailed, er, e-mailed to your personal blog, or transferred to a printer via Bluetooth or USB.
To keep you amused while waiting for the next phone call or photo op, the K790 also includes a music player and an FM radio. Extra tunes can be stored on a Memory Stick Micro expansion card. Pricing and carrier have not been announced, but again, Cingular and T-Mobile are the leading EDGE networks. Look for it later this summer.
Motorola was as popular as a wrong number just a couple of years ago, but now it's the global pacesetter in trendy mobile handset design.
The Razr, a thin, clamshell phone that appears to be carved from a block of metal, now comes in a rainbow of colors that appeal to rap stars, CEOs and soccer moms alike. The pink Razr, in particular, has been a sales phenomenon. At CTIA, Moto unveiled a music-enhanced version of the Razr called the V3m, which includes a micro-SD expansion card slot for storing your favorite songs.
Even so, my favorite Motorola design is the Pebl, a well-rounded (oval, actually) clamshell phone with the pleasing feel and heft of a smooth river rock. The new Pebl U6 models come in colors, too, including green, blue, orange and, or course, pink. T-Mobile will offer them for $299 with a contract.
Speaking of blue, Motorola also showed off the Miniblue, which for now appears to be the world's smallest Bluetooth headset. The earpiece of the bottlecap-size gizmo fits in the ear canal and picks up your voice without the need for a microphone boom. If you're tired of looking like a Martian when you wear a Bluetooth headset, look for the Miniblue this summer.