3GSM special

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BEST of BARCELONA:
Our pick of the new phones at 3gsm

The 3GSM World Congress isn’t really a handset show. As the name implies, there’s a lot of talking – both formally, in the seminar theatres, and informal networking.

It’s also proof that there’s more to mobile than handsets: very few of the exhibitors have anything to do with the box that fill our retail shelves.

That doesn’t mean the handset makers ignore 3GSM — far from it. They often have the biggest, brashest, fullest stands; and most use 3GSM to launch the phones that will define their strategy for the year.

And of course we just love getting our hands on new phones …

HTC: more of the same, only (a bit) better
It looks rather like a mini laptop, but the HTC Advantage X7500 really is a phone – 3G and HSDPA plus quadband GSM as well as WiFi. There’s also a good-quality 3 megapixel camera with high-power LED flash and an additional video-call camera.

But inside there’s a pokey 624MHz Intel PXA270 processor with 128MB ROM, 8GB of hard drive, and Windows Mobile Pocket PC Phone Edition (though only version 5.0). So it does emails and can create and edit Microsoft Office documents.

HTC has clearly done something clever with the battery, since it claims eight hours of active life; no laptop will give you that. Other innovations include a 5in touchscreen display with a very clever tilt-to-navigate technology HTC is calling VueFLO, VGA and TV Out for use with monitors, and on-board GPS with a copy of TomTom Navigator 6 inside as well. We also liked the built-in business card scanner – and especially the very clever magnetically attached QWERTY keyboard.

No word on cost, but it won’t be cheap. Still, it will be less than the price of a lightweight laptop plus a heavyweight smartphone.

• HTC S710 The other really interesting HTC phone will appear first as the Orange SPV E650, though HTC will also flog SIM-free versions. At first glance it looks like a slightly tubby candybar smartphone, and the spec fits that – Windows Mobile 6, 64MB of RAM, a 2.4in 240×320 screen, quadband GSM plus WiFi and Bluetooth 2.0 and a 2mp camera.

Then you might notice the really cool slide-out QWERTY thumbboard that slips out from the underside. Given that, the phone is really slim; in keying mode it’s an excellent emailer and text device, especially as it claims up to seven hours’ talk time and 175 hours’ standby.

Orange is very keen on this phone. It will bring the SPV E650 to market “before the summer”, we were told, though it should be available under the HTC brand next month in the UK and some other European territories.

• HTC P3350 This is the GPS-less version of the P3300 that HTC launched last autumn, emphasising multimedia rather than navigation. So it comes with FM radio, 256MB of internal memory, and lots of reference to HTC’s ‘Media Hub’ for managing music and Windows Media Player 10 for playing it (Windows Mobile 5 is inside). There’s no WiFi but you do get quad band GSM. Funny how the much more attractive GPS version was launched first …

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 "Nokia turned up with a raft of new products, some spectacular and some range-filling tweaks."

LG brands big
We highlighted the impressive piece of work that is the LG Prada Phone last month; it’s an all-touchscreen device that obviously compares (rather well) with the apparently very similar Apple iPhone competitor. And the punters were queuing up to get a sight of this on the LG stand – no-one there seemed to have a demo model that could actually be touched. (The luscious Shine slider featured in this month’s Head to Head was widely available, and widely admired.)

We have a review unit booked so last month’s comment on the phone itself will have to do for now. But it’s interesting to speculate about where the Prada phone is taking its parents.

Money obviously changed hands by the bucket-load, but Prada presumably doesn’t actually want to get into the handset business – so there probably won’t be any more collaborations. The fashion company provided some input into the design (especially of the user interface) and the styling (as you’d expect) but its principal influence will probably be seen in the way it will dictate pricing and distribution.

Whatever its merits as a phone, the Prada’s main role is to spruce up LG’s international brand image. But Prada is equally keen to preserve its own brand.

Good design sells, even (especially?) when it carries a premium price – that’s the lesson from the technologically iffy Nokia 8800. At least the Prada phone looks like a genuine contender in the phone stakes as well. It should fly off the shelves.

Motorola throws a curve
The RIZR Z8 was the standout product on the Motorola stand. It’s more than merely a tweak for the RIZR, featuring new hardware design ideas and a much improved user interface as well as 3G HSDPA.

The UI is courtesy of the Symbian UIQ platform, a great improvement on Motorola’s own rather poor menu structure and layout. The nifty hardware extra is what Motorola is calling the “kick slider”; as you open the phone, the keyboard clicks into a V-shape a bit like some flip phones (lots of commentators likened it to a banana when seen from the side, but it’s more like a stylised bird in flight – -whatever, you get the idea). The point is that the locking hinge brings the speaker and microphone closer to the user’s face and makes it easier to talk into The RIZR Z8 will also support television-quality video playback, Motorola said, though we didn’t see that at work. The screen looks a tad small, certainly.

The Z8 should ship next month.
Incidentally, we also saw the RIZR Z6 at 3GSM. This is Linux-based music phone with Windows Media support (yes, Microsoft does seems happy to work with other operating systems sometimes). Windows Media provides digital rights management on 3G and EDGE downloads. Interesting technology, but does it confuse the product line-up a bit?

A Moto bloke told us it’s slated for Q2 availability.

NEONODE N2:
New(ish), nice, not quite there

 
We doubt that there’s much room left for new handset makers to carve a niche for them-selves, but if there is we’d quite like a little Swedish company called Neonode to succeed. In Barcelona it showed the N2, a very cute touchscreen-only phone with onscreen navigation controls and an onscreen keypad.

Neonode introduced its first buttonless mobile as long ago as 2004, so the buzz generated by the iPhone and Prada phone can only be helpful to the touchscreen mobile concept.

The N2 doesn’t push many boundaries in terms of the feature set, which is a bit of a shame. Bluetooth, USB compatibility, messaging, 2mp camera, 64K-colour screen, miniSD card slot, MP3 player, quadband GSM – it’s all pretty mainstream now. The grid based LCD touchscreen certainly isn’t. Moving your finger across the display opens menus, activates applications, and accepts or rejects calls.

Hopefully it fixes some of the N1’s shortcomings – like the poor-quality plastic, user-unfriendly software, oversensitive display (it would hang in bright sunlight) and indifferent battery life. There had been rumours about WiFi and a larger screen, but the N2 appears a largely cosmetic refresh. At least the battery is now quoted as a more reasonable 4h talktime, 200h standby.

It’s not quite iPhone Nano, but it’s getting there …

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• Motorola SLVR L9 This upgrade to the SLVR L7 adds some much-needed competitive improvement in the form of a 2mp camera, a full MP3 player and RDS FM radio – nothing very special, but at least it’s now a contender.

It also features “CrystalTalk”, a new Motorola technology that claims to make it easy to hold conversations in noisy environments. This could be a real selling point; the show would have been a great place to check it out, but there didn’t seem to be any working models available.

The SLVR L9 will be available in Q2.

• Motorola KRZR Z3
“MOTOKRZR K3 unites must-have design and must-do experiences” said Ron Garriques, president of Motorola Mobile Devices. He left the company shortly thereafter (see the story in the Oversight pages) and we didn’t get the chance to ask him what he meant.

Basically, it’s the mix as before with 3G HSDPA – a decent offering, but it’s not really an email/web browsing phone so the high-speed data link is presumably aimed at music or video downloads and maybe some push services like news headlines.

Nothing wrong with that, but “must-do experiences”? Hmm …

The KRZR Z3 will be available in Q2 2007.

• Motorola MOTO Q q9 and MOTO Q gsm
Motorola is finally bringing its Q business phone to Europe. The QWERTY smartphone has picked up awards in the States without setting the world alight; Blackberry and Palm are the dominant suppliers of business phones there (Nokia is struggling to make an impact, even with the E series) and you’d have thought that a behemoth with the resources and reach of Motorola could scoop the market. Hasn’t happened.

At 3GSM Motorola announced the availability of two new Q phones. The Q q9 (ugly name, that) has Windows Mobile 6, 3G HSDPA and improved messaging and multimedia – not least from 256MB of onboard memory and a side-loading memory card socket. The Q q9 also boasts “one of the world’s smartest screen displays”, automatically adjusting to ambient light levels indoors or out.

The Q gsm is essentially the original CDMA- based MOTO Q with quadband GSM, Windows Mobile 6 again, and some ergonomic tweaks – we noted a much improved keyboard. Curiously this model won’t be available until the second half of the year; the punchier Q q9 ships in the next few weeks.

 
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Nokia goes large …

Nokia turned up with a raft of new products, some spectacular and some range-filling tweaks. The Nokia 3110 is an example of the latter, a lowish-end classic handset that recycles the name of a long-forgotten handset from the Finnish maker. This one gets a really nice keypad – clear, easy to use – but nothing else that qualifies as remarkable. The spec includes a 1.3mp camera, stereo FM radio, Bluetooth, and triband GSM – nothing too remarkable there, but then Nokia’s success is based at least in part on doing the simple things well. It’s pitched as a robust and reliable phone and is likely to sell from below €150 unsubsidised.

• Nokia 6110 Navigator This looks like a nice addition to the portfolio – a slider that provides a complete navigation solution with integrated GPS and AGPS, a Navigator button that fires up the Route 66 mapping/ routefinder app, and one regional map supplied in the box with downloads for more. The navigation seems pretty good, with postcode entry, turn-by-turn 3D imagery and routes for drivers or pedestrians.

Maps look good on the 16m-colour TFT display with QVGA resolution, and you get 3G/HSDPA for fast downloads. As well as the 40MB inside, there’s a hot-swappable microSD memory slot round the edge. And on top of that there’s a 2MP camera with flash, video chatting, and 11 days standby claimed for the battery (3.5 hours talk).

Downside? Well, we couldn’t try it outside the hall, so the GPS might be terrible. Unlikely, though. We did find the screen a tad small, but otherwise this looks a really competitive product.

• Nokia E65 Here’s a stylish slider that fills out the Eseries business smartphones – quadband GSM, 3G, WiFi, 2mp camera, Nokia’s 16m-colour TFT display with QVGA resolution. It doesn’t have the rather staid finish of other Eseries models (comes in either brown or red with silver trim, looks good) and it’s not going to scare anyone when they pick it up from their IT department rather than your friendly neighbourhood retailer.

The four One Touch keys on the front cover provide easy access to conference calling, contacts database, mute/unmute calls, and a user-defined app. The other obvious business-oriented feature is the integration with leading corporate telephony systems (mostly via Nokia Intellisync) and support for the most used email solutions.

• Nokia E61i This is the existing E61 now with a 2mp camera on the back of the device and microSD instead of miniSD for the memory card slot. Other differences are unnoticeable. Nokia says it will ship in Q2 at an estimated unsubsidised price of around E400.

• Nokia E90 Communicator Nokia has resuscitated the Communicator, formerly a chunky phone with a flip up QWERTY keyboard and now – well, a pretty chunky phone with a flip-up keyboard.

But this time it’s based on the Symbian 9.1 OS with the S60 user interface, which has to be a Good Thing – there are loads of apps available for S60 now, though the E90 already ships with a good collection: a document editor called Quickoffice, a reader for Microsoft Office documents (though they can’t be edited natively), support for zip and PDF files, a comprehensive set of Personal Information Management tools, and bags of email options.

The E90 also features just about all the current connectivity options: quadband GSM, 3G with HSDPA, WiFi, miniUSB, Bluetooth 2.0 and even Infrared.

Both displays are impressive. The external (phone) screen gets the 16m colours and QVGA resolution of most of Nokia’s upmarket handsets, the internal (PDA) display has a resolution of 800×352 pixels and features 16 million colours as well. It’s rather like the panel on the Nokia N800 which impressed us so much a couple of months ago.

There’s the 3.2mp autofocus camera seen on the N73 and elsewhere, FM radio, microSD slot, and integrated GPS with the Nokia Maps application. (Why would a business phone need a good camera and an FM radio? Interesting design decision there, guys.)

They couldn’t do much about the size – a monster 210 g – but lots of that appears to be battery: standby is rated at 14 days. The E90 is due to start shipping in Q2 but won’t be widely available till Q3; expect an unsubsidised price upwards of E750.

• Nokia N77 Take a rather good smartphone like the N73, sneak in a DVB-H receiver, price it pretty competitively at around E370 unsubsidised, and you’ve got the N77 – an affordable TV phone.

The N77 weighs 114g, which is actually a couple of grams less than the N73 – and a lot less (77g in fact) than the much bulkier N92 which Nokia launched a few months ago. True, the N92 has a bigger screen, but this will do for now, and especially for the casual TV surfer. After all, it’s a decent phone as well: 3G of course, stereo Bluetooth, microSD memory card, excellent 2mp camera, music player, large 2.4in 16m-colours TFT display.

The dedicated TV key takes you straight to DVB-H TV complete with a Program Guide – view program information up to seven days ahead, browse channels, purchase new channels, select the program you want. It even remembers the channel you were viewing when you switched off the TV, and you can also set reminders to tell you a program is starting .

All very neat. Now we need some broadcast TV to try it with. The N77 will be commercially available in Q2.
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… RIM gets shiny
RIM might not have sorted out its spindly typefaces and slightly uncomfortable user interface, but it is at least working on the BlackBerry’s externals.

The Blackberry 8800 is a full QWERTY device – slimmer than the 8700 and its ilk – that has the sleek black casing used on its attractive slimline sibling, the BlackBerry Pearl. The 8800 also gets the Pearl’s trackball navigator (hardened BlackBerry fans take a while to unshackle themselves from the thumbwheel, but once done they’re quickly converted – and lefthanders can use the trackball too!) as well as a built-in media player for music and videos, Bluetooth 2.0 with stereo support, and on-board GPS with the TeleNav GPS Navigator service (3D maps, turn-by-turn directions).

There’s a decent 320×240 display and of course the same email capability that made the BlackBerry’s name. You don’t get 3G, which might slow down the mapping – quadband GSM only – but RIM says a new high-capacity battery delivers up to five hours’ talk time and 22 days’ standby. And at 14mm deep the 8800 is the thinnest BlackBerry yet.

We have one for review and will report back next month. First impressions though are very good; the Pearl effectively fitted into a “prosumer” category (business capabilities plus fun extras like music and camera) that RIM seems keen to define, and the 8800 pays homage to that while emphasising a very usable full-text keyboard.

 
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Sagem fills out
If Nokia appeared to have brought along a truckload of new handsets, Sagem must’ve hired a fleet of pantechnicons. It showed a flood of new products, many of them at the lower end of the market where the French company has made its name. We picked out a few that seemed more interesting than most …

The my150X, for instance, is a 10mm thick fashion phone for the impecunious. There are some neat ideas on show, especially some funky stylised icons made up of a number of dots which move from one function to another. (It works better than it sounds.) Otherwise it’s simple to the point of anorexia when it comes to functions.

The my200C, my201C and my202C clamshells have a bit more to offer, again at a budget price reflected in the modest display – resolution 128×128 pixels, 65K colours. The 201 has GPRS, the 202 supports MMS and a Soduko game, the 200 gets neither. No music, though.

• Sagem my419X
This one is a budget combination of GSM and WiFi functions – intelligent enough to detect the available networks and so able to make calls over the Internet. It appears to be based on the downscale my300 series though with a bigger display and better resolution. It has video, music, Bluetooth and VGA camera functions. Looks as though Sagem has a budget fixed-mobile convergence handset here, but will the fixed/mobile operators be interested in a price-cutting alternative?

• Sagem my700X ContactLess Another interesting development: the 700X appeared six months ago as a rather girly mid-range handset with a floral design, 1.3mp camera, decent music player, and EDGE. Now the French have added NFC (Near Field Communication) technology to the GSM.

So what? Well, NFC provides a contact-free identification system that can be used to make purchases, provide access to restricted areas, replace transport tickets, download content, and more. The mobile phone is the new wallet. Aim it at a reader, give in your PIN code and you are already done

Of course, NFC phones are only one side of the equation – you need machines, tills, dispensers, lockable doors and so on to provide the reader bit. But there have been a number of successful trials, most recently in New York, and this could be the year when NFC starts making a real impact …

• Sagem my800C Sagem reserves the “8” label for its higher-end phones, and this one certainly looks the business. It’s quite thin (16mm), light (95g) and compact (96x49mm). There’s a nice 2in 260K-colours TFT display, 2mp camera, a secondary VGA camera for video calls (yes, it’s 3G), MP3 Player with external music keys, Bluetooth and microSD slot.

And it looks pretty good, too. We liked the external mirror-effect strip which displays the name of the person calling, the music currently playing, a message-received flag and the time as soon as an event occurs and makes the best possible use of the external screen which is integrated intelligently into the design.

“The ideal mobile companion”, claims Sagem. That’s a big claim, and it’s a while since Sagem has made a phone that could justify it. The my800C isn’t it, but it is ok. You could do a lot worse.

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Samsung goes for skinny
Samsung was another one to push the boat out at Barcelona, with nearly a dozen new or newsih phones including the QWERTY-keyboarded i600 (aka BlackBird).

Our eye was caught though by four new Ultra Editions. According to Samsung they all feature something called Optimized Power Usage Solution (OPUS) technology – should extend battery life by 10% – and enhanced music playback thanks to a digital power amp developed with Bang and Olufsen.

The best-looking of the quartet was the Ultra 10.9 (aka U600) – a very stylish slider that is 10.9mm thin (Ultra 10.9, geddit) featuring quadband connectivity, 3.2mp camera, lovely 2.2in TFT LCD screen, and a choice of rather fine colours. The D900 previously claimed to be the world’s slimmest slider, but this one shaves a couple more millimetres. Expect it imminently.

• Ultra 12.1 This is a bit special, too. The Ultra 12.1 (U700) is a little thicker, obviously, but then it does have 3G/HSDPA on board along with video telephony functionality and autofocus for the 3.2mp camera.

• Ultra 9.6 Pay a little less and you could have the Ultra 9.6 (U300), a dinky 9.6mm clamshell phone for the fashion conscious. It’s all-metal casing is very touchable, and it’s still stuffed with capability – 3mp camera, TV-out, 70MB memory, and more. Very handsome.

• Ultra 5.9 And here’s the candybar that claims to be the slimmest phone in the world (a title formerly held by Samsung’s bendy X820). There’s still a 3mp camera, 1.9in screen (very good image quality in the demos), music player with 11 hours’ playing time …

• F700 But amid all the Ultra hoopla, this smartphone was the pick of the bunch at the Samsung launch. It looks great, certainly competition at least in terms of features for both the iPhone and the Prada phone.

So there’s a touchscreen, and it’s big. It also comes with fingertip drag-and-drop functionality, and it has a neat VibeTonez technology thing which makes the phone vibrate slightly when you slide your finger over a virtual button – great tactile feedback, makes the user interface easier to use. And of course there’s a slide-out QWERTY keyboard for the oldsters.

"Sagem reserves the “8” label for its higher-end phones, and this one certainly looks the business"

 
Under the hood the F700 blows the iPhone away (the Prada is a bit more competitive). There’s a 5mp camera with autofocus, 3G and HSDPA to a theoretical 7.2Mbps, Admittedly the iPhone has a slightly bigger screen and a few more pixels, plus HTML email. That’s not much on the plus side, though. The F700 lacks WiFi, and maybe Windows Mobile would have improved its image among the business fraternity, but it still looks an excellent smartphone.

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Toshiba’s fingertip control
Toshiba seems to come round every few months with one or two phones that Vodafone usually picks up, and that’s about it. Maybe things will all change with the G600 and G900; these really are very capable Windows Mobile smartphones, and they have a real edge in that they can link to Toshiba Portégé laptops.

Both phones incorporate fingerprint scanners, a technology borrowed from the Portégé line to ensure that only the designated user can use the phone. Authorised users can lock and unlock their Portégé laptop from the phone via Bluetooth – and vice versa. If the user moves away from the laptop, the Bluetooth connection drops and the laptop will automatically lock down.

The handsets can also be used as controllers for PowerPoint presentations running on or from the laptops – exactly like a remote control. Very clever.

Both devices come with 3G/HSDPA and WiFi connectivity, and are enabled with SIP (Session Initiation Protocol) for VoIP telephony. Toshiba says it will be shipping a VoIP client with the phones, but wouldn’t confirm that it would be Skype-based.

The G600 is a natty slider, and that one really can work like a remote pointer. It has Windows Mobile 5 rather than 6. Nice, but looks and feels a bit pricey.

The G900, which actually carries the Portégé brand, is an HTC-like slab with a big 3in wide screen at 800×480 resolution – big enough to make web surfing a practical proposition – and a slide-out QWERTY keyboard.

It’s one of the first devices to use the new Windows Mobile 6 for Pocket PC Phone Edition we describe elsewhere; there’s 64MB of internal memory, which sounds a bit light to us, but you do get a miniSD card slot – and there’s read/write access for USB storage.

We think the ability to plug in USB flash disks like this is unique in the phone world, but it’s so blindingly obvious that it can’t stay unique for long.

Best in Show:
the Editor’s picks
• LG Prada handset envy a-go-go
• Nokia 6110 maps for all
• Samsung Ultra Edition 10.9 slimline slider with style