They’ve rolled up the neon-colored colored carpets, torn down the booth cities and flown home the booth babes. Now it’s time to look back at the highlights from this year’s CTIA Wireless 2009 conference. While some of this show’s best contenders had already been announced, manufacturers still managed to pull some surprising tricks out of their caps for Vegas. And laying hands on those previously photographed, but not-yet-handled phones was pretty exciting, too. Here are our 10 most memorable new products from the show floor, along with five honorable mentions that weren’t released for the show, but still managed to raise our eyebrows in person.
OLED comes to the small screen. Technically, it’s not the very first phone to harness OLED technology for an eye-pleasing display, but the Impression is still exciting because it will be the first in the U.S. backed by a carrier, which means wide-scale adoption and a reasonable price tag. The screen on this phone really impressed us with its vibrant colors, black levels and saturation. Even better, it’s more efficient than a traditional LCD screen. We can’t wait for the OLED screens to migrate to other multimedia phones.
BlackBerry App World
Nothing stirred the suit-clad audience at CTIA more than RIM’s long-awaited App Store, which will make it far easier for BlackBerry users to customize their phones with third-party software by allowing them to download it directly to the phones from an online catalog. That puts BlackBerry’s OS on par with competitors from Apple, Google and Palm, and opens a lot of doors for developers, too.
The most promising upcoming company at CTIA might easily have been HTC, which has been carving out quite a name for itself lately with a seemingly endless supply of new handsets that rival what better-known competitors are trickling out. The Snap introduces HTC’s own Inner Circle, which prioritizes e-mail messages from friends, and offers a dedicated button to dial them at a moment’s notice. Sturdy build quality and a practical (but attractive) matte finish help seal the deal for this handset.
Unlike many plastic-cased cell phones that feel like they’re ready to shatter the second they touch pavement, the Finns know how to build one that feels as sturdy and satisfying as it looks. The E71x impressed us with its shiny steel shell, sharp screen, and weighty feel (you could dent a wall with this thing or knock out a squirrel, in a pinch). The best part: It’s coming to AT&T for $99, so you don’t need to shell out hundreds for the same handset anymore.
This was a pretty dry year for accessories, but Jabra managed to impress us with the svelte and lightweight Halo headset. Not only is it super slim to begin with, it folds down even smaller for travel, and still offers a reasonable 8 hours of talk or music time. The optional 3.5mm stereo jack is a welcome compromise for owners who aren’t fans of (or don’t have support for) Bluetooth, too.
We all witnessed the surge of new apps for BlackBerry’s new App Store, but some companies made an impressive showing on other platforms, too. One of the most promising that will be available across BlackBerrys, iPhones and Windows Mobile devices is the new contact manager known as 3Deep. Not only does it give you Twitter-style into what your friends are up to in real time, it promises to help end games of phone tag with a “Tell me when” feature that can notify you when your friends are off the phone, back from work, or just available to talk.
Viigo for BlackBerry
Getting news, weather reports, and sports scores and other constantly changing information from a smartphone is certainly nothing new, but having them all neatly categorized into one app can save you from downloading dozens of others, and Viigo does just that. Besides offering a huge bundle of always rotating content, it includes tools for customizing the interface to your liking, so you can make sure the stuff you care about (a notifier letting you know an important package has arrived) always trumps what you don’t (another story about a celebrity doing something crazy).
AT&T unveiled a whopping six new QWERTY messaging phones this year, and along with Nokia’s E71x, this was one of our favorites. Simply put, it’s a bargain. You get 3G Internet, a full touch screen, full QWERTY keyboard, and a 2-megapixel camera, for $99. It also feels great in the hands, has a sturdy sliding mechanism, and comes in three eye-catching shades. For frequent texters who aren’t on board with the iPhone, this may be the phone to beat.
Nokia 7205 Intrigue
In a show dominated by smartphones, touch screens, and QWERTY keyboards, it was nice to see a simple phone with none of the above – but still a killer design that makes it worthy of our lust. A slender shell that hides an enormous OLED display, unique directional controls, and a smooth gradient laid over the keypad are sure to make the Intrigue one of the hottest flip phones available this year, even if the $130 price tag may deter less fashion-conscious buyers.
Sony Ericsson T707
Sure, celebrity endorsements for just about anything are more or less a running joke, but Sony Ericsson’s new fashion phone, allegedly designed by tennis star Maria Sharapova, brings more to the court than a hot name. A smart exterior lighting scheme allows the phone to light up in different colors for different contacts, and you can dismiss them with a literal wave of the hand over the phone using clever gesture controls. You probably won’t see iPhone and BlackBerry diehards dumping their devices for this type of functionality, but it’s certainly more than the average fashion phone can lay claim to.
This particular device actually showed up as a very early prototype at Mobile World Congress back in February, but we were happy to see that the company had a more mature version ready to handle at CTIA. Besides the obvious aesthetic appeal of a slide-out keypad made of glass, the fact that it supports multi-touch and can be programmed to recognize gestures as application shortcuts makes it practical as well. Sadly, CTIA might be the most the U.S. sees of it, since it’s currently destined for Europe and Asia.
No, we didn’t get to touch it, but Palm’s Pre still makes an obvious choice on the list of major devices that dominated this show, despite not having been released here. Third party apps also look to be coming along nicely, as a demonstrations of Pandora and a (slightly less exciting) Nascar app prove. We just hope that the company is still on track for a “first half of 2009” release, and that this phone doesn’t turn out to be a well-guarded, well-hyped flop.
As we noted in our first impressions of it, we’re still not totally sold on the need for more GPS-based services packed into a smartphone, but we’re quite smitten with Garmin’s execution of the OS on this thing, so far. Not only is it snappy, it has some pretty nice graphics and an intuitive layout. And the hardware has a rugged GPS-inspired feel to it that we think will find fans among those who can’t stand the rather fragile bent of most other upcoming phones.
HTC Touch Pro2
HTC, you have redeemed yourself. Everything we didn’t like about the original Touch Pro has been rectified – and many other features improved – in HTC’s second time around with this design. In fact, if there were one phone short of the Palm Pre that we could have taken home and made our own, this would have been it. The version we played with wasn’t even running Windows Mobile 6.5 yet, meaning it might get even better by release time.
Sony Ericsson C905
We still have lingering doubts about whether tiny cell phone cameras can ever actually deliver the performance their huge megapixel counts allude to, but already-released C905 has our hopes up after seeing it in person. It has the form factor of a real camera, the lens cover of a real camera, the Xenon flash of a real camera, and the image sensor of, well, closer to a real camera. Sony-Ericsson also displayed some very impressive prints made from C905 shots that had us thinking this one might really cut it for casual photographers.
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