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Multimedia Cell Phones Take Center Stage

Liane Cassavoy
Friday, January 12, 2007 01:00 AM PST

LAS VEGAS -- Remember the days when a cell phone did little more than make calls? Judging by the latest crop of handsets on display here at the Consumer Electronics Show--not to mention Apple's new iPhone--those days are long gone. New handsets do everything from playing music to capturing DVD-quality video to displaying live TV broadcasts. Here's a roundup of some of the more interesting cell phones and services at the show.
Let the Music Play

Phones that include music players are nothing new: Today, even the most basic handsets often include some sort of audio player. But many new phones are adding sophisticated music features that could rival those found in stand-alone digital audio players.

Samsung Ultra Music Phone
Samsung, for example, is billing its Ultra Music Phone as part MP3 player. The phone features a unique dual-sided design with the cell phone on one side, and the music player on the other. The device, which still manages to stay remarkably slim, houses a small LCD screen and keypad for making calls on the phone side; the other side features a larger LCD and dedicated music controls. The Ultra Music Phone plays both MP3 and WMA audio files. Looking at the music player side of the phone, you'd never know that the device was actually a phone--you could easily mistake it for an MP3 player. No word on carrier or pricing.

Nokia 5300 Xpress Music
Nokia, meanwhile, is showing off its 5300 Xpress Music phone, which the company says is its first mass-market music phone for the United States. While not saying which carrier will offer the phone (which had been announced late last year), Nokia says it will likely be available in February or March for about $100. Like the LG Fusic, which we reviewed last summer, the 5300 features a white case reminiscent of an iPod. The front of the slider-style phone has a large LCD, with dedicated music player controls on the left side of the handset and volume controls on the right. The 5300 comes with Nokia Music Manager software for syncing tunes to the handset (though you can also use your own jukebox software to transfer music) and supports most popular music file formats, including Windows DRM-protected songs. The phone will be bundled with a 1GB microSD card for storing songs, Nokia says.

Motorola MotoRizr Z6
Motorola also showed a phone that supports Windows DRM-protected songs, the MotoRizr Z6. In addition, Motorola unveiled what it is calling the "MotoMusic Experience," a platform that brings the company's previously announced alliances with Warner Music and Microsoft to fruition for consumers. The goal is to make it easy for people to transfer music from their PCs to their phones.

Like the Nokia 5300, the Rizr is a slider-style phone that features dedicated music controls, which sit directly below the screen. It also includes a microSD slot for adding storage. The quad-band GSM/GPRS/EDGE world phone is compatible with all Windows Media Player subscription music stores, so you can purchase music from a service such as Yahoo Music, and easily transfer it to your phone via Windows Media Player 11. A carrier and pricing for the phone have not yet been announced, but Motorola says it should be available within the next 3 to 6 months.

Sony Ericsson W200 Walkman
Sony Ericsson's Walkman line of cell phones has long impressed us with its music features. The new Sony Ericsson W200 Walkman GSM/GPRS phone boasts many of the same features as the W810, which at this writing tops our standard cell phone chart. The W200 features the same candy-bar design, but is noticeably thinner and more petite than the boxy W810. It also has similar dedicated music controls and a built-in FM radio tuner. The company is not saying when the W200 will be available or which carrier will offer it, but officials say they expect it to be an entry-level phone with a low price point.
Let the Video Play

While music phones are becoming almost commonplace, video phones are less ubiquitous. But new handsets shown at CES offer new ways to watch and capture video.

Nokia N93i
The Nokia N93i features one of the more impressive camcorders we've seen on a phone. The device, in fact, looks more like a camcorder than it does a phone. It's a slightly boxy clamshell-style phone that flips open and then twists, so that the screen sits perpendicular to the keypad. In this configuration, you can hold the phone just as you would a camcorder. The N93i can capture MPEG-4 VGA (640-by-480 resolution) video at 30 frames per second, and Nokia says it is designed to support direct video uploads to blogs or video-posting sites. Unfortunately, this GSM/GPRS/EDGE phone may never be offered--and therefore subsidized--by a U.S. carrier, but it will be available overseas.

Samsung Ultra Video Phone (player side)
Samsung's Ultra Video Phone, which features the same dual-sided design as the Ultra Music Phone, is more of a video playback device than a video capture device, but it features some unique features of its own.

Samsung Ultra Video Phone (phone side)
It's said to be the first cell phone that can play back DivX video, in addition to MPEG-4, H.264, WMV, and AVI files. The video player side of the phone features a 2.4-inch screen and a swiveling base that can be used to support the screen so you can view it while it's sitting on a desk or table.

LG VX9400 (closed)
Another option for viewing video--in this case, live TV broadcasts--is the new LG VX9400. The handset is one of the first to support Verizon's new V CAST Mobile TV service, which features live content from broadcast and cable TV stations on a cell phone.

LG VX9400 (open)
The VX9400 features a screen you can swivel to watch TV in landscape mode. The handset and the mobile TV service from Verizon are scheduled to be available in the first quarter of 2007.

Modeo smart phone
Verizon Wireless isn't the only company delivering live TV signals to cell phones. Earlier this week Modeo began beta testing its mobile TV service in New York. HTC, the manufacturer of the Modeo smart phone that is being used to test the service, showed the device here at CES. The service allows users to watch live TV from programmers such as Fox News and the Discovery Channel, but it is unclear when it will become more widely available.

Stay tuned for full reviews of these phones and services as they become available.

PC World

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