Hands on with 3GSM's hottest mobiles
First look at Nokia's web phone, SE's new Walkman handset and LG's TV mobile
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Ok, so you've read the latest news on the technology and flicked through the new phone’s specifications, but what are they actually like. Here’s our verdict on three of 3GSM’s most important handsets.
Sony Ericsson W950
Hang on a minute, haven’t we seen this phone before? Yep, the latest Walkman handset from Sony Ericsson, the W950, is in fact a re-dress of the M600smartphone SE unveiled last week. There are a few differences between the two, which we’ll get to in a minute, but the chassis is pretty much identical. The big story here is that the phone has four Gigabytes of flash memory storage built in. This means users can stock up the handset with MP3, AAC and the phone friendly AAC+ format. SE also claims it is the first handset that will display cover art. Apparently, if Gracenote grabs the artwork it pops up on the handset's lovely screen. The phone sounds excellent too, far superior to the first generation of Walkman phones, which were a little disappointing. SE is to ship the phone with standard earphones, but users can buy an A2DP Bluetooth system for wireless streaming. Also on board are a shed load of smartphone facilities and our favourite new feature for 2006: an RSS reader.
Just like the M600, the phone is also very light and thin and is operated using either a menu interface controlled by a jog wheel or via touch. The bad part is that the 950 is missing a few facilities. Firstly, there's no storage card slot – so four Gigs is your lot. Bizarrely for a funky consumer phone, the model doesn’t include a camera. SE has also ditched the QWERTY keyboard of the M600 and offered standard slightly iffy keys. SE is also sticking with its existing, and not especially intuitive software, though the connection between the phone and PC is now USB 2.0 which makes loading it up with tracks much faster. Overall, this is a classy looking phone and it is sure to tempt music lovers, however it doesn’t launch until Q3, so even though that four Gig storage looks pretty good now, by then phones with 10 Gigs (Samsung has one on the cards apparently), could be available. It certainly isn't an iPod killer, but at the moment it is far and away the most desirable music phone we have seen so far.
Nokia's first phone to feature UMA support, which means it can seamlessly move between 3G and Wi-Fi connections without dropping a call, is a bit of a curious one. You would have thought Nokia would have pulled out all the stops and offered a high-end Series 60 phone for us techies. But, nope, the 6136 is a lower-end Series 40 model aimed at more causal users. The underlying technology is great, especially given the announcement by Rabbit yesterday that it is to offer a two cents call via Wi-Fi to anywhere in the world. There are also whispers of a Nokia deal with Skype,which will probably go down like a lead balloon with the networks.
The phone itself is a bit of an oddity though. It is a ok clamshell with a quality OLED screen on its facia. Flip it open and there are huge buttons which should make texting and sending emails at a brisk pace fairly simple. Everything else is fairly basic stuff with the handset offering the usual mid-range phone niceties, but nothing to excite the techies. I really can't see why Nokia's first UMA phone wasn’t a top-end model. After all, a decent smartphone that can easily toggle between 3G and Wi-Fi would be a superb addition to its product range. Maybe Nokia is protecting its own interests and ensuring it keeps space free for its 770 web tablet and Communicators. But then maybe it is saving a UMA big gun for the upcoming CeBIT exhibition.
LG’s TV on the mobile phone
The big story at 3GSM is TV on mobiles, with everyone from manufacturers through to networks hoping to convince punters that going square eyed watching Corrie on the bus is a good thing. However, handsets specifically designed for mobile TV are still pretty thin on the ground. I popped over to the LG stand and had a look at its take on the TV phone – the V9000. LG is keeping its options open as the phone is available in a trio of different versions; as the V9000 with a T-DMB digital TV tuner built in for Germany and some other European countries, as the Media Flo mobile TV for the US and as the DVB-H (the format most fancied by Nokia), which surprisingly enough has a DVB-H decoder built in. At the moment, no one really knows which standard will win in which particular territories. You’d have thought that DVB-H was the best bet for the UK, but there are some sceptics who think we won’t see it until the great analogue TV shut off scheduled for 2012.
Nevertheless, no matter which TV format it uses, the LG whatever is a pretty nifty phone. It has superb quality 262K screen which cleverly flips into a T delivering a widescreen view. The quality of the images, which incidentally were taken from a video card and not live, were however very impressive. Personally, I prefer the laptop style TV form format of the Nokia N92, but the T route is it a very clever way of keeping the size of the handset down. Even so, the handset is a bit chunky, especially when compared with all the slim mobiles at the show, and this ultimately might limit its appeal. A version of the phone, quite possibly without a TV tuner, will go on sale in Europe in June. If any of the TV formats launches anywhere in Europe this year, LG says it will be ready and waiting.