It was only a matter of time. Modern cell phones can make and receive phone calls, e-mail, text messages, photographs and videos. And many can store and play music files. Small, pocketable handsets are replacing computers for many tasks.
But, the next real breakthrough will be television that you watch on your phone. It won’t replace the flat-screen HDTV in your living room — but viewing videos on a small handset is no longer comic book fantasy.
Here at the CTIA convention, Verizon is showing a number of phones that can connect to a service that will let you watch television on your mobile phone. The service was actually announced several weeks ago, but this has been the first opportunity for folks to really check it out — and the phones it will work with.
Verizon calls its system V CAST Mobile TV, and it is currently available in two dozen cities across the country. Many companies are working on similar systems, but Verizon is first out of the gate. Currently, the service features a maximum of eight available TV channels: CBS Mobile, Comedy Central, ESPN, Fox Mobile, MTV, NBC 2 Go, NBC News 2 Go and Nickelodeon.
Of course, the phone in your pocket will not likely run V CAST — unless you own one of the two new very nifty-looking CDMA phones being touted at the show. The Samsung SCH-u620 looks like a normal candy bar-shaped handset until you notice the extended TV antenna coming from the side. The phone sports all the bells and whistles you’d expect from a 2007 wireless device including a 1.3 megapixel camera, Bluetooth stereo headset compatibility, micro-SD expansion slot along with all the V CAST services — including the mobile TV service.
V CAST will also work on LG's VX9400 handset. This device also resembles a candy bar — until you realize that you can rotate the screen into a horizontal position for more “normal” TV viewing.
The LG phone has virtually the same features as the Samsung model but is slightly larger, which means it has a bigger battery. Bigger battery, more talk and viewing time.
The Samsung costs $149.99 and the LG $199.99 (both after $50 rebates) when purchased with a service contract.
As for Verizon’s video service costs, there are three packages to choose from: the Limited (Fox, NBC, NBC News and CBS channels only) for $13 per month; all eight channels in a basic package for $15 monthly; or all eight channels plus access to Verizon's V PACK service with full access to video clips, Web 2.0 service, unlimited video airtime and email for $25 per month. Remember, that’s in addition to what you normally pay for your monthly mobile phone service.
Now for something completely different
Helio is selling a double- jointed cell phone. I'm not kidding. Their new Ocean model is a CDMA handset that slides open vertically to provide users with a dial pad on the bottom. It can also slide open horizontally to let you access a full QWERTY keyboard. It is very, very cool.
The Ocean handles all this opening and closing action in a 4.3 by 2.2 by 0.86 inch, 5.6 ounce package. And it sports all the usual stuff inside: 2 megapixel camera, MP3, AAC, WMA, MPEG-4, and H.254. VOD and MOD capabilities, stereo Bluetooth, AOL, Yahoo, MSN, Gmail, EarthLink and Helio mail clients and lots more.
The Ocean is a 3G CDMA handset and Helio will be selling both the phone and the calling services. Also interesting: Ocean will automatically and seamlessly switch between Verizon or Sprint’s EV-DO network services — whichever one is stronger. A very neat feature.
Ocean should be available this spring, on Helio’s Web site, for $295. Helio’s all-in-one monthly service prices currently run $65 to $135 for 500-to-2500 minutes of talk time.
Voicemail for your eyes
Sometimes I've found that having to stop and retrieve voice mail takes way too much time and effort. If you've ever wished for a better way to avoid that chore, you're in luck: A number of companies are showing off their solutions for getting your voice mail without having to listen to your messages.
CallWave has a service they call Visual Voicemail which allows you to see, sort, listen and respond to phone messages right from your e-mail inbox. CallWave sells this service (and others) to cell phone providers (Hawaii Telecom, for example) who in turn offer these features to their customers.
There’s also SimulScribe, a separate voicemail-to-text subscription service. You can get your voicemail via text messages, e-mail or on the company's Web site. SimulScribe charges $9.95 per month to handle up to 40 messages — and 25 cents for each additional message. SimulScribe is offering free trials for users that want to try before they buy.