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Wireless firms show off new phones, laptops

The wireless industry's autumn expo shows off the latest cell phones,  laptops, palmtops and more. MSNBC's Gary Krakow reports from CTIA.
Nokia's 9300 tri-band smart phone is finally available in the U.S.
Nokia's 9300 tri-band smart phone is finally available in the U.S.Nokia

SAN FRANCISCO — Even before the wireless industry's autumn expo opened this year, Microsoft and Palm stole the show with their announcement of a jointly developed Treo smart phone.

It wasn't the only cool new smart phone announced at CTIA's Wireless I.T. and Entertainment 2005 show, but wireless these days also encompasses far more than just phones: smart laptops, high-speed networks, online games, mobile video and network infrastructure.

If it could be classified as wireless, it was on display at CTIA. Here are a few of the highlights.

Smart phones
Let's start with that Microsoft-Palm announcement, which came after weeks of rumors and had a feeling of being a bit rushed, with many details unclear. (MSNBC is a Microsoft - NBC joint venture.)

However, the details that were on offer made it clear that the new Treo, which in appearance is similar to the current Treo 650, will be a formidable device.

Up until now, Palm’s very popular Treo smart phones ran on Palm’s operating system.  But now that Palm, Inc. has sold the OS software division they’re free to experiment with another. They’ve chosen Microsoft’s Windows Mobile 5.0 platform — which offers Outlook Mobile, Office Mobile, Internet Explorer Mobile and, most important of all, direct access to corporate e-mail accounts via Exchange Server 2003.  Add to that a built-in wireless modem for Verizon’s high-speed EV-DO Broadband Access network — and you have quite a competitor.

Palm, Inc. has licensed the Microsoft Windows Mobile operating system for a new line of Treo smartphones, the first of which will be available on Verizon Wireless' national wireless broadband network. The new Treo smartphone joins Palm's award-winning family of Treo smartphones, which includes the Treo 600 and Treo 650. (Photo: Business Wire)PALM

Palm and Microsoft have done a lot of work melding the two products. They’ve added features such as the ability to contact someone quickly from the Today (home) screen, including dialing someone by tapping their photo. You can decline a phone call by silently responding with a text message and you can quickly rewind, delete or fast-forward your way through your home, work or cell phone voice mail.

Everyone made it clear that this new smart phone would be in addition to the Palm OS-based Treos. Verizon Wireless expects to continue to sell Treo 600s and 650s. We were told to expect that the new Treo would be a little more expensive to buy because of the addition of the EV-DO modem circuitry. But no one discussed how much it will cost to run the new device or whether there will be discount packages offered. Currently, EV-DO modem card service for PCs costs $60 a month.

Palm wasn’t the only company to announce a Windows Mobile smart phone. Motorola announced the i930 — the first smart phone to work on Nextel’s iDEN wireless network.

The i930 is not only a phone and a PDA combined but it also has Nextel’s push-to-talk walkie-talkie feature. Most interesting of all is that the i930 is a world phone that provides voice and data services on the 900, 1800 and 1900 MHz GSM bands in addition to working on Nextel’s iDEN 800 and 900 MHz frequencies. The i930 will have a suggested retail price of $499.99.

Not to be left out, Nokia announced the availability of their 9300 smart phone here in the United States. The 9300 is an elongated clamshell handset with a nice color screen and keypad on the outside and a longer color display plus full QWERTY keyboard inside. It is a direct descendant of the similarly shaped 9000 series (the size, shape and weight of your foot) and the 9500 (less than half the size of a 9000).

The 9300 is a GSM/GPRS/EDGE tri-band world phone that can handle all sorts of phone calls, messaging (instant and otherwise)along with data. And it’s the smallest 9000 series device ever: 5.2 by 2 by 0.8 inches and weighing in at less than 6 ounces. Battery life is said to be as much as 7 hours for talking and up to 8 days on standby.

The phone runs on the Symbian 7.0 (series 80) operating platform, itself a descendant of the former Psion PDA OS, and gives you several options for handling e-mail, most notably RIM's popular BlackBerry software. Other software included are a Real Audio/Video player, voice recording, organizer (calendar, contacts and tasks) along with office applications (Microsoft Office compatible documents, spread sheets and presentations). The Nokia 9300 is being distributed by Cingular in the U.S., with a suggested retail price of $299.

Hey, remember PDAs? Hewlett-Packard was showing off a couple new ones at the show. The iPAQ rx1950 series weighs only 4.4 ounces and sports integrated Wi-Fi, up to 33MB of usable memory and a Secure Digital memory slot. It runs on Microsoft’s brand new Windows Mobile 5.0 operating system. The slightly larger iPAQ hx2000 series has been updated to run on Windows Mobile 5.0, and sports both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth as well as Compact Flash and Secure Digital memory dual expansion slots.

Two cell phone software announcements were also of interest. The television via cell phone experts at MobiTV launched version 2.0 of their multimedia software platform, which combines live TV broadcasts with 50 channels of ad-free music and gives subscribers the ability to view premium and per-per-view channels just like standard cable operators. There are also TV Guide-style programming listings. Don’t forget, this is still all over a cell phone.

And for those moments when you don't understand a word your teenager is saying, the Hip Hoptionary is here for you. It’s a living mobile dictionary that mobile data subscribers can use to instantly find the meaning of the latest hip-hop slang. If you don’t know what ‘fo-shizzle’ or ‘holla’ really means or the difference between phat and fat or def and deaf then UIEvolution’s application is destined for your cell phone.

Laptops, etc.
One of the best features of the new Palm-Microsoft Treo phone announced by Palm and Microsoft is its ability to use Verizon’s high-speed EV-DO wireless broadband network. Verizon's network is attracting a lot of attention beyond cell phones, as well.

In the past week, Hewlett-Packard and Dell have both announced they’ll be including built-in EV-DO modems in future laptop offerings beginning next year. But you don't have to wait until then.

The ThinkPad Z series laptops from Lenovo (formerly IBM) are now available with built-in EV-DO modems. I have been trying out a new Z60t model and brought it with me here to CTIA. It’s pretty terrific even without the built-in modem. With it, it's pretty much unbeatable.

This is a big, small computer.  It has a 16:9 widescreen display (14-inches diagonally), a built-in optical drive (CD/RW + DVD-ROM), a 1.8 GHz Intel Pentium M processor, 512 MB of memory, a fingerprint security system, WiFi and EV-DO connectivity and so much more.  All this is crammed into an enclosure that’s 1.1 inches thick and weighs 4.4 pounds. Optional batteries extend battery life up to 5 1/2 hours.

Not a fan of the black ThinkPad styling? No problem. Lenovo's offering a new titanium special edition cover. Z60t prices start at $1,099.

My favorite ultra-portable, ultra-personal computer was unveiled one year ago at last year’s CTIA confab. This year, the people at OQO unveiled an updated version of their pocket-ready computer.

The new model 01+ has more memory (now 512 MB), more storage (30GB hard drive), better connectivity (USB 2.0 port), an improved pen-based digitizer, a universal power supply with a car/auto adapter, and most important of all, a built-in speaker. There are even a number of case design options, such as metal or leather.

OQO is still the only pocket-sized laptop on the market, it’s still only 14 ounces and it’s still very cool to use. It's still not cheap, either: The new model will sell for $1,899.

Wireless printer
H-P announced its new Deskjet 460 mobile printer, which it says is the first portable printer to feature Wi-Fi technology for wireless printing. The printer can run on AC power or rechargeable batteries.

For $250 you get the basic printer. The rechargeable battery is extra. So are the plug-in Wi-Fi or Bluetooth wireless cards. I saw the Deskjet 460 in action, printing documents from an iPAQ PDA. All I can say is, WOW! The 460 looks like a must for first adopter road warriors.

The fall CTIA show is called Wireless I.T. and Entertainment 2005 so, as you might expect, there were a lot of announcements concerning downloading music, video and games into wireless devices. One of the more interesting schemes comes from the memory people at SanDisk. They’re not talking about wireless, but secure distribution onto cell phones and laptops.

Getting gruvi
SanDisk has introduced what they call ‘gruvi’ — the first removable flash memory card of its type to be sold with premium music content.

In November, the first gruvi card will be released. It will offer a compressed version of the Rolling Stones’ new album, "A Bigger Bang." The media involved here is a TransFlash (soon to be called microSD) memory card the size of your smallest fingernail. It plays in any device with a TransFlash memory slot and comes with an SD card-sized adapter for others.

It’s the first music release to use SanDisk’s new TrustedFlash technology which allows content providers to lock the content to the card. That means consumers will be allowed to play the card on any device they own that can use the card. According to SanDisk that’s in contrast to closed, proprietary systems that restrict content to a single device.

The gruvi music card includes the album in the WMA format along with bonus content offered exclusively in this format. This new version of "A Bigger Bang" will have a suggested retail price of $39.95 at select retailers, which compares with around $13-$14 for the CD on its own and $30 for a blank 128MB TransFlash card.