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CES, the Consumer Electronic Show, is the biggest tech show on the planet and the cell phone is the most popular tech product in the world. So it is not surprising that cell phones played a prominent role at CES this year. With the wild popularity of the iPhone, many companies are focused on developing the iPhone killer. So we found many new phones with touch screens, additional applications, and Internet connectivity like the iPhone. However, we also found several unique phones that have their own distinctive personalities. Here is a look at what we found.

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There are already many iPhone-like touch-screen cell phones from companies like Samsung available, but now the search for the iPhone killer is really underway. T-Mobils’e G1 (we have already reviewed it here), which is affectionately called the Google phone, was the first, but CES is showing us previews of many more to come.Nokia N97

Although it was officially announced at the Nokia World 2008 Conference in Barcelona last month, Nokia’s N97, shown in Figure 1, took a prominent place at CES 2009. The N97 uses the 5th edition of the Symbian operating system. When you slide the screen up, it tilts up at a great angle for effective viewing of the screen. Although it is not the first sliding phone with a tilting screen, it is Nokia’s first rendition of this feature and it is very well done. The N97 also has an excellent keypad. The phone has a great look and feel and runs faster than many others we’ve seen.

Nokia N97Figure 1: The Nokia N97.

Some of the new features of the N97 include a resistive touch screen that can be used wearing gloves, and the ability to display widescreen videos in the true 16 x 9 format. The phone sports a 5-megapixel camera phone with a Carl Zeiss lens and a built-in flash. This smartphone will also provide easy access to social-networking sites and a Web browser that supports streaming Flash videos.

The GPS sensors are bolstered with an electronic compass. We envisioned ourselves using it to immediately know which way to go when we emerged from the Metro when navigating unfamiliar large cities.

The N97 will be available in Europe in mid ’09 and in the US shorting after that.

BlackBerry Storm

The Storm is one of the few new phones that was actually released previous to CES, but it is the newest BlackBerry and it took center stage at CES. The Storm, shown in Figure 2, has an innovative touch screen that kind of clicks when you press it. This is quite useful for many functions, but really gives you a weird feeling when typing and will take some getting used to.

BlackBerry StormFigure 2: The BlackBerry Storm.

The BlackBerry operating system makes this another great corporate phone with push email for up to ten accounts. As usual, BlackBerry does a great job with this new phone.

The Palm Pre

This phone that was just announced at CES may well be our choice for having the most potential as an iPhone killer. Palm, which is making their last ditch effort at a new operating system, has announced not only the hardware, but also their new Palm Web OS operating system.

The Palm Pre, shown in Figure 3, has a resistive touch screen that is very responsive. It also has GPS, Wi-Fi and a slide out full keyboard. You may remember that Palm was a pioneer of the touch screen with the Treo and it has taken full advantage of its touch screen knowledge to create a responsive multi-touch touch screen that supports gestures like those used in the iPhone.

Palm PreFigure 3: The Palm Pre.

At first glance the phone looks ultimately useful with features that will appeal to corporate BlackBerry users as well as personal iPhone user. Palm has announced that the Pre will be available through Sprint in the 1st half of 2009. That is the only potential drawback that we see for the Pre. It is doubtful if Sprint can make it widely available enough to get out into the marketplace. But if Palm can make some quick associations with other carriers, the Pre may well be the one to watch.

[nextpage title=”Other Interesting New Phones”]The Cell Phone WatchLG announced a wristwatch cell phone that is both full-featured and good-looking. The square-faced 1.4” touchscreen watch is not overpowering for a man and fits right into the over-sized watch craze that is currently popular for women. It plays music, supports 3G networking, and has voice recognition, a speaker phone and Bluetooth wireless connectivity. It will definitely make you think of Dick Tracy, Maxwell Smart, and/or 007. No release date or carrier was announced, but when it gets here we will all be “watching” to see if it catches on.The Recycled Cell PhoneThe newly announced Motorola Renew is truly a green phone…both in color and in its commitment to the environment. The Renew’s plastic shell is made of recycled bottles and is 100% recyclable. It will be available in the first quarter of 2009 through T-Mobile. The phone will even come in recycled packaging and include a pre-paid envelope that purchasers can use to recycle their old mobile phone. The Renew will not be included in the iPhone killer list. It has no camera or Wi-Fi, yet it is a cell phone that is truly environmental-friendly.The Simplistic Cell PhoneNot all cell phone are equipped with a multitude of advanced features as shown by the new Doro HandleEasy 330 and 326i cell phones. Doro is a 35-year old Swedish company who is known for incorporating the latest technologies while maintaining simplicity of design and functionality.

While these phones are aimed primarily at baby boomers and active seniors, they are not as senior-oriented as the Jitterbug phone. Anyone who wants a simple phone with large keys and ease-of-use will appreciate the Doro phones. The Phone/CameraWhile we are seeing many cell phones with cameras, Kodak and Motorola have announced a unique device that seems to be half cell phone and half camera. The Motorola Motozine ZN5 camera phone shown in Figure 4, boasts a 5-megapixel camera with impressive features and camera controls. The candy-bar shaped device looks like a cell phone on one side and a camera on the other. This may be one phone that you will feel comfortable to take along when you will need a camera, but don’t want to drag along two pieces of equipment. As you might expect from Kodak, it has many more camera features than the usual cell phone. You might expect a device like this to be bulky, but the Motozine is surprisingly svelte and comfortable.

Motorola Motozine ZN5.Figure 4: Motorola Motozine ZN5.

[nextpage title=”Summary”]This year, when you are shopping for a smart phone you will have a wider choice of operating systems, including the new Android and Palm Web OS. We were surprised to see that no other Android cell phones were released at CES, but they are sure to follow and are also sure to be interesting.Touch screen technology is everywhere, but many phones are also including keypads. The new cell phones have a multitude of enhancements including improvements to their cameras. LG has a cell phone with Dolby stereo. Motorola has announced an extremely rugged phone called the Tundra. Several manufacturers have announced dual microphones that can be used for clarity in noisy environments. Doro is offering simplicity with minimal features while other companies are piling on the features and functions. This year the variety is large and there is truly a cell phone for everyone.