Smartphones, Cell Phones and Other Stuff [2010 Cool Yule Tools]

Smartphones are dominating the mobile market, so it’s no surprise to see a lot of different types of smartphones, whether it’s the iPhone or Android-based devices. Still, there are some other cell phones out there that don’t necessarily need to cost $300 in order to get cool features. In addition, we all need accessories, so we compiled a list of battery packs, cases and other fun things we saw in the cell phone space this season.

Products reviewed in this category:

  • Samsung Fascinate (Android smartphone)
  • Sony Ericcson Vivaz phone (camera/camcorder/phone)
  • Sprint Samsung Intercept cell phone
  • Sprint Samsung Epic 4G smartphone
  • Sprint LG Remarq cell phone
  • Sprint LG Lotus Elite cell phone
  • Mophie Juice Pack Reserve and Mophie Juice Pack Boost
  • Zagg - Portable battery backup and charger
  • Sunlinq Portable USB Solar Charger
  • Callpod FuelTank Uno - rechargeable pack for multi-devices
  • Kensington Charge & Sync Dock
  • MoGo Talk XD (iPhone 4 case plus Bluetooth headset)
  • Case-mate I.D. case (iPhone 4 case with credit-card sleeves)
  • Moshi Moshi - mobile phone handset base
  • Double U W Phone Watch
  • Powermat Complete Wireless Charging System for iPhone 4
  • Kensington Pocket Battery for Smart Phones

Fascinate smartphone, by Samsung and Verizon WirelessCell phones always involve a high degree of personal preference, but I think even the most die-hard iPhone fan is going to be very, very happy with the Samsung Fascinate, the member of the Galaxy S class of handsets available from Verizon Wireless. Sure, the iPhone broke a new trail and set a new standard, but many objected to the high prices of both the phone and the carrier’s service, the closed-system nature of apps in Apple’s world, and assorted other limitations. Android, upon which the Samsung Fascinate and many other smartphones are based, arrived on the scene with great promise, and great hype. So – can this pretender to the iPhone throne really be any good?

Why, yes, thank you for asking, it can. I like this phone so much I bought one for myself (an early holiday present; it’s been a tough year and I deserve it), and I couldn’t be happier. First, the form factor – it’s kind of big, but not too large for the front pocket of your jeans. There’s only an on-screen keyboard, so it’s very flat but still easy to hold. And that screen! It’s a four-inch, 480x800 OLED that’s bright and clear, and, again, plenty big for any mobile task. The browser is terrific, and very easy to use with great HTML support and simple, effective ergonomics. There’s haptic feedback from the soft keyboard if you’d like, and I’ve found my typing to be quite accurate. There’s also Swype typing if you want it, for even faster text input.

All the usual telephone functions are included, and this handset in fact sounds remarkably good on both ends. The camera, at a mere five megapixels, isn’t the highest resolution available, but it’s plenty for most applications. There’s also 720p video recording, Bluetooth 3.0, and 802.11n Wi-Fi. It’s got 2GB of memory built-in, plus it comes with a 16 GB MicroSD card and you can go up to 32 GB here if you’d like.

You’ve got full access to the Android Market for apps, but it comes with plenty, including GPS via VZ Navigator, ThinkFree Office for handling MS Office files, Skype Mobile, and lots more. Everything is highly customizable, and remarkably easy to use. I’m upgrading from Windows Mobile 6.1, so it’s really night and day – Android on the Fascinate is fast, intuitive, and robust. It would be hard to imagine that this phone couldn’t fill all of the mobile needs of even the most mobile-intensive lifestyle – like mine, for example. I’d put this on my holiday list, but, again, I’ve already got one. And I bet you’ll want one, too.

Cool Yule rating: 5 starsPrice: $199 (after $100 rebate and 2-year agreement, plus service plan)Company Web site  Reviewed by C. J. Mathias

Sony-Ericsson Vivaz handset, with AT&T serviceOK, maybe you’ve got someone on your list for whom an iPhone or Android phone would be overkill, someone who needs a small-form-factor GSM handset but with all of the common bells and whistles and maybe a few extras, and at a price well below the $200 of today’s smartphones.

If that’s the case, the Sony Ericsson Vivaz will have a lot of appeal. This compact (3.2-inch display, with 360x460 resolution) Symbian-based smartphone has all the modern conveniences: an 8.1 megapixel camera, music player, 802.11g wireless, FM radio, POP and IMAP e-mail, a surprisingly good browser (but keep in mind the limited screen real-estate here), all the usual social-network support, GPS, Vlingo voice to text and voice command, and it’s a quad-band world phone to boot. Those are a lot of functions at a low price, and its small form factor does fit more conveniently in a packet than today’s larger smartphones.

But the small size comes with some drawbacks. Apart from less display context, the on-screen keyboard is really tiny, and it’s not easy to type with any speed or precision. The screen also isn’t as bright as many I’ve used, but it should meet the needs of casual users without too much trouble. In fact, at around $80, it’s really quite a bargain.

So, if you’re an AT&T customer, the Sony Ericsson Vivaz might be a great primary (or given the typical Network World audience, secondary) handset. The range of function is impressive, and, if you’re not too Web-centric, the small size might in fact be a big plus.

Cool Yule rating: 4 starsPrice: $79.99 after $50.00 online discountCompany Web site  Reviewed by C. J. Mathias

Samsung Mobile Epic 4G, with Sprint ServiceIt’s hard to keep track of all the different Samsung Galaxy S phones, and since all of them are Android-based phones, sometimes you think that every one is just like the other. But the Epic 4G does stand a little bit above the crowd of Android smartphones.

The Epic 4G sports a super-fast 1GHz Hummingbird processor, runs the Android 2.1 OS, connects to Sprint's 3G and 4G (WiMAX) network, has a 4-inch touch-screen display, Wi-Fi connection options, 5 megapixel digital camera, and a keyboard that slides out from under the phone allowing for better text messaging options.

The phone can also access the Android Market, which offers more than 65,000 apps to fit your mobile smartphone needs. In addition, you get all those great Google apps like Gmail, YouTube, Google Maps, Search and more.

Sprint is marketing this as a multimedia phone, something that can watch movies, especially with the inclusion ofthe Samsung Media Hub application. In addition, the camera also shoots 720p video, and you can store the photos and movies you shoot on its 16GB memory card, or up to 32GB.

If you are a fan of the Sprint network (especially if you’re in the 4G coverage area) and like the convenience of typing on a keyboard instead of the screen, and want the convenience of the open-source Android Market, then the Epic 4G will make you feel like you have it all (even better if you’re not a fan of the iPhone).

Cool Yule rating: 4.5 starsPrice: $250 (after $100 rebate, plus monthly service)Company Web siteReviewed by Keith Shaw~~

Samsung Intercept by SprintThe more time I spent with the Samsung phone, the less I liked it. When I first started, I was loving the rock-star princess design on the phone. The phone part works really well, the sound is very clear. I’m also a big fan of phones, including this one, that have both a touchscreen and a slide-out keyboard.

The reason I don’t like the phone has more to do with the apps rather than the phone itself. First, the e-mail function isn’t very useful. The phone was always a few hours behind in receiving e-mail. If I tried to force it to find new e-mail, it would search for so many minutes that I would get bored, close the app, and do something else. The same goes for the Facebook application.

Additionally, I couldn’t figure out how to move apps to the home screen, and the instruction manual didn’t help. The phone comes loaded with a bunch of apps that I couldn’t move or get rid of as well, including Sprint End Zone, Sprint Nascar, Sprint TV and more.

In terms of the phone’s particulars, it’s an Android phone so it’s hooked into the Android Market for apps as well as using Google as a platform. It has a 3.2 Megapixel camera and video recorder.

Cool Yule rating: 2.5 starsPrice: $349.99 ($99.99 after Sprint discounts and specials)Company Web siteReviewed by Jen Finn

LG Remarq cell phone, with Sprint servicePeople concerned with helping the environment will take ease knowing that the LG Remarq has been designed partially (19.7%) with recycled plastic and packaging. Other features of the phone include a slide-out QWERTY keyboard for messaging apps, the ability to play music, a Web browser, digital camera, Bluetooth wireless for hands-free talking, voice-activated dialing and a memory card slot for storing music and other files.

It’s definitely not a smart phone, but it also doesn’t have a smartphone price. It’s very small, when the keyboard is closed it looks like a square. It’s got enough features to make most people happy without needing the other expense of owning a smart phone as well.

Cool Yule rating: 4 starsPrice: Free online with Web specials, otherwise about $50, plus 2-year agreement and service.Company Web siteReviewed by Keith Shaw

LG Lotus Elite cell phone, with Sprint serviceAnother non-smartphone cell phone, the Lotus Elite is aimed to be a fashionable phone – at first glance it looks like a square, but the very red phone opens up to reveal a more vertical clamshell-like phone. 

The phone has an external touch-screen that lets you quickly view your emails text messages. Other features include a 2-megapixel digital camera, and support for directly uploading videos to YouTube, as well as photos to Facebook, MySpace and Photobucket. Like most cell phones these days, the Lotus Elite is GPS-enabled, has Bluetooth wireless, a memory card slot, and supports voice-activated dialing. This would be a great phone for your fashion-conscious teen-ager who wants cool features but not a smart phone.

Cool Yule rating: 4 starsPrice: $30 with online rebates and agreements and service.Company Web siteReviewed by Keith Shaw~~

PhoneWatch W Wrist Cellular Phone, by Kempler & StraussOK, let’s start with a trite reference to the legendary Dick Tracy two-way wrist radio. That’s the idea here - a multi-function cellular phone designed to be worn on the wrist. OK, it’s a little big for a watch and a little small to have much in the way of room for information display, but it’s a clever and possibly fun gift that will provide hours of amusement for geeks everywhere.

Sure, it’s a quad-band GSM phone – just pop in a SIM (under the battery, which forms that back of the case) and off you go. There are all of the usual cellphone functions, including a dialing directory, a still and video camera, Bluetooth (a little Bluetooth remote control is included), and a media player,. The 1.5-inch touch screen provides a GUI, and, yes, the screen looks like a watch when not making calls, and can be customized in a number of ways. There’s an ominous warning in the User’s Manual about not letting the device come in contact with the user’s skin while in operation, but we ignored that and suffered, as near as I can tell, no ill effects. The unit is unlocked; all you need is a SIM and off you go.

OK, it’s clever and cute, but is it useful? No, IMHO, at least not as a primary phone. It’s a conversation piece to be sure, but it takes a lot of effort to both gain familiarity and to be productive. The touch screen isn’t horribly accurate when used with a finger, although using a stylus is a possibility. And use with a Bluetooth headset is essential. Overall – this can be a nice gift for those who appreciate such items, but in the end it’s not really very practical.

Cool Yule rating: 2 starsPrice: $200Company Web siteReviewed by C. J. Mathias

Wireless Charging System for iPhone 4, by PowermatI’m a big fan of Powermat’s wireless charging systems, which let you get additional battery “juice” for your portable devices without needing to carry around additional charging cables or cords. The Powermat docks have a unique beeping sound when connected and charging begins, and they recharge devices pretty quickly.

One of the downside of the older systems, though was the size of the protective case that held the charging functionality, especially for the iPhone. The case made an already heavy device that much heavier, so I was pleasantly surprised when the case for the new iPhone 4 came out, and it’s much, much lighter. The hard plastic case gives you some protection for the phone as well.

This combination pack gives you the protective case and a charging mat, which allows the case to recharge snugly. The case will also work well with Powermat’s older charging mats, so I was able to keep one mat at work (the newer one), and then charge off my older mat at home (it was a multiple-mat unit).

The company keeps offering new versions and cases/covers for the most popular devices out there, if you don’t have an iPhone they probably have a cover/adapter that will work with your device.

Cool Yule rating: 4.5 starsPrice: $60Company Web site Reviewed by Keith Shaw

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