iPhone, SchmyPhone: Five wicked cool cells

I've just returned home from a whirlwind week at the Mobile World Congress, seeing the best the mobile market has to offer. Aside from windmill-powered cell towers and eco-friendly phones, the most interesting thing I saw at the show wasn't actually at the show: It was the iPhone - or rather, the influence that little dingus has had on the cell phone world.

The show floor at La Fira Barcelona was full of phones inspired by Apple's groundbreaking interface. Nearly all the major handset makers featured multi-touch interfaces chock full of wacky widgets and finger-flicking goodness. In fact, it was kind of hard to avoid all the GTS (groovy touchscreen stuff).

The other key trend: Cameras and media players used to be nice extras on a cell phones, but they'd never replace the real McCoy. That's changing. The latest batch of small wonders let you snap pix, groove to tunes and capture videos without making sacrifices, especially if you add gigs of Micro SD storage.

Here are five memorable mobiles I saw at the show:

Samsung Memoir: It used to be cool simply that your cell phone had a built-in camera, even if the camera sucked. Not anymore. Samsung's new Memoir SGH-T929 is more like an 8-megapixel camera with a phone attached. Shutterbugs can geotag images using the phone's GPS and post pix directly to Flickr, Photobucket, Snapfish, and the Kodak Gallery. A TouchWiz interface offers plenty of GTS, with widgets you open by flicking them around the screen with your fingers. It will be available from T-Mobile later this month for $250 with a two-year plan. It's even endorsed by former Vicky Secrets model and photographer Helena Christensen -- how can you argue with that?

Samsung's OmniaHD is a similarly slick looking 8-megapixel camera phone that can record hi-def 720p video. It's slated to ship in Q2, but no carriers or supermodel endorsements have been announced yet.

LG Arena KM900: This handset features LG's "S-class" interface - a spinning-whirling-stretching display that gave me vertigo just looking at it. You can flick through its various widgets on a traditional two-dimensional menu or a 3D cube. It plays DVD-quality video on its 480-by-800 screen, has a built-in graphics equalizer and can output in Dolby Mobile sound. It also broadcasts via FM, so you can beam music from it to your car stereo. The Arena will be available in Europe next month, South America in April. When will it come to the US and what will it cost? Your guess is as good as mine.

Asus Garmin NuviPhone: GPS unit or cell phone? Dessert topping or floor wax? This is easily the slickest cell phone/GPS combo I've seen. (Not that there's a lot of competition for that crown.) It's as full featured as most car or portable GPS units, and yes, it too has GTS and widgets in spades. There are two models: the G60 sports a 3.5-inch touchscreen with a Linux-based OS and is due out in Q2; the newer M20 is a WinMo smartphone with a 2.8-inch screen, due out in Q3. No carriers or pricing yet. Don't get lost without one.

Sony Ericsson "Idou": Still just a concept (and let's hope the 'Idou' - as in "I do" - moniker isn't long for this world), this one features a 12-megapixel camera, a full-fledged media player, a 3.5-inch screen with a 16:9 aspect ratio, and Sony Ericsson's first implementation of the Symbian touch interface. Availability is slated for the second half of the year, but without a final name, carrier, or pricing, it's impressive but highly vaporous.

Can any of these topple the iPhone? Hell no. But they may well replace whatever boring old phone you use now. And none of them would be here - or at least be nearly as slick - if the Jesus phone hadn't been such a huge success.

Dan Tynan is going to sleep for 48 hours now. When he wakes up he'll continue to tend his blogs at Culture Crash and Tynan on Tech.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

7 inconvenient truths about the hybrid work trend
Shop Tech Products at Amazon