Who needs ultrabooks? Some of the coolest devices at this year's CES so far have come from our old friend the smartphone.
In this article I'll run through the four niftiest new smartphones I've seen at CES during the first day of the show, including one device that may not even be a smartphone (at least according to Samsung).
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1: The Nokia Lumia 710
I'll admit, I was a wee bit skeptical that Windows Phone devices could compete with the iPhone or Android. But after playing around a bit with the new Nokia Lumia 710, I can definitely see it happening.
One of the nice things about Microsoft's latest edition of the Windows Phone operating system is that it didn't simply copy the tried-and-true iPhone formula of having a home screen filled with several small icons of your favorite applications. Instead it has implemented a tile system where you can have a theoretical limitless number of apps on your home screen that you can access through scrolling down. In other words, you won't have to flip through different screens to get your apps since they'll all be available on the same screen. And in case you forget where you placed your apps, you can also do a right-to-left swipe to bring up all your apps in alphabetical order.
Another nifty Windows Phone feature is the "People Hub" application that lets you keep tabs on your friends through LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Windows Live and other big-name social networking services. This hub lets you chat with people wherever they happen to be at a given moment, so instead of simply shooting someone a text message and hoping they're near their phone, the People Hub informs you if they're on Facebook chat or other instant messaging services so you can contact them directly.
The key for the Lumia and other Windows Phone devices will be how well they integrate with Windows 8, which will also feature a start page that utilizes Windows Phone's app tile format. Microsoft will also encourage app development for both Windows PCs and tablets through its Windows Store feature that will give developers an outlet to sell their apps along the lines of Apple's App Store and Google's Android Market. The bottom line: If Microsoft can make its mobile devices an integral part of the Windows experience instead of just a sideshow, it could be in good position to be a solid competitor with iPhone and Android.
2: The Samsung Galaxy Note
The Galaxy Note can be classified as either a large smartphone or a small tablet with voice capabilities. Either way, it's a pretty nice little innovation from Samsung that will further blur the distinction between the two dominant mobile device types.
So, some basics about the Note: It will be coming out on AT&T in the near future, it currently runs on Android 2.3 ("Gingerbread") but will get an upgrade to Android 4.0 ("Ice Cream Sandwich") in the coming months, it's got a 1.4GHz dual-core processor and a 5.3-inch HD Super AMOLED screen.
But what makes it cool is the way Samsung has included an electronic "S Pen" to make the Note the first tablet you can really write on. So let's say you're a teacher whose student sent you his English paper through email. Instead of printing the paper out and using your red marker to point out all the times he misspelled "Shakespeare," you can point out his errors right on your tablet screen and then send it back to him. The pen is also pressure-sensitive and has 256 levels of pressure that let you do some pretty detailed sketches and doodles on your Galaxy Note.
This is the type of device that could be ideal for business users who want a smartphone that they feel comfortable doing work on. I can't wait to see what it looks like once it gets the Ice Cream Sandwich upgrade.
3: The Sony Xperia S
As much as we all love Angry Birds and Fruit Ninja, we do occasionally long for mobile games that are slightly more on the complex side. Enter the Sony Xperia S, which was developed specifically with mobile gaming in mind.
I looked at the Xperia S for about two seconds before feverishly clicking on the Xperia's mobile version of "Grand Theft Auto III" and starting to run over virtual civilians with gleeful abandon, all from the comfort of a 4.3-inch HD screen with a resolution of 1280x720 pixels. And unlike past editions of Sony's gaming smartphones, the Xperia S had no slide-out control pad and instead integrated all controls for its games onto its touch screen.
As you'd expect for a phone focused on gaming, the Xperia S has a top-notch 1.5GHz dual core processor as well as HDMI connectivity. It currently runs on Android 2.3 ("Gingerbread") and will get an upgrade to Android 4.0 in the near future.
4: The Motorola Droid 4
Remember the original Motorola Droid? Yeah, that was a pretty cool device way back in the long-forgotten days of late 2009.
It was also the very first Android-based device to run on the Verizon network and was the first true hit for Google's open-source operating system. It's less than three years later and we're already being treated to the fourth edition of the Droid, which features all of the top-notch specs that you'd expect from a modern smartphone: a 1.2GHz dual-processor, 4G LTE connectivity and an 8MP, 1080p HD still/video camera. And like just about every Android smartphone I've seen at CES this year, it runs on Android 2.3 ("Gingerbread") with promises of a forthcoming upgrade to Android 4.0. The Droid 4 also works with Motorola's underappreciated webtop application that lets users dock their smartphones into their laptop docks and type text messages and emails sent through the phone on their home keyboard.
Another good thing about the Droid 4: Unlike the original, this edition features a very solid physical keyboard with distinctly embossed keys that makes typing on your smartphone a breeze. In all the Droid 4 is a fine addition to the brand and shouldn't disappoint fans of earlier models.