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

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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 WirelessSamsung Fascinate smartphoneCell 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 stars  

Price: $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 serviceSony Ericsson Vivas phonesOK, 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 stars

Price: $79.99 after $50.00 online discount

Company Web site  

Reviewed by C. J. Mathias

Samsung Mobile Epic 4G, with Sprint ServiceSamsung Epic 4G smartphoneIt’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 stars

Price: $250 (after $100 rebate, plus monthly service)

Company Web site

Reviewed by Keith Shaw

Samsung Intercept by SprintSamsung Intercept cell phoneThe 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 stars

Price: $349.99 ($99.99 after Sprint discounts and specials)

Company Web site

Reviewed by Jen Finn

LG Remarq cell phone, with Sprint serviceLG Remarq cell phonePeople 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 stars

Price: Free online with Web specials, otherwise about $50, plus 2-year agreement and service.

Company Web site

Reviewed by Keith Shaw

LG Lotus Elite cell phone, with Sprint serviceLG Lotus EliteAnother 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 stars

Price: $30 with online rebates and agreements and service.

Company Web site

Reviewed by Keith Shaw

PhoneWatch W Wrist Cellular Phone, by Kempler & StraussW watch phoneOK, 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 stars

Price: $200

Company Web site

Reviewed by C. J. Mathias

Wireless Charging System for iPhone 4, by PowermatPowermat for iPhone 4I’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 stars 

Price: $60

Company Web site

Reviewed by Keith Shaw

Juice Pack Boost and Reserve, by MophieMophie Juice Pack Reserve for iPhoneThe latest “extra juice” packs for your iPod or iPhone from Mophie are the Boost and Reserve. The batteries connect to your iPhone via the universal connection port, and will recharge your device relatively quickly (depending on whether you use the device while it’s recharging). As anyone with an iPhone can tell you, it’s tough to go the entire day without draining the battery, especially if you’re in a 3G area that utilizes a lot of battery power (New York City, for example).

The Reserve features a 1000 mAh external battery, while the Boost has a 1500 mAh battery. Both include a carabiner clip that you can attach to your notebook bag (it’s probably a bit heavy for putting on your keychain, but you could do that if you wanted), and have an LED flashlight that can help you locate your keys in the dark.

Other mophie juice packs act like protective cases for your iPhone/iPod while they recharge, I like the simplicity of just connecting the pack on the bottom and getting the recharge (similar to Kensington battery packs). Both devices come with a USB charging cable to recharge themselves later. Unfortunately, when the juice packs are recharging, you can’t do a passthrough charge (recharge the juice pack while also recharging the iPhone).

Cool Yule rating: 4 stars

Price: $40 for the Reserve; $60 for the Boost.

Company Web site

Reviewed by Keith Shaw

Fueltank Uno, by CallpodCallpod fueltank UnoCallpod’s Chargepod system provided gadget owners with a single device that could recharge multiple gadgets, eliminating the need for users to carry along multiple power cords and adapters. The company has continued this theme with the Fueltank Uno (the company also makes the Fueltank Duo, which has two recharging ports). The Uno is a portable lithium-ion battery that can hold about four times the battery power of a regular mobile device (the Duo is twice the capacity of the Uno). Once the battery is charged up, you insert a Chargepod adapter (if you already have those cables, they work, or you can purchase additional ones that support your specific device), and then recharging occurs. A button on the Fueltank lets you know how much charging power is left in the tank, and an AC adapter can recharge the Fueltank.

With more than 3,000 devices supported, this portable battery (it weighs only 4 oz.) is useful if you’re looking to recharge, say, an iPhone, a BlackBerry, a mobile phone, and a digital camera. If you only need to recharge one device (like an iPhone), then other options are a bit more elegant. Then again, the base package gives you two adapters, plus a voucher for a third free adapter, so you might not need additional adapters (especially with lots of devices supporting USB charging.)

Cool Yule rating: 3.5 stars

Price: $50

Company Web site

Reviewed by Keith Shaw

Charge and Sync Dock, by KensingtonKensington Charge and Sync DockThis simple device connects via USB port, and provides your iPhone or iPod with a recharging station, but it can also synchronize with iTunes if you want. There’s no external power supply, all the power for recharging and synchronization comes from the USB port/cable.

The biggest reason for charging your iPod or iPhone in a dock versus charging it with a synch cable is that when you position your iPhone upright in the portrait position, you can use use it for things like FaceTime, or even play some of your music through the device’s speakers.

Speaking of speakers, that’s the one thing I would have preferred on the dock, but then it would have required some additional bulk and possibly an extra power adapter. For pure synchronization and power recharge, this is a nice little device that can fit easily onto your desktop.

Cool Yule rating: 3 stars

Price: $30

Company Web site

Reviewed by Keith Shaw

MoGo Talk for iPhone 4, by ID8-MobileMogoTalk XD Headset and Case for iPhone 4This could have also gone in the travel gear category, where we reviewed a bunch of Bluetooth hands-free headsets, but we put it here because it’s an accessory as well, with the iPhone 4 case. The MogoTalk XD for iPhone 4 merges the case with the Bluetooth headset, solving one of the biggest problems that mobile users have these days – losing their headset when they’re done with it.

The Bluetooth headset for the MogoTalk XD fits into a little cradle inside the case, and then the case can fit over the iPhone 4, providing you with a protective cover for the iPhone, but you’ll also always know where the headset is after you’re done with it. It’s a neat idea.

The case combines a hard shell for impact protection, but also has some molded rubber grips as well on the side. The headset includes noise reduction features, works with iPhone voice control, and is compatible with Bluetooth version 2.1. The unit comes with a charging cable to recharge the headset, unfortunately you can’t recharge the iPhone and the headset at the same time.

The biggest problem I had with the device is the earbuds – they just don’t fit comfortably and securely in the ear. The company provides a bunch of earbud tips and styles, but I couldn’t find one that fit me the right way that kept the headset in place without having the unit fall out. The quick start guide didn’t offer any real help in trying to figure out the best way to find the best fit. In the end, I just kind of jammed it into my ear to create a tight fit in order to use the headset. Also, the lack of A2DP support that would let me listen to music when not using the headset was also disappointing. For the same price, I could get another Bluetooth headset with A2DP functionality, a more comfortable fit, and then spend a little bit more on an iPhone case. There’s a good idea here, it’s just not completely there with the other Bluetooth headset folks.

Cool Yule rating: 2.5 stars

Price: $100

Company Web site

Reviewed by Keith Shaw

Zaggsparq portable battery backup and charger, by ZaggZaggsparqThis device can serve two purposes: plugged into a standard power outlet, the Zaggsparq can recharge two USB-enabled devices (including iPhones and iPods). The device also has a battery in it, so unplugged it can carry four complete recharges for smartphones and other devices. The device is pretty portable (although the battery pack is big itself), for the most part you should be able to put this in a laptop bag for extra battery life for your devices.

The top USB port is optimized for iPhone, iPad and iPods; the bottom port uses the standard USB specification and will charge devices that don’t utilize the optimized USB charging spec, Zagg says.

Cool Yule rating: 3 stars

Price: $100

Company Web site

Reviewed by Keith Shaw

Sunlinq Portable USB Plus Solar Charger, by Global Solar EnergySunlinq solar chargerThe tech community has been talking about convenient (meaning small and lightweight) solar battery chargers for some time, and the technology has finally caught up with our desires: enter the Sunlinq line of portable solar battery chargers.The 25-Watt model we tested has a USB connector and puts out 5 volts (this unit at 800 mA; there are other models available), meaning it should provide plenty of current for most USB-rechargeable devices. A big plus, this product is very compact and could fit in most computer bags without too much trouble. And it weighs only a little over six ounces.

I have a feeling, though, that this product will appeal mostly to those who spend their time hiking, camping, and otherwise away from civilization without spare batteries or a generator. This unit folds up but is fairly flexible, so just tossing it into the bottom of a computer bag probably won’t be a good idea. But if you treat it with a reasonable amount of care and respect, it should work just fine.

That being said, though, there is a small matter of economics. Carrying a spare battery is less expensive, unless, of course, you or your gift recipient have a lot of different batteries to worry about. And while bright sunlight generates the most output and yields the shortest recharge times, one can’t always count on that. But for the hiker, camper, RVer, etc., this remarkably affordable solar recharger might be the perfect holiday gift.

Cool Yule rating: 4 stars

Price: About $90

Company Web site

Reviewed by C. J. Mathias

iPhone 4 ID Credit Card Case, by case-mateCase-mate i.d. credit-card iPhone 4 caseCase-mate's credit card case fits around the sides and back of the iPhone 4, effectively shielding the back of the phone from damage when dropped. (The back of the iPhone, like its front, is made of glass.) The case comes in seven colors, and allows direct access to the smartphone's buttons and connector port on the bottom. Made of a smooth plastic, the credit card case doesn't add much weight or visual bulk to the phone, unlike some other cases. What's unique about this one is that it has a slot in the back that can hold two credit cards or several business cards.

The plastic has a finish that feels "grippy" and it protected my iPhone several times when I fumbled for it and dropped it. Note: it won't protect the front glass on the phone if it happens to land face down. Although I've never been much of a phone case user, I've used the case-mate cover for a couple of months and really like it.

If, like me, you don't like the idea of carrying your credit cards with your iPhone (because of the horror of losing your iPhone AND credit cards), you might be interested in case-mate's Barely There case, which doesn't have the slot and sells for $24.99.

Cool Yule rating: 4 stars

Price: $34.99

Company Web site

Reviewed by Ken Mingis

Moshi Moshi 03 Bluetooth Wireless Handset and Base, by Native UnionMoshi Moshi Bluetooth handset accessoryThis device is certainly one of the more unique gift ideas we’ve run across. The Moshi Moshi 03 is a base station with an old-style telephone handset (microphone and earphone). The base station connects via Bluetooth wireless to your cell phone, giving you the benefits of a hands-free headset, but done in a way that lets you talk like you would on a regular landline phone, but without the tangly cord.

It’s easy to pair a cell phone to the Moshi Moshi, and you can also choose from some ringtones from the handset if you want (although why bother, since you have ringtones on the phone). Other phone features are supported like automatic connection when you answer a call, volume control, and mute. The unit also comes with a rubber mat to place your cell phone on close to the base station, and different power adapters for outlets in other countries.

The idea behind the Moshi handsets (other models are offered too) is that if you are making a lot of calls with your cell phone at home, the Moshi Moshi handset gives you a more comfortable handset to talk with. Plus, you can recharge your cell phone and then use the handset to talk at the same time and still be hands-free.

It’s a cute idea, but really for people who are making lots of calls with their cell phones and want the feel or convenience of a regular handset earphone/microphone. Talking with the Moshi Moshi handset is a lot more comfortable than holding the cell phone up to your ear, and after a while even in-ear Bluetooth headsets get uncomfortable. It would work well in an office as well, since the sleek black finish makes it a nice conversation starter as well.

Cool Yule rating: 4 stars

Price: $130

Company Web site

Reviewed by Keith Shaw

Kensington Pocket Battery for Smart PhonesKensington Pocket Battery for SmartphonesKensington makes quality products, as I have learned after years of testing their products.  In an age where phone makers are more concerned with graphic performance than battery life, it’s a good idea to have some extra juice within arm reach.  Especially when traveling.

Enter Kensington’s Pocket Battery for Smart Phones.  Weighing four ounces, and measuring not much larger than a credit card – but a fair bit thicker - it’s equipped with short charging connectors for devices using mini- and micro-USB. You charge it with a standard USB cable, which plugs into a computer or power outlet (with appropriate connection).  The charging cables are tugged smartly into the sides of the device, and pull out when in use.  It’s one single unit, so there aren’t any pieces to lose or pop off.

It provides about three and a half hours of additional charge, which isn’t a ton – but let’s face it – three and a half hours should be long enough for you to find a power outlet to charge your phone.  And if it’s not, you’re pretty thankful to have those three and a half hours at all.

If there are any drawbacks, it’s not compatible with iPod/iPhone/iPad/iBook/iMac devices, because unlike every other manufacturer in the world, Apple insists on using a proprietary charging device (Editor’s Note: But Kensington makes i-specific rechargers).  So unless you have an adapter – no doubt possessing the requisite ‘i’ moniker – it won’t work with anything made by Apple (Apple computers will charge it, however).

All in all, I feel pretty good about the Pocket Charger.  Highly recommended for road warriors, and a great gift for dad for Christmas.

Cool Yule rating: 4 stars

Price: About $25

Company Web site

Reviewed by Dan Hunt

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