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Style, Music Get Phone Makers’ Focus

Cellular handset suppliers focused on style and multimedia functions in their latest round of product announcements, which include stylish music phones that look as much like MP3 players as they do phones.

The phones with MP3 cosmetics include LG’s Chocolate and Motorola’s RAZR slider phones with music controls arrayed around a circle to emulate an iPod click wheel. The clamshell RAZR maxx also features exterior music controls, but they’re not arrayed in a circle. The maxx is the first W-CDMA HSDPA (high-speed downlink packet access) phone with thin RAZR styling.

The convergence of MP3 and cellular is expected to draw Apple into the market later this year with its own-brand phone and, potentially, its own brand of cellular service.

Other new phones include:

  • Motorola’s thinnest-ever phone, the candy bar MOTOFONE, at 0.3 inches in depth;
  • a stylish entry-level phone from Kyocera; and
  • an LG phone that’s the first in the United States to incorporate Fastap keypad technology to speed up texting.

LG’s new music phone, the Chocolate, looks like a dark-chocolate bar when closed and when the display lighting times out. When the lighting is on, the music-playing controls appear and are arrayed around a circle to emulate an iPod click wheel. As a music phone, Chocolate is capable of downloading music over-the-air from Verizon’s VCast music service, which can now be accessed without having to sign up for a $15/month subscription to Verizon’s V Cast high-speed multimedia service plan.

Chocolate became available in early August at $149 after $50 rebate and two-year service agreement. Downloaded songs still cost $1.99 for a dual download to the phone and to the PC or 99 cents for a PC-downloaded song that that can be transferred to the phone.

The 800/1,900MHz 3.5-ounce Chocolate features glowing, touch-sensitive keypad, high-speed CDMA 1x EV-DO wireless data, music and video player, speaker, dedicated music key to access playlists, 1.3-megapixel camera/camcorder, Bluetooth and microSD memory-card slot for cards up to 2GB.

Another LG phone, the AX490, features Fastap keypad technology from Digit Wireless. The CDMA clamshell, available through AllTel at $59 with rebate and two-year contract, is the first commercially available phone in the United States to incorporate Fastap, which integrates raised alpha keys, lowered number keys and error-prevention software into a standard-shape clamshell phone. In the AX490, the alpha keys are arrayed in alphabetical order, but Digit Wireless can also array the alpha characters in QWERTY format.

For its part, Motorola unveiled seven new handsets, six of which incorporate music and video playback, cameras, and removable memory. The six are:

  • Motorola’s first two RAZR-family models capable of operating on high-speed W-CDMA HSDPA networks, the clamshell MOTORAZR maxx and MOTORAZR V3xx.
  • the MOTOKRZR and MOTOKRZR K1m clamshells, which are narrower but slightly thicker than a RAZR and feature a shell made of magnesium, polished chrome and hardened glass. The models incorporate quadband GSM/EDGE and CDMA 1x EV-DO high-speed data, respectively.
  • the company’s first GSM-network slider, the MOTO RIZR. It’s a slider version of the KRZR models
  • Motorola’s first CDMA-network SLVR, which can be enabled for the over-air music-download services of Sprint and Verizon. The GSM-network SLVR, available from Cingular, is compatible with iTunes-format downloads transferred from a PC.

All feature Bluetooth, and all but the SLVR feature stereo Bluetooth.

The HSDPA/EDGE RAZRs — the RAZR maxx and RAZR V3xx — download music, video and data at theoretical speeds up to 3.6Mbps. The 3.7-ounce maxx features a metal housing with hardened glass displays, touch-sensitive music keys that illuminate when touched, 50MB of internal memory, 2-megapixel camera and microSD card slot. It’s only 0.6 inches thick

The V3xx features a 1.3-megapixel camera and microSD slot. They’re due in the fourth quarter.

The GSM/EDGE MOTO KRZR, and the CDMA 1x EV-DO MOTOKRZR K1m, are clamshell models that are narrower but slightly deeper than the RAZR models. Motorola declined to reveal dimensions. They feature microSD slot and exteriors of magnesium, polished chrome and hardened glass. The CDMA version could be configured to support the Sprint or Verizon over-the-air music-download services, the company said. They’re due globally in the second half.

The GSM KRZR features a 2-megapixel camera, and the CDMA model features a 1.3-megapixel camera.

The slider version of the KRZR models is the quadband RIZR, the company’s first GSM-network slider. It features a 2-megapixel camera music player, and microSD card slot.

The new SLVR L7c candy-bar-style phone is a CDMA 1x EV-DO version of the GSM-network SLVR L7 iTunes phone offered by Cingular. The Cingular model plays back iTunes songs downloaded to a PC and transferred to the phone, but the CDMA versions could be enabled to support over-the-air music downloads from the Sprint or Verizon download services. It has a VGA camera, BREW for application downloads and microSD slot. It’s due in the fourth quarter.

Also new: the MOTOFONE, a basic candy-bar-style phone intended for first-time users or anyone else interested in simplicity, and it is the company’s thinnest phone ever at only 0.3 inches in depth. It features large type on an electrophoretic display, which provides a high-contrast screen viewable in bright sunlight. It also features voice prompts to help users navigate the phone’s functions.

The MOTOFONE features dust-resistant design and flush-fit keypad but lacks data capabilities other than text messaging and downloadable ringtones over SMS. It’s due in the second half in GSM and CDMA versions.

For its part, Kyocera launched its CDMA 1x clamshell KX9 through Cricket Wireless and Virgin Mobile, which outfitted the phone with a metallic ivory finish and preloaded Virgin content. The youth-oriented prepaid carrier dubs it the Oystr and priced it at $29.

On Virgin’s network, the Kyocera phone operates in the 1,900MHz band, but for Cricket, Kyocera provided a model that operates in 850MHz analog AMPS and 850/1,900MHz CDMA.

The 3.5-ounce Cricket model, dubbed the KX9e, is priced at $119. Cricket service, intended as a landline replacement, is a prepaid service offering unlimited local calling, or a mix of unlimited local and long distance, at flat rates with no contracts or credit check.