It's been an exciting year for cellphones: Apple came out with the iPhone; Google and its partners announced a new mobile platform called Android; and as always, phone makers unleashed a horde of better, faster, and more capable handsets.
Some vendors saved the best for last — just in time for the holiday shopping frenzy. If you're still looking for a last-minute gift or want to treat yourself to fancy new phone or accessory, here are my suggestions for 2007's best cellphones and accessories, counting down from number 10.
10. Environmentally Friendly Universal Charger: Solio Hybrid 1000
Solio's Hybrid 1000 lets you charge your phone (and other equipment such as music players and GPS devices) anywhere the sun is shining. It uses a solar panel to juice up its internal battery, which then charges your handset's battery. Depending on the energy needs of your device and the intensity of the sunlight, an hour of sunshine can provide enough power for up to 15 minutes of talk time or 40 minutes of music playback, according to Solio. The bundled adapters are compatible with certain BlackBerry, Motorola, and Nokia phones; with the iPhone; with a few types of GPS units; and with some MP3 players. If your phone isn't compatible with any of the included connectors (Palm Treos, for example, aren't supported), you'll have to buy a separate one (they cost US$10 each).
9. Versatile Camera Phone: Samsung FlipShot SCH-U900 From Verizon
From its hardware design to its software functions, the FlipShot obviously pays more attention to picture taking than most other camera phones do. The 2.2-inch internal LCD turns inside out so you can use the larger screen to frame shots while the phone is closed. To snap a photo, you turn the phone sideways and hold the phone as if it were a standard digicam. The panorama mode was handy for capturing wide landscape shots, and the "series shot" feature was fun to use for capturing moving subjects. Unfortunately, in those shooting modes, the resolution maxes out at a very low 320 by 240 pixels. And lest I forget to mention it, the FlipShot handled phone calls extremely well.
8. Fully Loaded Unlocked Phone: Nokia N95
If you're looking for a contract-free, feature-packed phone, consider the N95. This versatile multimedia phone is fairly expensive, but it offers a ton of amenities: 3G support, Wi-Fi, an easy-to-use user interface, good audio quality, assisted GPS for navigating roads and finding local points of interest, a 5-megapixel camera that takes good-looking snapshots, video recording at VGA resolution (640 by 480 pixels), a TV-out connection for watching recorded videos on the TV, and a standard 3.5mm headphone jack. Plus, the dual-sliding design is a nice touch: Slide the 2.8-inch screen up to use the keypad, or turn the phone sideways and slide the screen to the right to access the music playback buttons. The plastic housing feels comfy in the hand, though the phone is noticeably thick at 0.8 inch. Nokia says the battery will provide up to 5 hours of talk time, or remain active for more than 11 days on standby.
7. Good Ol' Standby: Motorola Razr2
The Razr2 won't rock your world the way the original Razr did, but it's a very good phone nevertheless. The metal housing feels sturdy and looks durable. Motorola has updated the phone's capabilities to support current standards such as 3G. It also sports a large (2-inch) external display, an enhanced media player, and a 2-megapixel camera that can handle video recording. The new haptic feedback from the external buttons worked nicely, too: You feel a slight vibration when you press any key. AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon offer their own versions of this phone, but I particularly liked Sprint's implementation, the Razr2 V9m, which has GPS capability and permits TV viewing on its bright external LCD.
6. Crystal-Clear Bluetooth Headset: Aliph Jawbone
Jawbone's noise-cancellation technology eliminates background noise and automatically adjusts the earphone volume during calls so you can hear your pal on the other end loud and clear. It fits nicely in the ear, too. You get four earbuds and four earloops to accommodate varying ear sizes. You can link Jawbone to either one or two phones (competing headsets support a greater number than that), and it won't work for call waiting. Battery life, according to Aliph, maxes out at 6 hours of talk time and 120 hours on standby--good enough for day-to-day use.
5. Best-Value PDA Phone: Palm Centro From Sprint
Palm loyalists who want to replace their aging Treo with a sleeker handset should check out the company's affordably priced Centro. The Centro gives you the overall feel of a Palm handheld, along with such traditional Treo advantages as a comfortable keyboard, a simple user interface, easy e-mail setup, and software for accessing Microsoft Office apps. The Centro has some cool entertainment tools, too: a Pocket Tunes music player, a 1.3-megapixel camera, and the ability to run Sprint TV. A minor criticism: The plastic cover feels a little cheap.
4. E-Mail Champs: BlackBerry 8800 Series or Curve 8300 Series
Research In Motion's BlackBerry devices are speedy, reliable, and incredibly easy to set up for e-mail. My main quibble: The Web browser on these devices lacks graphics panache. Still, if you're an e-mail hound, go for one of the models in the BlackBerry Curve 8300 series or the BlackBerry 8800 series. Here's my simplistic overview of these units' distinguishing feature(s):
3. Multipurpose Phone: HTC Shadow from T-Mobile
Take some of the positive elements of a Windows Mobile smart phone (such as e-mail, Live Search, and phone-as-modem functionality), throw in Research In Motion's SureType alphanumeric keypad (popularized by the BlackBerry Pearl series), and you get HTC's Shadow--one of the most intuitively designed Windows Mobile 6 phones I've ever seen. Buttons and on-screen menus work harmoniously to make navigation a snap. For example, the nav wheel in the centre feels responsive and is generally fun to use. Pluses include Wi-Fi; support for PDF, Word, Excel, and PowerPoint files; and preloaded IM apps such as AIM, ICQ, Windows Live/MSN, and Yahoo. Also on board is a 2-megapixel camera that features a camcorder mode and a microSD slot. Unfortunately there's no GPS. Still, the Shadow is a fine phone, and a decent music player to boot.
2. Innovative Design: Apple iPhone
Everyone has covered the iPhone to death so I'll keep this brief. I own one, and I like it more now than I did on day one. The virtual keyboard takes some getting used to, though I've come to appreciate the word recognition feature, which learns certain terms that I use frequently, making text entry less of a hassle. IMAP e-mail support has improved. And for the moment, the iPhone's user interface, multitouch capabilities, and Web browser are unbeatable. Not that it's perfect: There's no GPS, and I experience a lot of dropped calls in San Francisco, which is presumably a shortcoming of the AT&T EDGE network. Despite these shortcomings, I enjoy using it.
1. 2007 Grand Champion: AT&T Tilt 8925 by HTC
The Tilt offers just about everything I could ask for in a smart phone. The package includes GPS, Wi-Fi, 3G, international roaming, responsive performance, a range of messaging options (including IM, Outlook, and BlackBerry Connect), and stereo Bluetooth for music headphones. It also features a 3-megapixel camera with video capture; support for an optional microSD card; and preloaded Microsoft Office Mobile including Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. The Tilt 8925 also has a unique design element: When you slide the 2.8-inch touch screen to the left and tilt it up, the device looks like a tiny laptop. Of course, the QWERTY keyboard is too small for full-touch typing, but it works fine for thumb-typing.
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