1. Nokia N95
Nokia's new flagship handset was much anticipated and didn't disappoint. I tried out the dual-sliding form factor, built-in GPS functionality, and familiar Series 60 OS and I liked it quite a bit. While it was hard to judge the quality of the 5MP camera, based on the 3.2MP N93 and N73, I'm sure Nokia's got another quality imaging device on its hands. Built for Europe, the N95 is a Quad-Band GSM phone with WiFi compatibility and can be purchased direct from Nokia for use in the US when it ships this Spring.
2. LG Shine
I wasn't a big fan of LG's Chocolate phone, but I fell in love with Shine as soon as I saw its beautiful UI emerge from behind a mirror-finished display panel. Shine's scroll bar navigation is smooth as butter, its slider has a great spring action, and the back panel is a facade worthy of the embedded 2MP camera with flash. Shine's destined for Korea, but LG would do well to bring a version stateside; it's that pretty.
3. Tie: LG VX-9400 / Samsung U620
MediaFlo had a strong presence at CES, as both LG and Samsung showed handsets with mobile TV reception powered by the Qualcomm-owned media network. Though these were closed demos, the television experience was great: crisp QVGA pictures at up to 30 fps, AAC stereo sound fully synched to the picture, and program guides and channel changing very similar to those of cable TV at home. Look for the first handset to launch on Verizon sometime in Q2 or Q3 of this year.
4. LG AX490 with Fastap
I liked the block model concept Fastap phones at Digit Wireless' Unveiled table better than the 490, but the AX490 is actually available in the US through Alltel, so it gets the nod here. Fastap is a system of combining raised and lowered keys with an input correction algorithm, resulting in a full-alphabet keyboard that more less exists "in between" the buttons on a standard dialing keypad. Actually, Fastap applies to any combination of raised/lowered keys and need not have anything to do with letters (think navigation and media control keys), but the 490 uses the system to bring the alphabet to a standard size flip phone. More direct than predictive text but smaller than a standard QWERTY layout, Fastap definitely has some potential. Digit had two slick looking concept phones on display in the Chili C7 and ZTE D90; word is the D90 is set to drop on a carrier just south of our own border any day now.
5. Nokia N76
What's this? A sleek, slim smartphone from Nokia? Just as Cingular is readying the N75 for a US release, Nokia drops the N76 - smaller, lighter, shinier, and sexier than the 75, but with the same Series 60 interface, Symbian OS, and 2mp camera. The N76 throws in a 3.5mm headphone jack and wraps it all in a shiny mirror-finish housing. Seeing the N76 literally distracted me from the N95, which was no small feat, believe me.
Honorable Mentions: Qool Labs Icon (Windows Mobile smartphone w/4 MP camera); Motorola ROKR E6 (Java/Linux-based smartphone with touchscreen display and stereo Bluetooth); Samsung SCH-i760 (Windows Mobile smartphone w/slide-out QWERTY board, EV-DO and WiFi, 1.3MP camera)