Best in show: Top 5 new phones @ CTIA '08

Noah Kravitz
 from  Oakland, CA
| Published: April 7, 2008

The coolest phones at shows like CTIA are almost invariably ones not destined for the US market. With that in mind I'm keeping this list to new phones shown at CTIA that will be available in the US, either on US carriers or unlocked with a full array of US-spec radio bands onboard.  So you won't find the Samsung Soul, Nokia N82, LG KT610, or SE C902 on this list.  You also won't find iPhone 2, since it's still only a rumor ? even if it's a very hot, now confirmed-for-Summer rumor.

What you will find are what I think were the 5 hottest handsets I got my hands on at the show that you should be able to get your mitts all over within the next few months:

1. LG Vu ? AT&T Wireless
I'm still a bit surprised to say that Vu was the US-bound handset I was most taken with in Vegas.  It's compact, light, and features a full array of features including AT&T's new mobile TV service.  Vu also has just about the nicest touch screen and most attractive menus this side of iPhone - plus 3G access and a widescreen QWERTY mode.  Can't wait to get a review sample to put through its paces.

Funny, TV on a cell phone made no sense to me until I saw a live NBA game on ESPN mobile at the show last week.  NOW I get it!  There's no need to sneak a TV into the wine and cheese party via a Bud Light box.  Just sneak it in via your cell phone.

2. Sony Ericsson Xperia X1 - Unlocked GSM
X1 is a premium piece of gear that no doubt will carry a premium price tag when it launches in a few months.  It's hard to tell if the whole Xperia Panels thing is an innovation or just a really fancy way of adding shortcuts to the Windows Mobile home screen, but either way it looks nice - even on Beta software. 

X1 is made from quality stainless steel and glass, has a nicely designed thumb board, finger-friendly touchscreen, 3.5mm headphone jack, and a 3.2MP camera with flash, touch-focus, and full VGA video recording @ 30fps.  It's also got just about every form of connectivity you can think of, from HSPA to WiFi to Bluetooth.  If the final software is good, this could be the status symbol Sony Ericsson fans have long been waiting for.

3. Samsung Instinct (Sprint)
Sprint's iPhone slayer shoots for the magic sweet spot at the intersection of features, user experience, and price.  Even in the Beta form shown at CTIA Instinct's got two out of three down: the feature list is a mile long and with pricing rumored to be around $200-250 (after rebate) and Sprint's Unlimited Everything plan starting at $70/month, Instinct trumps iPhone on both counts. 

The problem is the user experience might not be up to snuff.  I'm trying to reserve judgment until the thing is out of Beta, so I'll keep quiet for now except to say that CTIA made it crystal clear to me just how high iPhone set the bar for touch-based devices.  But between folks I talked to at the show and commenters on YouTube and around the blogosphere, there are a lot of folks saying, "It's just not as pretty and responsive as iPhone."  Then again, there also a lot of folks saying, "Dude, it's like an iPhone but cheaper ... and Sprint's network is faster and better than AT&T."   Again, I'm very excited to get a production model to put through its paces.

4. LG enV(2) - Verizon Wireless
Way back when enV came out I kind of wanted one, but was both locked into a T-Mobile contract and reticent to haul such a brick of a phone around in my pocket.  More recently, when Voyager came out, I had very similar feelings.  enV(2) might just have changed all that.  The front panel is kind of goofy looking, but the interior is somehow smaller and more functional (larger display) than on the original, and the whole package is much more compact and sleek, and it's cheaper, too!  Texters on a budget are already excited about this one.

5. Nokia N78 - Unlocked GSM
Nokia's N73 is the best-selling of their N-Series high end devices.  This successor brings most of the same features - 3.2 MP camera, S60 platform - in line with Nokia's new design language.  And there are a few new goodies to be had on the N78, including US-band 3G access and integrated Wi-Fi.  I'd love to see this one show up on a US carrier sometime soon.  Right next to that N95 that everyone swears is still coming to AT&T.