Sprint held back to back press conferences Monday afternoon to officially unveil the UpStage music phone along with 99 cent downloads from the Sprint Music Store, and also to announce new connectivity "Innovations" including a USB EV-DO modem and a plan called Pivot that combines wireless with home broadband, digital voice, and cable television all on one bill.
The UpStage itself wasn't news by the time Sprint brought it onstage, but it's still a very thin, very slick music phone backed by what are now the cheapest over the air music downloads in the industry. Set to launch in April for $149 with a two-year contract, the UpStage features that phone on one side / music player on the other candybar design that, even if it doesn't revolutionize the industry like Sprint's claiming it will, is still pretty eye catching. I got a hands-on demo with a Sprint product manager, and came away impressed: The phone is a hair larger than an iPod nano, and packs a 1.3 MP camera, stereo speakers, and Sprint TV compatibility into that svelt little body.
In addition to compressed mp3s downloaded direct to the phone from Sprint, the UpStage will also support playback of un-DRM'd mp3 and AAC music files (including higher quality versions of songs users will be entitled to download as part of their 99 cent buys) sideloaded from a PC using Sprint's new Music Manager app. UpStage won't handle protected music formats like files bought from the iTunes Store. UpStage also packs 64MB of internal memory and will support microSD expansion cards up to 2GB in size. Bluetooth support includes stereo and a very cool voice caller ID feature that will pause the music as it speaks the name and number of an incoming caller into your Bluetooth earphones. A 3.5mm stereo headphone adapter is also going to be included so you can use UpStage with standard stereo 'phones. Sprint will also package a "mobile wallet" case that looks like a billfold and serves to both protect the UpStage and prolong its usage with an integrated secondary battery.
All in all I was impressed with UpStage. While it remains to be seen if consumers will embrace the dual-sided design, Sprint and Samsung did a great job pulling the form factor off - it looks nice, appears to function quite well (though the touch sensitive music controls don't provide quite the ease of use of an iPod scrollwheel), and sounds good. And $149 is pretty cheap for a digital audio player which also makes phone calls, does messaging, and connects to Sprint's EV-DO network. And the 99-cent price point for music is certainly a whack in iPhone's "can't buy music without a computer" direction.
Sprint then ushered folks across the hall to a second press conference announcing some new connectivity options and pricing schemes. Chief amongst them was Pivot, a "quad play" in conjunction with various cable television operators currently available in eight markets - including Raleigh, N.C.; Austin, Tex.; Boston; Portland, Ore.; San Diego; Phoenix; Cincinnati; and Dayton, Ohio - with 40 more set to launch this year. In addition to all on one bill pricing (with discounts), Sprint is also promising integration across all four services, as evidenced by their demo of a cellphone interface for remote DVR programming.
Read More about UpStage here: http://www.introducingupstage.com/