May 11, 2012 --
For the last few days, New Orleans was a lousy spot to use a smartphone but a great place to research buying one. The CTIA Wireless 2012 trade show brought an estimated 40,000 attendees to this city, resulting in jammed frequencies in the convention center and a surplus of new and upcoming mobile devices, software, services and accessories on display. Even wothout Apple (it generally avoids away games like this) and with minimal participation from Motorola and BlackBerry vendor Research In Motion, the show provided a good overview of where wireless is and where it's going. At left, an HTC presentation involves half of the traditional smoke-and-mirrors recipe. (The phones involved looked more promising than that might suggest.)
Samsung Galaxy S III Samsung's latest flagship Android smartphone, announced just before CTIA, comes packed with intriguing additions to Google's operating system: a driving mode that reads incoming text messages aloud; an "S-Voice" = speech interface (sound familiar?); and an 8-megapixel camera that can pick the best shot out of a series and send it to a friend's phone. But I'm not crazy about seeing yet another enormous screen on a phone (here, 4.8 inches) or the S III's non-standard array of navigation buttons. Battery life, carrier support and pricing remain unknown.
HTC One X HTC talked up this Android phone's Beats Audio sound and sophisticated 8 MP camera. But the most promising part of the One X--available from AT&T and, soon, Sprint--is the single-chipset 3G/LTE processor from Qualcomm on the inside. This badly-needed advance should help the One X improve on the horrible battery life of earlier LTE phones (early tests suggest as much), even if its large 4.7-in. display might offset some of those gains.
Mozilla's Boot2Gecko The developers of the Mozilla Firefox browser are turning their attention to smaller screens. The idea behind Boot2Gecko (named after Firefox's rendering engine) is to make a phone's operating system simple, fast and cheap by writing much it in the Web's HTML code. An early build running on a test phone looked quick and responsive, but there's much work to be done before an anticipated debut in early 2013 on the Brazilian carrier Telefonica.
Waterproofing Phones It seems that many of you have been dropping phones in toilets. Three different vendors talked up nano tech treatments for phone innards that sent drops of water skittering away in demos; P2i and HzO provide their technology to manufacturers (the former's protects Motorola's Droid Razr phones), while Liquipel sells an aftermarket service direct to consumers. And Kyocera showed off a future Android model, the Hydro, designed to survive a 30-minute dunking in three feet of water.
Care-And-Feeding-Of-Your-Phone Apps Anti-virus apps for smartphones (the malware risk is real but avoidable if you're picky about new software) are expanding their reach. At CTIA, Sprint announced that it would start selling Android security and family-safety software from Lookout, while Trend Micro showed off a Longevity power-management feature that will police battery-hogging apps -- to me, a bigger problem in Google's operating system than viruses.
A Coffee-Table Book Of A Tablet If an Android tablet vendor can do reasonably well by building devices smaller than the iPad, why not try a tablet bigger than Apple's market-leading device? The Toshiba Excite 13, with a 13.3-in. screen, goes on sale in June for $649.99 in a 32-gigabyte version. This 2.2-lb. model is big enough to require holding with two hands, which could make it a tablet equivalent of "desktop replacement" laptops that rarely leave coffee tables or desks.
LG's Phablet The Optimus Vu smartphone that LG announced in February accomplishes the rare feat of making Samsung's enormous Galaxy Note look narrow. Credit for that goes to its unusually wide 5-inch screen, with the 4:3 proportions of an old-school TV. The Vu (pronounced "view") may not make it to the U.S. market, however; the company first needs to find a carrier to sell this thing. I would not recommend that a carrier do that, but I could be wrong: after all of my scorn, Samsung says it's sold 5 million Galaxy Notes.
Radar Detector Meets Phone At CTIA, the Escort radar-detector firm introduced a new $449.95 SmartRadar Bluetooth-linked system that employs your iPhone or Android device's screen for most of its user interface. It also incorporates the firm's earlier Escort Live service, which communicates alerts about speed traps, red-light cameras and other law-enforcement activity to similarly equipped users. Easiest tech prediction ever: The National Transportation Safety board will not be amused by the prospect of a phone app built for in-car use.
Wireless Power Industry giants Qualcomm and Samsung, along with inductive-charging pioneer Powermat and a few other firms, teamed up to launch a new group called the Alliance for Wireless Power at CTIA. They plan to develop standards for recharging phones, tablets and other devices to without touching a charging surface. But when the entire cordless-charging field is already beset by conflicting standards and so much of A4WP's pitch consisted of "help us write this new specification." I'm not optimistic. PHOTOS: Top Strange and Impractical Techs from CES