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CES 2012. The Press Day. Carriers Fight Over LTE. Phones and Tablets Announcements

Long before the first presentation on the first press day there was no mystery concerning what Nokia was going to show Nokia 900. It is funny how the company persists betting on this phone and calling it a flagship and believes that only this phone can save Nokia. No more no less. They see their salvation not just in smartphones but also in the sales of Nokia 800 (the current flagship). I must note that in the US very few people are familiar with the Nokia brand. On the other hand, the general sentiment is warm towards Microsoft, WP7 gets mixed reviews but all in all they are positive too and some of that sentiment is extrapolated onto Nokia since Microsoft chose it as a lover.

We knew that AT&T was going to announce Nokia 900 only there were not any official statements during the carriers presentation. Nokias CEO promised to do an official announcement later at Nokia presentation. At the AT&T presentation Stephen Elop was once again talking about the ecosystem the speech he has been repeating for a year. His speech was very bleak especially after AT&T reps said that the most popular WP7 devices in their network are HTC handsets.

It is very interesting to see how much people anticipate the LTE version of Samsung Galaxy Note by AT&T and Nokia 900. I did not carry out any polls but merely talked to the journalists around me. A lot of them were very interested in the very niche Galaxy Note which is typical for people like us and does reflect the attitude of an average user. However, they are likely to transpose some of their interest into their articles. One of my friends here told me something I was expecting: Nokia brings packs of loyal bloggers who know very little, never saw a good phone, have nothing to compare and they are the perfect audience for Nokia to present their products. Real journalists are the second if not the third priority for Nokia now right now the company is in great need for positive reviews.

Another part of the intrigue was the announcement of HTC Titan II. It is a rather ordinary WP7 phone that was nonetheless a bombshell for some. Its specs are very ordinary: 4.7 screen with merely a WVGA resolution, a 1.5GHz single core CPU due to WP7 limitations. But as if mocking the Microsoft/Nokia cooperation HTC installed a 16MPix camera and broke the API camera limitations defined by Microsoft. HTC hacked the limitations without getting a Microsoft approval. Its an interesting story because as far as words are concerned Microsoft fully supports Nokia and even did not release the new specs for dual core CPUs because Nokia was not capable of producing dual core phones.

Then how was HTC able to install such a camera and Nokia was not? I think it is a matter of expertise. HTC has been working with WP7 for much longer and though the company has fewer developers they are a lot more capable than Nokias. Even before HTC, Fujitsu did the same thing and installed a 13.2 MPix camera into their IS12T on WP7.

Then why Microsoft did not help Nokia and did not prohibit other manufacturers to break the rules? Its obvious: they simply could not. Secondly, Microsoft cares a lot more about itself and PR hype around their products is always welcome.

As you may know a phone with a 16MPix camera has been in development for over a year and in spring 2011 I published screenshots of its interface on WP7.

I expect the hype around Titan II to die off very quickly. Megapixels dont mean a thing and the camera quality in HTC phones have not yet gained anyones appraisal. And though it is a good slap on the face of other WP7 manufacturers it is hardly a milestone in mobile history. This announcement has ruined the Nokia 900 release even more but thats it.

There are some strange aspects concerning video recording in Titan II 720p quality is laughable today. It is only reasonable to assume that HTC will use this camera in one of their Android phones which will have very similar specs except the screen will have a much higher resolution and Android will have a head start once again because it is a higher priority for HTC.

Another company that bets on megapixels is Sony Ericsson. Xperia Ion (one of the last phones with SE brand as starting from the summer it will be just Sony) one of the phones main advantages is the Sony Exmor R matrix that allows to take pictures almost instantaneously. It is a weak spot in most Android smartphones except for Samsung phones and some of the latest Sony Ericsson ones. I hope this phone will have a decent photo quality a we will surely test it but we only have the specs so far: 4.6 1280x720 screen, 1080p video recording. Unfortunately, this phone is announced initially on Android 2.3 which spoils the first impression. But if the price is right it can be popular for two or three months until the competition gets similar cameras.

An expo is a place where manufacturers fight for attention. Huawei put a lot of effort into it and announced two phones Ascend P1 and P1s. the s model is very slim: just 6.68mm/0.26in, the other one is about 8mm/0.3in. The phones also have different displays but the reps forgot to mention it. I had an opportunity to try out both of them and I must say I was quite impressed. The slimmer phone uses a 4.3 960x540 SuperAMOLED screen while the other one a SuperTFT one (this is the reason it is thicker). All other specs are the same: Android 4.0 ICS, TI OMAP 4460 2x1.5 GHz and 3G. The front camera is 1.3MPix, the rear one is 8MPix.

The assembly quality of the phones is excellent and their performance is good. They will also be available in many colors. But the most important thing is the pricing: Huawei are planning to attract buyers with Android 4.0 and a price significantly lower than $500. And by significantly I mean significantly. I cannot tell you more only that if Ascend P1 will have the price tag the reps told me in early summer when it is release then it has all the chances of becoming a real bestseller on European markets.

For some reason the Huawei reps missed the strongest points while giving the presentation. May be they were saving it for the right moment to make a bang later. These phones are certainly worth our attention. They will not be competing against flagships they are designed for people looking for optimal price to quality ratio.

The fourth Droid by Motorola is a notable product for the US market: it is a side slider with a 4 qHD screen, 16GB of storage, 1GB of system memory, Android 2.3.5 updateable to Android 4 and a dual core 1.2GHz CPU. The specs are pretty ordinary for a modern Android smartphone it is a mass phone with a QWERTY key pad. I think that the popularity of such products will be falling in the future.

Related news: the Corning Gorilla Glass protective screen glass is getting 20% thinner important news for ultra slim products. The first gadgets with this Mark II glass will be released in the summer and the glass is currently undergoing trials.

Tablets vs. Ultra-Books and Intel

One of the most anticipated presentations was Intels. The tablet market boom caught this manufacturer with his pants down. The x86 architecture is losing its popularity because no one was able to create a truly mobile solution on it. Some time ago all computers used the Intel architecture but the soar of the tablet and the mobile market made the former leader lose its positions. ARM meanwhile is getting happier by the day (remember the hybrid laptops I mentioned recently in my expectations of CES).

The company understands its weaknesses and is trying to remedy the situation with ideology rather than technology so far. Its reps are showing us charts, making presentations and having busy time all of which does not affect me as a user. The speech by Intels vice-president and the top manager of PC Client Group Mooly Eden was depressing.

It is not a mystery that tablets were a bombshell and their sales are soaring. Meanwhile desktop PCs sales were going down and were overtaken by first laptops, then netbooks and recently by tablets. And Intel does not yet offer an adequate technological response for tablets only for ultra-books. For almost an hour this Intels top manager was trying to convince everyone why ultra-books are better than tablets. He certainly failed to convince me.

The matter of tablets and content consumption was commented by the rep as following: Consumption is good for cows. We are humans. This ideological stance is very similar to Microsofts. And both companies seem to ignore that every day there are more and more apps for tablets that allow creating content not just consume it: since very first days iWorks was available for that purpose. But they have a right to misinterpret the situation and lose their market shares subsequently.

I hate when companies start to fit gadget ideology into their marketing needs. This time, Intel singled out six kinds of user experience perfectly realized in their ultra-books:

  • Creation to Express
  • Peace of mind
  • Not needing to wait
  • Reflection of me
  • Unwired
  • At a Price that works

I reread these points several times and wondered which one of them my two year old tablet cannot do. It does not have any wires, it is ready for work momentarily then why would I need an ultra-book?

During the demo of these devices running on Windows 8 I noticed that they mimic tablets they real key boards but in most cases they are used just like tablets (although these laptops are 18mm thick on average). So they have a touchscreen, a keyboard and they are thin. So what? They were designed to compete with tablets and they are undoubtedly going to lose this competition because tablets are cheaper and better. And for those who need an ultra-thin laptop there is always MacBook Air.

People are not ready to buy two extra devices besides their desktop PC or, more often, their laptop. And if they choose between a tablet and an ultra-book they will go for the tablet in most cases as the current sales prove and Intel cannot do anything about it. Almost an hour was wasted on marketing excuses is too much.

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Eldar Murtazin (eldar@mobile-review.com)
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Translated by Robert Mugattarov (mugattarov@gmail.com)

Published — 12 January 2012

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