What's Hot

WHAT'S HOT

September 30, 2004

Choice of streaming video, Bluetooth available with latest, greatest phones

Camera phones are getting better, with much improved imaging, flash features for better lighting and now, with video.

I've been playing with two brand-new offerings for the past week or so - Samsung's Multimedia MM-A700 phone from Sprint (shown below) and the Motorola V710 phone from Verizon Wireless.

These are the most advanced imaging phones we've seen so far. They are almost identical in size, both open like a clamshell and will shoot still pictures and 15-second audio and video clips. Both sell for $249 after rebates on a two-year contract.

The Samsung MM-A700 is the first to provide nationwide streaming multimedia content. The programming is not live, but it is "on-demand," sort of like the movies and other programming you can call up at will on cable television.

I've been watching video highlights of the hourly news headlines from CNN and NBC, reports from the Weather Channel and E! Entertainment TV and a raft of other video subscription services.

Note the word "services." Most of the streaming video reports cost $4.95 a month on top of whatever phone package you buy.

You do get a basic channel service with this phone. Sprint TV offers some original programming and there are a variety of short, compiled video reports and movie trailers to watch.

The video itself rates just OK. It's delivered at 15 frames per second; standard TV is broadcast at 30 frames per second. On the tiny screen, the slower frame rate is certainly viewable, though images tend to smear when there's a lot of movement.

The phone was just introduced, so I'm sure there are some technical glitches to fix. I encountered frequent service disruptions and an error message saying to try again later.

Still, I just can't see a lot of people buying this phone to watch streaming TV. It's too costly and more of a novelty than a real convenience - right now, anyway. Within the next couple of years, though, it will be a different matter. Competition will mean lower subscription fees, I predict, to where they'll be bundled with the phone.

The new Motorola V710 phone from Verizon Wireless also has promise. Although it doesn't have streaming video, this is the first Bluetooth phone for the Verizon system.

Bluetooth is a short-range wireless way to connect the phone to things like a hands-free headset (an $80 option) or your car's speaker system (a $200 option).

You can also connect the phone and your laptop, and use it as a modem connection for on-the-go Internet access. I warn you, though, the booklet that comes with the phone doesn't offer a lot of detailed instruction on how to do this. But after an hour or so of experimentation and considerable help from Verizon's techs, I got my Apple PowerBook to connect through the phone to the Net just fine.

The technology on both of these phones is pretty impressive. Just the fact that we now have streaming video available on a cell phone and wireless connectivity between the phone and other devices gives us a hint of much greater things to come.

Knight Ridder/Tribune

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