Here's the new reality TV show I'm hosting.
It's called Who Wants a Free Cell Phone?
, and it goes like this: As a contestant, you get a gift certificate toward any superswank phone that's currently on the market or coming out soon. That's right, you can have any one you want--price isn't a factor. Which phone do you choose, carrier considerations aside?
Let's get started. Here are five new and upcoming phones--really expensive ones--that we're serving up on a velvet-lined silver platter. You have five minutes to check them out and make a decision.
PalmOne Treo 650: Ah, yes, the latest Treo. A lot of folks have been waiting for this baby. The 650 improves on the Treo 600 with a high-resolution screen, a better built-in camera, a removable battery, an improved integrated keyboard, Bluetooth, and the upgraded Palm OS for smart phones. Early reports that Sprint would disable the Bluetooth in its model have been rebutted, so the 650's looking pretty sweet, especially considering PalmOne's improved compatibility with corporate Microsoft Exchange e-mail accounts. Only downsides: there's no Wi-Fi or support for next-generation high-speed networks, and the camera's resolution is still a paltry 640x480 VGA. And come to think of it: where's that Palm-compatible BlackBerry Connect software that the companies hinted at earlier this year?
Price if you had to pay for it: about $500 with a new service plan, $600 without.
Motorola Razr V3: Have one, it's wafer thin. The Razr, Motorola's design and engineering masterpiece for GSM networks, is the vanity phone of the moment. Yeah, it has a built-in camera and some decent functionality, but this one's all about looks--you getting them. I picture this one showing up on HBO's Entourage. Convertible friendly, the Razr's a pickup line without uttering a word.
Price if you had to pay for it: about $500 when it launches.
Sprint PCS Audiovox PPC-6600: Microsoft's answer to PalmOne's Treo 650, this one bears the Audiovox/Sprint brand (it's manufactured by a Taiwanese company called HTC), but it runs Windows Mobile 2003--the OS formerly known as Pocket PC--its nifty slide-away QWERTY keyboard and large screen one-up the Treo's design. It also has a built-in VGA CMOS camera, Bluetooth, and an SD card slot with SDIO support. (The PPC-6601 loses the camera but is otherwise identical.) The only rub: it's bigger and heftier (7.35 ounces) than the Treo and it, too, doesn't support Sprint's next-gen high-speed EV-DO network, which the company is currently in the process of deploying. There's talk of a Verizon model, and the rumored Siemens SX66--virtually identical but with the welcome addition of built-in Wi-Fi--will be available for GSM/GPRS networks.
Price if you had to pay for it: $629 without a service plan.
Sony Ericsson P910a: This update to the Symbian-OS-based P900 smart phone adds a flip-down text keyboard for e-mailing, a sharper screen, and more built-in memory (64MB). It sports Bluetooth, a built-in digital camera, and a slot for Memory Stick Duo cards. Arguably sleeker than the Treo, this one works on GSM/GPRS networks around the world (that is, T-Mobile and Cingular/AT&T in the United States). Not as hyped and probably more expensive than the Treo, the P910a won't meet Treo-level sales figures (at least here in the States), but it's a worthy smart phone that in some ways has more cachet.
Price if you had to pay for it: no pricing yet, but probably in the $600 to $800 range.
Nokia 9300: Its predecessor, the 9210, was often described as a brick--and it was, weighing in at well over half a pound. But the mini laptop, clamshell design did have its supporters, almost all of them overseas. The significantly trimmed-down Nokia 9300 (5.89 ounces), due out in the United States early next year, has been written off somewhat, but it does look more like a standard phone from the outside and opens up to reveal an ample keyboard and wide horizontal screen that's text- and Web-page-friendly. This high-end smart phone runs on Symbian's Series 80 platform and features Bluetooth, 80MB of built-in memory with an expansion slot for MMC cards, plus support for next-generation EDGE networks. Alas, there's no Wi-Fi (you have to step up to the larger 9500 for that), but if you're looking for a laptop replacement, this is pretty tempting.
Price if you had to pay for it: no pricing or carrier has been announced, but I'm guessing $600 to $800.
So there you have it. Five phones, five really high price tags that you don't have to worry about. What's your pick? Not so easy, huh--unless, of course, you're a current Treo owner who just wants to upgrade to the new one (yawn).
Can't decide? Personally, the way I look at it, if you're getting something free, you might as well take the most expensive phone. Which one's that? I'm betting it's an unlocked (works with any carrier) Nokia 9300 or Sony Ericsson P910a. True, that Razr would raise my self-esteem a couple of notches. And that Treo, the safe bet, keeps calling my name. But damn, the Audiovox/Siemens phone is seriously packed...damn.
If you could have any of these phones for free, which one would you take? What flaws do you see in each of them? And what features would you wait for? Talk back to me and get your two cents in.
David Carnoy is an executive editor for CNET Reviews.