Cell Phones Say Hello to Fashion

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Cell Phones Say Hello to Fashion

Koreans are notorious for being slaves to fashion, and this is true also in the realm of communications. This month, those who wish to remain in step with the most recent developments in wireless will be tempted to throw away their dull, gray-screen handsets in favor of new products with full-color screens. As befitting May, a month that brings colorful blooms, Samsung Electronics and LG Electronics are releasing handsets with color LCD (liquid crystal display) panels in the next couple of weeks.

The color LCD wireless handsets on display by the two Korean companies drew crowds at Expo Comm 2001, a wireless telecommunications show that recently concluded at the COEX exhibition center in Samsung-dong, Seoul.

The color displays are appearing in conjunction with the rollout of a new wireless service called cdma2000-1x this month. What the new technology does, essentially, is allow much faster wireless Internet access at up to 144kbps, about 5-10 times faster than the current IS95-B service.

Just as black-and-white television sets gave way to color televisions, the new color display handsets promise to bring the same kind of revolutionary change. Not only will stock charts be in full color, but also, once the new service is in full swing, a wireless handset will become a mobile entertainment gadget, allowing the user to download videos or audio files and enjoy them on the go. No more straining to read the newspaper on crowded subway trains, just download the news to the handheld device, and no more calling your securities firm during the day to check your investments, just view it on your screen.

But just as you had to buy a new color television to receive a color picture, you will need to buy a new handset with a color LCD to enjoy the new content.

The catch here is that not all color LCDs are the same. Samsung Electronics and LG Electronics displayed two kinds of color LCD handsets during the show, one used a TFT (thin film transistor) LCD panel and the other a STN (supertwist nematic) LCD panel. TFT LCD screens can show moving pictures, such as videos, but STN LCD models, with their 256 colors, can show only colors in graphics.

CyOn Color Folder, by LG Electronics, which comes with a 12-line STN-LCD and weighs 80 grams with a standard battery, will be available at the end of the month, as will a phone by Samsung Electronics with a STN-LCD. The companies said the phones will sell for about 600,000 won ($460).

For 100,000 won or more, the early bird can be on the cutting edge with two color VOD, or video on demand, phones that Samsung expects to market also by the end of the month. SPH -X2000 comes with a 1.5-inch TFT-LCD screen while SPH-X200 employs a larger 2.04-inch screen. A MPEG4 decoder built into the handset supports moving pictures and stereo sound. And with separate memory storage, video files can be saved and replayed.

But since there is almost no content for the devices, the color VOD handsets will mean nothing more than faster Internet access through the cdma2000 1X network and a larger telephone directory, which stores up to 2,400 entries. And since it normally takes a while for the operators to come up with a range of useful content and the new network has not yet undergone extensive field tests with heavy traffic, you may want to hold on to your money for now - unless, of course, your main concern is appearances.

Color phones aside, LG Electronics' booth had on display a wireless handset (Model; LG-P610B) featuring Bluetooth technology, which enables wireless data connections between electronic devices, such as desktop computers, wireless phones, electronic organizers and printers in the 2.4 gigahertz range. The handset comes with a headpiece worn over the ear that allows the user to use the phone from a distance of up to 10 meters. It is also possible to operate other Bluetooth-enabled devices within the 10-meter range. Expect to see this LG handset on store shelves by the end of the month, carrying a price tag of about 500,000 won, the company said.

No electronics show would be complete without a look at what the future holds, and operators and equipment makers offered a glimpse of the phones of tomorrow, wireless handsets that will serve the upcoming third-generation service, slated, optimistically, to begin next May. Many of the mock-up IMT-2000 phones, as they are commonly called, are larger than the currently fashionable models, cramming in a digital camera and using much larger LCD screens. A model demonstrated at KT ICOM, called the IMT-2000 PDA (Personal Digital Assistant) phone, looks very much like a PDA, with no keypad. Information can be keyed in on a touchscreen with a stylus. The device also features a retractable digital camera, allowing online video calls and providing the option of a digital video camera.

by Kim Hoo-ran

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