Alternatives to the iPhone

Looking for a new cell phone? One that can e-mail, play music, surf the Web and, well, is just really cool?

I bet you're thinking: Sure, I want the iPhone. Starting next week you can get it.

But there are also plenty of other hip phones on the market that do most of what the iPhone does and even a few that have some added features.

I got a few of these phones and decided to play around with them for a few days. Apple did not provide ABC News with an iPhone, so there is no way to really compare apples to the Apple, so to speak.

A warning: I love technology, but am in no way an expert. This list is in no way a comprehensive one, or even a full review of any of these phones. It's just a look at some of the alternatives out there and the initial thoughts of a pretty tech savvy journalist playing around with them.

These phones aren't for everybody.

Chris Hazelton, an analyst with IDC Research, said the typical buyer is going to be somebody willing to pay for expensive data plans, willing to sacrifice battery life and people who are "bleeding edge" adopters -- those who are willing to pay for the latest, but untested, technology.

The iPhone Customer

The iPhone, which plays off the enormous success of Apple's iPod, has dominated cell phone talk and media coverage for months. It promises to merge music, video, the Web, e-mail, a camera and more into a spiffy looking phone with a touchpad.

But the phone won't come cheap. It will cost $499 for four gigabytes of memory or $599 for a model with twice the memory. The phone will only work on the network of AT&T, until recently Cingular Wireless, and requires a two-year service contract.

Hazelton said that the "user experience will need to be very good to meet people's expectations which have been highly inflated due to the nature of this launch."

For most users, they "will be too much to deal with."

These phones are essentially mini-computers susceptible to the same issues that face computers today, including viruses and crashing.

IDC Research found that only 10 percent of those it surveyed would buy the iPhone at the $499 price.

More than two out of three people said they were interested, but most said they were unlikely to purchase it based on the price and having to switch to an AT&T contract.

Avi Greengart, principal mobile device analyst for Current Analysis, noted that the key to the iPhone "is not what it does -- its technical or design specifications -- but how it does it." Specifically, "its unique, highly responsive finger-driven user interface."

High-End Phones

If you are looking for a smart phone, one that makes e-mail and Web browsing easy, there are plenty of alternatives. The Motorola Q has been extremely popular as has Research in Motion's BlackBerry which essentially changed the mobile marketplace — and some say our way of life. BlackBerry's new Curve, at $199, is a bargain compared to the iPhone. Other phones in the works are Palm's Treo 680 and Helio's Ocean.

With so many phones out there, I decided to skip the smart phones and look at a few others that are packed with multimedia content.

The phone that had the most features and was easiest for me to use was the Nokia N95.

But with a whopping $749 price tag, it is likely to have a very limited market.

"It's not a phone. It's a little handheld multimedia computer," said Bill Plummer, vice president of sales and channel management for Nokia Multimedia, North America.

Plummer said the phone is not being marketed at the masses but toward the "elite technology leader."

"These are the people that set trends that change behaviors," he said.

I was impressed with the phone's five-megapixel camera and video camera. It also comes with a built-in GPS unit, something the iPhone lacks.

The music and video quality were great but the phone's Web and e-mail functions were a bit clunky. It also has a large screen which looks like, but isn't, a touchscreen. All the functions are done through various buttons around the phone.

The phone, however, does connect to the Internet not just through cell towers but through your home wireless network, allowing for faster uploads and downloads.

"Other than your car keys and your wallet, there's one other device that you won't leave home without," Plummer said. He hopes it will be his company's phone.

The phone is not being sold through any cell carrier but directly though Nokia and some independent sellers. Users would then have to buy a plan though a GSM carrier such as AT&T or T-Mobile.

Another high-end device that could challenge the iPhone is HTC Corp.'s Touch.

This touchscreen phone is light and sleek, but I found it cumbersome to use and several features required use of a stylus stick.

The display was great and viewing Web sites was nice, especially with the touchscreen to click on links. But navigating from one application to another was not always simple and typing e-mails was neither fast nor easy.

The phone also connects to the Web through cell towers and wi-fi hot spots. It operates on Windows Mobile software and takes significantly longer than a normal cell phone to boot up. I would hate to have to wait to call 911.

The phone currently sells in the United Kingdom for about $600.

It will be released later this month in Asia and throughout Europe. The North American and Latin American version will be out at the end of the year.

Some Cheaper Alternatives

So you don't have $500 to spend on a phone.

There are still several phones out there that are cool and full of features.

One of the most surprising phones was Samsung's Upstage, available for $99 through Sprint with a two-year contract.

The ultra-thin phone (it comes with a larger holder to extend the relatively short battery life) is lightweight and slick.

One side is a normal phone and the other side is an mp3 player that plays video and TV off of Sprint's network. Users can download songs for 99 cents each directly from Sprint to their phones.

"It looks and feels like a music player," said Kim Titus, director of communications for Samsung.

True. But that's about it. Trying to e-mail or do other typing-intensive tasks was not easy.

Titus acknowledges that "this is primarily a music phone."

But at $99 it does make a nice alternative for somebody who wants one device to make calls and listen to music.

The interface was not as smooth as the iPod, but it is marginally larger than a Nano, making it easy to carry, especially considering you can ditch your old cell phone.

Don't expect to store all of your songs, or even a few albums. It only comes with 64 megabytes of memory -- about enough for 28 songs, but you can buy additional memory for the phone.

Finally, for somebody who wants music and a phone in one but really doesn't want to spend a ton of money, LG Electronics offers through Verizon the Chocolate.

The unit combines an mp3 player with a phone like Samsung's Upstate but bulky in comparison and not as sleek.

It does come in five colors: chocolate, mint, strawberry, cherry and white. But that's about where the coolness ends.

It is a good cheap alternative, but in no way compares with the other phones out on the market today.

LG does have a hip new phone, the Prada, that might give the iPhone a run for its money. But as of now, there are no plans to bring this phone -- like several other competitors -- to the United States.