Feature Article

January 08, 2013

CES 2013: New Phone Designs Unveiled

Las Vegas, NV – Two new phone designs were among the offerings on display at CES Unveiled, the official “preview” show at the International CES 2013 event. UrbanHello has taken a crack at redesigning the stock home phone, while XPAL Power (Yah, the battery guys) were re-engaging the media with a low-cost cell phone able to operate on a single AA battery.

 UrbanHello caught the eye of many journalists and won an “Innovations Award” for its unique design. The best way to describe it is a white stick on top of a semi-cone speaker base, with a dial pad and a small monochrome OLED display hidden away on the bottom; the speaker base comes in several different colors. The device supports CAT-iq and G.722 HD voice, so it can easily work with current and existing DECT-GAP and CAT-iq 1.0 base station equipment currently deployed throughout Europe (and likely to appear whenever U.S. cable companies get around to deploying CAT-iq equipment on their networks). Phone range is up to 50 meters indoors and up to 300 meters outside.

UrbanPhone automatically turns into a speakerphone when you set it down, so there’s no need to push a button to toggle it on. It is designed to have 50 percent more talk time compared to other wireless handsets on the market and can remain on standby away from its recharging base station for up to eight days.

If you want a phone, you can pre-order on via a KickStarter campaign for $85. It’s a good bet this phone will do well in Europe, where people love new and well-designed products and carriers support both broadband HD voice and CAT-iq.

My money is likely to go into a couple of SpareOne emergency phones. XPAL has made a $99.99 GSM phone that delivers up to 10 hours of talk time on a single AA battery. It comes in a waterproof bag with an Energizer Ultimate Lithium L91 battery good for up to 15 years on stand-by. If the battery doesn’t work or you need more talk time, buy a couple more batteries.

In its most basic usage, you can punch the big red cross button on the phone and it will dial emergency services, enabling the authorities to geo-locate you based upon your cell phone usage. There’s also a white LED penlight embedded in the bottom, good for up to 24 hours of continuous use on a single AA. 

Adding a SIM or Micro-SIM card enables the phone to be used for regular calling and there’s even an iPhone tool to jimmy the SIM out of a dead phone. Up to nine numbers can be pre-programmed into the phone – we’re not talking an Android phone, but a very basic voice device. You can’t text with it and the phone automatically sends back an SMS message that you can’t be reached via text, so call instead.

One thing to note: There are two GSM versions of the phone, one for 800/1900MHz networks and another for 900/1800Mhz, so if you are traveling outside of the U.S, you will need the latter version; check the online map to be sure. A pre-paid SIM card and a couple of extra AA batteries would be useful accessories as a part of an emergency preparedness kit.

What I love about SpareOne is its potential. The current version requires a waterproof bag, but there are a couple of nano-coat manufacturers running around here at CES that can liquid-proof electronics through a relatively simple process. Next-generation products might be able to work the dropping cost of trailing-edge silicon to support some basic SMS text messaging – a feature I’d expect to show up since 911 call centers will be supporting SMS texting in the future.

Edited by Brooke Neuman

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