Faster phones and more Ice Cream Sandwich at CES 2012

The smartphone category should stomp into the 2012 CES show with quad-core phones, new Ice Cream Sandwich devices, LTE expansion, and more.

Smartphones continue to be a changing category at the Consumer Electronics Show. Though they started out by taking a relatively low profile in the face of giant TVs and fancy Blu-ray players, over the past couple of years they've gone big.

Along with its laptop dock, the Motorola Atrix 4G was a star of the 2011 CES. Nicole Lee/CNET

In 2009, for example, the Palm Pre swept the show and just last January the Motorola Atrix 4G and the Xoom took three CNET Best of CES awards.

So what does the 2012 show hold? Considering that the industry never stands in one place for more than a week, it will be an exciting few days for mobile geeks. This time around, carriers and manufacturers appear to be taking longer finalizing their plans, but we have quite a few guesses as to what we'll see on the show floor. And after conferring with CNET's smartphone experts, Jessica Dolcourt and Brian Bennett , here's what we expect.

Ice Cream Sandwich
The repeated delays of Verizon's Galaxy Nexus had us worried that we'd have to wait for 2012 to get our first real taste of Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS), but Big Red made it just under the wire with a December 16 release . After a careful review , we can report that Ice Cream Sandwich has been pretty sweet, so we're eager to savor more at CES.

Samsung Galaxy Nexus (Verizon)
With Ice Cream Sandwich, the Galaxy Nexus is just the beginning. James Martin/CNET

To that end, we expect to see the Ice Cream Sandwich-powered Huawei Honor land at a U.S. carrier. And according to Jessica, we'll have a few other ICS phones (or at least upgrade promises) from manufacturers and carriers. It will be particularly interesting, though, to see how the OEMs handle the integration of ICS with custom interfaces on existing phones.

Quad-core phones
One of the biggest stories at the 2011 show was the mainstreaming of dual-core phones. Not only did we get the Atrix, but also Motorola rolled out the Droid Bionic and LG presented the Optimus 2X (aka the T-Mobile G2x). More dual-core followed throughout 2011, but even the latest batch of handsets would be left in the dustbin by a quad-core device.

Nothing is official yet, but rumors over the past two months have pointed to a possible HTC device with the new Nvidia Tegra 3 1.5GHz quad-core processor. If you're keeping track that's the same processor that turned up in the recent Asus Transformer Prime.

Nvidia's quad-core Tegra 3 should make its way into a smartphone. Nvidia

At the time of this writing, HTC hasn't scheduled a CES event, but Nvidia is hosting a press conference January 9 where it could make a Tegra 3 announcement. And since we doubt that it would move ahead without a manufacturer partner, we expect that a handset or tablet manufacturer will join the company onstage.

Windows Phone 7
After Nokia World in October, we finally know of Nokia's first foray into Windows Phone 7. Sure, the news of the Lumia 710 and Lumia 800 wasn't quite as exciting as we had hoped, but a slow start means that the company can only go up from here.

A Nokia device at either Verizon or AT&T is a strong possibility, especially now that Nokia is reportedly testing LTE devices for both carriers. Indeed, LTE would be a nice boost for Windows Phone 7 and a much more exciting development than the recent Lumia 710 arrival at T-Mobile. As you've heard every other tech journalist say, Windows Phone 7 can be a great OS, but it needs some love from manufactures and carriers fast.

4G
Just like at the 2011 CES, announcements around 4G networks should dominate the next show. But in a change from the earlier event, LTE phones (and not HSPA+ devices) should take center stage. After first announcing its LTE plans last January, AT&T has grown its network slowly with just 15 markets covered so far. At CES, however, we hope to hear more about where AT&T will bring LTE next and when we'll see more 4G phones like the LG Nitro HD. Look for the details following the carrier's January 9 press conference.

LG Nitro HD
Hopefully, CES will bring more AT&T LTE phones like the LG Nitro HD. Josh Miller/CNET

Verizon appears to be taking a quieter approach to CES, but we expect that it will announce more cities added to its already huge LTE network. Sprint has nothing more than a cocktail reception planned so far, but the carrier may release more details about its promised LTE network and phones .

The usual suspects
Or course, all the regular smartphone heavyweights will be in Las Vegas in one form or another. LG has its usual early press conference on January 9 where new phones should play a play part. We'll be there to bring you the news live. Sony Ericsson and Samsung should follow with Android-related news, but Sammy could surprise by dipping another toe into Windows Phone 7.

Strangely, though, after charging full steam into the 2011 CES, Motorola canceled its press conference. The company will keep its giant booth in the Las Vegas Convention Center, but we're guessing that the manufacturer won't pull a lot of new phones out of its hat. Smaller manufacturers like ZTE, Kyocera, and Pantech haven't announced their plans yet, either, but given their past focus on CTIA, we don't expect much from them.

And new players
On the other hand, CES could see VewSonic enter the smartphone game. The display manufacturer first showed its V350 Android device last February at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, so it may offer us more details.

As of today we have just three weeks to rest up until the fun begins. Though plans can change and few things are guaranteed until they're announced, we'll have plenty of new phones to dish from Vegas. If leaks should trickle out during the holiday break, we'll bring it to you here and be sure to check back often once it all begins on January 10.

From the moment the CNET team arrives on the ground, we'll deliver every morsel of mobile goodness.

What would you like to see at CES? Let us know below.
 

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