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CES 2009 wrap-up: Cell phones and smartphones

CNET gives you the highlights of cell phone and smartphone news at the 2009 CES.

The Palm Pre takes Best of CES. Palm

Though cell phones are just a small part of CES, the category made a big splash at this year's show with the first cell phone to win CNET's Best of CES award. But the Palm Pre was not the only device in Las Vegas; new devices also debuted from Motorola, Sony Ericsson, and LG, to name a few.

In the smartphone category, the obvious star was the Palm Pre, which scored a hat trick by winning not only the aforementioned Best of CES award, but also the Best of CES award in the cell phone category and the People's Voice Award. The Pre restored a bit of faith in Palm and more importantly, pushed the capabilities of a smartphone. The Pre promises to offer true multi-tasking on a phone and dazzles with its unique user interface, design, and features.

In addition, the Palm Web OS and App Store will only expand the Pre's (as well as future Palm Web OS devices) uses and capabilities. By raising the bar, Palm has certainly sent a message to its competitors and we suspect they'll step up and respond, which is always good for us since it will bring more innovation.

While the Pre might have grabbed much of the CES spotlight, it wasn't the only smartphone to debut at the show. T-Mobile announced the RIM BlackBerry Curve 8900 and T-Mobile Shadow, while HTC introduced its HTC S743 smartphone. Nokia also announced that it will bring a U.S. version of the Nokia E63 to market in the coming weeks, and we finally got some hands-on time with the Nokia N97. Looks like 2009 is shaping up to be another action-packed year for the smartphone space.

Motorola earned a Best of CES nomination with its Surf A3100 smartphone. The touch-screen device offers multimedia features in an eye catching design. And better yet, it puts a nifty and user-friendly spin on the Windows Mobile 6.1 operating.

Moto also introduced the Renew W233, a phone made from recycled water bottles, and the rugged and tough Tundra A76r for AT&T. We got a close look at both models. And though it wasn't introduced in Las Vegas, CES gave us our first opportunity to handle the style-centric and posh Motorola Aura.

Sony Ericsson introduced a couple of phones of its own. The W508 is a Walkman phone in a flip design and the C510 is a candy bar Cyber shot phone. Both handsets look promising after our hands-on. We also saw a new tender rose version of the high-end, 8.1-megapixel Sony Ericsson C905 Cyber shot camera phone.

The Motorola Surf also won our praise. Motorola

Nokia showed off its new 7510 for T-Mobile, the basic Nokia 1006 and the MD-8 speakers. Samsung's phone division was uncharacteristically quiet this year. It just showed the new SGH-T119 for T-Mobile.

LG took the early spotlight at CES 2009 with the LG Watch Phone, which is as amazing as it sounds. Calling on memories of the Dick Tracy 2-way Wrist Radio, the watch phone is surprisingly attractive despite its admittedly niche geek factor.

Made with tempered glass and a metal casing, the watch phone has a touch-screen interface, a 1.43 inch display, plus it has features like text messaging, a speakerphone, stereo Bluetooth, and a music player. There's even a tiny camera on the top right that LG says is made for video conferencing--which sounds totally James Bond to us. We're skeptical about the Watch Phone's commercial viability, but we have to admit it's pretty cool.

Aside from the Watch Phone, LG mostly showed off existing phones like the Decoy and the Dare. It also gave us an opportunity to take a look at its European lineup, like the LG Renoir 8-megapixel camera phone and the LG Prada II. We also managed to get a brief preview of upcoming U.S. devices like the LG VX8360, a mid-tier phone from Verizon, and the LG Rhythm, which is already out from regional carriers U.S. Cellular and Alltel.

PCD had a rather quiet show as well, but we did get a sneak peek at the TXT8020, which is supposed to be the revved-up version of the Verizon Wireless Blitz. Expect that to launch within the first half of the year.

Bluetooth headsets are usually a dime a dozen at CES, and it was no different this year. We did spot a few notable ones though, like the BlueAnt Q1. It combines the voice-control technology we've come to love from the BlueAnt V1 along with a revamped design and improved audio quality. Other headsets worth taking a look at include the Altec Lansing stereo Bluetooth headset, the LG HBM-800 Bluetooth headset and speakerphone combo, and the Nokia BH-804 headset, which is possible one of the smallest headsets around. Take a look at these headsets and more in our Bluetooth headset at CES 2009 slideshow.

That's it from CES 2009. Next stop: February's GSMA World Congress in Barcelona.