During the course of 2006, better cameras were built into handsets, fashion phones battled it out on the catwalk, GPS and Wi-Fi integration became common, and advances in mobile networks saw faster downloads for content.
Camera phones pushed into the 3-megapixel space with Sony Ericsson and Nokia both launching 3G handsets that took good-quality snaps. Theedged in front of in our eyes in terms of picture quality and ease-of-use, but we loved Nokia's integration with Flickr for uploading photos.
While LG introduced the innovativephone, it's the company's clever marketing strategy -- to call a handset something that's instantly recognisable -- which is being imitated by others. Arguably though, Motorola got there first with the iconic RAZR, which continues to be popular in all the iterations we've seen this year.
Windows Mobile devices tried their best to steal some of the enterprise market from RIM, with the introduction of push e-mail, but the BlackBerry maker retaliated with the 3G-capbable 8707 and the, the first consumer-oriented BlackBerry that features a built-in camera, expandable memory and multimedia playback. HTC-owned Dopod entered the Australian market as a cheap smartphone alternative, and we quickly learned that the parent company is no longer going to manufacture devices for HP and i-mate.
On the network side, Telstra took the limelight by launching Next G, a 3G network which operates in the 850MHz band that was HSPDA-enabled at launch, and will replace its soon-to-be-phased-out CDMA network. Vodafone switched its 3G network to HSDPA a day later, while 3 is slowly catching up with a nationwide rollout expected to be complete by March 2007. Optus, meanwhile, seems to be twiddling its thumbs.
We're heading to Las Vegas in January for a massive consumer electronics show, CES 2007, where Motorola and other mobile manufacturers are expected to make some big announcements. But with Apple rumour sites in full swing discussing the possible launch of the iPod phone, it could be the MacWorld expo in San Francisco where we'll see the biggest phone launch of 2007. Stay tuned to CNET.com.au over the following weeks as we report from both shows.
Best camera phone of 2006
The Sony Ericsson K800i outshines all other camera phones in term of features and user-friendly design. Aside from a few squabbles with the extra bulk, the K800i makes it easy for first-time 3G users and is an ideal companion for anyone wanting to take happy-snaps on-the-go.
Most innovative design
While Motorola's RAZR still manages to trigger ultra-thin fashion clones, LG has moved in a different direction with the Chocolate KG800, an understated and stylish mobile phone with a beguiling design twist.
Best slider phone of the year
Samsung's D900 proves that's it's entirely possible to take an existing phone design and put it on a serious slimming diet.
Phone most likely to be the next big thing
With consumer-friendly mobile email, instant messaging, SMS and even Web browsing, and a deal that gives you almost unlimited data for $1 per day, Telstra's hiptop 2 looks set to become BlackBerry for teens and twentysomethings -- it could even topple an iPod as the hottest thing under the Christmas tree this year.
Best smart phone for business users
The BlackBerry 8700 series is ideal for mobile professionals who require always-on e-mail access, but its cost and functionality won't be attractive to most non-business users.
Fashion phone of the year
Sony Ericsson's Z610i is a hot 3G phone for this summer with some serious features under the hood, but you may not want to use it as your main camera or video player.
Slimmest phone that would go unnoticed even in Nicole Richie's pocket
Basically a candybar version of the RAZR, Motorola's SLVR is a stylish, multimedia-savvy phone that slips easily into your pocket.
Tackiest phone of the year
This fashion-focused phone screamed "tack-o-rama" according to our simple tastes, but label lovers might be sold on the gold.
Phone that came closest to being an "iPod Killer"
An excellent phone with plenty of storage space for photos. The camera is above average for a mobile phone, as are the supplied headphones. While there is no need for W800i users to upgrade to this model, the W810i offers an impressive feature set for those considering the purchase.
Consumers that have already been lured by the BlackBerry's popular email functions will love the new-look Pearl, but may be disappointed when comparing it to other high-end consumer devices with 2-megapixel cameras and Wi-Fi connectivity.
Best phone for e-mail that's not a BlackBerry
What do you call something that looks like a Blackberry, acts like a Blackberry and yet offers a lot more than most Blackberry devices? Nokia calls it the E61.
Most likely to survive being dropped in the loo
The 5500's training features improve on its predecessors, but are at best a novelty for those starting out, rather than fitness fanatics. As a sturdy phone, however, the 5500 shines.
Best GPS-enabled phone
Overall, a great phone with a host of features in addition to GPS capabilities, the experience is only marred by the high price and ergonomic issues.
Mobile phone readers had the most problems with
Provided you're willing to compromise a bit of pocket space, the Nokia 6280 has a range of multimedia applications and a dazzling big, bright screen. We'd like to have seen better camera performance, but as far as capturing video goes, it's hard to beat this phone at the moment in terms of quality.
Biggest let-down in 2006 when it was finally released
The N91 sees Nokia take two steps forward with functionality and one step back in its design efforts, making the phone suitable for feature-mongers but not so attractive to budding fashionistas.
Most anticipated phone for 2007
It's hard to pigeonhole Nokia's flaship multimedia device, the N95, as a mobile phone. Due in January 2007, it combines a quadband handset (with support for 3G and HSDPA networks) with a GPS navigator and mapping application, 5-megapixel camera, Wi-Fi connectivity, a Web browser and a whole lot more.