Since the iPhone won't come out here in the UK until the end of this year, some normally patient phone fans are getting antsy. But there are some great mobile phones available now, or in the next few months, that could well give the iPhone a run for its money. They won't have that special Apple smugness, but they'll play your music, let you browse the Internet and even do a few tricks the iPhone can't manage.
For those of you unfamiliar with the iPhone's specs, or those of you who just love reading them over and over again, here's a quick roundup. The iPhone measures 61mm wide by 115mm tall by 11.6mm deep. It runs a version of Apple's Mac operating system, OS X, and includes Widgets, Google Maps, the Safari browser and iTunes with CoverFlow. Apple has partnered with Google and Yahoo to bring maps and email to the device.
It has a large 89mm (3.5-inch) touchscreen with multi-touch capabilities that lets you do things like enlarge photos using two fingers. The screen adjusts the brightness depending on the ambient light and turns itself off when you're making a phone call to save power. It will also automatically change from portrait to landscape mode as you turn it, so you can take advantage of the widescreen.
There's a built-in Web browser that can connect to the Internet via Wi-Fi or EDGE connectivity. It has a 2-megapixel camera on the back, a 3.5mm jack so you can use your own headphones, Bluetooth connectivity and of course, it's also a widescreen video iPod with a capacity of 4GB or 8GB. Now let's get to the phones you can buy before next Christmas.
First up is the Sony Ericsson W950i Walkman phone. It measures 54mm wide by 106mm tall by 15mm deep. It runs on the Symbian OS v9.1 and uses the UIQ 3 user interface, which means you can run a variety of Symbian software on it including translators, maps and games. It also supports push email and while there's no Wi-Fi, it does have 3G connectivity, which the iPhone doesn't, meaning you can connect to the Internet much faster than over the iPhone's EDGE connection.
It has a 2.5-inch (63.5mm) colour touchscreen that doesn't have multi-touch capabilities, but it does have handwriting recognition and there's also a stylus at the back of the phone when you don't want to use your finger. There's also a built-in Internet browser that you can use in landscape mode, but you have to change the mode in the settings menu.
There's also a handy scroll wheel on the side of the phone for navigating the menu or scrolling through your music when you're using the music player. The music player will play almost any audio format and lets you see album art, in addition to letting you set a track to a certain mood and select your music via moods rather than playlists. The W950i has 4GB of on-board memory so you can store about 1000 songs.
Unfortunately, the W950i doesn't have a 3.5mm jack for your headphones, but it does come with an adaptor so you can connect one via the headphone port at the bottom. It also features stereo Bluetooth, which Apple has yet to announce for the iPhone, and that lets you listen to music wirelessly with a compatible pair of headphones.
One important thing to note is that the W950i supports 3's new X-Series flat-rate data plan, which gives you unlimited Web browsing and free Skype-to-Skype calls to any PC or other X-Series user worldwide, as well as the ability to search on Google and Yahoo, send MSN instant messages to your friends, watch your TV from a Slingbox, access your computer at home with Orb and buy or sell stuff on eBay.
The W950i is available now for free on a monthly contract or for about £360 SIM-free.
Next up is the Nokia N95, which runs on the Symbian OS and measures 53mm wide by 99mm tall by 21mm deep. It's a two-way slider phone, so slide it one way and you get media keys and slide it the other way and you get a keypad. There's an iPhone-beating 5-megapixel camera on the back, with a Carl Zeiss lens, auto focus and a lens cover. You can also view your photos and video clips on a compatible television using the TV-out feature.
Music lovers get an FM radio, an MP3 player, expandable storage using microSD memory cards and a mini-USB port for easy file transfers, neither of which the iPhone features. There are also stereo speakers, a standard 3.5mm audio jack and support for stereo Bluetooth, which Apple has yet to announce for the iPhone.
As for connectivity, the Nokia is an absolute beast, featuring Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, infrared and HSDPA. The iPhone has Wi-Fi but lacks 3G connectivity, which has caused some concern among smart phone users who need high-speed connectivity on the go. There are no concrete details as to whether a 3G iPhone will be available, but we hope there will be one in the future.
Unlike the iPhone, the Nokia N95 doesn't have a touchscreen, so you have to browse the Web using the navigation buttons. The Web browser features an overlay mode similar to the iPhone's zooming function, which lets you see the whole page while you scroll over particular parts. This means you can look at detailed text and at the same time see where you are in relation to the rest of the page.
Impressively, the features don't stop there, as the Nokia N95 also has built-in GPS with maps of over 100 countries. Apple's phone does feature Google maps but not satellite navigation, which gives the edge to the N95 when it comes to finding your way home.
The Nokia N95 is supposedly going to be available some time soon, but as with most of the N-Series range, it might take a little longer than expected. Now that the iPhone has launched, we're pretty sure Nokia will try and rush this on to UK shelves as soon as possible.
Finally, there's the LG KE850 Prada phone, a tri-band phone that many are calling the iPhone killer, mainly because it bears more than a passing resemblance to this year's Macworld darling. The Prada phone measures 54mm wide by 99mm tall by 12mm deep. It's a candybar handset that features a 76mm (3-inch) colour touchscreen similar to the one found on the iPhone, but it doesn't have multi-touch capabilities.
The LG KE850 features a Macromedia Flash-based user interface that has cute icons to display all the KE850's functions. These include a video player that supports MPEG-4 and H.263 formats and a music player that supports MP3, ACC, ACC+, WMA and RA files. There's also an expandable microSD slot for storing all your favourite music and videos.
The KE850 boasts a document viewer that supports Microsoft's PPT, DOC, XLS formats, PDF and TXT. Connectivity-wise, it offers Bluetooth 2.0 and EDGE, but no Wi-Fi. There's no mention of a 3.5mm headphone jack in the specs, which suggests you'll have to use an in-line adaptor rather than just being able to plug your headphones straight in.
According to LG's press release, the LG KE850 will be available next month. We assume that it will be free on a monthly contract and might be available SIM-free at some point too.
Overall, if you're not bothered about features then the LG KE850 Prada phone should keep you happy. If it's music you're into then the W950i is a worthy contender, but if you want something to firmly stave off any iPhone needs until you can get your hands on one, then the Nokia N95 is definitely worth checking out. -AL