Nextel bets on cutting-edge phone

Cell phones are now packed with so many features they're often compared to Swiss Army knives. Apparently Nextel Communications and knife maker Victorinox have taken the hint.

Ben Charny Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Ben Charny
covers Net telephony and the cellular industry.
Ben Charny
2 min read
Cell phones are now packed with so many features they're often compared to Swiss Army knives. Apparently Nextel Communications has taken the hint.

On Monday, the wireless carrier announced its Nextel i90c Swiss Army Special Edition, a Motorola-built phone that Nextel has co-branded with Victorinox, the famous maker of Swiss Army knives.

Victorinox helped design the $250 phone, which sports a translucent red plastic shell and a red screen backlight and comes loaded with text versions of "The Worst Case Scenario Survival Handbook" and a first aid manual, among other features.

Buyers of the i90c even get a corkscrew and a plastic toothpick--though those aren't part of the phone itself; they come tucked inside a matching Victorinox knife that's part of the package.

Nextel and other carriers are trying to make up for revenue lost to fierce competition in the market, which has brought the price of cell phone calls to new lows. Phones with new gadgets, such as MP3 players, or gimmicks, such as the new Nextel-Victorinox offering, are some of the more extreme lengths to which cell phone makers and carriers are willing to go, said Alan Reiter, an analyst with Wireless Internet & Mobile Computing, a consulting company.

For handset maker Motorola, the Nextel-Victorinox branded phone is another step in a new direction. The Swiss Army Special Edition is among the first co-branded phones Motorola has produced for corporate customers. Although customizing phones to accompany or promote products is not a new trend for the wireless industry, cell phone makers usually provide companies with only a set number of design choices. Motorola has started giving businesses more say in the phone's actual design, hence the input from Victorinox.

Motorola has tried a similar tactic in an effort to sell its phones directly to consumers. In July, the handset maker held a three-day auction on eBay in which bidders took a shot at 100 Motorola v60 cell phones with the chance to customize parts of the handsets that are normally off limits.

But whether other handset makers will follow Motorola's example remains to be seen. Dana Knight, a spokeswoman for San Diego-based handset maker Kyocera Wireless, said that for now, her company is sticking with selling just phone accessories. Such accessories include new phone covers, hip holsters or even designer bags to hold phones.

The Nextel i90c Swiss Army Special Edition will be available Friday at Nextel retail stores, from the company's Web site and through 1-800-Nextel9.