CES 2013 Preview: Phones and Tablets

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For the mobile world, CES is an appetizer rather than the main course, but don’t worry: There will still be many tasty hors d’oeuvres in Las Vegas next week. We’re going to see advances in networks and components that might not be as exciting as the phones themselves, but will make a big difference in the type of phones we see in 2013. And sure, we’ll see some cool gadgets, too. Here’s what we expect to see at the show.

Phones

Phablets (phones with huge screens) are in right now, so we’re going to see some monster phones at CES. The 6.1-inch Huawei Ascend Mate may be the biggest phone of the show, in more ways than one. It’s already been shown off in China, and it has a quad-core processor and a very, very large screen.

As for phones you can actually fit in your hand, Huawei will be showing off two at CES: the Windows Phone 8-powered Ascend W1 and the Android-powered Ascend D2, which will have a 5-inch, 1080p screen (perhaps the same Sharp display we’ve seen before on the HTC Droid DNA, which we gave a nod for technical excellence in 2012.)

That 5-inch, 1080p screen will also appear on the ZTE Grand S, another high-end Android phone that’s going to get a big intro at a CES press conference.

Joining the Ascend Mate in the “already shown off, but not here” department we have the Samsung Galaxy Grand, which has a much lower-density screen; it’s 5 inches, but only 800-by-480 resolution, designed to be the pre-paid world’s entry-level phablet.

I’m pretty convinced Sony, LG, and HTC are all holding their big announcements for Mobile World Congress in February, so we won’t see a lot in terms of new phones from those companies. Don’t worry, they’ll have great stuff, you’ll just have to wait until February to see it. And how about the Samsung Galaxy S IV? My guess is April.

Networks

AT&T and T-Mobile are throwing big events at CES. I expect T-Mobile to announce its first rollout of LTE cities, probably its first LTE phones, and give more details on its merger with MetroPCS and its new iPhone deal. There’s going to be quite a lot to chew on there.

AT&T will host a press conference mostly aimed at developers, but the company will give a network update and likely announce several new phones and tablets as well. I’m looking mostly for exciting network news here, such as voice-over-LTE (VoLTE), faster LTE-Advanced, and what it plans to do with a large amount of 2.3GHz spectrum that the FCC just cleared for use.

Sprint isn’t planning any events, but remember that the carrier said it would sell a Windows Phone 8 device in early 2013. Could a low-key launch at CES be in order?

Verizon seems to be laying low.

Tablets 
The first round of Windows 8 slates just hit shelves, and some tablet makers (such as Asus) are holding back their next-gen Android devices for MWC in February. That said, we’ve heard a little bit about new tablets so far.

Velocity Micro is mostly known for PCs, but it’s already sent out an invite showing a new line of Cruz Android tablets. The Cruz line is a low-cost, relatively generic Android tablet breed sold at Radio Shack and Walmart, among other places.

There’s also been some buzz about a $99 Acer Android tablet which would provide similar performance to Amazon’s Kindle Fire, but with a more generic build of Android. Some of those reports said the tablet was probably only for the Chinese market, but we could find out more at CES.

We’ve been hearing rumors about a Nokia tablet, but I don’t think that’s for this show. Ditto for the Samsung Galaxy Note 7; MWC was the big Galaxy Note show last year, and I think it will be this year too.

Components

Nvidia plans a major press conference at CES. It’s probably the Tegra 4 chipset, formerly known as Wayne. According to a spurious “leaked” PowerPoint slide on the Internet, Tegra 4 will drop from a 40nm to a 28nm process, upgrade its CPUs from ARM9 to ARM15 and offer six times the graphics performance of Tegra 3, along with support for 1440p displays.

That said, Nvidia typically releases new Tegras at MWC, so if the CES announcement is different – say, a low-cost chipset with an integrated modem like the already-announced “Grey” – I wouldn’t be too surprised.

Samsung is putting a considerable amount of money behind a CES keynote from its chip division. While the speaker, Stephen Woo, is the head of the group that builds processors, the highest-profile discussion right now has Samsung announcing a flexible display for portable devices.

Bring On The Big Show

CES will start the ball rolling, and early 2013 will only get more exciting from there. RIM is releasing BlackBerry 10 on Jan. 30 at its own event. Then comes the world’s largest mobile-phone trade show, Mobile World Congress in February, which is sure to have many major announcements.

By Sascha Segan, PCMag


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