Cutting Room: Where have all the handsets gone?

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There wasn’t a lot to get excited about on the handset front at CES in Las Vegas, but Paul Withers reckons Sony made the biggest announcement and will turn heads this year

Last year lacked excitement in terms of handset launches. The economy is flat and consumer confidence is low. So what was there from the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas to spice things up?

At time of going to press, few handsets had been launched at the event, and the signs were that 2012 would not be much more innovative. Perhaps vendors were keeping their powder dry for Mobile World Congress next month.

Huawei unveiled what it claims is the world’s slimmest smartphone. The Ascent P1 S is just 6.68mm thick but packs in a dual-core 1.5GHz processor, 8MP camera and Android 4.0. But we won’t see it in the UK until Q3.

Nokia’s second Windows-powered phone, the Lumia 900, was also wheeled out. But its specs were almost identical to the Lumia 800, and it will only be sold in the USA through AT&T. Neither was there a Windows-based tablet from Microsoft.

The biggest announcement came from Sony, which showed off the first four handsets not to carry the Ericsson co-branding since it bought out its partner for £869 million in October.

Alone, Sony struggled to make any notable impact in the T610 and K700 days. Can it ever make a successful comeback? We think it can.

The Sony Xperia S, expected here in March, has a dual-core 1.5 GHz processor, compared with the 800Mhz engine of the iPhone 4S. It also has 4.3-inch HD screen with Sony’s Mobile BRAVIA Engine. This uses the same imaging processing technology as the company’s TVs to increase picture clarity.  A 12MP rear camera has Exmor R, a Sony technology that improves pictures taken in low light.

Such features don’t always guarantee success. Sony Ericsson’s Satio and Nokia’s N8 had comparable cameras and failed to ignite market shares. But hardware isn’t everything. No one bought a BlackBerry for its camera.

The big differentiator for the Xperia S could be the way it can link to the Sony Entertainment Network library of millions of songs, films and TV shows. It also has PlayStation Certification for games and NFC capabilities. This makes it a smartphone powerhouse.

So, the hardware looks good. But Sony will need to rediscover its marketing legs to excite jaded users. If it gets its ducks in a row, Sony could be the surprise major vendor of 2012. We’ll take bets now.

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