Phones with cameras. Phones for tweens. Phones with TV. Phones with tunes. Even phones that tell you where to go, so to speak.
Mobile phones have evolved quickly in the past two years, adding everything from high-speed Internet access to MP3 players.
With 199,154,119 (and counting) cell phone users in the U.S., America’s wireless phone companies are hoping this holiday season will spark consumers to buy new phones — and sign up for extra services in the process.
The fourth quarter is traditionally the biggest for wireless companies, as consumers purchase phones for family members and, often, for themselves.
Here’s a look at some of this season’s hot phones and a brief overview of family plans being offered by wireless companies.
What could potentially be the hottest phone of the season isn’t even out yet.
The Samsung SCH-V740, nicknamed The Blade, is expected to hit store shelves before the holiday. The thin phone with Power Vision, a 1.3-megapixel camera and Bluetooth wireless connectivity will compete with Motorola’s Razr, the hottest-selling phone in the wireless industry during the third quarter.
Sprint’s other hot phones feature the company’s Power Vision high-speed Internet and entertainment service, crisp screens and multimedia players for music and TV. The Sanyo MM-9000 sells for $230 with rebate. The Samsung MM-A940 has a 2-megapixel camera and costs $250 after rebates.
Motorola was the top mobile phone manufacturer during the third quarter, and the Razr V3 was one of the reasons.
Half an inch thick and just over 3 ounces, the Razr has become a wireless status symbol. It has a camera and sells for $200 with a two-year plan.
For the tween set, Cingular is pushing the Firefly. It runs $75 after rebates with a two-year plan.
The LG VX9800 incorporates a phone and e-mail device into a candy bar style that has a widescreen monitor.
The phone opens lengthwise and has a QWERTY keyboard and screen. When it is closed, users can use the phone keyboard, and it becomes a digital camera that actually resembles a digital camera. It sells for about $350.
The Samsung SCH-a970 is a flip phone with a crisp screen that accesses Verizon’s V Cast high-speed Internet and entertainment service and has a 2-megapixel camera and MP3 player.
Paris Hilton uses one, as do a lot of other celebs (Hilton’s got hacked; yours probably won’t). The Sidekick 2 text messaging phone is the hip phone for those in the 20-something generation.
The Sidekick 2 has a hidden QWERTY keyboard, is a good phone for wireless gaming and has Web access. It sells for about $250 after rebates.
Also hot is T-Mobile’s much anticipated pink version of its Razr V3, which began selling on Friday. Pink comes at a premium. At about $250, it’s $50 more than the black and silver models.
The prepaid market
Major phone companies aren’t the only ones out there striving for hip in the wireless phone market.
Virgin Mobile USA, a prepaid service that markets to teens, is offering the Snapper. The $100 phone has a camera, Web access and AOL instant messaging.
ESPN has promised to start marketing its mobile phone service online before the holidays.
The company plans to launch with the sleek Sanyo MVP, which offers high-speed wireless access, a camera, an MP3 player and a video camera.
■ Cingular Wireless: $70 for 700 minutes a month, two lines, and unlimited nights and weekends. Calls to other Cingular phones are free. Cingular’s gimmick? Rollover minutes, allowing consumers to bank unused minutes.
■ Sprint Nextel: $70 for 800 minutes a month, two lines, and unlimited nights and weekends. Calls to other Sprint phones, and some Nextel phones, are free. Sprint’s gimmick? “Fair and flexible” lets customers avoid overages by paying for extra minutes as needed.
■ T-Mobile: $60 for 700 minutes a month, two lines, and unlimited nights and weekends. Calls to other T-Mobile phones are free. T-Mobile’s gimmick? Lowest price, and Catherine Zeta-Jones.
■ Verizon Wireless: $70 for 700 minutes a month, two lines, and unlimited nights and weekends. Calls to other Verizon phones are free. Verizon’s gimmick? Network coverage.
■ Going prepaid? A sampling: You don’t have to sign a contract to get a mobile phone. Virgin Mobile USA offers several plans, including 300 minutes for $30 a month for a single phone. Boost Mobile charges 20 cents a minute for evening calls and 10 cents for calls at night. Walkie-talkie calls are unlimited for $1.50 a day. GoPhone from Cingular offers several plans, including a 25-cent-per-minute rate. T-Mobile and Verizon offer similar plans. TracFone offers 200 minutes in a 60-day period for $50. Mobile ESPN is expected to launch on a limited basis next month. Rates haven’t been announced.