LAS VEGAS -- Historically, when you talked about cell phones and the companies that made them, the name Motorola ( MOT) was at the very top of the list.In its heyday, Motorola was the ultimate innovator -- the Apple ( AAPL), Research In Motion ( RIMM), Nokia ( NOK), Samsung, LG, HTC, Google ( GOOG) and Microsoft ( MSFT) of cell phones all rolled into one. They were the innovators. They were the sales leaders. They could charge $1,000 for new handsets -- and get away with it. In 2009, that's ancient history. These days, Motorola still sells cell phones, many overseas in emerging markets. They're no longer the industry leaders they once were, but that doesn't mean their new products should be overlooked. Here at CTIA, Motorola announced one new phone, the Evoke QA4. It is not a high-end, super-duper smartphone by any means. But it is a nicely designed handset for the much more lucrative end of the buying public scale: people who spend $100 or less on a new cell phone. Motorola calls the Evoke "a socially-inclined device." It sports a good-looking, candy bar design with a 2.8-inch full touch-screen. Motorola points out that the phone supports a number of different messaging styles. It is equipped with an accelerometer, so that you can turn it on its side to reveal a full-touch QWERTY keyboard for easy texting. There is also a traditional slide-open keypad as well. Evoke also features home screen messaging icons, predictive text, IM-style messaging, noise-reduction technology to help cut background noise on phone calls, and Bluetooth hands-free connectivity.
In the demonstration we received on the show floor, the Evoke seemed quite sophisticated for a lower-end phone. As a matter of fact, its one-touch, on-screen navigation system rivaled much more sophisticated, expensive and higher-profile designs at the show. As for pricing and availability, the Evoke QA4 should be available in the second quarter of 2009. Final pricing depends on the carriers. The phone will be sold by smaller CDMA-based carriers such as MetroPCS ( PCS). Pricing has yet to be announced. Will the Evoke be enough, by itself, to turn Motorola around? I don't think so. But the design does show that the company's cell-phone division, while no longer innovation leaders, can still design an interesting phone at a reasonable price point. That might just be good news for anyone interested in buying Moto's cell-phone division.