ORLANDA, Fla. (TheStreet) -- Apple (AAPL - Get Report), Samsung, Motorola (MOT) and maybe even HTC spend millions convincing us the smartphone game is theirs alone to lose. But the fact is, plenty of other brands offer great prices and real innovation.That is, if you know where to look. With the two major cellphone-industry events -- the International CTIA Wireless 2011 and Mobile World Congress -- out of the way, the smart, smartphone money is able to lens in on the less well-known phones and mobile tools that still stoke legit small-business, market-moving potential:
If one company stood out at the just-wrapping International CTIA Wireless 2011, it was the Miami-based spinoff of Latin American cellphone company BLU Products. BLU operates in 25 mostly Latin American countries. And from what I saw, for good reason. This is a mobile provider that knows the right price and features that calls to my cheapskate small-business heart. Most BLU devices are unlocked, cheap and theoretically will work on many carriers. I liked BLU's Smart World phone, which had a solid three-inch screen; the BLU Tango, an attractive Android 2.2 touch device; and was particularly impressed with a cool knockoff of the BlackBerry ( RIMM) Bold, called the BLU Cubo. For sure, issues remain. Will carriers tango with BLU? What's the support like? Will the phones hold up? And so on. But small-businesses people can expect to see BLU's low-cost units popping up at cellular retailers later this year and shouldn't be surprised to see lots of smart folks using them. It's official: BLU is cool.
Due out April 17, the Kyocera ( KYO) Echo makes what appears to be the worst possible smartphone argument: If a phone with one touch screen is good, one with two is better. But believe it, Kyocera might be right. The two touch-screen Echo is built around a patent-pending, spring-loaded hinge that can combine two 3.5-inch screens into one 4.7-inch diagonal screen. Or be reconfigured with the second screen angled up, like a tiny laptop computer. It sounds ridiculous, but early demos are impressive: You can type on one screen, with the largest touch keyboard on the small-phone market, and surf the Web on the other. Mapping tools such as Google ( GOOG - Get Report) Maps are impressive. And the Echo comes with its own backup battery, standard. Got to love that. For sure, the Echo is cramped compared with a notebook computer, and if you need a keyboard, you are out of luck. But for now, if you are dying for some fresh real estate on the road, this Kyocera is killer!
The tech hipsters are easy to fool. Phones that can make calls and surf the Web get all the fan love. But we grownups know the dark smartphone truth: Power. Sure, makers claim a week of "standby" time (whatever that means) and eight or 10 hours of talk time. But really use your phone to do work, move files, take videos -- that is, try to feed your family -- and suddenly it's the cellular Battle of Antietam. Lots and lots of dead cellphone soldiers. Well, France-based Wysips is betting it can change this bloody small-business mobile-power equation. The company is showing a dang impressive working prototype of a cheap, thin, transparent, solar-charging skin that can attach to any smartphone and keep it powered as you use it. Now sure, this is portable solar power. We must all be skeptical. But the Wysips panel is expected to cost a mere $1 (yeah, one dollar) for an iPhone-sized device. So what really is the risk? I for one will be keeping my eyes peeled for the Wysips. >To submit a news tip, email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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