Samsung Smartphone Goes Optical to Stand Out

Samsung Epix
Samsung Epix. Click to enlarge.
Source: Samsung

Samsung pulled out all the stops this week, introducing an enterprise-friendly, Windows Mobile smartphone that not only includes a touchscreen and support for new video-sharing capabilities but what the Korean technology giant described as the first optical mouse on a high-end phone.

Yet it’s possible that not many in the industry took notice, given that the smartphone arrived amid Google’s T-Mobile G1 and Research in Motion’s (NASDAQ: RIMM) news that its BlackBerry Bold will finally hit market Nov. 4.

This week’s flurry of smartphone announcements illustrates how competitive the mobile handset market remains despite current shaky economic conditions. The news also comes as handset makers and wireless carriers scramble to position themselves to attract new customers ahead of the holiday gift-giving season.

While Samsung’s smartphones may not grab headlines as often as Apple’s (NASDAQ: AAPL) iPhone or RIM’s BlackBerry portfolio, the company is holding on to its No. 2 slot in worldwide mobile device sales.

The vendor, which debuted several high-end devices earlier this year, including the Soul, the F480 and the M800, reported 22 percent year-to-year growth in unit shipments during the second quarter, totaling 45.7 million, according to an IDC research report.

But staying on top may not always be a sure thing, considering the sweeping changes now taking place across the mobile industry — such as the emergence of the Google-backed, open source Android operating system. Also causing major ripples are consumers’ increasing demand for innovative multimedia capabilities and enterprises’ growing appetite for more powerful workplace devices.

Those market elements are seen as driving players to develop advanced features to differentiate their products in a crowded industry.

For Samsung’s Epix, the differentiators are a new, mouse navigation technology and video-sharing service from exclusive carrier AT&T (NYSE: T). AT&T is also the exclusive carrier of the iPhone and the BlackBerry Bold — both of which, like the Epix, operate on 3G and Wi-Fi networks.

The mouse is controlled by sweeping a finger over a button on the front of the device, is one of three navigation controls for the Epix. Users also can use a four-way directional key or the smartphone’s touchscreen, according to Cathy Quaciari, AT&T’s senior director of device product marketing.

“This is a big differentiator as users can tap, use the mouse or click on the four-way pad to whip around the handset’s functions like they do on a PC, ” Quaciari told

The device’s new video service enables users to talk while sharing live video streams. AT&T claims it is the first carrier to provide the service.

On the business side, the handset’s Windows Mobile 6.1 platform enables users to access multiple e-mail accounts using either Microsoft Exchange Server’s Direct Push capabilities and AT&T’s own Xpress Mail service. The Epix also supports Microsoft’s System Center Mobile Device Manager 2008, which enables IT to manage Windows Mobile devices.

A memory slot allows for external storage of 32 GB of data, and the handset features a large battery to support hefty data use, according to Quaciari. The Epix also offers built-in GPS for use in connection with AT&T’s Navigator mapping services.

Yet industry competition isn’t just driving new features and services: It may also have a hand in driving down retail prices and increasing device subsidies for carriers. The Epix sells for $199 with a two-year contact — costing the same price as the iPhone, a little more than T-Mobile’s $179 G1 and about $100 less than the BlackBerry Bold.

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