5 best cell phones doomed to be collectible

The Street

There are lots of twists and turns in the smartphone market. Occasionally, some really good phones just fall through the cracks. Let's call these The Collectibles -- a handful of phones, years in development, that arrive or are set to launch, but instead they get cut down at their prime or doomed before they reach their full potential.

In most of these cases, it's a sweeping change at the company that effectively orphans the handsets.

For Nokia and Research In Motion, blame a full-scale shift to a new operating system. At Palm, it was the HP takeover.

And, sometimes, it's failure's fault, like in the case of Garmin's exit from the market.

Yes, you may have seen the 13 ugliest phones, but these are much different. Here are five "keepers" that could have been big contenders.

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#5 : Garminfone

The awesomeness of this device isn't the fact that it was a GPS phone made by navigation ace Garmin, or the fact that it was powered by Google's Android. No, the best thing about this phone is that it was the first Asus phone in the U.S.

Asus is a rising star in mobile computing. The 21-year-old Taiwanese tech shop is best known for its motherboards and netbooks, but it has recently turned its attention to tablets and phones. Asus was one of the first developers of a Microsoft Windows Phone 7, but that device never materialized.

Unfortunately, Garmin pulled the plug on the joint venture with Asus after it became clear that smartphones were just a little too far outside the GPS specialists' competency. With Garmin and T-Mobile as partners, Asus may not have had the best supporting cast for its debut.

The Garminfone was discontinued last month.


#4 : Sony Ericsson Xperia Play

The "PlayStation Phone" finally arrived, despite some difficult odds.

For one, Sony Ericsson doesn't do much business in the U.S. Even worse, after the company killed its CDMA phone development in 2003, it had almost no ties to Verizon.

And third, novelty phones are a dicey business.

But after a few years of speculation, the Xperia Play arrived in May.

With its slide-out PlayStation game controls, the Xperia Play lives up to its gamer name. But it is also a touch-screen device powered by Android.

The game/phone hybrid is certainly a niche, and some users are happy to have both on one device. "I get my two interests meshed into one," said one Xperia Play user on gdgt, the technology Q&A and review site.

The Play hasn't gotten much backing in the form of marketing and advertising. Perhaps one sign that this phone may not last long at Verizon is the fact that just a month after it debuted at $200 with a two-year contract, it is now being sold on Amazon.com for $50.


#3 : Palm Pre

Back before the smartphone market was narrowed down to two choices -- Apple or Android -- there was a phone company that sold a very compelling device beloved by professionals and consumers alike.

The Palm Pre matched Apple and Android in touchscreen prowess and also included a slide-out keyboard.

Sadly, Palm didn't have the financial firepower to promote the phone heavily and stoke the fires of application development like its more resource-rich rivals. Palm also didn't keep the Pre fresh. And when telcos like Verizon started cutting back on orders in favor of Droids, the Palm Pre faded from view.

Eventually, HP acquired Palm, but the integration took a long time, leaving the Pre suspended from the market.

The Palm Pre is listed as out of stock on HP's Web site, but Verizon still offers it for $100 with a two-year contract -- your last chance to start your own Palm Pre collectors' club.


#2 : RIM BlackBerry Bold Touch 9900

BlackBerry fans proved to be a far more loyal group than one would have expected. While other phones got touchscreens and smarter application processors, Research In Motion kept cranking out aging Bolds and Curves.

The addictive BlackBerry e-mail and messenger service helped keep people interested and bought RIM some time as it put together a new generation of phones built around the QNX operating system.

But between the maturing BlackBerry 6 operating system of yesterday and QNX of next year is an awkward spot that RIM hopes to fill with the touchscreen Bold.

The Bold 9900 is a beautiful BlackBerry with a full-powered 1-gigahertz processor, a familiar keypad and a gesture reading touchscreen. The problem: Even though it won't arrive until later this summer, it's already been eclipsed by the promise of fully-functioning QNX devices next year.

The Bold 9900: destined to be a lovely end-of-the-line.

#1 : Nokia N9

Soon after Nokia picked the MeeGo operating system as its next direction, MeeGo became a no go.

Well, almost.

When Nokia jumped from its burning platform to start developing phones using Microsoft's Windows 7 software, it didn't completely abandon the MeeGo effort. Some of Nokia's brightest minds kept working to deliver a new generation of MeeGo-powered phones to compete with Apple and Android.

Recently, Nokia introduced the N9 MeeGo phone, a finely-sculpted touchscreen device that could have kept the Finnish phone titan on top of the phone market had it arrived a couple years ago.

But as it stands, the N9 sales launch will be overshadowed by the Sea Ray and other Windows Phone 7 devices coming from Nokia later this year and next.

Collectors will probably call the N9 the best pure Nokia phone of all time. Too bad Nokia investors can't take that to the bank.


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