Virgin launches MP3 phone

It'll play tunes and take calls, but you'll pay a lot for the right to show it off

The evolution of the mobile phone into a multimedia gadget took a step forward Tuesday, with the launch of the world's first MP3 phone. Virgin Mobile has teamed up with Samsung to produce the SGH M100 which lets you keep in touch and listen to your favourite tunes on the same device.

The SGH M100 weighs 97g, is dual band, and can store up to 300 phone numbers. Virgin Mobile customers are only charged for calls made, rather than line rental, and the phone's battery will support 180 minutes of talk time. There is 32Mb RAM available for storing MP3 files, and the player supports a graphics equaliser. The headphones are wirelessly connected to the phone unit, while the batteries should give nine hours of playback.

Sir Richard Branson, founder of Virgin, believes that mobile phones will show increasing convergence with other digital devices. "This mobile, this music player, marks the beginning of a new period in music retailing and distribution and is the epitome of modern mobile technology -- a technology which knows no bounds," he enthused.

The catch: the new phone costs £349.99 (inc VAT). A Virgin spokesperson admitted that this price was at the top end of the market, because the gadget was aimed at early adopters. "We readily admit that the SGH M100 isn't cheap, but it isn't aimed at housewives," a spokesman explained. "This is the world's first combined mobile phone and MP3 player, and it will appeal to the lad who wants to show off to his friends."

Unlike many MP3 players, the SGH M100 doesn't contain a DSP decoder, and a spokesman for MP3 player manufacturer Rio believes this could be a handicap. "DSP gives an MP3 player more control over the bass, treble and other file formats, which means better sound quality, and allows the MP3 player to support other file formats such as WMA. It's very unlikely that any major record labels will sell their material in MP3 format, so users could be restricted to tunes from unsigned bands and illegal copies," he said. A Virgin spokeswoman admitted that the phone would only support MP3 files.

However, the Rio spokesman believes that other manufacturers may soon follow Virgin's lead. "This is a great idea, and Virgin should be applauded for pioneering it. I believe that within two years most mobile phone manufacturers will offer mobile phones with combined MP3 functionality," he added.

Tim Sheedy, senior telecoms analyst at IDC, agrees that more mobile phones will offer MP3 functionality in the near future, but expects that such devices will always cost more than a simpler device. "One of the main cost factors is the large amound of memory needed, as shown by the fact that an MP3 player with 64Mb RAM costs much more than an otherwise identical player with 32Mb RAM", he said.

Stay tuned to Nuggets for an upcoming review of the SGH M100, and check out the Nuggets Special for all the latest gadgets.

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