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Wed, Mar 13, 2002 - Page 19 News List

Handsets used for much more than phone calls

Mobile phones were first designed for one thing: To make phone calls. Now they're able to keep video-gamers entertained, too

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , DAYTON, OHIO

When Tony DelGhingaro started playing Gladiator on his mobile phone, he chose the biggest, hulkiest fighter available in the game, equipping him with the biggest, heaviest sword the game had to offer.

"I found I was always getting my butt kicked by the smaller, quicker characters," said DelGhingaro, a retail sales manager for Sprint PCS. "I started over with a character I call Dancing Sue. She doesn't have a lot of power but she can jump and duck, and is hard to hit. I've made it to ninth-level gladiator with her."

When mobile phones were first introduced, they were designed for one thing: To make phone calls. They've evolved rapidly, though, and now make calls, send and receive e-mail and text messages, maintain contact lists and use the Internet to keep track of their users' favorite stocks and sports teams.

And when they're not working, mobile phones are now expected to entertain. Almost all mobile phones sold today come with a game or two built in. And phones equipped with wireless Web browsers have access to dozens more.

"Not too many years ago if you told somebody about adding a game to their mobile phone, they might have said, `Why would I want a game?' But phones have advanced so quickly that people expect them to do more," said Cingular Wireless spokeswoman Brooke Muegel. "You could run your whole life from your mobile phone, so it's natural you would want to have fun with it, too."

To explore what's available in mobile phone games, this reporter worked with four companies: Sprint PCS, Cingular Wireless, Verizon Wireless and Cincinnati Bell Wireless. Each company loaned a phone for testing and described its game offerings.

And, frankly, while some of the games were fun, playing games on mobile phones has a long way to go to catch up to playing games on a handheld game from companies like Nintendo or Tiger Electronics.

The mobile phone games are unsophisticated and mostly in black and white. And mobile phones were designed for talking, not for game playing. Their small screens and lack of specialized game controls limit what they can do. Sprint easily had the most elaborate game selection, and it provided the best phone for game play. The Sprint Wireless Web site has links to more than 60 games including trivia games, flying games, casino games and battle games.

Some games come loaded on Sprint phones when they are purchased, and others can be downloaded from Sprint's wireless Web site and played offline. Phones equipped with infrared communication can swap games among themselves.

The company provided a Samsung Model SPH-1300 that is a combination mobile phone and personal digital assistant. Its large, color LCD screen made games easier to play and more fun. Also the phone has several convenient options for entering text, such as a small virtual keyboard that allows the user to type with the tip of a stylus. Entering text with most mobile phones involves a cumbersome process of selecting letters using the number keypad.

Sprint officials introduced an even fancier game phone from Sanyo at a consumer electronics show earlier this year. But the phone, which features a full-color screen with superior graphics, probably won't hit the market until next year.

The Verizon Wireless Internet home page has a good choice of games, but not as many as Sprint.

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