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Battle of the Hot Hand-helds

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Verizon Wireless in Basking Ridge swung back to compete against the popular iPhone, putting the rival Voyager wireless phone on sale in November.

Verizon Wireless is using Voyager, made by LG Electronics USA in Englewood Cliffs, to lure rabid technophiles away from Apple Inc.’s sleek candy bar-shaped device just in time for the holiday rush. The new phone features one option iPhone lacks: a real keyboard to type text messages versus the iPhone’s virtual keyboard on its touch screen.

Both Voyager and iPhone offer users many similar features, including large touch screens to access options and audio and video media players.

Both devices display full Web pages instead of the truncated text versions viewed on most wireless phones.

Apple’s iPhone, released in June and exclusive to AT&T’s wireless network, set a new benchmark for flashy functions for mobile phones, forcing rivals to step up their offerings.

Voyager is the first head-to-head challenger to go after the six-month-old iPhone in what one telecom watcher says is a battle for marketing buzz.

Robert Rosenberg, president of The Insight Research Corp. in Boonton, says iPhone and its rivals are akin to showpieces used to lure customers over to their respective service provider’s camp.

But the new handhelds may encourage other device makers to enter the market.

“The biggest question raised is will phone manufacturers have the hot device?” Rosenberg asks. He says computer makers such as Hewlett-Packard Co. may develop rival hand-helds that work

like minicomputers.

Rosenberg says making full Web access available on hand-helds is a key focus for the future of the wireless industry. “We will no longer think of [a hand-held] as a telephone, we will think of it as an Internet access platform,” he says.

Priced at $299, Voyager is cheaper than the recently discounted $399 iPhone, but still more expensive than the bulk of the wireless phones in consumers’ hands.

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