Historically, CES has been the preferred smartphone launch venue for US carriers offering a peek at their Q1 / Q2 roadmaps and a handful of global companies looking to generate buzz before Mobile World Congress in February. Few manufacturers reveal their worldwide flagships at the show, however, so we're left (more often than not) with a smattering of products that typically don't raise the bar for innovation or design. As an example, our top picks for last year's show were the Nokia Lumia 900 for AT&T and the Sony Xperia S; neither phone picked up much traction as the year progressed. In fact, the last "groundbreaking" mobile product in recent memory was the Atrix 4G and its accompanying LapDock -- and we all know how that turned out in the end.
Our point is that, despite the fact that thousands of companies will be clamoring for the spotlight at CES, we don't expect to see many head-turning products that will make any sort of impact on the mobile industry. It doesn't mean we're going to come away from the show empty-handed: ZTE has confirmed that it will be announcing a 5-inch FHD (1080p) device called the Grand S on January 8th, and it's quite possible that a few other previously unseen products will show up at its booth. Additionally, Huawei acknowledged on Sina Weibo that it will introduce its first Windows Phone 8 device (Ascend W1) as well as a 5-inch FHD smartphone to compete against its Chinese rival (Ascend D2). Photos and "in the wild" shots of a 6.1-inch behemoth called the Ascend Mate also made an appearance over the last couple weeks, so it wouldn't come as much of a shock to us if it gets announced.
We're also expecting a couple devices from Sony called the Xperia Z (Yuga) and Xperia ZL (Odin). The rumor mill regarding this pair of Android phones is incredibly lively at the moment (we've even seen a full review of the former and leaked press shots of both), and signs are pointing toward 5-inch 1080p displays and quad-core processors on both models; we'd venture to guess that a 13MP Exmor RS sensor is a good bet on at least one of them, since Sony has hinted that it would be arriving early this year (and is also found on the Oppo Find 5).
As we mentioned earlier, we'll likely get some new carrier-specific phones. We'll probably see a new Pantech model on AT&T, just like we did last year with the Burst, but the network is staying incredibly silent on other potential devices that may show up, if any are planned. Same goes for T-Mobile, Sprint and Verizon.
Finally, let's tackle the companies that most likely won't have much of a presence at this year's outing. RIM isn't listed as an exhibitor, which should come as little surprise -- it's saving its BlackBerry 10 announcement for a standalone event on January 30th. Additionally, LG has confirmed to us that it isn't planning to release any new devices at the show, and Samsung has stated publicly that "no major mobile news" is in the works -- though it didn't say anything about "minor" mobile news, so we may come face-to-face with a Galaxy Grand or other budget / midrange phones.
Three companies are keeping a little too quiet about their plans. Motorola doesn't appear to have any tricks up its sleeves this go-round; Nokia's only booth will be related to its mapping and commerce division, though we'd love to see a working demo of Windows Phone 7.8 somewhere; and HTC usually waits until MWC to unveil its flagship Android products.
Simply put, CES will likely be a quiet show on the mobile side -- there will be plenty of phones to see but only a select few will impress. Regardless, the reveal is oftentimes the most fun part, and you can expect us to talk about each and every one that happens at this year's CES. The action begins January 7th.