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Hands-on with the Haier "Sterling"

Chris Ziegler

While devices like the iPhone, the N95, and the RAZR 2 get the lion's share of the spotlight, a variety of less well-known manufacturers plod along in the background, quietly creating a plethora of decent handsets capable of servicing just about every segment of the market. One of those darkhorses is Haier, a company with a pretty sizable device lineup outside the US that, by all appearances, is now gingerly trying its hand at scoring some points with the fickle American consumer base. Its first serious effort was the Elegance -- alias "Black Pearl" -- a tiny, mirrored candybar that left us fairly impressed in our brief time with it earlier this year. Now we're getting a peek at the "Sterling," and while the name has changed, the concept has not.

Gallery: Hands-on with the Haier "Sterling" | 16 Photos

From everything we remember of our encounter with the Elegance, we'd say that the Sterling is simply a reinterpreted version of it; it's ever so slightly larger than its forebear and adds a 1.3 megapixel camera, but the lovely, disappearing OLED display, integrated 3.5mm headphone jack (thank goodness), FM radio, microSD expansion, and highly mirrored finish all carry over. For folks that liked the Elegance's concept but didn't love the rather unusual keypad, that's a great thing -- but for current Elegance owners, there's really no reason to work yourself into a jealous rage here unless the lack of a camera has been a major issue.

By and large, we found the Sterling to be a great phone for the fashion friendly, high-function segment -- official pricing hasn't been announced, but if Haier can keep this thing within earshot of its $199.99 deposit price, it has a winner on its hands. Our complaints were few and far between, though potential buyers may want to take note here: we weren't in love with the small, finicky navigation rocker at the top of the keypad (we actually preferred the Elegance's creative use of the 2 and 8 keys for this purpose) and the external speaker, while loud, lacked clarity. Rock on, Haier -- we might recommend looking into a carrier agreement if you're serious about this whole American market thing, though!

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