The Gadget: The Samsung Alias 2, a relatively standard phone that differentiates itself because it has 34 E-Ink buttons that change depending on your current app or orientation. Yes, that means QWERTY typing.
The Price: $US80 after $US50 mail in rebate and 2-year contract with Verizon
The Verdict: The E-Ink is a pretty awesome concept for dumb-phones—one we'd actually like to see more of in the future.
The phone works as demonstrated in this video. When you flip the phone open, the Kindle-like E-Ink keys display a D-Pad, numbers, plus numerous shortcuts.
The whole point is that the keys actually change when you switch apps to reflect the current status. So if you're typing an SMS, you'll only see the T9 letters and not the numbers. Nothing drastic in Samsung's implementation, but neat nonetheless.
It would be nice of games actually incorporated the ability to change keys so you can see which button does what, but the phone comes with no games, and the ones we downloaded weren't capable of this. It's unlikely that it'll get a ton of third-party software support unless the phone sells very well.
The most useful bit of E-Ink magic is when you flip the screen open vertically. The keys refresh into a QWERTY (with two sub-keyboards for symbols), which makes typing out messages on this as good as on a regular smartphone.
One downside of having E-Ink is the brief flicker when the keys change. Like the Kindle's screen, the keys need to go completely black for a fraction of a second to refresh, which may or may not be annoying to you depending on your level of patience. But the E-Ink keyboard concept is one of the best ideas we've seen for a non-smartphone in quite a while. [Verizon]