NEW YORK – It's official: touch screens are the big new thing in cell phones this holiday season.
Sprint Nextel Corp. announced Wednesday it is jumping on the bandwagon with the Touch by HTC.
Like Apple Inc.'s iPhone, this smart phone has only a few buttons and is designed to be controlled by touching the screen.
The Touch will go on sale Nov. 4 for $250 with a two-year contract.
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The announcement makes Sprint the third of the three largest U.S. wireless carriers to introduce a cell phone with a large touch screen designed to be controlled with fingers rather than a stylus.
The iPhone, which launched this summer, is exclusive to AT&T Inc. Verizon Wireless said two weeks ago that it would introduce the LG Voyager in time for Thanksgiving.
The Voyager has a large touch screen, but differs from the iPhone in that it folds out to reveal a hardware keyboard. The HTC Touch lacks a keyboard, but it still has a stylus. A version has been on sale in Europe since this summer.
The Touch runs Microsoft Corp.'s Windows Mobile 6 software, which exists in two versions: one that's controlled by a stylus, and another that's controlled by a keypad on a non-touch screen phone.
HTC Corp., a Taiwanese company, has modified the stylus-oriented version of the software to make it more usable with fingers alone.
Beyond the touch-screen interface, the Touch's similarities with the iPhone are not overwhelming. It doesn't have a large amount of built-in flash memory for music and movies, relying instead on expansion cards. It's smaller and lighter, with a screen measuring 2.8 inches diagonally compared with the iPhone's 3.5 inches.
The Touch uses Sprint's relatively fast data network, rather than the iPhone's combination of a relatively slow AT&T network supplemented by Wi-Fi. The European Touch's Wi-Fi capability did not make it into Sprint's version.
The name could cause some confusion among shoppers: Apple just introduced the iPod Touch, which is basically an iPhone without cell phone capabilities.
HTC isn't well known in the U.S. — the acronym stands for "High Tech Computer" — but has actually been making smart phones and personal digital assistants for U.S. companies under their brands for many years. It only started putting its own name on its products this year.