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What to expect from smartphones at CES 2014

So what can we expect to see in terms of mobile phones at CES 2014 next week? While handset makers often save their big global announcements for Mobile World Congress (MWC) in late February (or for their own events), CES will certainly feature plenty of worthwhile news from the smartphone world.

We’ll definitely be hearing from the major US carriers. For the past few years, AT&T has seized the Monday before CES for a big developers' conference with a 90-minute keynote. The AT&T keynote tends to start with some news about the company's LTE network, pass through a bunch of arcane developer APIs, and drop a set of new handset releases at the end. This year, we expect a heavy focus on "connected devices," especially cars. Why, you might ask? Namely because over the pond, the US is approaching smartphone saturation. If American carriers want to expand their subscriber base, it's time to plug in cars, pill bottles, and football helmets – and you can expect similar developments over here before too long.

Qualcomm vs Intel vs Nvidia

Three of the biggest booths at CES will be held by mobile chip titans: Intel, Qualcomm, and Nvidia. Intel's new CEO, Brian Krzanich, has the prime keynote spot that was held by Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer for many years.

Qualcomm and Nvidia are under heavy pressure to follow Apple with a line of 64-bit mobile chipsets. Qualcomm announced its first 64-bit chip, the low-end Snapdragon 410, and the GPU-boosted Snapdragon 805 last month, and we wouldn't be surprised to see a 610 and 810 appear at CES.

In the case of Nvidia, it's time to hear about design wins for its Tegra 5 "Logan" chipset and to get teased by "Project Denver," its workstation-class processor which will play a role in Tegra 6, codenamed "Parker."

Intel will show off its first real mobile success in years with Windows devices on its Bay Trail chipset. The company has promised a 14nm "Airmont" Atom chipset for 2014, so we wouldn't be surprised to hear Krzanich talk about that.

China's time to shine

As we’ve already mentioned, don't expect major mobile phone announcements from Apple, Samsung, LG, Motorola, or HTC at this show. They're all saving their major revelations for MWC or their own events. But don't worry, there will be phones.

Huawei is already promising several new phones. Asus is gearing up with a new set of phones that we hear may come in 4in, 5in and 6in sizes. Lenovo rolled out four new Android-powered phones before the show.

Meizu is a new name, but it is well-known in China for high-end Android-powered smartphones that cost much less than our high-end handsets. The company is bringing its first US products to CES, perhaps a variant of its octo-core MX3.

Sony isn't Chinese, but it'll have some new phones nonetheless – the company usually throws a new handset or two into its omnibus CES keynote, and this year will probably be no exception.

For more CES previews, check out our articles on what to expect from tablets, laptops, and HDTVs at CES 2014.