Virgin launches Shuttle

Sorry Galactic fans, it's just a phone

The Virgin Shuttle is a phone not a space plane

Virgin Mobile USA's first 3G phone is the Shuttle, launching today with a sly bit of cross-promotion to Branson's much-hyped Virgin Galactic space tourist service.

The Shuttle is a fairly down-to-earth slider, though, home to an EV-DO connection, 2in screen, 1.3 megapixel camera and some neat (terrestrial) location-based services picked up during its recent acquisition of the Helio network operator.

The Shuttle is made by Personal Communications Devices, formerly UTStarcom.

Friend or foe

'Buddy Beacon' is a mobile social networking tool that maps your friend in your city to help you bump into (or perhaps avoid?) them. The aptly named 'Where?' delivers points of interest, tracks petrol prices, and highlights local events.

Virgin Mobile USA has partnered up with a variety of Web 2.0 companies, including Facebook, MySpace and YouTube, and old favourites Accuweather, ESPN and Yahoo!.

Mobile internet packages are pretty reasonable – contract users get 20MB a month for $5 (50MB for $10), while PAYG customers have to make do with 5MB for $5 and 20MB for $10.

The Virgin Shuttle handset will be available at Best Buy stores at the end of September for "under $100".