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Sprint smartphones start chirping: Direct Connect comes to latest Android devices

If you have a hankering to try Sprint’s(s s) push-to-talk service and don’t want to buy one of its specialty walkie-talkie phones, then you’re in luck. On Monday, Sprint announced it was bringing Direct Connect some of newest and most popular Android(s goog) smartphones on the market, including the Samsung Galaxy S 4 and Note 3 and the LG G2 and G Flex.

Push-to-talk has a particularly long history in the U.S. where Nextel set the standard for the two-way radio service – marked by its familiar chirp — and won the hearts of millions of blue-collar workers and enterprises as well as a sizable consumer segment. The problem was the Nextel iDEN network wasn’t good for much else but PTT, and as mobile data services and the smartphone rose, Nextel’s fortunes fell.

push-to-talkSprint, which bought Nextel in 2005, finally shut the iDEN network completely last summer, but not before it created an alternative to Direct Connect that worked over its CDMA networks. At first the new Direct Connect was available over only a handful of ruggedized features phones and specialty smartphones, but Sprint is now clearly aiming at making PTT a standard feature over much of its smartphone line.

In addition to the four Samsung and LG devices I mentioned above, Direct Connect is now be available on the LG Optimus Flex and the Kyocera Hydro Edge. Sprint said it soon would add Direct Connect support for the Galaxy S 4 Mini, Galaxy Mega and the variant of the S 4 optimized for its new Spark network.

Unlike older Direct Connect phones, customers don’t have to buy a specially optimized PTT phone. Instead they can download the Direct Connect app from Google Play. Direct Connect is included in some Sprint plans, but most subscribers will have to pay an additional $5 a month for the service.

Sprint’s new walkie-talkie service is IP-based – using Qualcomm’s(s qcom) QChat technology – which makes it much more flexible. It can work across all of Sprint’s 2G, 3G and LTE networks, and over a much greater variety of devices. But it’s not as reliable as Nextel’s old iDEN technology. Several independent PTT providers like Prip, Voxer and Wave Connections are also trying to fill the chasm Nextel left with their own smartphone walkie-talkie services.

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