NEC has developed a cellular telephone with a built-in camera that is about the same size as a credit card and less than a centimetre thick, which it plans to roll out to Chinese consumers by the end of the month.

At first glance the N900 looks less like a handset and more like a small, thin digital still camera such as Casio's Exilim. Its plain face is cluttered only by the lens, a light and the company's logo however a glance at the back of the device reveals a telephone keypad sitting to the right of a 1.8-inch colour TFT (thin film transistor) LCD (liquid crystal display). The display has a resolution of 120 pixels by 160 pixels and occupies around half of the rear of the device.

The phone measures 85mm by 54mm by 8.6mm, giving it a volume of around 39 cubic centimetres. That's around half the volume of a current cellular handset, said Hisatsune Watanabe, associate senior vice president of NEC's Central Research Laboratories. Engineers worked on the layout of components and control of stress exerted on the device to help achieve the reduction in volume, he said.

Despite its size, the GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) handset isn't light on other features. It supports GPRS (General Packet Radio Service), WAP (Wireless Access Protocol) wireless Internet, SMS (Short Message Service), MMS (Multimedia Message Service) and 40-tone polyphonic ring tones. The camera is a 300,000 pixel model and the phone also includes a quick shooting mode that can take four images in one second.

It will go on sale in China this month and is targeted at professionals and those who are style conscious, said Koji Yamazaki, chief manager of China business operations at NEC's mobile terminal unit. It has to be used with an earpiece and microphone as these are not built into the main body of the phone.

The company doesn't have any current plans to sell the N900 outside of China or offer versions compatible with other cellular network standards however using the basic design to produce such devices is possible and hasn't been ruled out, it said.