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 and plans to put it on sale before the end of this month in China, the Tokyo company said Tuesday.

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 LCD. The display has a resolution of 120 pixels by 160 pixels and occupies around half of the rear of the device.

The phone measures 85-x-54-x-8.6 mm, around half the volume of a current cellular handset, Hisatsune Watanabe, associate senior vice president of NEC's Central Research Laboratories said at a news conference in Tokyo. 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 handset isn't light on other features. It supports GPRS, WAP, SMS, MMS and 40-tone polyphonic ring tones. The camera is a 3Mp model and the phone also includes a quick shooting mode that can take 4 images per second. It weighs 70g and battery life is quoted as 85 hours on standby and 70 minutes talk time.

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.

Yamazaki didn't provide an exact price for the handset but said that it would cost the equivalent of around £520. Despite its high price tag, NEC is hoping to sell around 100,000 units per year of the N900 and subsequent models based on 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.