Friday, 26 May 2017

Motorola RAZR2 (2007)

Motorola RAZR2 V9
Launched May 2007

We've mentioned many times before that 2007 was a landmark year in the mobile phone industry. A little product from an outfit in Cupertino changed the direction of the industry forever. It would eventually become apparent to most companies in the sector that they had to follow suit.. or if they didn't, they would head into oblivion.

So, apparently boarding a bus on the highway to hell, Motorola decided to tackle the smartphone phenomenon by launching.. errr.. a new version of the RAZR feature phone.

Back in 2004, Motorola had scored a massive hit with the original Motorola RAZR. That phone combined stunning design with clever marketing, and it created one of the most influential mobile phones ever. The RAZR turned around Motorola's fortunes, and every other company had to go off and have a good think about industrial design.

The original RAZR promised great things, but failed to deliver. It was an awful handset to use, and the feature set really was actually pretty old-fashioned for the time. Variations followed - the RAZR V3i added some crucially missing features, the KRZR was even more stunning to look at, the RAZR V3x added 3G - but customers really didn't take to them.

Despite the law of diminishing returns, Motorola came out with the RAZR2 in 2007, coming in a 3G variant (the V9) and a GSM-only one (the V8). Surely enough, everything was better.. but compared to the iPhone it was still a heap of shit.

The sales figures should really have shown Motorola that the strategy wasn't working, but eventually they pushed out two dozen handsets based on the RAZR concept, with the last model being the GLEAM+ in 2012. By and large.. nobody cared that much about any of them.

At the time, we said that Motorola's obsession with the RAZR was killing the company. Motorola's PR people responded furiously, but it was plainly obvious that the company had their strategy completely wrong. In the end, Motorola's survival plan was to ditch their mobile phone business completely.. and now it is owned by Lenovo.

Despite everything, the RAZR2 is a decent flip phone and there seems to be a lively trade in them online, with good ones being about €60 or so. Yes, probably any mobile phone collector should  have some sort of RAZR in their collection.. but probably not this one.

Thursday, 25 May 2017

Samsung Galaxy S III (2012)

Samsung Galaxy S III
Launched May 2012

By 2012, the Samsung Galaxy S range had been around for two years and each new generation seemed to help it grow in popularity. The third generation device, imaginatively named the "Samsung Galaxy S III" firmly established this range as the one that other Android manufacturers had to beat..

Breaking from the slabby design of the previous two generations, the S III was more curved around the edges, and it was eventually available in seven colours. The screen size had continued to grow over previous generations and was now a 4.8" 720 x 1280 pixel panel. Inside was a multicore 1.4GHz CPU with 1GB of RAM and a dedicated GPU. On the back was an 8 megapixel camera. Being a Galaxy S device it also came with every other feature you could think of including an FM radio, NFC and optionally LTE support.

Out of the box the Galaxy S III range Android 4.0.4, upgradable to 4.3. Android was beginning to get rather good, and overall this was a very powerful and usable device. It
was a massive sales success, shipping a staggering 50 millions units in less than a year. Announcing a new device every year has made the new generations of the Galaxy S the most anticipated smartphone in the world after the iPhone.

Today the Galaxy S III is commonly available with prices ranging from about 50 euro or so up to several hundred euro depending on condition. There's probably very little point buying one for everyday use as although the hardware is still pretty decent, the version of Android available is badly out of date. However, due to its popularity the Galaxy S III is a good device to experiment with custom ROMs, such as the Lineage OS.

Image credit: Samsung Mobile

Saturday, 20 May 2017

Sony Ericsson P1 (2007)

Sony Ericsson P1
Launched May 2007

In the early noughties Sony Ericsson had pioneered touchscreen smartphones, starting with the P800 announced in 2002, which was followed up by other high-end "P-Series" smartphones, the P900, P910 and P990. All of these featured a distinctive flip-down keypad that covered part of the display, and these devices ran Sony Ericsson's own flavour of Symbian running the UIQ interface.

Although initial models had been well-received, the P990i (launched in 2005) ended up being a bit of a disaster. It was later, buggy and Sony Ericsson dropped support for it leaving owners in the lurch. So, the P1 was a bit of a reboot of the P-Series and it came at a time where they were renewed interest in smartphones.

It wasn't an entirely new design. Based heavily on the lightweight M600 and its Walkman variant the W950, the P1 (called the P1i in most markets) ditched the keypad and instead had a more conventional QWERTY/numeric hybrid keypad instead. In order to fit this in, the screen shrank slightly to 2.6" but with the same resolution, and the whole thing was significantly less bulky than its predecessor.

The removal of the flip pad simplified the software experience quite a lot. With the earlier P-Series phones, applications needed to adjust for the different screen sizes when the flip was open and closed. In some cases, the software behaved very differently. It's still a common problem today with landscape and portrait orientations, but it was a really annoying one with those P-Series devices. Other specifications were also improved and the P1 came with a capable 3.2 megapixel camera on the back, an FM radio, expandable memory, 3G support, WiFi and handwriting recognition.

However, the world had moved on and the new Apple iPhone which was about to hit the market after being announced at the beginning of the year had a more polished user experience, a bigger screen and crucially that screen was a capacitive one which was easier to use.

The P1 was not a huge success. P-Series users had been alienated over the P990i debacle, and the change in keypad on the P1 put off some customers even further. Without the loyalty of their user base and up against tough competition from other smartphones, the P1 struggled in the market. Successors to the P1 were planned but eventually cancelled, leaving the P1 as the very last P-Series phone. Sony Ericsson stuck with Symbian for a few more devices, notably the rather interesting Satio in 2009 and the awful Vivaz in 2010.

Sony Ericsson's P-Series devices are quite collectible today, and although the P1 is uncommon it typically ranges in price between €30 to €120 depending on condition.

Image credit: Sony Ericsson

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Going nowhere: The BlackBerry Curve (2007 to 2012)

BlackBerry Curve 8300 (2007) and 9320 (2012)
Launched ten years ago this month, the original BlackBerry Curve was RIM's attempt to make their classic BlackBerry messaging smartphone more appealing to consumers. The Curve 8300 had the classic physical keyboard of all BlackBerry devices up to that point, and it added a camera (which was a rare feature on BlackBerry devices at that point) and had a media player with a standard 3.5mm jack plug.

BlackBerry's push email service for both businesses and consumers was second to none, and if you wanted to do messaging on the move then this was definitely the device to have. The 2.5" 320 x 230 pixel display was incredibly bright and clear compared to the competition, and although it wasn't a touchscreen it did have a little trackball underneath to navigate with. Crucially the Curve 8300 lacked 3G, WiFi or GPS at a time these features were becoming common. However, despite some limitations the Curve 8300 was a big success for RIM and it sold in large numbers.

Following on from the Curve 8300 were a variety of other models, adding WiFi, GPS and eventually 3G data. Although early versions sold well, increasingly it became difficult for BlackBerry to compete with all-touch devices such as the iPhone and Android smartphones.

Almost exactly five years after launching the original Curve, RIM announced the final device in the Curve line, the 9320. Shockingly, despite five years of development, the Curve 9320 had hardly evolved at all from the 8300. The physical keyboard remained, the screen was the same size, the camera a little better, the trackball had been replaced by a more reliable trackpad, it was faster and had more memory and could finally support WiFi, 3.5G and GPS.. but it certainly wasn't an iPhone-killer.

Worse still, the BlackBerry 7.1 OS included in the 9320 was fundamentally the same as the 4.5 OS included in the 8300 with some cosmetic changes. And although the Curve 9320 retained the excellent email capabilities of all BlackBerry handhelds, consumers had moved on and were more interested in things like web browsing.. and web browsing on the Curve 9320 was a very unpleasant experience. By 2012 both the iOS and Android platforms were destroying BlackBerry when it came to quality apps too.

In five years, RIM had essentially gone nowhere. It wasn't just the Curve either, but the entire BlackBerry product range was out of date. But conversely, a hard core of businesses and fans still went out and bought these devices, but it couldn't stem the collapse in sales. Even today, the BlackBerry 9320 still sells to people who are wedded to the platform.

To be fair, RIM realised that they were in a predicament but the next-gen BlackBerry devices that they needed were subject of boardroom battles that had crippled the company. The disastrous launch of the Z10 in 2013 is a story for another time though.

Image credits: Research in Motion / BlackBerry

Sunday, 7 May 2017

Palm Foleo (2007)

Announced May 2007

Ten years ago we were seeing the start of widespread smartphone use, but although these devices were getting increasingly powerful and allowed people to work and communicate everywhere, their small size was a limiting factor in what they could do. Sure - you could get yourself a laptop computer, but these were designed to be used in the office or at home and taking one out on the road could be difficult.



Palm Foleo

Having helped popularise handheld computing in the 1990s and early 2000s, Palm had missed the boat when it came to smartphones and was struggling to keep up. But instead of just looking at what was happening in the market now, Palm were looking forward to the next problem - specifically trying to overcome the limitations of smartphones when it came to serious work.

Launched in May 2007, the Palm Foleo looked like a small laptop but it was really something different. The idea was that the Foleo would integrate with a smartphone via Bluetooth or USB and act as an extension of that device. This wasn't just limited to PalmOS devices, but also Windows, Symbian and there were plans for the new-fangled iPhone too.

The Foleo itself ran a modified version of Linux, relied entirely on flash memory for storage and it was fan-less due to the low-power CPU, making it very quiet in use and extending the battery life. It weighed just 1.3 kg and had a 10.2" 1024 x 600 pixel screen and a physical keyboard. Email access and cellular connectivity would go through the phone, but as a standalone computer it was pretty capable by itself.

Everything looked rather promising, with developers coming on board and pledging support for the device into the summer of 2007. And then - rather abruptly - Palm cancelled the entire project, presumably very close to the anticipated launch date.

At the time, Palm was facing considerable financial problems. The PDA that it dominated has collapsed, and it was only a very small player in the smartphone market, so given limited resources Palm had decided to step back from the rather innovative Foleo and instead developed the ill-fated Palm Pre launched at the beginning of 2009.

Although the launch of the Foleo would have had its risks, 2007 was the year that Netbooks really started to take off with devices such as the ASUS Eee becoming very popular. Had Palm done the Foleo well, it could have turned around the company's fortunes. Netbooks took a hit the the launch of the iPad in 2010 but then newer devices such as Chromebooks followed in the same vein.

Despite never hitting the market, a small number of Foleos were built, some in full retail packaging. These are very rare and prices of $1500 have been seen for units still sealed in the box.


Video

At the time, Palm provided various bits of B-roll. We've added some cheesy music. Enoy


Image credits: Palm Inc

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Hewlett-Packard HP-01 (1977)

HP HP-01
Launched 1977

Wearable technology is nothing new. Forty years ago we saw the first digital watches, but even then some companies thought that the little computer on your wrist could do so much more. One such company was Hewlett-Packard, who decided to combine the functions of one of their famous line of calculators with a digital watch to come up with something quite unique.

The HP-01 was what Hewlett-Packard called a "wrist instrument". Along the top were nine seven-segment LED displays, underneath were 28 keys. Four keys were raised (Date, Alarm, Memory and Time) so they could be pressed with a finger, two semi-recessed keys (Read/Recall/Reset and Stopwatch) plus 22 recessed keys that you pressed with the supplied stylus which was either a mini one hidden in the wristband or the end of a specially-designed pen.

Inside were three batteries, two to power the display and one to power the tiny logic board. These batteries could be changed by a jeweller, or HP sold a special kit so that the user could change them. The watch itself was either housed in a steel or gold casing.

It was much more than a digital watch with a calculator added on, because the HP-01 treated the time and date as just another data type. Rather like a modern spreadsheet application, you can take the time and perform mathematical functions on it.. but the HP-01 does it in real time. As an example, if you are making an expensive long-distance phone call then the HP-01 can be programmed to tell you how much it is costing in real time. The HP-01 was also cleverly future-proofed with a "21" button allowing dates to be programmed for the 21st century.

HP-01 ad, 1978. Click to enlarge.
The HP-01 was certainly clever, but it was also a product desperately seeking a market. One pitch was aimed at lawyers:
Truly, with HP-01, you have a professional instrument capable of meeting a broad spectrum of your professional needs. It can handle everthing from remembering dates on the court calendar to calculating your time costs.

It can remind you of an important call up to four days in the future. And then tell you the number to call.

It can compute how much interest your money will earn or convert the time spent with clients into accurate calculations of fees.

In short, the professional applications are virtually unlimited.
With prices starting at $650 for the base model (more than $2500 today) the HP-01 was quite expensive. It was also bulky and rather tricky to use and despite its unique qualities, it was not a success. HP did experiment with an upgraded version, but in 1979 they threw in the towel and production of the HP-01 ceased. The HP-01 was Hewlett-Packard's first and last digital watch.

Today the HP-01 is a fairly rare device, with prices starting just shy of €1000 for one in a reasonable condition up to several thousand euro for really good models. Of course, any type of contemporary smartwatch is several orders of magnitude more powerful... but even those devices are still solutions looking for a problem.

Monday, 17 April 2017

Nokia 8800 Sirocco Gold (2007)

Nokia 8800 Sirocco Gold
Launched April 2007

A decade ago there were two approaches to making a high-end phone. You could either make a high-end smartphone with all the features that you could squeeze in, or you could take an existing phone and bling it up a bit. Nokia took the latter approach with the Nokia 8800 Siricco Gold.

The Nokia 8800 was always a high-end handset. The original 2005 version was launched at a price of around €800, and the 2006 "Sirocco" update was even more expensive. In 2007, a gold edition of the Sirocco was announced costing an eye-watering €1000 plus tax.

The most obvious feature was the 18 carat gold plating on top of the sliding metal case. The 8800 had always been a good looking handset, but not necessarily a very practical one. It wasn't a smartphone, instead this was a Series 40 feature phone lacking even 3G support. The scratch-resistant 1.7" 208 x 208 pixel display was pretty good for a feature phone, it had a two megapixel camera, Bluetooth and an FM radio. Although it could play MP3s, the storage capacity was just 128MB and there was no memory slot. On top of that it had some special ringtones, a charging stand and it came in a nice box.

Gold-plated phones polarise opinion. Some people think that they are elegant and attractive, others think they are tacky and rather gauche. Regardless, the 8800 was a carefully engineered product which would turn heads even in the plain stainless steel form.




OK, so it had a shiny yellow coating, the screen had sapphire glass and it was very carefully engineered... but underneath it was just a cheap and cheerful Series 40 feature phone with a very high price tag. So, almost inevitably there were forgeries..

There were three main ways to faking the 8800 Sirocco Gold. One was to start with the normal 8800 Sirocco and plate it in yellow metal. The second was to take another cheaper model of Nokia phone and to install the internal components and screen into a fake 8800 housing. Some even just fabricated a clone of the whole phone with a rip-off version of the OS. The last two techniques had been used for make fake 8800s ever since they came out.

Even today, the 8800 Sirocco Gold is a minefield for collectors with many fakes still in circulation. Prices on eBay vary wildly from less than €50 to over €1500 depending on condition, and it isn't easy on an auction site to tell a real one from a fake.

The 8800 wasn't the only massively expensive Nokia feature phone, as pretty much the entire Nokia-owned Vertu range pulled off the same trick but were even more exquisitely engineered and expensive. The 8800 Arte and 8800 Carbon Arte followed in late 2007 and 2008, and the similar 8600 Luna followed in May 2007. Even though there remains a market for low-tech high-end phones, most people these days would probably sooner have a good smartphone for the money instead.


Image source: Nokia