Monday, 20 February 2017

Nokia N77, E65, E61i and 6110 Navigator (2007)

Launched February 2007

Launched alongside the headlining E90 Communicator in February 2007 were a whole bunch of Symbian smartphones all looking for their particular market niche. As was common with Nokia 10 years ago, you could have any feature you wanted.. just not all in the same device.

The Nokia N77 was a normal-looking "candy bar" phone 3G phone with the unusual addition of a DVB-H TV receiver. Whether you wanted to watch TV on a 2.4" QVGA screen or not was another question, and of course these days most video is streamed over high-speed networks which the N77 lacked. DVB-H was seen as a great hope ten years ago, with quite a few devices launched in between 2007 and 2009, at which point it fizzled out.

Nokia N77
Looking a bit like any other Nokia slider (not exactly a huge range of devices, we know) the Nokia E65 was a Symbian smartphone with 3G support and WiFi. The clever thing with the E65 was that you could integrate it into your corporate PABX system which is something that manufacturers are still struggling to get accepted a decade later.

Nokia E65

A warmed-up version of the year-and-a-half-old E61, the Nokia E61i was another Symbian smartphone with a full QWERTY keyboard underneath, making it look like a Nokia version of a BlackBerry. But BlackBerry was always about more than just phones, and ultimately the E61i couldn't compete with BlackBerry who were just beginning to hit a period of rapid growth.

Nokia E61i
In 2017 we expect almost all of our phones to also be navigation devices, but in 2007 this was still rate. The Nokia 6110 Navigator was yet another Symbian device, but this time with GPS and turn-by-turn navigation. In essence, it was a cut-down version of the N95 which was a far better device.

Nokia 6110 Navigator
Perhaps Nokia's strategy with the E90, N77, E65, E61i and 6110 was to throw everything it had at the wall to see what would stick. Unfortunately for Nokia, most of these devices just slid off..

Image sources: Nokia

Sunday, 19 February 2017

Mobile World Congress 2012: the year of the flops

Half a decade after the introduction of the original iPhone, manufacturers were still trying to get a handle on how to make their products more appealing than the latest Apple product that everyone was talking about. Unfortunately, not all of these attempts were successful, and these examples from Mobile World Congress (MWC)  in February 2012 are some prime examples.

Nokia tried to upscale the coolly-received Lumia 800 Windows smartphone by stretching the 3.7" display to 4.3" with the Lumia 900.. but keeping the same 480 x 800 resolution. The result was a phone with pixels big enough to be seen from space, but for a while it was a modest success because it was also very inexpensive and actually rather nice to use, even if it had hardly any apps.
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Nokia Lumia 900
Samsung meanwhile had decided to make an Android phone with a built-in projector with the Galaxy Beam, despite two previous attempts being failures. Here's a tip.. if you think that projectors in phones are a good idea then you probably need to read up about Miracast, DLNA or UPnP. Or just stick an MHL cable on it. It didn't take a genius to work out what the writing on the wall for this particular device was.


Samsung Galaxy Beam

LG also hadn't learned from past failures, and the LG Optimus 3D Max followed on from previous attempts to make 3D phones that almost nobody wanted. The 3D technology in both the screen and camera was clever, and LG weren't the only company going down this path, but consumers really couldn't see the point and with rare exceptions this technology has been rejected by consumers.

LG Optimus 3D Max
Another idea from LG was the Optimus Vu, a 5" smartphone with a 4:3 aspect display. Most rival smartphones emulated the ratio of a domestic TV with 16:9 ratios or something similar, but the Optimus Vu was quite a bit wider and shorter than the rival Samsung Galaxy Note and was bit odd-looking as a result. The mark of it's lack of success is that the follow-up Optimus Vu II scheduled for launch in 2013 was cancelled. But big-screen phones are now the norm, and the Vu did at least help to pioneer that idea.

LG Optimus Vu


ASUS had another brilliant but futile idea - the PadFone. Correctly identifying that people would like to retain the same settings and data whether they were using a tablet or a smartphone, ASUS came up with the idea of creating a smartphone that could slot into a tablet, or even a small notebook chassis. Technically brilliant, the idea really became obsolete with ubiquitous cloud computing that could do the same thing in software. ASUS made a whole range of PadFones over the next couple of years, but could never convince the market that they were a good idea.

ASUS PadFone

Panasonic returned to the worldwide market, six years after dropping out having made some of the most awful phones imaginable. The Panasonic Eluga was a competent and waterproof Android phone that also failed to set the world on fire. Competition in the Android marketplace was becoming fierce by 2012, and there was very little to set the Eluga apart from the competition. A high-profile failure, Panasonic briefly quit the market again only to return 18 months later with a range of mostly run-of-the-mill Android phones.

Panasonic Eluga
Of course there were other devices launched at MWC in 2012... but very few made an impact. Although remains a vital event even today, companies such as Apple don't bother with it and it isn't the force it once was. Will MWC in 2017 introduce some breakthrough products? We will have to see..

Image sources: Nokia, Samsung, LG, Pansasonic, ASUS

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Nokia E90 Communicator (2007)

Launched February 2007

By the beginning of 2007 the smartphone wars were entering a new phase, ushered in by the original Apple iPhone announced in January. Nokia had its own idea of what should go into a phone, but for some frustrating reason you couldn't have it all in one device. The Nokia E90 Communicator continued this frustrating tradition.

Nokia E90 Communicator


The latest (and indeed last) in the long line of Communicator devices, the E90 was a brick-like beast that was a bit of a monster when it came to specifications.

Outwardly, the E90 looked like an old-fashioned brick phone. Measuring 132 x 57 x 20mm and weighing a stonking 210 grams, it looked like a relic from the past. But as will all Communicator devices, it opened up to reveal a big screen and full QWERTY keyboard  hidden inside. The 4.0" 800 x 352 pixel display thrashed most of the competition when it came to both size and resolution, and the E90's feature list was impressively long including 3.5G support, WiFi, GPS, FM radio, expandable memory, a 3.2 megapixel primary camera and this all ran on Nokia's massively popular S60 platform.

Nokia 9210i, 9500, E90 Communicators
Starting in 1996 with the Nokia 9000 Communicator, it was followed in 1999 by the 9110, then the 9210 in 2000, 9210i in 2002, the 9500 and 9300 in 2004 and the 9300i in 2005. Despite their aspirations, these Communicators were also deeply flawed. The E90 was the first handset in the range to support 3G (despite it being common in smartphones for 5 years), and it took until 2004's 9500 until any type of cellular data (in this case GPRS) was supported. Frustratingly, the E90 didn't have a touchscreen display either.

The E90 also upset fans by ditching the capable Series 80 version of Symbian found in previous models and replacing it with Symbian S60 which was found in every other Nokia smartphone. Although this brought the E90 into line with other Nokias, it wasn't quite as suited to this type of devices as the older OS.

Despite its potential brilliance, the E90 also underlined the flaw in Nokia's strategy. Their consumer smartphone was the brilliant N95, but if you wanted to actually type stuff and work with documents then the E90 was the offering you wanted. Each different smartphone product (and there were many) catered for a particular niche. Apple didn't bother with that approach... one single device was designed to do absolutely everything, and of course it was this approach that prevailed.

Nokia never made another Communicator device after this, although the Nokia E7-00 launched in 2010 did adopt the QWERTY keyboard of the Communicator series of devices. Today typical prices for an unlocked E90 in good condition range from between €100 and €200 or so. Although the E90 is of limited use in the modern age, it is certainly an antidote to the endless parade of slabby touchscreen devices that we see today.

Nokia E90 Communicator
 Image sources: Nokia, Retromobe / Mobile Gazette

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Nokia 808 PureView (2012)

Launched February 2012

February 2012 saw the end of an era with the launch of the Nokia 808 PureView - the final Symbian phone to be launched by Nokia. Marking the end of nearly ten years of handsets, starting with the Nokia 7650, Symbian dominated the smartphone market in the later noughties with devices from Nokia, Samsung, Motorola, Sony Ericsson and other manufacturers taking up to two-thirds of the market.

One year before the launch of the 808, the current Nokia CEO Stephen Elop announced a switch from Symbian to Windows with the result that Symbian sales fell off a cliff. To be fair, Symbian was struggling against Android and iOS in any case and the 808 was actually something of a surprise given that Nokia had launched the Windows-based Lumia range just a few months before.

But the Nokia 808 PureView was no sad swansong as it was, and remains, one of the most awesome camera phones ever made. Stuck in a prominent lump on the back of the 808 is an astounding 41 megapixel camera sensor, with the addition of Carl Zeiss optics and sophisticated image processing hardware which completely outclassed absolutely every other cameraphone - and indeed many dedicated digital cameras - on the market at the time.

With a big lens and a big camera sensor, the 808 could do all sorts of clever tricks. It could either oversample the image to give a conventionally-sized 5 megapixel image of exceptionally high quality, or it could give larger images of up to 38 megapixels, or it could use the high pixel count to simulate optical zoom digitally. In addition, the 808 could capture 1080p HD video which was very rare for the time.

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Nokia 808 PureView

As a smartphone it was pretty capable too. The operating systems was the final and best version of the Symbian OS called Nokia Belle. Inside was a 1.3GHz processor with 512MB of RAM, 16GB of onboard storage plus a microSD slot, with a 4" 360 x 640 pixel AMOLED display on the front. There was also an FM radio, FM transmitter, GPS, WiFi and HSDPA support plus all the other features that you would expect in a smartphone at the time.

Priced at €600, the Nokia 808 PureView was a fair wedge of cash but it gained an enthusiastic although pretty niche following. The fact that Nokia's PureView technology ended up in a Symbian phone at all was mostly due to the massive amount of time it took to engineer the thing, and an improved version of the PureView camera was launched in the Windows-based Nokia Lumia 1020 announced a year and a half later.

In different circumstances, the 808 could have been a game-changer for Nokia but Symbian was effectively dead at this point and that must surely have counted against it. However, today the 808 is something of a collector's item with prices ranging from between €150 to €500 depending on condition.This certainly makes it one of the pricier retro mobile phones on the market!


Image credits: Nokia

Saturday, 11 February 2017

Cambridge Z88 (1987)

Launched February 1987

Launched in February 1987, the Cambridge Computer Z88 (usually just called the "Cambridge Z88") was a Sinclair by any other name. A compact, A4-sized ultraportable computer, the Z88 was a design success even if it didn't quite become the big seller that was hoped.

In 1986, Clive Sinclair had sold the rights to the Sinclair name and product line-up (primarily consisting of the ZX Spectrum) to Amstrad. However, his company still existed under a different name and the Z88 was the product of long running research to produce a portable computer.

As was typical for a high-profile 1980s product, the Z88 was announced a long time before it was available in quantity. First demonstrated in February 1987, it didn't really get to market in any quantity until 1988. And unlike previous Sinclair machines, the Z88 was something of a niche device targeting customers who wanted to do things on the move rather than sitting at a desk.

Measuring 294 x 210 x 21mm the Z88 was the same size and weights as a pad of around 200 sheets of A4 paper. Most of the front of the Z88 was taken up by a large rubbery keyboard, and at the top was an 8-line 640 x 64 pixel STN LCD screen which was very advanced for its time. Underneath, the Z88 had a Z80 CPU running at 3.3MHz with 32K of RAM and it could store data on either volatile RAM cards or an EPROM card which wouldn't lose data when the machine was powered off. The Z88 was powered by four AA batteries which could give up to 20 hours use.

The operating system was called Oz, and the Z88 came with BBC Basic, a terminal emulator, a word processor / spreadsheet application and some personal information management tools. Applications could be suspended and resumed, giving the Z88 a limited multitasking ability. New applications could be added through the EPROM slot, and data could be transferred to and from the Z88 using a serial cable.

The Z88 found a particular niche as a note-taker. The large keyboard was effectively silent (unless the optional click was turned on), and the long battery life and readable screen certainly helped here too. But since the Z88 was a fully-featured 8-bit computer it could do many other things too.

The Z88 became a bit of a cult machine, with after market upgrades to allow Flash memory storage and more RAM becoming available. Accessories and add-ons are still available as well. On the second-hand market the prices for the Z88 vary on condition and accessories, with UK prices ranging from around £50 to £130.

In the end, the Z88 was probably too far ahead of its time. These days we are all used to carrying a computer about in our pocket, but thirty years ago it was a novelty. This was the last computer project from Sinclair's own company and although a variety of other projects were started at a later date they could never repeat the success that Sinclair had in the 1970s and 1980s.

Neonode N2 (2007)

Launched February 2007

Ten years ago, touchscreen phones were just beginning to become popular consumer devices. But for many, high-end touchscreen phones such as the HTC TyTN and forthcoming Apple iPhone were just too BIG and didn’t really fit into the mid-noughties trend of smaller being better. Neonode, however, had other ideas and wanted to make a touchscreen phone that was as small as possible.

In fact, Neonode’s line-up of handsets weren’t touchscreens in the traditional sense, but instead used an invisible grid of light beams to determine what part of the screen the user was touching. Launching first with the Neonode N1 shipping in 2005, 2007 saw the even smaller Neonode N2 with a tiny 2” 176 x 220 pixel display in a package weighing a diminutive 70 grams.

Unlike the rival LG PRADA, the N2 was actually a Windows smartphone of sorts, running Windows CE 6.0 which really made it a PDA with phone features added on. The operating system came on a memory card, so knowledgeable users could tweak it if they wanted to. Otherwise the features were basic but pretty standard – quad-band GSM, Bluetooth, a 2 megapixel camera and a multimedia player were all included.

Priced at around €450, it wasn’t exactly cheap but then a SIM-free iPhone (if you could get it) would later come in at around €1000. Reviewers loved it, but it wasn’t really a commercial success selling a few tens of thousands of units. Low sales figures meant that Neonode had some turbulent times, but it still exists today selling its own particular type of touchscreen technology.

In the end, consumers wanted bigger touchscreens and not smaller ones, with current displays typically being between 5 to 5.5" on high-end phones. However, Sony did try to make mini Android smartphones with some success. If you want something similar today you would have to hunt around, but the Posh Micro X S240 is currently the smallest smartphone on the market.

The Neonode N2 today is quite collectible with typical prices for a good example being €115 or more, and there do seem to be a few on sale at any given time.

Image source: Neonode

Monday, 6 February 2017

Motorola RIZR Z8, KRZR K3, MOTO Q8 and Q9 (2007)

Announced February 2007

In 2007, Motorola's strategy seemed to be a "throw it at the wall and see what sticks" approach. To this end, we saw several very different devices being launched by Motorola ten years ago. The most notable were a range of handsets falling under the Motorola RIZR, KRZR and MOTO Q names.

Technically perhaps the most interesting was the Motorola RIZR Z8 (sometimes called the MOTO Z8). A curved slider phone running the Symbian operating system with the UIQ interface, the Z8 was one of those Symbian phones that tried to out-do Nokia on its own turf. It was an unusual device even within Motorola's own line-up, but in fact much of the development of this had come from ex-Sendo staffers from the UK who had been absorbed into Motorola back in 2005. In the end, the Z8 probably didn't get the market push that it deserved but it was an interesting and quirky design in its own right.

Rather more predictable was the Motorola KRZR K3 feature phone. Motorola had been pushing the RAZR concept since 2004. Although it had enjoyed success, by 2007 customers were looking for something else. But this didn't stop Motorola trying again.. and the KRZR K3 was in essence a 3G version of the K1 launched in 2006. Although the K1 was probably the ultimate flip phone in terms of hardware design, both these KRZR phones belongs to a previous generation of devices and they could not follow the hugged success of the original RAZR V3.

Motorola RIZR Z8 and KRZR K3
As well as Symbian, Motorola was a leading provider of Windows devices. The Motorola MOTO Q8 and Q9 (also called the Q 9h) were BlackBerry-style devices with a physical QWERTY keyboard, lacking a touchscreen. One was a 3.5G device, the other was limited to EDGE. These devices continued the tradition of the modestly success MOTO Q series of smartphones, but ultimately physical keyboards were on the way out.

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Motorola MOTO Q8 and Q9
Despite these efforts, Motorola started to go into sharp decline, and in a few years the iPhone and Android devices led to a collapse in sales that nearly took out the company. Motorola wasn't the first company that misjudged the future and it certainly wasn't the last either.

Image credits: Motorola