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.


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

Monday, 10 April 2017

IBM PS/2 (1987)

Launched April 1987

In 1981 IBM launched its first mass-market microcomputer, the IBM PC. The upgraded XT followed in 1983 and in 1984 the significantly more advanced 286-based AT hit the market. Based mostly on off-the-shelf components, the IBM PC became a huge success.. but it didn't take long for upstart competitors to make computer that were either faster or cheaper than IBM's (often both).

With the PC, IBM had created a monster but they began to realize that they no longer controlled the monster. IBM's response was to try to create a new monster that it could control more easily. As a result they developed the IBM PS/2 and the OS/2 operating system. Neither succeeded.

IBM PS/2 range

There were technical limitations with the IBM PC. Essentially based on software and hardware rooted in the 1970s, IBM was looking forward to the 1990s. The idea with the PS/2 was to introduce multitasking, plug-and-play expansion cards, better memory management and of course more powerful processors. Obviously, these were things that customers wanted too - but IBM decided that customers didn't need much in the way of backwards compatibility, and customers decided that... well, they did actually... and they stayed away in droves.

It's easy to criticise IBM for wanting to push things forward even if customers were resistant, but the place IBM was in during the late 1980s was not the same place as Apple in the late 2010s. Companies such as Compaq could offer something better than the IBM PC while still being compatible, where the PS/2 wasn't. In changing direction, IBM lost what little control it still had over the PC marketplace.

The OS/2 operating system was late as well. Originally developed by both IBM and Microsoft the idea was to create a next-generation version of Windows based on the OS/2 core. However, the first really usable version of OS/2 appeared a year after the PS/2 leaving early versions of the hardware running IBM's version of MS-DOS (called PC-DOS). It took until the mid-1990s for OS/2 to become rather good with the launch of OS/2 Warp, but by that time it was competing against both Windows 95 and Windows NT.

The PS/2 soldiered on into the 1990s and it was accompanied by some desperate efforts by IBM to regain market share, such at the PC compatible PS/1, Aptiva, NetVista and ThinkCentre ranges. It took IBM nearly two decades to throw in the towel, divesting the PC business to Lenovo in 2005.

Oddly enough though, the PS/2 was hugely influential in other ways. The PS/2 introduced VGA graphics and the 15 pin D-type cable still seen today (just about), it helped popularise the 3.5" floppy drive and memory on 72-pin SIMM modules, and it created the mini-DIN connection for mice and keyboards commonly known as a PS/2 connector. All of these features ended up in the products of rivals. Not least the PS/2 range was nice to look at, giving a welcome boost to standards of industrial design.

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Xerox 9700 (1977)

Launched 1977

Forty years ago we were seeing the start of a boom in personal computing.. but at the other end of the scale we were also seeing the dawn of digital imaging, in this case with laser printers.

The Xerox 9700 was launched in 1977, and although it lagged behind the IBM 3800, the Xerox was much closer to today's office laser printers than the IBM which was basically a very fast line printer. Capable of a maximum throughput of 120 pages per minute on cut sheet paper at up to 300 dpi, the Xerox 9700 could combine text and graphics in ways that hadn't previously been possible.

It was a big beast, which was understandable when you realise that it was basically three things joined together. Xerox took the guts of one of their own photocopiers and added a unit containing the laser and imaging system to it. Then they bolted a DEC PDP 11/34 to the whole thing to act as a controller. Sharp eyed readers may notice that in the picture the PDP 11 is being controlled by a Lear-Siegler ADM-3A.

Xerox 9700
It was huge and hardly cheap. Even in 1980 after it had been around for a while, the Xerox 9700 still started at $35,240 (worth about $100,000 today). It took about another decade for laser printers to hit the mass market with devices such as the Apple LaserWriter or HP LaserJet range.
Forty years later, Xerox still make printers including huge devices such as the Xerox Nuvera range which cost almost as much the 9700 did back in the day.

Sunday, 26 March 2017

Apple iPad 3 (2012)

Apple iPad 3
Launched March 2012

It took a few attempts for Apple to get the iPad really right. As with the iPhone, it was the third generation of the device that really started to include all the features that customers wanted. It also introduced Apple's baffling way of naming the iPad that continues to this day.

Outwardly it was a black or white slabby thing that looked similar to previous generations, but this iPad was the first one to introduce the "retina display" seen in the iPhone 4. This meant that the resolution jumped to 1536 x 2048 pixels compared to just 768 x 1024 on previous generations. Apple had also realised that people actually took photos and videos with the iPad and fitted a decent 5 megapixel camera on the back rather than the pretty miserable 0.7 megapixel sensor on the iPad 2.

It was faster than the iPad 2 and the cellular version could support 4G LTE data. It was also thicker and heavier, but the price was the same as the iPad 2 when it launched. This improved version was a sales success - but it had the shortest lifespan of any iOS device, lasting just seven months until replaced by the iPad 4. As with most Apple products it received software updates over the years with the latest coming in August 2016.

Five years later and the current iPad is much the same, only lighter and faster than the iPad 3. But Apple actually dropped the generation of the iPad after the iPad 2 (the iPad 3 was never officially called that), and the 2017 iPad is also just called the "iPad" even though the previous models were the iPad Air and iPad Air 2. This is a bit confusing, as Apple insist on a generational name for each iPhone.

Because the iPad 3 is still very usable, prices for used models are quite strong with prices for a high-spec on being about €150 or so, compared to €400 for a base model of the current generation. It's not really a collectible device though nor can it run the latest version of iOS, however there are still probably millions of these in everyday use.

Image source: Apple

Monday, 20 March 2017

HTC Advantage X7500 and Shift X9500 (2007)

HTC Advantage X7500
Announced March 2007

Even before the launch of the iPhone a decade ago, one company was pioneering smartphones with a vision years ahead of everyone else. That company was HTC. In March 2007, just a few months after the launch of Apple's iconic device, HTC came up with a rather different vision of what it thought the future should be.

The HTC Advantage X7500 (sold under many names including the T-Mobile Ameo) pushed the boundaries of what a smartphone could be. The 5" VGA resolution display was enormous for the time, there was a QWERTY keyboard that was detachable and a then very impressive 8GB of internal storage and an internal hard disk (yes, made of spinning metal). This was a Windows Mobile 5.0 device, and it also supported HSDPA and WiFi data, had GPS, a TV output, came with a 3 megapixel primary camera and VGA camera for video calling and had a microSD slot. Inside was a 624 MHz Intel Xscale processor with 128MB of RAM. In hardware terms it completely stomped over the iPhone, but it was two-and-a-half times the weight. It was quite an expensive device at about €850 SIM-free (€200 more than an unlocked iPhone) but it was pretty obviously a premium product.

It wasn't a huge sales success, but it is credited by some as helping to popularise big-screen smartphones. In 2008 HTC followed it up with the X7510 with more storage and Windows Mobile 6.0. Today you can pick up either model for around €50 to €70 for an unlocked version.

HTC Shift X9500
Launched the same month was the HTC Shift X9500. Sporting a 7" WVGA touchscreen, the Shift was actually an ultra-mobile PC (UMPC) with some clever tricks up it's sleeve but an eye-watering price-tag to match. The Shift could boot into either Windows Vista (which probably really, really counted against it in the long run) or an application called SnapVUE which was basically a specially-written mobile operating system. In order to accommodate these two OSes, the Shift required both an Intel x86 processor for Windows and an ARM11 CPU for SnapVUE. It came with a 40 or 60GB hard disk, a microSD slot, HSDPA and 3G data plus WiFi, a fingerprint reader and 1GB of RAM. Priced in the US at about $1500, when it finally did get to market in 2008 it was four times the price of a 7" Asus EEE PC.

It took a long time to come to market. It was not a sale success, but the 7" format ended up being a popular size for the tablets that were to come a few years later. But neither Windows Vista nor Windows Mobile 5.0 were ever really popular platforms, but eventually HTC switched its emphasis from Windows and produced the first Android smartphone. But that it another story.

Image source: HTC

Saturday, 18 March 2017

Apple eMate 300 (1997)

Apple eMate 300
The history of Apple stretches back four decades. Sandwiched between the early successes of the 1970s to early 1980s and later dominance of the company in the twenty-first century, there was a long period during which Apple lost direction and at various points it seemed the company had no future.

One product from these years of doldrums was the MessagePad line, often simply known as the "Apple Newton" after the unique operating system. A tablet-sized device originally launched in 1993, the original MessagePad was an interesting idea, but it was too far ahead of the available technology to really be a success.

In March 1997 the most unusual addition to this range was launched - the eMate 300. Where previous MessagePads used a stylus and handwriting recognition, the eMate 300 was a different beast with a physical QWERTY keyboard housed in a colourful, oversized clamshell case. The eMate 300 was designed for use in schools, and the simple-to-use operating system and relatively inexpensive price tag (compared to other Apple products) along with the tough and rather funky green case reflected this. In many ways, the eMate 300 was a reflection of the original Mac when it came to being an all-in-one computing appliance.

The screen was a 6.8" 480 x 320 greyscale panel, a bit smaller than the display in an iPad mini but in a much bigger case. Users could store data on special flash memory cards, and there were various expansion capabilities including a PCMCIA slot. The CPU was a 25 MHz ARM 710 unit, perhaps foreshadowing the huge popularity of ARM processors in mobile devices today.

Although the eMate 300 was available for sale through educational channels only, some found their way into other applications. It was an interesting device, but it never reached its full potential and in February 1998 the recently-returned Steve Jobs killed the entire MessagePad / Newton product line.

The legacy of the MessagePad line is fairly obvious - the iPad and iPhone. The translucent case idea found critical acclaim with the original iMac, which helped to reverse Apple's declining fortunes. These days the eMate 300 is pretty much forgotten, due in part that it only really sold in educational circles and even those seemed to be in the United States only. These days there are quite a few eMate 300s available, with prices topping out at $150 or so for a good one.

Monday, 13 March 2017

Ten years of "Google Phone" rumours

Just over ten years ago, Apple announced the first iPhone. But shortly after that rumours started to swirl that Google was working on a platform of its own. The then managing director of Google Iberia laid out plans to Spanish news site Noticias which presumably were meant to be a secret.

The general manager of Google Spain confirms that the company is working on the development of a mobile phone

14/03/07 - Estefanía Pérez
Isabel Aguilera, General Manager of Google in Spain and Portugal, has confirmed to that the company is working, "among others", in the development of a mobile phone. "A part of the time of our engineers we have dedicated to the investigation of a mobile phone to access information," Aguilera said.

Speculation about Google's possible entry into the area of ​​mobile phone design and sales came after the company recently posted a job advertisement seeking engineers and analysts in the telecommunications industry. In that same claim, Google specified that it is undergoing experimentation with various wireless communications systems.

In a conference on the integration of the Internet into business strategy, organized by the Association for the Progress of Mediterranean Area Management, Isabel Aguilera explained to that while 70% of engineers' time is spent "To develop our core business, that is, search and advertising," and 20% to develop "products that have enough to do with this core," it is true that 10% of that time is focused on development Of products "that at some point could have to do with our business."

Within this last area, Aguilera has indicated that "it has been investigated" in a mobile phone through which you can "access information", as well as "how to extend the information society in less developed economies ". In this sense, the Director General of Google in Spain and Portugal has pointed out that although "there may be products that may seem strange, they are all part of our innovation process."

At the moment, the search engine has 36 products and "18 others that are in the laboratory" and, therefore, undergoing experimentation, among which would be the mobile phone.

At the time we speculated over the possible features of a Google phone, and concluded that it would probably be a Linux-based phone with applications tightly integrated into Google services such as Gmail, Maps and Calendar once the user had logged in with their Google account. This seamless connectivity seemed pretty advanced for the time, but it is essentially what Google delivered.

We also speculated about possible partners, and in the end we thought the Nokia was the most likely.. but in the end they were one of the few major manufacturers not on board. It took another eight months for an official announcements to come out, naming the operating system as Android and the first handset (the T-Mobile G1) appeared in September 2008, a year and a half after the first rumours.

Almost immediately after Android came to market, it began to fragment with manufacturers doing their own thing. Google responded to this problem in 2010 with the first of a series of "Nexus" devices made with various partners, and in 2016 it went the whole way and launched a phone in it's own right, the Google Pixel.

T-Mobile G1 (2008)
In 2017 around nine out of ten new smartphones run Android, and almost all the rest are iPhones. Windows, BlackBerry and other platforms have been squeezed out almost completely, and profit margins have been squeezed too. Apple seems to be the only company consistently making any money, but as far as consumers are concerned Android has brought a huge variety of choice for people on all sorts of budgets and has helped to transform mobile computing completely.

Monday, 6 March 2017

Nokia 6310i (2002)

Nokia 6310i (Silver)
Announced March 2002

There was some excitement last month over the supposed relaunch of the Nokia 3310. Although the 3310 was a popular consumer handset of the early noughties, business users had a similar love for the Nokia 6310i, launched in March 2002.

Quite a bit taller than most competing phones, most of the front of the device was taken up by an ergonomically-designed keypad with a 96 x 60 pixel monochrome display on the top with tasteful blue backlighting. The 6310i supported tri-band GSM, GPRS data, Java, infra-red connectivity and crucially it came with Bluetooth which made it ideal for business users.. in fact, Mercedes even supplied built-in cradles for this exact model of phone. The two most common colours where an attractive two-tone silver and a fairly foul black-and-gold.

Nokia 6310i (Black)

Like the 3310 it was robust and had an excellent battery life with over two weeks standby time and a maximum of six hours talktime. Snake and a couple of other games gave a nod towards non-work use, but it certainly couldn't play music and it didn't even come with a camera. Much more flexible than the 3310, it had some fairly useful personal information management tools built-in, and the inclusion of Java meant that new applications could be downloaded.

It was a hugely popular phone.. and this wasn't an accident. Nokia spent a great deal of time and effort researching what business customers wanted and they delivered exactly that. Even after the phone was discontinued in 2005 it was still in demand, and indeed today a "new old stock" or refurbished can range in price from between €150 to €400 or even more. Not bad for a fifteen year old phone that was not exactly rare.

Nokia could never quite repeat the success of the 6310i, although devices such as as the E50 came close in concept. And eventually the market moved on, within a few short years business users wanted email which led to the rapid growth of BlackBerry.

Image credit: Nokia

Apple Macintosh II and Macintosh SE (1987)

Apple Macintosh SE
Announced March 1987

Announced thirty years ago this month and three years after the original Mac, the Macintosh II and Macintosh SE both improved Apple's lineup, but in different ways.

The most obviously "Mac-like" one of the pair was the SE, which was actually the fifth classic Mac in the range (after the 128K, 512K and 512Ke and the Plus) and the first one to have an internal expansion slot ("SE" stood for "System Expansion"). As with the Mac Plus, the SE included an external SCSI port which was primarily used for mass storage devices. Inside was the familiar 68000 CPU clocked at 7.8MHz with 1MB of RAM as standard (upgradeable to 4MB) and there was an optional 20MB hard drive as well.

The Macintosh II was a very different proposition from the Classic Mac. The first colour Mac, the Mac II was also the first in the line to have the monitor and computer in separate boxes. Inside this was a 68020 CPU running at 16MHz with 1MB of RAM supplied as standard (expandable to 8MB). Monitors came in either 12" or 13" versions and could display up to 640 x 480 pixels in 256 colours, which was impressive for the time. The Mac II also had several internal expansion slots and could support a 40MB or 80MB hard disk in standard configurations.

Apple Macintosh II

Both devices were expensive, the SE starting at $2900 for a basic version with no hard drive, and the II coming in at a whopping $5500 or so. For the equivalent 2017 price you can basically double that.

The Mac II in particular was very much against the "computing appliance" idea that Steve Jobs championed with the original Mac, but he had been forced out of the company in 1985. At the time though, the Mac II didn't really have much competition apart from high-end workstations and probably the closest competition was the Commodore Amiga.  These two products heralded a period of strong revenue growth that came to an abrupt end in the mid 1990s, but despite that Apple became increasingly sidelined against IBM PC compatibles.

Today you can pick up Mac SEs of varying quality and specification for about €150 and upwards, the Macintosh II is a much rarer beast and is hard to put a price on.

Monday, 27 February 2017

Nokia 3310 (2000) vs Nokia 3310 (2017)

There has been some excitement in recent weeks with a leak that Nokia was re-releasing the classic 3310 handset from 2000. But would a company really be brave enough to try to punt something nearly two decades old to consumers? Well, the answer was.. no.

The original 3310 was a simple monochrome phone, but it had a reputation for being tough, having a long battery life, swappable covers and also some simple games including the legendary Nokia snake. And that really was about it - no mobile data, no Bluetooth, no music playback and it didn't even have polyphonic ringtones.

Nokia 3310 (2000)
Superficially with a similar shape and footprint, the new Nokia 3310 tries to relive some of the magic of the old one. The most obvious immediate change is the much larger 2.4" QVGA display on the front and the 2 megapixel camera on the back. Despite efforts, it's clear that the keypad reflects that this is a Series 30+ device as are all contemporary Nokia feature phones.. in fact, the specification is very similar to devices such as the Nokia 222 but in a rather different case.
Nokia 3310 (2017)
Nokia 3310 (2000) vs 3310 (2017)

Other features include a music player, FM radio, expandable memory, Bluetooth and some rudimentary 2.5G data support. The 1200 mAh battery is rated as giving up to 31 days standby time and 22 hours talktime on the single-SIM model, and there's also a dual-SIM variant available. And yes.. Snake is still there. The covers don't seem to be changeable, but are available in a choice of red, yellow, blue or grey.

HMD (who make the phones under licence) say that the retail price will be approximately €49. In truth of course this isn't really a relaunch of anything - it is just one of those feature phones that Nokia never stopped making in a different case. But it's still a striking and friendly but somewhat odd-looking device that should appeal to certain types of customer. Retro in some ways, but not in others.. it does at least serve as a reminder as to why we all used to own Nokias in the early days of mobile phones.

Image sources: Nokia and HMD Global

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.
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.

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