Monday, 19 February 2018

Sony Ericsson XPERIA X1 vs Toshiba Portégé G910/G920 (2008)

Launched February 2008

Back in February 2008 there were two key competitors in the touchscreen smartphone market: Microsoft’s Windows Mobile 6 and Sony Ericsson’s Symbian-based UIQ. Windows was the more popular of the two, even though its user interface was a pretty horrible attempt to emulate the desktop environment on a pocket device.

Sure, Apple had launched the iPhone the previous year with a slick new interface, but it hadn’t really made much of a market impact at this point. Android was in the pipeline, but still a long way off. So at this point in time, it was really Microsoft who had the dominant position in this market.

Launched at roughly the same time, the Sony Ericsson XPERIA X1 and Toshiba Portégé G910 and G920 were both quite similar devices from well-known names in the industry. But what was a typical high-end Windows smartphone like in 2008?
Sony Ericsson XPERIA X1

Let’s start with the Sony Ericsson XPERIA X1  - this was the very first “Xperia” smartphone, but where all modern ones run Android, this one ran Windows Mobile 6.1 instead. Featuring a 3” WVGA display (which was large for the time), the X1 also had a slide-out QWERTY keyboard, 3.5G data, WiFi, GPS and pretty much everything that you would find in a smartphone today. Unusually, the X1 also had a microSD slot rather than using Sony’s Memory Sticks… and this was a clue that the X1 wasn’t really a Sony Ericsson at all.

In fact, the XPERIA X1 had been designed and built by rival firm HTC who were experts in making Windows Devices. HTC had been making quite a name for themselves, so the decision to compete with themselves with the X1 was a strange one.

Some work had gone into making the Windows user-experience a better one, with a tile-based application launcher. It was quite a stylish device too, although the slide-out keyboard did add substantially to its bulk.

At the time of launch, the X1’s overall package was better than almost anything else on the market, but by the time it actually went on sale in October 2008 it was beginning to look a little dated. It was something of a success though, and in 2009 it was followed up by XPERIA X2 which was less of a success. Sony Ericsson moved away from Windows to concentrate on Android devices, but it did produce the BlackBerry-like Aspen in 2010 which rather sank without trace.

Toshiba G9-something-or-other
Toshiba made a huge effort in February 2008, launching the esoteric G450 along with the compact Windows-based G710 and G810. However, at the top end was the Portégé G910/G920 which had a pretty similar configuration to the XPERIA X1, but perhaps more aimed as being a laptop replacement than a high-end smartphone.

A clamshell device rather than a slide, the G910 and G920 also had a 3” WVGA display, 3.5G support and WiFi. The G920 had enhanced GPS functionality over the G910, but overall both featured almost everything you’d expect to see in a modern smartphone.

The Toshiba was even more bulky than the Sony Ericsson but it was much smaller than even Toshiba’s smallest laptops. The OS was plain old Windows Mobile 6 with no custom interface on top, although Toshiba did include the useful Opera web browser as standard

Toshiba had been trying to break into the mobile phone market for years, but except for Japan they had not had much success. Toshiba would give up trying to compete a few years after this, before attempting and failing to break into the tablet market. In the years past that, Toshiba continued to slide – even pulling out of consumer laptops, a market that it had once been a major player in.

In the end, neither device changed the world, although the XPERIA X1 did give Sony Ericsson (and later Sony by themselves) the impetus needed to concentrate on touch-screen smartphones. The  Portégé range couldn’t help stop Toshiba’s decline though. And today Windows Phone is an endangered species, for all its charms.

For collectors, the Sony Ericsson XPERIA X1 is commonly available for around €40 or so unlocked. The Toshiba Portégé G910 and G920 is much rarer with prices at around €100 for collectors of esoteric Windows devices.

Sunday, 18 February 2018

Onyx Liscio vs Toshiba G450 (2008)

Toshiba G450
Launched February 2008

These days we are used to phones getting bigger and bigger, a trend started by the iPhone and its successors. But ten years ago there was still a trend to make phones smaller with each generation, and the Toshiba G450 and Onyx Liscio are examples of that.

The Toshiba G450 remains one of the weirdest phones ever. This tiny 57 gram phone featured two circular keypads and a tiny 0.8” display. Although the MP3 capabilities and 160MB of memory gave it some basic capabilities as a media player, the G450 was actually designed for something else.

In the days before ubiquitous WiFi and smartphone tethering, if you wanted to get your laptop online on the move you would often use a 3G dongle that you would plug into a USB port. Basically, the G450 was exactly that… but a dongle that you could make phone calls on. 3.5G data support meant that it was practical to use for mobile data, but you could also use it for basic phone functions if you needed to.

A similar size but with a different emphasis, the Onyx Liscio was designed to be a fully-featured 2G phone that you would use as a second handset when you didn’t want to take your main one – for example, on a night out.

Onyx Liscio

The screen was only a little larger than the Toshiba, but the 1.1” screen was an OLED display which was still quite rare. Unlike the G450, the Liscio also supported Bluetooth and had a microSD slot, but it didn’t support 3G data.

Priced at about €135 when new, the Liscio was about have the cost of a typical midrange phone of the time, so it would be a bit less financially painful if it got run over by a taxi. But not much. And since you could just by an ultra-basic Nokia for a lot less, it didn’t really make much financial sense. And it turned out that the Liscio was actually an 18-month old Haier handset which could be bought cheaper elsewhere.

It might not come as a surprise to discover that neither device was much of a success. The Toshiba G450 was just far too weird, and people who wanted a 3G dongle for their laptops probably just bought a 3G dongle. The Liscio was overpriced and under-powered, even though the basic idea seemed sound.

Both handsets are very rare these days, but from time-to-time the Toshiba G450 does crop up for about €70 or so. If you like collecting weird-looking devices then the G450 might well be something worth seeking out for your collection.

Monday, 5 February 2018

Nokia N96 (2008)

Announced February 2008

Back in 2006 Nokia produced the iconic Nokia N95 smartphone, followed up by the improved N95 8GB a year later. Both these devices were hugely successful products by a company at its peak. Although upstarts Apple had release the original iPhone in early 2007, it hadn’t had much material impact on Nokia’s sales figures and they were still confident of their dominance of the mobile phone industry.

Expectations were high for the new Nokia N96, launched at Mobile World Congress in 2008. And on paper, the N96 looked pretty good. Retaining a similar 2.8” QVGA display to the N96 8GB, the N96 doubled the amount of storage to 16GB and came with a microSD slot (which the N95 8GB did not), it had a similar 5 megapixel camera with Carl Zeiss optics, 3.5G data and WiFi, aGPS, a comprehensive media player, an FM radio and a TV output as well.

The biggest surprise was the inclusion of a DVB-H receiver, which meant that you could watch free-to-air transmissions where there was coverage. A clever little kick-stand around the camera lens meant that viewing TV or downloaded videos was a bit more convenient.

Because this was a Symbian smartphone you could add applications, although by modern standards this used a clunky approach. What we would consider a modern app store would be introduced by Apple for their second-generation iPhone just a few months later.

It was a good-looking device, where the original N95 had been rather utilitarian. But there was no getting away from the fact that it didn’t have a touchscreen like the iPhone did, and at 3.5” the Apple device had more display real estate too.

It took a long time to come to market, shipping in September 2008 with a fairly hefty price tag. Critical reception was poor: it was not easy to use, was slow and unreliable. Nokia also undermined the position of the N96 by announcing the N97 and 5800 XpressMusic shortly after launch.

Given the achievements of the N95, it initially seemed that the N96 would be a guaranteed success. Instead it turned out to be a flop. It didn’t help either that DVB-H – one of the key features of the N96 – was also never rolled out to any great extent. Today the N96 is largely forgotten, sandwiched between the better-known N95 and N97. Today N96s are somewhat uncommon, prices can be less than €100 for good unlocked ones with accessories but a median price seems to be around €150.

You could argue that the N96 marked the beginning of a long and slow decline for Nokia. The market that Nokia had utterly dominated was changing rapidly, but Nokia were not changing quickly enough to go with it. Nokia handsets remained popular (the N96 apart) but within a few years the Symbian platform that the N-series was based on became a dead end.

Friday, 2 February 2018

Mum Deodorant (1888)

Mum Cream Deodorant Ad, 1956
Created 1888

According to the Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Galaxy:
The Jatravartids [..] are small blue creatures with more than fifty arms each, who are therefore unique in being the only race in history to have invented the aerosol deodorant before the wheel.
A funny line, and while it is certainly true that humans invented the wheel a long time before deodorant, it might surprise you just how old commercially-available deodorants are.

130 years ago in 1888, an unknown inventor came up with a waxy cream containing zinc oxide which had antibacterial properties which could help to suppress body odour. The product was named “MUM” after the nickname of the unknown inventor’s nurse.

Development of the product continued, and by the 1920s it came in small tins promoted by advertising. The first big technological breakthrough came in 1952 when the roll-on deodorant was invented, inspired in part by the ball-point pen, and in many markets worldwide this became the product that “Mum” was most identified with.

Although pedantic Jatravartids may point out that aerosol deodorants were not invented on Earth until the early 1960s, the deodorant has been around for as long as the motor car and significantly longer than the aeroplane.

So here’s to that unknown inventor, whoever he or she may be… and thank you for making the world a somewhat more fragrant place.

Image credit: Classic Film via Flickr