Thursday, 12 September 2019

Nokia 7260, 7270 and 7280 (2004)

Launched September 2004

Fifteen years ago we were in the golden age of mobile phone design. Although technologically limited compared to the powerful smartphones of today, manufacturers were not constrained by what they could design physically and all sorts of bold designs emerged as a result.

A trio of fashion phones, the Nokia 7260, 7270 and the 7280 certainly took boldness to a new level. Noted usually for their understated design, Nokia ripped up their rule book in this case and came up with something which was certainly a lot more eye-catching.

For most people the phone of choice would be the cheapest – the Nokia 7260. At the time we called the design “a complete mess” but in retrospect this bold art deco look is refreshing. Blending the keypad itself into the decoration, the 7260 also had a slightly asymmetric shape to set it apart from normal brick phones.

Underneath the startling exterior was a different story. A small screen, very basic camera and a couple of games were included with the only real concession to fun being the inbuilt FM radio. Even by 2004 standard this was a bit crude, with no music player or Bluetooth for example. Yet it sold in huge quantities, presumably based on looks alone.

Nokia 7260

One step up, the Nokia 7270 clamshell had a much better screen and slightly toned-down the looks. The 7270 featured changeable textile covers and was a more practical alternative although in the end it didn’t sell as well as the cheaper 7260.

Nokia 7270

But the phone that got everyone talking was the Nokia 7280. This “lipstick phone” didn’t have a conventional keypad at all but instead features an iPhone-style rotator. The little screen had a mirror finish, so you could preen yourself when not using it. Surprising it was taller than the 7260 but much narrower. The detailing was an intricate pattern of black and white, revealing a flash of red when the camera was expose. On of the details that owners liked most of all was the little fabric NOKIA label on the side.

Nokia 7280

Sorely lacking in practicality but making up for it in sheer “wow factor” the 7280 was surprisingly successful and many people used it as a second phone. Even fifteen years on, this phone would probably attract a lot of attention.

The 7280 is the most collectable with prices ranging between about £100 to £300 depending on condition. Prices for the 7270 and 7260 vary between about £50 to £250. So it’s quite possible that all three in really decent condition could set you back nearly a grand. Tempted?

Image credits: Nokia



Tuesday, 10 September 2019

Motorola CLIQ / DEXT (2009)

Motorola CLIQ / DEXT
Announced September 2009

September 2009 marked the first anniversary of the launch of the first consumer Android phone, the T-Mobile G1 also known as the HTC Dream. The following 12 months had seen a handful of other devices from HTC and Samsung but there still wasn’t much choice on this supposedly open platform.

Motorola’s entry into the Android arena had been long anticipated. The struggling mobile maker had bet the barn on Google’s new operating system and had cancelled all the other varied smartphone platforms it was involved in.

As with some other early Android devices, the Motorola CLIQ or DEXT (depending on market) had a slide-out QWERTY keyboard but the relatively small 3.1” 320 x 480 pixel display was unimpressive compared to better-equipped rivals.

Android had improved a lot over the previous year, and Motorola had loaded a whole bunch of their MOTOBLUR social networking applications on top. It looked pretty decent overall, but it was also something of a red herring as Nokia also had the significantly better Motorola DROID under wraps which would be announced the following month.

It wasn’t a massive success, but the CLIQ / DEXT was the point where Motorola just about saved itself from oblivion. There were still going to be turbulent times ahead, but Motorola ended up raising the bar significantly in early Android phones. This isn’t a particularly collectable device, but it is quite rare with prices being around £40 or so.

Image credit: Motorola

Video: Motorola CLIQ / DEXT



Friday, 6 September 2019

BlackBerry Passport (2014)

Launched September 2014

By 2014 the once-giant BlackBerry had more-or-less faded into insignificance following the disastrous launch of the Z10 and Q10 running the powerful but unpopular BlackBerry 10 operating system. A history of bad decisions by management had sidelined the company, but it turned out that they still had some fight in them.

The BlackBerry Passport is certainly one of the oddest-looking devices that we’ve seen in the past half-decade, but it was BlackBerry’s attempt to build a BlackBerry 10 device that would appeal to the corporate consumers that had stuck by it all these years. And although ultimately it wasn’t the success that BlackBerry hoped it would be, it had some novel features that set it apart from the devices we see today.

When the Z10 and Q10 were launched in January 2013 after an incredibly long time in development it soon became obvious that BlackBerry had made a huge strategic error. People who wanted an all-touch device such as the Z10 had defected to the iPhone or Android long before, but BlackBerry still prioritised the Z10 over the Q10 with its physical keyboard. And it was the Q10 that BlackBerry loyalists wanted. The upshot was that the Z10 flopped and BlackBerry ended up writing off a billion dollars to cover the fiasco.

BlackBerry ditched their top management and had a good rethink about the sort of device their customers wanted. And as a result, they came up with the rather brave BlackBerry Passport.

The Passport was like no other smartphone. Featuring a large 4.5” 1140 x 1140 pixel panel – which was square – and a three row physical keyboard on the bottom, the Passport had about the same footprint as.. well, a passport. Bigger than most other phones on the market, the solid construction also meant that it was pretty heavy too.

The unusual form factor was optimised for reading emails and documents rather than for playing games or web browsing. In this they had judged their core customer base pretty well, but the sheer bulk of the thing made it a little tricky to handle, the keyboard wasn’t like a classic BlackBerry and the whole thing felt a bit sluggish despite impressive hardware specifications.

The BlackBerry 10 operating system was much improved over earlier versions, and users could now download Android apps (albeit from Amazon and not Google) on top of BlackBerry’s class-leading enterprise software.

The Passport was well received, and sold pretty well – reportedly shipping hundreds of thousands of units in a relatively short time. But ultimately it was a bit too big, the operating system was unpopular and the device was simply too late to be the turnaround phone that BlackBerry needed.

The BlackBerry 10 OS made it into a couple of other smartphones before BlackBerry outsourced the manufacture of their smartphones and switched over to Android. Today the Passport represents an interesting part of the BlackBerry story and should be fairly collectable for those who like unusual devices. Typical prices for unlocked models seems to be between £50 to £100.

Image credit: BlackBerry

BlackBerry Passport - Video

Tuesday, 3 September 2019

Apple iPhone 6 and 6 Plus (2014)

Apple  iPhone 6 and 6 Plus
Launched September 2014

By 2014 the iPhone had been around for 7 years and although each generation of the device had added new features, increasingly the iPhone was lagging behind on screen size. 2013’s iPhone 5S was particularly weak in this respect, but the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus launched the following year broke the mould of old iPhones and created a completely new one.

The standard iPhone 6 came with a 4.7” 750 x 1334 pixel display, a useful improvement over the 4.0” 620 x 1136 pixel panel in the older one. But it was the 6 Plus with a 5.5” full HD 1080 x 1920 pixel panel that propelled the iPhone into the era of the modern high-end smartphone. The iPhone also came with Apple Pay, kick-starting the concept of mobile payments.

The 6 Plus is perhaps the pinnacle of Apple’s iPhone design. The convenient front-mounted fingerprint sensor, the notchless screen and the 3.5mm audio jack are all the sorts of things that we miss. At this time Apple’s design was led by what customers wanted, not what designers wanted.

On the negative side, both iPhones were prone to bending and a widespread fault with the screen called “touch disease” proved an annoyance. There were other more minor faults and niggles too. Despite this, 220 million iPhone 6 devices were sold over its lifetime.

Perhaps not an iconic design, the iPhone 6 was one of those moments where a number of relatively small improvements all came together at once to make a truly satisfying product. Indeed, the same basic design is still available in today’s iPhone 8 and 8 Plus for those who think the all-screen iPhone XS is going a bit far.

Image credit: Apple

Apple iPhone 6 and 6s video



Wednesday, 28 August 2019

Atari Lunar Lander (1979)

Atari Lunar Lander (Right) next to an Atari Space War machine
Launched August 1979

It is 1979 and the dawn of the Golden Age of Arcade Games. The same technology that was bringing microcomputers such as the Apple II into homes and businesses was also revolutionising the Arcade with sophisticated machines that could prove very popular… and profitable.

Taito and Midway had launched the highly successful Space Invaders game a year previously, and now it was Atari’s turn. Based on the inexpensive but versatile 6502 processor, Lunar Lander was quite a different game.

The basic idea was simple enough – the player had to place a lunar lander module on a flat part of surface of the moon without running out of fuel or crashing out of control. In practice it was pretty tricky.

The idea wasn’t a totally new one as versions of the game had been around for a decade or so. Earlier versions of the game were mostly text-based and concentrated on balancing fuel and thrust. In 1973 DEC produced a graphical version running on a PDP minicomputer hooked up to a GT40 video terminal. Atari took the concept one stage further with an arcade version based on similar principles.

Lunar Lander Screenshot
In addition to the 6502, the Atari version of the game – like the DEC version before it – used vector graphics rather than raster graphics. Without going into detail, an old-fashioned cathode ray tube can work in two ways: when used as a raster device it can make a picture by drawing hundreds of individual lines, commonly used in TV sets. But instead of drawing hundreds of lines, the electron beam can actually be directed anywhere on the CRT with the right hardware to draw a pin-sharp line between two locations, something you might see in an old-fashioned laboratory oscilloscope. Vector graphics can be appealing if you have limited hardware to run on, but they also look rather good and space-age which is especially appealing in a game like this.

It looked brilliant, the game-play was compelling and addictive and it is probably no surprise that Atari had a hit on its hands. However, it was soon eclipsed by a new Atari came based on similar hardware called Asteroids. Asteroids knocked Lunar Lander out of the park when it came to sales figures, shipping nearly fifteen times the number of cabinets.

There are plenty of versions of Lunar Lander around today, original cabinet versions are pretty hard to come by with prices of $4000 being typical. Or you can play a free version in your browser right here.

Image credits:
Marcin Wichary via Flickr
Wikipedia



Thursday, 22 August 2019

Nokia Booklet 3G (2009)

Nokia Booklet 3G
Launched August 2009

By the summer of 2009 the technology used in smartphones was racing ahead. The third generation iPhone offered a beautifully seamless experience, Google's Android platform was catching up fast, Nokia’s market-leading Symbian OS had made a successful leap to touchscreens and the Linux-based Nokia N900 had been announced too and showed plenty of promise.

Great although these device were, they were all a bit small. Generally speaking, if you wanted something bigger then you’d be looking at a full-blown laptop or perhaps a smaller and cheaper netbook. And although a netbook was a practical thing with a variety of uses, they were very fiddly to use while out and about and lacked the “work anywhere” capabilities of a smartphone.

Nokia’s solution to this was the Booklet 3G, a high-quality lightweight device in an elegant aluminium case and with a high-resolution 10.1 inch screen. Powered by a 1.6GHz Intel Atom CPU with 1GB of RAM and a 120 GB hard disk, the Booklet 3G was designed to run Microsoft’s new Windows 7 OS.

In addition to WiFi, the Booklet 3G also came with a SIM card slot (as you might guess by the name) providing the potential for always-on connectivity through its 3.5G HSPA connection. Assuming you had a decent data plan, you could use the Booklet 3G seamlessly almost anywhere.

Nokia certainly showed everybody else how this sort of device should be done, but of course you might notice that we’re not all sitting around using Nokia Booklet 5Gs today. The problem was that just a few months after Nokia announced the Booklet 3G, Apple came out with the iPad. With a similar-sized screen to the Nokia, the iPad essentially upscaled the iPhone. And in this particular battle, it was the iPad that won.

Nokia had access to pretty much the same technology and resources as Apple, but Apple but it all together in a different and much more compelling way. Nokia didn’t make a direct successor to the Booklet 3G, however they did venture into a similar market with the excellent but ultimately unsuccessful Nokia Lumia 2520 in 2013. Meanwhile, Apple have a 38.1% share of the tablet market, but interestingly that market has been in decline for a while now.

Today, the Nokia Booklet 3G is a pretty uncommon find for collectors, with prices for decent examples being £150 or so. The problem with the Booklet is that Windows 7 goes end-of-life in January 2020, and although it does seem technically possible to install Windows 10 it does not seem to be a straightforward proposition. Still, for collectors of esoteric Nokia products the Booklet does seem tempting.

Image credits: Nokia

Friday, 16 August 2019

Samsung SGH-i530 (2004)

Samsung i530
Introduced August 2004

The Samsung i530 is one of those handsets that appears to have popped in from a parallel reality. A clamshell smartphone with a touchscreen, the i530 was one of a small number of mobile phones to run the Palm OS operating system.

Flaws – well, it had those. The i530 lacked any sort of high-speed data and the fact that it came with two batteries probably told you what you needed to know about battery life. As with all other Samsungs of the time, the i530 lacked Bluetooth. And at 190 grams it was a bit hefty for its day too. But perhaps the biggest flaw was that you couldn’t actually buy one… but we’ll come to that shortly.

Samsung had some form with Palm OS smartphones – the SPH-i500 launched in 2003 on the Sprint network in the US showed promise. The i530 added a much better screen and a camera and supported GSM networks rather than CDMA.

Palm OS had been around for a while – first debuting in Palm’s own Pilot 1000 and 5000 in 1996. By the term of the millennium the phrase “Palm Pilot” was pretty much synonymous with handheld computing. Palm themselves had missed the emergence of smartphones altogether, but there was certainly demand for a wireless-enabled Palm OS device, and that was the niche Samsung were aiming for.

So really all the ingredients were here for the i530 to be something of a hit, especially for Palm OS fans who wanted something practical as a mobile phone. But the i530 never got that far. And here the story takes a weird turn.

Samsung is a long-standing sponsor of the Olympics, and they took thousands of i530s to the 2004 Athens games and handed them out to officials, VIPs and athletes. And that was the first and last time anyone ever saw the Samsung i530.

Samsung didn’t stay in the Palm OS market for long. The CDMA SPH-i550 planned for released on the Sprint network was dropped, the SCH-i539 turned up only in China. Palm themselves got into the smartphone market by buying a small rival called Handspring, but Palm OS was fading away by this point and eventually it fizzled out.

If things had worked out differently, we could all be tapping away on Palm OS devices today. But we are not, and Samsung’s involvement with the platform has largely been forgotten. Despite several thousand Samsung i530s being built, they seem to have vanished completely and if you want to add this oddity to your collection then you are probably out of luck.

Image credit: Samsung