Sunday 22 November 2015

Samsung P300 "Card Phone" (2005)

Announced November 2005

A decade ago, manufacturers were still experimenting with mobile phone form factors, and the Samsung P300 was an attempt to create a handset that was the same shape as a credit card.

Measuring 86 x 54 x 8.9mm, the SGH-P300 (dubbed the "Card Phone") had exactly the same footprint as the plastic in your wallet.. but of course it was a lot thicker and you couldn’t actually put in in your wallet. It weighed just 81 grams and had a wide 1.8” 220 x 176 pixel display, a 1.3 megapixel camera with LED flash, Bluetooth and a MP3 player, although the internal memory of just 90MB or so did limit the amount of music you could store. Unsurprisingly, the P300 was a GSM-only device.

Because of the somewhat squat layout, the P300 had a wider keypad than usual which came with calculator-style keys. Combine that with the widescreen display and a folding case (with an external battery) to put it in, the P300 really did look very much like a pocket calculator. Peculiarly, one feature the P300 did not have was a built-in calculator function.

The unusual design polarized opinions completely, many people loved it and about an equal number seemed to loathe it. Priced at around $500 to $600 in the US at the time (today that would be equivalent to around £420 or €600), it was relatively expensive but ended up as being a niche success. Today, the P300 is quite collectable with prices ranging between £60 / €85 to £230 / €330 or so.

Samsung followed the P300 with the P310 launched the next year, and the touchscreen P520 launched in 2007. Some other manufacturers also tried the same format over the years, but none of them ever reached the cult status of the odd little P300.

Thursday 12 November 2015

Nokia 9300i (2005)

Announced November 2005

Ten years ago, the eccentric Nokia 9300i and its predecessor the Nokia 9300 became something of a surprise hit in the consumer market. At first glance, the 9300i was an ugly looking handset which was about the same size as the popular Nokia 6310i.. but there was literally more to the 9300i than met the eye.

The Nokia 9300i opened up to reveal a large QWERTY keyboard and a 4 inch 640 x 200 pixel display on the inside. Built-in was a web browser and email client, but you could also do wordprocessing and even spreadsheet work with it. And because this ran a version of Symbian, you could add other application to it.

The 9300i was an upgrade to the previous year’s 9300 – and that upgrade was basically the addition of WiFi support to the 2G-only device. Peculiarly, Nokia chose not to add 3G to the 9300 or even its bigger sibling, the Nokia 9500 Communicator – a decision that was possibly more about Nokia’s internal politics than being anything technical.

As with the BlackBerry 8700 launched at the same time, the Nokia 9300i was a business handset that crossed over into the consumer market. As a result it had a few idiosyncrasies, one of which was that it didn’t have a camera.

One other key drawback was that although this was a Symbian handset, it ran the Series 80 software platform rather than the more common Series 60, meaning that there was less software available for it than for other Nokia smartphones of the time.

Series 80 was discontinued after the 9300i was launched, making this arguably the last true “Communicator” device from Nokia. It was eventually followed by the Series 60-based Nokia E90, which didn’t really have the same capabilities.

The 9300i is still quite a usable device today, although the built-in Opera web browser will struggle with a lot of modern websites. If you want to add one of these to your collection, budget to spend around €50 or so.

Wednesday 11 November 2015

Motorola RAZR V3i (2005)

Announced November 2005

Back in 2004, Motorola announced one of the most iconic mobile phones ever – the Motorola RAZR V3. It was an ultra-thin folding phone, elegantly designed in precision cut metal and with a hefty price tag attached. It was a huge hit, but it had one major problem. Underneath the elegant exterior, it was awful.

Motorola had a sort of 3G version of the RAZR which they had announced in the summer of 2005, but it was quite big and 3G phones weren’t very popular at the time. So, developed in parallel was the GSM-only Motorola RAZR V3i.

The V3i addressed several weaknesses with the original RAZR. Firstly, the 1.2 megapixel camera replaced the woeful 0.3 megapixel one on the original and it could now record videos, it came with TransFlash (microSD) expandable memory, had a proper music player (with iTunes support optional) with stereo output, and the whole look of the phone had been subtly reworked to make it look smarter and fresher. Over its lifetime, the V3i was produced in a wide variety of colours including silver, pink, purple, black, blue, green, red, violet and gold.

Although the hardware was more capable and the physical design more appealing, the biggest problem was still the software. The user interface was old-fashioned and difficult to use, and anyone who was hoping for something better after struggling with the original RAZR would be sorely out of luck. Compared with Motorola, the Nokia phones of the same era were much easier to use.

Despite its flaws, the V3i was quite a successful device, but even by 2005 the RAZR as a fashion item was beginning to look a bit stale. Unfortunately, Motorola found itself in a rut with the RAZR design.. they kept churning out phones based on the same concept, but consumers had lost interest and by 2007 Motorola’s mobile phone business were losing money at a huge rate. The rest is history.

Today, the V3i is a commonly available and popular device with prices for a good condition one ranging from £50 / €70 to around £100 / €140 or even more for the gold D&G edition. Despite all its flaws, the elegant V3i has plenty of “wow” factor and the design is certainly an antidote to the slabby smartphones of today.

Sunday 8 November 2015

BlackBerry 8700 (2005)

BlackBerry 8700c
By 2005, BlackBerry brand owners RIM had been in the mobile phone market for a few years. Starting off with pagers, they then moved to simple messaging devices and then moved on to their own smartphone platform. The launch of the BlackBerry 8700 in November 2005 (as the 8700c) demonstrated that RIM had a truly mature product on their hands that had a lot of appeal to both consumers and businesses.

Although it featured the familiar BlackBerry QWERTY keyboard and controls, the 8700 ditched the weird but effective transflective screen used in earlier versions, and completely reworked the user interface to make it much more exciting and polished.

But the improved hardware and software was only part of the story, what made everything really work well was the excellent email services that RIM offered both businesses and consumers. And a decade ago, email was far more important than things like applications or even web browsing.

Variants of the 8700 appeared for many major carriers worldwide, and this smartphone helped to propel RIM to phenomenal sales growth throughout the late noughties. The problem was that five years later, RIM were still doing essentially the same thing.. despite changing trends in the industry, a mistake that nearly killed BlackBerry for good.

BlackBerry 8700v, 8700f, 8700g and 8700r

Monday 2 November 2015

Nokia N71, N80 and N92 (2005)

Announced November 2005

Nokia’s N-Series range of smartphones had been launched in April 2005 with a trio of interesting high-end devices. A little over six months later, Nokia launched a second trio of phones.. all of which pushed back Nokia’s design boundaries a little more. Announced in November 2005, these handsets didn't actually ship to market until the following year.

The Nokia N71 was a relatively conventional clamshell smartphone (especially when compared with the big but esoteric N90). Although it sat near the bottom of the N-Series range, it still had 3G support, an FM radio, a 2 megapixel primary camera plus a low-res secondary one, a multimedia player, expandable memory and Bluetooth. At the time we remarked that it was an ugly device, but really it is quite a chunky and industrial looking device rather than being elegant exactly. It wasn’t exactly a success, perhaps in part because Nokia rarely made clamshell devices.

Nokia N71
One step up was the Nokia N80 which had a better screen, a 3 megapixel camera, WiFi and all the usual N-Series functions in a slider design that was instantly recognisable as being a Nokia, despite the somewhat novel form factor. The N80 was probably the most usable N-Series phone to date and it was something of a success. A very similar but higher-spec handset was announced about a year later.. the hugely popular Nokia N95.

Nokia N80
The oddest phone of the bunch was the Nokia N92 clamshell. Like the other N-Series phones, this was a Symbian smartphone with 3G support, and this also had WiFi and an FM radio. But one novel feature was a built-in DVB-H (digital TV) tuner, combined with a two-way hinge that meant you could use it either as a standard clamshell or it could open up like a laptop. Even the keypad was labelled in both directions. Another odd feature was the camera integrated into the hinge (like the Nokia N90). In the end, DVB-H was a flop and the N92 ended up being a very rare and rather desirable with prices going up to £500 / €700 today.. although the last place to broadcast DVB-H was Finland in 2012.

Nokia N92