Tuesday 27 February 2018

Apple Macintosh Colour Classic (1993)

Mac Colour Classic (1993)
Launched February 1993

Nine years after the launch of the original Macintosh, Apple launched the Macintosh Colour Classic (or “Color” for colonials) which was the final generation of compact Mac. Well, sort of.

The Colour Classic was perhaps the machine the original Mac should have been. The obvious technical difference here being that the Colour Classic was a colour Mac, unlike all the previous monochrome Classic models. The display was a little larger at 10”, and the all-in-one case had been redesigned to give it a more contemporary look.

Inside the Colour Classic was an expansion slot which could take an Apple IIe card, allowing the Colour Classic to run Apple II programs. This feature was primarily designed to get the Colour Classic into schools where (especially in the US) the Apple II was still very popular. Despite being launched more than a decade and a half earlier, the Apple II was still in production (in the IIe form) mostly for the education market.

The card had an odd trick of allowing the Colour Classic to run at 560 x 384 pixel resolution (better than the 512 x 384 standard Mac capabilities) to help with emulating the Apple IIe’s 280 x 192 pixel resolution by providing exactly four times the pixel count. However, the Colour Classic could not run many native colour Mac games which required a higher resolution of 640 x 480 pixels, making the Colour Classic somewhat flawed in this respect.

Despite running a 68030 CPU, the performance of the Colour Classic was not as good at the SE/30 introduced four years earlier. The performance problems were caused in part because the Colour Classic was essentially a Macintosh LC II shoehorned into the all-in-one case, and the LC II was a lemon of an Apple, basically.

Despite these limitations the Colour Classic succeeded in selling well into education markets and was also a hit in Japan. Later in 1993 an upgraded version – the Colour Classic II – was introduced in non-US markets which fixed many of the performance problems.

It’s quite a collectable device today, with prices for standard systems starting at around €400 or so with “Mystic” upgrades (essentially the innards of an LC 575) being about €100 more.  “Takky” upgrades with even later motherboards in can cost much more. Today

Image credit: Mystère Martin via Wikimedia Commons

Nokia 8110 (1996) vs Nokia 8110 (2018)

Nokia 8110 (1996)
Nokia is of course a familiar name to our readers, but the phones branded “Nokia” today are actually the product of HMD Global who work with Nokia to design and produce phones. The bulk of their output is a series of rather well-regarded and inexpensive Android smartphones along with a range of cheap feature phones. A year ago they caused a stir by launching a reimagined version of the classic Nokia 3310, and this year they are doing it again with a remake of the Nokia 8110.

We’ve covered the Nokia 8110 on Retromobe before, launched in 1996 it gained the somewhat cruel nickname “Banana Phone”, but it was made famous and rather cool when it appeared in The Matrix.

The key feature was the slide-down cover which contained a microphone. This protected the keypad when not in use, and it was meant to make the user’s voice carry better. Nobody had made a phone like this, and it was certainly different from the brick-like handsets of the time. There wasn’t much else going on – it had a small monochrome graphical display, supported GSM voice calls and apart from a neat little desk mount that really was about it.

Fast forward 22 years and the Banana Phone is back, and this time it is actually available in bright yellow as well as a more sober black colour. The new 8110 isn’t a smartphone, but can be considered as an advanced feature phone that is rather interesting under the hood.

The new 8110 looks quite contemporary, taking Nokia’s current styling cues from the rest of the range. On the top is a 2.4” QVGA TFT display which is a pretty familiar feature for this type of device. There’s a 2 megapixel camera with geotagging and a flash on the back and a secondary one for video calling. Inside Is 4GB of storage plus a microSD slot, and there’s a media player and FM radio.

Nokia 8110 (2018)

So far, so much like any other feature phone. But here is where it is unexpected – the 8110 is a 4G LTE device as well as having 3.5G HSPA and 2G support. On top of that the 8110 has WiFi and GPS, and you can use it as a mobile hotspot. The processor is no slouch either, with a dual core 1.1GHz CPU couple with 512MB of RAM which is plenty. The 8110 takes a microSD card and is available in single SIM and dual SIM configurations.

The surprises go on. Unlike most of the current crop of Nokia feature phones, the 8110 ditches the Series 30+ OS and instead uses on operating system called KaiOS. KaiOS is derived from the defunct Firefox OS, and it represents a lightweight and somewhat extensible operating system that makes this feature phone just a little bit smarter. An application store allows access to apps for Google Maps, Facebook and Twitter and the 8110 also syncs with major email systems.

It may not be as sophisticated as a smartphone, but at €79 before tax and subsidy it is a lot cheaper than almost all of those (except the Nokia 1 perhaps). The quoted standby time of 600 hours with 11 hours talktime from the 1500 mAh battery is another attractive feature. This is a device that you can easily carry around alongside your power-hungry smartphone while travelling, for example

Due to hit the shops in April, the 8110 may end up a hit in the same way that the 3310 did, showing that there is some appetite for these practical and rather knowingly retro devices. If you are after an ORIGINAL 8110, then prices are quite healthy at around €150 for unlocked versions in good condition, about twice that of the “new” one. Why not treat yourself to both?

Image credits: Nokia and HMD Global

Saturday 24 February 2018

HP DeskJet (1988)

HP DeskJet 500 circa 1990
Introduced February 1988

Thirty years ago if you wanted to print something from a computer, your main choices were a high-quality but expensive and quite large laser printer, or a cheap but slow, clunky and incredibly noisy dot matrix printer. If these didn’t work for you and you still needed high-quality printing you might still have to resort to an old-fashioned daisy wheel printer instead.

But there was another option, and in February 1988 Hewlett-Packard introduced the HP DeskJet – a desktop printer with quality almost as good as a laser printer but for a fraction of the price. It wasn’t the first inkjet printer, and indeed HP themselves had been marketing the ThinkJet range for several years, but that was little more than a dot matrix printer with an inkjet head in it.

Like laser printers, but unlike most dot matrix printers and even the ThinkJet range, the DeskJet was built only to handle cut sheet paper. Compact enough and quiet enough to be sat on a desk next to a computer, the DeskJet was ideally suited to small offices or home environments. It was an immediate hit with customers.

Early DeskJets were not without their problems. A lot of office paper was designed for typing or photocopiers, and some coped poorly with the ink from inkjet printers. Complex graphics could be a problem on early units due to hardware and software limitations, and although rated at the same 300 dpi as HP’s laser printers, even in the best cases the quality did not stand up to a close comparison. The water-based ink tended to take a long time to drive and would run if the paper got wet. But at around a third of the cost of a LaserJet II, the DeskJet seemed a good value proposition.

But then (as know) one of the drawbacks of inkjet printing was the price of cartridges. Inkjet printing was much more expensive than laser printing, and those slow and noisy dot matrix printers cost next to nothing in ribbons. However, thirty years later these ink cartridges are still available with prices at around £30 to £50.

Subsequent generations of DeskJet added colour, network printing, full duplex capability and more. These days you can buy an HP DeskJet 2130 multifunction printer for around £40, although a replacement set of ink cartridges for than will cost more than £20. The lasting commercial success of the DeskJet range is remarkable and it certainly introduced a significant step forward in affordable printing for many people.

Wednesday 21 February 2018

Samsung G810 vs Sony Ericsson G900 (2008)

Samsung G810
Launched February 2008

Today we are used to the idea of smartphones being a big slab of metal, glass and plastic with the capability to do just about anything. A decade ago, most smartphones were rather more modest and traditional affairs, looking like everyday feature phones on the surface but with a cleverer operating system underneath.

Almost all these simple smartphones ran some version of Symbian, and of course the undisputed king of Symbian devices was Nokia. But they weren’t they only players in the Symbian game, and in February 2008 both Samsung and Sony Ericsson launched new smartphones using that platform.

Samsung isn’t a name you’d readily associate with Symbian, but they actually made eleven handsets between 2007 and 2009 (excluding the cancelled D710 from 2004). The Samsung G810 was quite a high-end slider phone, seemingly aimed at the market the Nokia N95 appealed to.

The G810 was a 3.5G capable device with WiFi, GPS, Bluetooth, an FM radio, 2.6” QVGA display, a microSD slot and it came with a 5 megapixel camera which unusually featured an optical zoom. The operating system was Samsung’s take on Symbian S60, meaning that it functioned very much in the same way as rivals from Nokia.

The elegant metal case and sliding mechanism was quite unlike anything Nokia had, but overall it wasn’t that different from the N95 and the newer N95 8GB came with a bigger screen and lots of built-in memory. The G810 wasn’t good enough to compete, and it was not a success.

Sony Ericsson G900
If you wanted Symbian with a touchscreen then this was a different proposition, and here it was Sony Ericsson’s UIQ platform that dominated. One of a pair of similar devices launched the same month, the Sony Ericsson G900 also competed against the N95.

Also featuring WiFi, GPS, Bluetooth, an FM radio and memory slot the G900 lacked GPS. The display was smaller than the N95 8GB or Samsung G810 at just 2.4” – but this was a touchscreen affair with a stylus, or alternatively you could just use the buttons.

Although Sony Ericsson had made many UIQ phones before, the software on the G900 wasn’t quite the same. This meant that you couldn’t just port applications over from other UIQ phones. Another weakness was the proprietary nature of the Sony Memory Stick Micro slot. But perhaps the biggest problem of all was the 2.4” display which was small for a smartphone even by 2008 standards.

As you might guess, a tiny touchscreen phone didn’t really have much shelf appeal and the G900 and its companion G700 were not very popular.

The Sony Ericsson G900 is a pretty uncommon device these days with prices coming in between €100 to €200, the Samsung G810 seems to be pretty much extinct.

Image credits: Sony Ericsson and Samsung Mobile

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