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

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

Wednesday, 7 August 2019

Nokia N900 (2009)

Nokia N900
Launched August 2009

Ten years ago this month, Nokia had the opportunity to bend the high-end smartphone market to its own will with the launch of the Nokia N900. Instead it failed to make the impact it needed, and it set off a chain of events that would smash Nokia’s dominance of the industry and nearly wipe its handsets out of existence altogether.

We’ve examined the failure of the N900 before, on the fifth anniversary of the launch of the device. Half a decade on has – if anything – made it more obvious that Nokia’s failed strategy left a huge smartphone-shape crater in the landscape.

It wasn’t a bad device, not at all. Nokia’s fourth-generation device running the Linux-based Maemo OS was mature and certainly capable enough to compete with Apple’s iPhone and Google’s Android. A big screen and decent overall specs made this an attractive device, and of course Nokia had a lot of market goodwill. It should have been a success, yet it wasn’t.

Although it was probably better than the first-generation Android devices it was up against, the N900 certainly lacked the sleekness and polish of the iPhone. With the slide-out keyboard it was physically bulky, the resistive touchscreen was significantly less capable than Apple’s and the user interface lacked the elegance of iOS even though it was more capable. Not quite a killer device, but somewhere close.

But perhaps crucially, Nokia kept referring to the N900 as stage “4 of 5” of the development of the Maemo platform. While this would forgive the feeling that the N900 was something of a work-in-progress, it left customers with the impression that an even better device was in the works. Given that the N900 wasn’t cheap, waiting for stage “5 of 5” seemed like a decent option.

But Nokia never launched another Maemo device. There was no stage “5 of 5” around the corner. Nokia partly sabotaged their own product launch, and then failed to improve on it. Instead, Nokia’s highly anticipated announcement about the future of Maemo in February 2010 turned out not to be a new handset, but an announcement of the eventually disastrous merger with Intel’s Moblin OS to create a new platform called MeeGo.

MeeGo did eventually bear fruit with the excellent Nokia N9, but by mid-2011 – nearly two years after the launch of the N900 – it was an irrelevance and had already effectively been cancelled.

Bad planning, a lack of resources and a basic absence of common business sense killed off the product line, and it was such an important product line for Nokia too. CEO Stephen Elop ditched both MeeGo and the popular Symbian OS and bet everything on Windows. It failed.

Nokia also declined to get involved with Android which was the operating system that would eventually eat Nokia’s market share. A short-lived dalliance with Android in 2014 was shuttered when Microsoft bought Nokia’s handset business – and that too was closed down with the remnants spun off into a new venture called HMD Global who make Nokia-branded Android phones. HMD have been moderately successful in terms of sales, but perhaps more importantly they demonstrated that Nokia could perhaps have succeeded in the crowd of Android manufacturers that sprung up.

These days the N900 is a quite collectable handset, with prices for good and unlocked models being about £200 or so. Oddly enough that’s a lot more than the highly successful iPhone 3GS from the same era.

Image credits: Nokia

Thursday, 25 July 2019

Sony Ericsson P910 (2004)

Sony Ericsson P910
Announced July 2004

Fifteen years ago, if you wanted a smartphone your choice was either Windows or Symbian. And if you wanted the latter, then the best smartphones were probably made by Sony Ericsson.

The Sony Ericsson P910 was the third generation of the P-series of Symbian touchscreen devices. Running the UIQ platform, these smartphones came with a touchscreen while it was still quite rare. Back in those days, Nokia was still very much in non-touchscreen territory.

The 2.9” 208 x 320 pixel screen was not the only notable feature of the P910 – the other was the unique flip-out keypad which had a tiny QWERTY keyboard on one side and a standard number pad on the other. When closed, the pad covered part of the screen and the P910’s software would adapt to the screen size as needed. In addition to the keys, the P910 could be used with a stylus or finger and there was a jog control too.

Connectivity was a bit limited, with GPRS data only – so no 3G, WiFi or even EDGE. Internal memory was expandable with Sony’s Memory Stuck Duo Pro cards. There was a basic camera on the back. The main feature was the operating environment which included a web browser, support for various email clients plus of course any compatible applications that you wanted to download onto the phone.

The P910 was moderately successful, but back then smartphones were still a niche market so it was pretty rare to see one. However, it helped to create a template for the smartphone revolution that happened a few years later.

Sony Ericsson did produce a number of other UIQ phones after the P910, but ultimately it was a dead end. Today you can pick up a decent network-locked P910 for around £35 or so, but unlocked examples and ones with accessories can cost much more.

Image credit: Sony Ericsson

Tuesday, 23 July 2019

Samsung S9110 (2009)

Samsung S9110
Introduced July 2009

The Samsung S9110 looks like a smartwatch, but instead it came several years before what we’d think of as a modern smartwatch, and it instead a complete feature phone shrunk down to the size of a wearable.

The most obvious feature of the phone itself was a 1.76” 176 x220 pixel touchscreen mounted on the front, the S9110 also supported Bluetooth, had an MP3 player and voice recognition and even a web browser. Internal memory was just 40MB and wasn’t expandable, and the S9110 took an old-fashioned mini-SIM car which must have taken up a fair amount of its internal space. A 630 mAh battery was quoted as giving 300 hours of use and the whole thing weighed 91 grams.

It was all very clever and this sophisticated gadget was a bit like something out of a James Bond movie. But it was also pretty useless… and it didn’t really need to be a phone at all, it might well have been better as a Bluetooth add-on to a more normal phone instead. As you might have guessed, the S9110 wasn’t a big seller and neither were the rival devices launched at the same time.

Ultimately the watch phone was a failure, and the modern smartwatch has fared little better.
It did have its fans though, and in those pre-smartwatch days it was one of the best ways of fulfilling that particular gadget need, with second hand ones selling for hundreds of pounds. Today you’d be lucky to find one at any price.

Image credit: Samsung

Tuesday, 9 July 2019

Multics (1969)

Artists rendition of early MIT Multics system
Launched July 1969

These days the computer you possibly interact with most often is your smartphone, and that is most likely to be an Android or iOS device. Both those operating systems are related, descended from the Unix operating system developed during the early 1970s.

Unix-like operating systems are not just found on smartphones – they are everywhere from web servers and huge mainframes to embedded devices and smart TVs. Over the decades it has been around, the influence of Unix is almost universal with only Microsoft’s Windows operating system offering any competition at all.

But what came before Unix? Just as your ARM-powered smartphone is spiritually descended from the 8-bit BBC Micro, Unix itself was borne out of another project: Multics.

Originally a project between General Electric (GE), Bell Labs and MIT. GE sold its computing business early on to Honeywell and Bell Labs dropped out. After five years of development, Honeywell released the first version of Multics to general users running on Honeywell 6000 series mainframes – with the Multics versions later named the DPS-8.

Multics was arguably the world’s first modern operating system, a highly-secure multi-tasking and multi-processor system it was also fault tolerant and the hardware could be reconfigured while the system was still in use. Multics also introduces the now-standard hierarchical file system, supported the concept of “daemons” (system processes that carry out tasks, in Windows these are called “services”). Multics also allowed every part of the system to be accessed as if it were a file, and introduced the concept of dynamic linking – Windows users would recognised these as being the ubiquitous DLLs we see today.

I kept hold of this manual for 30 years.
Just for this blog post.

It was highly advanced, secure and pretty user-friendly. But it was not really a success. Multics was limited to running on certain types of hardware - expensive hardware. A typical installation would cost several million dollars, back in the days that several million dollars was a lot of money. And in an attempt to be sophisticated, it was maybe too sophisticated.

So where does Unix fall into all this? Two engineers working for Bell Labs in the early days were Ken Thompson and Dennis Ritchie who didn’t like the over-sophistication of Multics but did like some of the features – notably the file system and command line. Instead of making a computer system that could run on expensive multiprocessor mainframes, they designed something that would run on cheaper single processor minicomputers. They called it Unix, a play on the word Multics… Unix was for uniprocessor computers, Multics for multiprocessor ones.

In some ways Unix was similar to Multics, but in most fundamental ways it was completely different, because Kernighan and Ritchie could see where the design decisions of Multics were leading it to be an expensive niche product. At its heart, Unix is the antithesis of Multics.

Unix grew and evolved from its roots on the DEC PDP-7 to run on a huge variety of hardware. The match the choice in hardware, a wide variety of different versions of Unix were created. Somewhere along the way the Unix-like Linux and Mach operating systems were created which in turn spawned Android and iOS. Unix wouldn’t have been Unix without the influence of Multics.

Multics itself continues in development until the mid-1980s. Not long after that, Honeywell sold its computer business off to Groupe Bull. Despite all this, Multics hung around with the last system being shut down in October 2000. 31 years of history isn’t bad for something that wasn’t really considered a success.

Today, Multics memorabilia is pretty rare and it’s unlikely anyone has a complete system in their attic. However, the OS was open sourced some years ago and as a result there are some simulators available for you to try. If you are interested in learning more about this historic operating system, the website is utterly comprehensive and details just about everything you would ever want to know.

Image credits: MIT, Conrad Longmore

Saturday, 6 July 2019

Sony Walkman TPS-L2 (1979)

Introduced July 1979

These days music is something that we enjoy on the go. We take for granted the ability to listen to music wherever we are, and to listen to whatever we’re in the mood for. On the train, on foot, in the car, in bed… listening to music is often a very personal experience.

It wasn’t always this way of course, and if the old days a typical way of listening to music would be an LP record on a record player. Which was fine, at least some of the time, but you could only listen to pre-recorded records in the vicinity of the record player itself. And although portable record players did exist, they were more luggable than convenient.

The invention of the Compact Cassette in the 1960s came up with a medium that was smaller and more durable than the LP, and crucially it was something that people could record onto themselves. Cassette technology improved through the 1970s which made it a popular medium for listening to music – and even for recording your own mix tapes – but cassette decks were still fixed in place and portable cassette player were still bulky and tended to be tinny.

The executives at Sony however recognised that the Compact Cassette had more potential, and it 1979 they launched the Sony Walkman TPS-L2, a portable cassette player powered by batteries which played back on stereo headphones.

Here was a device that you could attach to your belt or put in a bag… or squeeze into your pockets if they were big enough. And although cassettes may not have had the music quality that records had, the stereo headphones were a revelation to many users. Instead of listening to music, the Walkman put the music straight into your head.

It was an enormous success. Sales far exceeded expectations, and production of cassette-based Walkmans continued well into the 21st Century. Part of the appeal was down to the inherent “Japanese-ness” of the technology, but part was also down to opening up new ways of listening to music that weren’t available before.

Of course, eventually other ways of playing music became more popular. You can digitise thousands of songs and store them on your smartphone, or you can stream them with a service such as Spotify. You’d think that cassettes would be extinct, but in recent years they’ve enjoyed something of a renaissance, and a significant role for the original Walkman TPS-L2 in The Guardians of the Galaxy boosted the retro appeal further.

Today the Sony Walkman TPS-L2 is highly collectable with prices for units in good condition being in excess of £400. If you want something less iconic but a bit more high-tech, £20 or so can buy you a portable cassette player that can even convert your tapes to MP3.

Image credit: Yoshikazu TAKADA via Flickr

Wednesday, 26 June 2019

Nokia 6630 (2004)

Nokia 6630
Launched June 2004

By and large, smartphones were pretty rubbish a decade and a half ago. But the Nokia 6630 was a good deal less rubbish than most of them.

There’s no escaping the 6630’s hamster cheeks charm when you look at it, early 3G phones such as this were quite chunky compared to their 2G cousins, and the 6630 certainly shows it. The 6630 was a Symbian Series 60 smartphone as well, and having both 3G plus smartphone capabilities in one device was pretty rare.

Add to that a decent 1.3 megapixel camera, Bluetooth, expandable memory, a multimedia player web browser and a decently powerful 220 MHz ARM CPU to run applications on, the 6630 was a pretty good handset all around. Video calling was an optional extra which needed a desk cradle, but although 3G devices were sold on their video calling capabilities, hardly anyone actually used it.

The 2.1” 176 x 208 pixel display is tiny by modern standards, and the 6630 lacks GPS or WiFi which are two essential ingredients to today’s smartphones. But the Nokia 6630 was certainly getting there, and can be considered one of the predecessors of the legendary N95.

Today you can pick up a 6630 for about £30 upwards depending on condition and accessories.

Image credit: Nokia

Tuesday, 18 June 2019

Atari Portfolio (1989)

Released June 1989

Handheld computers had been around for a couple of years by 1989, with Psion being an early pioneer. But a group of former Psion engineers wanted to put a PC in the palm of your hand, so they created the DIP Pocket PC which is mostly commonly known as the Atari Portfolio.

Weighing just 505 grams, the Portfolio had approximately the footprint of a modern 7” tablet while being a fair bit heavier. A clamshell design, the Portfolio resembled a shrunken laptop with a little QWERTY keyboard and a small 240 x 64 pixel screen that could display 8 rows of 40 characters.

Inside was a low-power version of the Intel 8088, with 256Kb of ROM for applications and 128Kb of non-volatile RAM for applications and storage, which could be further increased by using the built-in “Bee Card” expansion module. Power was provided by three AA cells.

It didn’t quite run MS-DOS, but something pretty close and built-in applications included a text editor, spreadsheet and various personal information management tools. New programs could be loaded in on an expansion card.

Unlike a modern tablet, the Portfolio was highly expandable, including parallel and serial adapters, a modem, an ISA expansion card bus and many others.  These impressive capabilities earned the Portfolio a role in the 1991 movie Terminator 2.

Despite being a niche product 30 years ago, the Portfolio is still pretty common to find as a second-hand buy with prices starting at less than £100 and going up to several hundred pounds depending on condition and accessories.

Image credit: Felix Winkelnkemper via Flickr

Saturday, 15 June 2019

Nokia 6260, 6170 and 2650 (2004)

Launched June 2004

Cast your mind back and think of a classic Nokia. Perhaps you are thinking of the 3210, the 6310i or the N95. Whatever you are thinking of, it’s probably one of Nokia’s signature monoblock or candy bar designs. But Nokia could also make some interesting clamshell phones, and in June 2004 they launched a trio of innovative designs.

Nokia 6260

Sitting at the top of the pile was the Nokia 6260. Not just any old clamshell phone, but a Symbian S60 smartphone to boot. This was Nokia’s first attempt to put Symbian in a clamshell, and this was certainly competitive with other similar devices with downloadable native apps, a 176 x 208 pixel display and expandable memory.

But really, that was all boring stuff… because the 6260 also came with a novel rotating display. Possibly inspired by similar devices coming out of Japan, the 6260 could be used like a traditional clamshell or have the screen twisted around to create a sort of touchscreen-less tablet. Or if you wanted you could use it in pretty much any position in between.

The clever screen is perhaps what gave the 6260 its “wow factor” rather than the powerful Symbian OS underneath. Ultimately, the sort of users who liked Symbian weren’t really drawn to clamshell designs. Nonetheless, this is a very collectable Nokia handset with typical prices being £70 or more.

Nokia 6260

Nokia 6170

Where the 6260 had hidden depths, the lower-cost Nokia 6170 didn’t. A very basic phone in terms of technical specifications, the 6170 came with a gorgeous design that made this a very desirable handset.

Not a million miles away from the 6260 in terms of understated squared-off design, the 6170 was clad in an etched stainless steel housing. Even the NOKIA name was discretely etched into the steel, and the phone looked just as good on the inside as on the outside, along with a small colour display.

The lack of Bluetooth was certainly a hindrance in what could have otherwise made a decent business phone, but overall the 6170 was quite usable despite its simplicity. Today, examples in decent condition will cost around £30 or so.

Nokia 6170

Nokia 2650

2004 was certainly in the middle of Nokia’s “weird period” when it came to design, and given that their only other foray into clamshell design was the fabric-clad 7200 you might think that Nokia would want at least one sober design. Well, instead the Nokia 2650 was the weirdest to date.

On the outside, the 2650 looked like nothing at all. A plastic case with NOKIA written on it, an exercise in utterly minimalistic design. But open the 2650 up and it revealed an amazingly retro-futuristic design of flexible plastic that looked like a cross between a prop from a Sci-fi show and a sun lounger.

A very basic (and inexpensive) phone underneath, the 2650 always polarised opinions and even fifteen years later it a love-it-or-hate-it proposition. It does however represent the sort of fresh thinking that phone designers had a decade-and-a-half ago, an approach which is sorely lacking today. Again, £30 or so will get you one in decent condition if you want one.

Nokia never really did crack the clamshell market, and of course in the long run it didn’t matter anyway. But Nokia handsets from this era are highly collectable, and these three are certainly no exception to that rule.

Nokia 2650

Image credits: Nokia

Saturday, 8 June 2019

HTC Hero (2009)

Announced June 2009

By the middle of 2009, Apple was hitting its stride with the seriously good third-generation iPhone 3GS. However, the rival Android platform was still in its first generation with devices such as the Samsung I7500 Galaxy and T-Mobile G1 which didn’t quite have the same level of polish.

However, HTC was pushing things forward and their third Android smartphone was the elegant-looking HTC Hero. In technical terms, this wasn’t a million miles away from HTC’s earlier Magic handset, but it had a better camera and a much sharper design.

HTC Hero
Unlike the somewhat retro G1 and Magic, the HTC Hero looked very modern. At the bottom of the handset was a distinctive kick or chin, which bent out from the handset. Unusually, the Hero had a little trackball mounted in the kick, something that lingered in HTC devices for a while, an addition to a set of physical buttons that the iPhone lacked. This was also the first HTC with a 3.5mm jack plug for headphones.

The sharper design wasn’t just in terms of hardware. The Hero ran Android 1.5, a fledgling version of this now ubiquitous OS. Early versions of Android were rather rough around the edges, so HTC added their “Sense UI” interface on top of it to make it nicer to use. HTC were pretty good at this sort of thing, having reskinned Windows Mobile on their other smartphones for some time.

It did pretty well in terms of sales, but problems getting carriers to roll out updates to Android 2.1 left some customers annoyed and for most customers there would be no official updates beyond that. In comparison, Apple fully supported the 3GS for four years. Even a decade after the launch of the Hero, the short support lifespan of certain Android phones is an issue.

Image credit: HTC

Thursday, 6 June 2019

Apple iPhone 3GS (2009)

Apple iPhone 3GS (2009)
Launched June 2009

The Apple iPhone 3GS is – possibly – the best smartphone ever at the time it was launched. A bold claim perhaps for a product line that had been around for two years, but there's a saying the third time's a charm and perhaps it applies here.

Earlier generations of the iPhone were well-received, but fundamentally flawed and displayed the lack of maturity of the product. Two years in and the 3GS finally fixed many of these faults. One of the main ones was that the 3GS was the first iPhone that could record video. Almost unbelievably, the first two generations couldn’t do these even when it was a standard feature on just about every other phone on the market. The camera on the back was improved from 2 to 3 megapixels for stills photos, which while still pretty good in terms of quality still lagged behind the competition in terms of pixel count.

The 3GS also added MMS support, a digital compass, copy-and-paste, a landscape keyboard and 16GB or 32GB of internal storage. It was also twice as fast as the iPhone 3G, which was a key selling point.

There were still a few features lacking – the 320 x 480 pixel display was beginning to look a bit dated, and there was no front-facing camera… but video calling still wasn’t really a thing a decade ago. Overall though, no excuses needed making for this generation of the iPhone, unlike the first two.

Reportedly, Apple shifted a million units in the first weekend and then around 30 million over the life of the device, far more than the previous two generations added together. The iPhone was supported by Apple until September 2013, giving over four years of software updates and setting a standard that still puts most rivals to shame.

Although it’s an important device, it’s not a particularly collectible one and unlocked models can be had for a few tens of pounds.

Image credit: Apple

Saturday, 11 May 2019

Nokia 3220 (2004)

Nokia 3220
Launched May 2004

On the face of it, the Nokia 3220 looks like the sort of fun and inexpensive phone that Nokia used to be so good at making. A lightweight thing with a 128 x 128 pixel display, VGA resolution camera, it ticked all the boxes for a midrange phone for 15 years ago.

Like the Nokia 3200 which it sort-of-replaced, the 3220 could be customised with different inserts, either ready-made or ones that you could design and print yourself. These inserts was a bit less complicated than the 3200’s, but it did mean that you could only really customise the back rather than the whole phone.

The chunky design of the 3220 gave it some appeal, but it also hid a secret. Out of the box, the phone had a rubber shell with built-in LEDs that would flash when a call was received or while playing a game.

The secret was that this shell could be swapped out for shells with other functions. An optional “fun shell” had a tilt sensor in it for playing motion-sensitive games, and it also came with a different set of LEDs that could be used for “wave writing”.

It turned out that the shell could be used for other things too, and Nokia also developed an NFC shell for the device. This allowed – in theory – the 3220 to be used for contactless payments amongst other things, but despite being technically clever there were very few real-world applications available. Nonetheless, Nokia were committed to NFC more than a decade before it started to take off.

As with a lot of vintage Nokias, the 3220 can be picked up quite cheaply with £25 for an unlocked version in good condition being typical. The ground-breaking NFC shell is a different matter – but if you collect obscure Nokia ephemera, it might be worth looking out for.

Image credit: Nokia

Wednesday, 1 May 2019

Mercedes-Benz G-Wagen (1979)

Mercedes-Benz 300 GD, Techno-Classica 2018, Essen
Introduced 1979

Think of a boxy four-wheel drive vehicle designed for the military but also popular with civilians, which ended up in production for decades long than was reasonable. You might think of the Land Rover Defender, but in this case we are talking about the Mercedes-Benz G Class, introduced in 1979.

Superficially similar to the Defender, the G Class (or “G-Wagen”) is a more refined beast – or perhaps more accurately, a less unrefined beast. Despite being overhauled in the 1980s there was no escaping the Land Rover’s 1940s roots. The Mercedes was full to the brim of late 1970s engineering though.

Compared to the Defender, the G-Wagen is better on-road, quieter, more solidly built and arguably even better off-road than the Defender. Both platforms should have been pensioned off years ago – however the G-Wagen remains in production. But where the Defender never quite lost its utilitarian roots, the G-Wagen turned into something rather more luxurious.

These days you are quite likely to see a Defender in an Army convoy, or a farm or doing some other important and practical function. But you are more likely to see a G-Wagen being driven by the very rich or famous, by people protecting the rich or famous… or by your friendly neighbourhood drug dealer.

Starting new at a little under £100,000, the G-Wagen is rather expensive. Bling it up with a BRABUS-tuned AMG engine and you could be looking at a cool quarter of a million quid. Make it six wheel drive and that's even more. There are honestly better cars available for that sort of money. But few have the presence of the G-Wagen. Even the cheapest pre-owned models are priced between £20k to £30k. Ouch.

Fortunately, if you are looking for a capable off-roader that it also a relic from the past, then the Lada 4X4 (launched in 1977) starts at around €12,000 for a new one if you pop over to Germany. But perhaps that’s not quite as luxurious as a new G-Wagen.

Image credit: Matti Blume via Wikimedia Commons

Monday, 29 April 2019

Sun SPARCstation (1989)

SPARCstation 10 (1992)
Introduced April 1989

If you wanted to do serious computing on your desktop 30 years ago, your choices were a bit limited. The state-of-the-art in the PC world was Windows/386 running on a PC with an 80386 processor. It was pretty rubbish. Apple had it a bit more together with devices such as the Macintosh II line, but although Mac OS was pretty to look at it was also pretty basic underneath.

In universities and other research facilities, minicomputers and mainframes provided the speed and sophistication needed to get things done. But you had to share these systems with others, and plugging away at a dumb terminal could be pretty unrewarding.

What if you could have all that power on your desk? Something as capable as a big departmental computer all to yourself? With a graphical interface? And something that you could still work collaboratively on?

Welcome to the world of the Unix workstation. This particular market was dominated by Sun Microsystems who had grown throughout the 1980s to become the company to beat. Starting off with systems based on the Motorola 68000 series of processors (as used in the Mac) they eventually designed their own high-speed RISC processor, the SPARC.

In 1989 Sun introduced their SPARCstation line of Unix workstations and servers. Initially featuring a SPARC running at a leisurely 20 or 25 MHz with up to 64MB of AM, the SPARC was nonetheless faster and more powerful than pretty much anything you could put on your desk.

But it wasn’t just what was inside the box that was important, it was how it looked. House in a wide but flat “pizza box” case with a large monitor on top, a typical SPARCstation install looked both serious and elegant at the same time. The “pizza box” case itself could either be placed on a desk or rack-mounted, depending on what you wanted to do with it.

The SPARCstation evolved over six years it was in production until replaced by the Sun Ultra series. SPARCstations rarely make it onto eBay – probably because they tended to be bought by large organisations – but can command fairly decent prices. For example, a fully-equipped SPARCstation 5 can be £1000 or more.

Image credit: Thomas Kaiser via Wikimedia Commons

Monday, 22 April 2019

Intel 80486 (1989)

Intel 80486DX-25
Announced April 1989

Early PCs were slow. Really slow. Even in the late 1980s, many were still based on the decade-old Intel 8086. Successive generations of CPU were better, the 80286 was faster, the 80386 helped to bring in multitasking but it wasn’t until 1989 that Intel finally came out with a processor that could considered as fast – the Intel 80486.

The 80486 (often known as the “486”) built on the architecture of the 80386, combining it with an 80387 maths co-processor, 80385 cache controller plus a whole lot of other optimisations to come up with something that was twice as fast as the 80386 for any given clock speed. Initially launched running at 20 and 25MHz, by 1994 the clock rate was pushed up to 100MHz in the IntelDX2. For users on a budget, the maths co-processor was removed to create the 486SX.

Hand-in-hand with the 486 was the VESA Local Bus (VL-Bus) which was used primarily with graphics cards to bypass the bottlenecks in the old 16-bit ISA bus that most PCs had. This made 486 PCs significantly better for games and other graphically-intensive work, although the VL-Bus itself was very much tied to the 486 architecture and effectively became extinct when the Pentium first came out.

It took until 1990 until the 486 was available in quantity, however the first 486-based computer was the British Apricot VX FT server, launched in September 1989. The 486’s architecture helped to introduce plug-and-play into Windows, and it remained competitive even when its successor was launched, with the cheaper 100 MHz 486 outpacing the expensive 60 MHz Pentium. But of course times would change. Intel kept various models of the 486 in production until 2007. Rival companies also made 486s, some under licence and others reverse-engineered in some way.

It turns out that old processors are somewhat collectable, but generally these tend to be 1970s CPUs rather than later ones. Still, if you find yourself in need of a particular 486 for some reason, you can probably find one on eBay.

As for the name… the 80486 was the last processor of its type to be named with a number, following on from the 8086 launched 11 years earlier. The reason for this was that numbers cannot be trademarked in many jurisdictions, so the next generation was named the “Pentium” which was a nod to the “5” in 80586 if Intel had continued with their naming pattern.

Image credit: Andrzej w k 2 via Wikimedia Commons

Friday, 12 April 2019

T-Mobile Sidekick LX 2009 (2009)

T-Mobile Sidekick LX 2009
Launched April 2009

For the best part of the decade one of the most popular smartphones in the US was the T-Mobile Sidekick range. A versatile and easy-to-use platform, the Sidekick appealed especially to younger users… but it also turned out to be a great messaging device for hearing-impaired customers too.

The Sidekick was actually a T-Mobile branded Danger Hiptop device. Originally launched in 2002, the platform evolved over the years to become the catchily-named T-Mobile Sidekick LX 2009.

Like most other Sidekicks, this had a decently-sized display that slid back to reveal a relatively large QWERTY keyboard underneath. The LX 2009 was the first one in the range with 3G support and GPS, on top of which it had Bluetooth and a 3.2 megapixel camera.

But what the Sidekick really excelled at was apps, in particular messaging. If combined with a data-only plan, it was possible for users to keep in touch with their friends either through the built-in messaging app or the integrated social networking support. This also appealed to deaf users because of its convenience, ease-of-use and relatively low cost. All data was backed up to what we would call a “cloud” today, so it didn’t matter if you lost your device… you could simply get another one.

The Sidekick wasn’t just limited to the US, T-Mobile carried it in other countries too and other carriers branded variants of the Danger Hiptop devices with their own names. But the US was the biggest market, and T-Mobile was the exclusive carrier there.

It looked like the Sidekick had carved out an important market niche, and even upcoming smartphones such as the iPhone and Androids didn’t really look like they compete with what the Sidekick excelled at.

But there was trouble brewing. In 2008, Danger was bought by Microsoft who then promptly started to leach people and resources out of the company to work on Microsoft’s own projects. A catastrophic failure of Danger’s own servers in late 2009 led to an embarrassing data loss which it took months to recover from, and even then it didn’t get back everything. It was a devastating blow for T-Mobile Sidekick brand.

T-Mobile dropped the Sidekick platform in 2010, and although it laboured on with different carriers for a while, by 2011 the service was discontinued completely.

And what did Microsoft do with all the employees they took from Danger? They developed the Microsoft KIN, which turned into one of the biggest handset disasters of all time. Two catastrophes for the price of one.

In mid-2011, T-Mobile tried to revive the Sidekick concept with a Samsung-designed Android phone. Although it was a decent facsimile of what a Sidekick could be, T-Mobile were really trying to flog a dead horse and it was not a success.

Today there are quite a few Sidekicks about on the second-hand market, mostly from the US. Because Danger’s cloud service shut down long ago, they are not really very useful for much except as an example of what might have been had Danger not messed up.

Image credit: T-Mobile

Sunday, 7 April 2019

OnePlus One (2014)

OnePlus One
Launched April 2014
Five years after the launch of the first generation of Android phones we saw Samsung firmly established as the market leader, with the Samsung Galaxy S5 being the one to beat. Challengers such as HTC were putting up a good fight, and overall the technological features that were on offer with these high-end devices were really impressive. But the problem was that they came at quite a price.

If you wanted a SIM-free Galaxy S5 then you would be looking at shelling out £600 or more. Five years ago that was a lot of money (although you can easily spend even more today). But was it really necessary to charge that much?

Chinese startup OnePlus didn’t think so and set out to make a flagship device that could challenge the market leaders, but make it much cheaper. With the OnePlus One - announced in April 2014 – they succeeded.

OnePlus was set up as part of the giant BBK Electronics in China, who already had the OPPO smartphone brand. While OPPO phones were mostly sold in Asia, the idea with OnePlus was to come up with a different sort of product that could be sold worldwide. But it’s difficult to set up a new brand from scratch, and there’s always the risk that it could crash and burn… taking a huge pile of cash with it.

The OnePlus One itself was impressive. A 5.5” 1080p display, 13 megapixel camera, quad core CPU, 3GB of RAM and 16 or 64GB of internal memory. LTE and NFC support were included. The operating system was interesting: Cyanogen OS was a commercial version of the Android-based CyanogenMod and it was a clean, responsive and elegant platform that won fans in its own right. The packaging showed real attention to detail, and you could customise your One with all sorts of unusual materials including wood and fabric backs.

The price for all this? It was half the price of the Samsung, for arguably a better specification.

So, you might reasonably get excited by all this and want to rush out and buy one.

Not so fast.

You couldn’t actually just go and buy one of the things, you had to be invited to buy one. Because OnePlus didn’t want to build loads of these only to find out that they couldn’t sell them, the invite system allowed them to ramp up production in a steady way. And to begin with, getting an invite involved jumping through all sorts of hoops including following OnePlus on social media… just to join the waiting list for an invite. Eventually invites got more and more common, and OnePlus One owners could send them out to their friends.

OnePlus One optional covers
This turned out to be marketing genius. One way to make a product desirable is to restrict availability, and either deliberately or accidentally this helped build up the hype. When customers finally did receive their OnePlus One devices, they were beautifully packaged and just as good and they’d hoped.

There were a few problems, notably an issue with the displays turning yellow at the bottom due to a rushed manufacturing process. Customer service wasn’t brilliant. The Cyanogen OS eventually crashed and burned, leaving the One pretty much orphaned. Still, even flagship phones costing more than twice as much can have worse problems and the One was certainly good enough for OnePlus to get a significant fan base.

The (mostly) improved OnePlus 2 was launched the following year, still using the invite system. But this was eventually dropped and successive OnePlus devices launched every six months or so keep improving the line-up… but as the company has matured, the price of the products has also risen considerably.

Prices vary, but a OnePlus One in excellent condition can be around £100 or so. Tinkerers can update the built-in OS to the latest version of Android using LineageOS – a descendant of the Cyanogen OS the One originally shipped with. It seems there’s plenty of life left in the One yet.

Image credits: OnePlus

OnePlus One: Video

Thursday, 4 April 2019

Samsung I7500 Galaxy (2009)

Samsung I7500 Galaxy
Announced March 2009

Pretty much anyone who has been interested in consumer technology for 12 years or more will remember the launch of the original iPhone. A hugely significant device, it shifted the market and it started Apple’s impressive dynasty of smart devices.

A little over two years later another smartphone was launched by a rival company, perhaps one that was just as influential or arguably even more so. That company was Samsung, and the smartphone was the Samsung I7500 Galaxy.

This is the original Galaxy smartphone. No letters or numbers after its name, the “Galaxy” tag seemed a bit of an afterthought after the “I7500”. There was some excitement over the launch of the I7500, mostly because Android handsets were a bit thin on the ground with a couple of handsets from HTC and nothing else.

It was hardly an iconic design, with the 3.2” QVGA screen taking up less than half the front and with some buttons seemingly from some Samsung feature phone being quite prominent underneath. But it was what it could *do* rather than the way it looked that attracted attention. With 3.5G data support, WiFi, GPS, Bluetooth, expandable memory and of course a whole bunch of applications you could download, the I7500 was a capable modern smartphone.

Crucially, both Apple and HTC had entered into carrier-exclusive deals in many markets, meaning that you might have to swap your mobile phone company to get one. The I7500 was much more widely available and it was instrumental in bringing this new generation of technology to a wider audience.

It also launched the Galaxy range, including the range-topping Galaxy S a year later. According to GSMArena, in the space of a decade there have been 442 devices launched under the “Samsung Galaxy” name, twenty times the number of Apple iPhone models. There’s no doubt that despite the odd hiccup, the Galaxy range has been a huge success.

The I7500 isn’t particularly common today with prices appearing to be £100 and upwards. Despite its rather un-iconic styling, it might just be important enough to add to your collection.

Image credits: Samsung

Video: Samsung I7500 Galaxy

Saturday, 30 March 2019

Acorn System 1 (1979)

Acorn System 1
Launched March 1979

British company Acorn had a history of innovation during the 1980s, with commercial offerings starting with the popular 6502 CPU and eventually ending up with the all-conquering ARM processor which you probably have in your smartphone today.

In March 1979, Acorn launched what was essentially the precursor for their consumer microcomputer range – the Acorn System 1. Following a similar pattern to the KIM-1 and Apple I, the System 1 was a board computer rather like a modern Raspberry Pi. Instead of a single-board design, the System 1 was two boards connected together with a ribbon cable.

At its heart was the ubiquitous 6502 CPU clocked at 1 MHz with just over 1K of RAM. Input was via a 25 key keypad and the System 1 outputted to a small LED display. Data could be saved to a cassette, and it was possible to add expansion hardware too. Aimed primarily at scientists and engineers, the relatively low price of the System 1 also appealed to tech enthusiasts.

The System 1 evolved into the Eurocard-based Systems 2, 3, 4 and 5. Acorn adapted the System 3 into Acorn’s first home system, the Atom. In turn, the Atom was developed into what is probably the definitive Acorn microcomputer, the BBC Micro. And in turn, this led us to the ARM-based Archimedes with the processor that changed the world.

Mighty oaks from little acorns grow.

You’d be hard-pressed to find an original Acorn System 1 today, but replica boards and components are available if you want to build one yourself, or alternatively an emulator is available.

Image credit: Flibble via Wikimedia Commons

Thursday, 28 March 2019

Nokia 3210 (1999)

Nokia 3210
Launched March 1999

Launched twenty years ago, the Nokia 3210 was a hugely popular mobile phone that helped to define what consumers expected from such a thing. Easy to use, cute to look at and quite a lot of fun as well, the 3210 came at a time when the mobile market was really beginning to take off.

One of the most notable features of the 3210 was that it had an internal antenna – one of the very first phones on the market to offer this. This lead to a more elegant design, and it had the practical advantage of not snagging on things like phones with a stick-out bit did.

Although the phone only had a quite small monochrome display, you could easily brighten the 3210 up with changeable covers. There were three pre-installed games including the legendary Snake. There was a ringtone composer for making simple monophonic tunes, and the SMS functionality had a few graphics thrown in for good measure.

On top of that, the 3210 was robust and a single charge could give it enough power for more than a week’s standby time and hours of talktime. A year later the Nokia 3310 tweaked the formula with a more compact design, which was also a huge success.

Both the 3210 and 3310 ended up as iconic devices for the growing consumer market, and today an unlocked 3210 in good condition can cost you about £35 or so.

Image credit: Nokia