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 Multicians.org 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

Monday, 25 March 2019

TAG Heuer MERIDIIST (2009)

Launched March 2009

A luxury watch can easily cost thousands of pounds, but a good quality luxury watch is a bit of an investment – with a bit of care it should last for decades and be every bit as useful as it was the day you bought it.

Alternatively, you could spend that sort of money on something else. And a decade ago, luxury watchmaker TAG Heuer came up with the idea that you might want to spend a similar amount of cash on a mobile. And because TAG Heuer can also make a pretty decent watch, they decided to use some of that expertise to come up with a phone.

So, starting at about £5600 in today’s money and going up to the equivalent of about £30,000 you could buy yourself a TAG Heuer MERIDIIST. A beautifully engineered and very striking device that also had the unfortunate problem that it was a pile of crap.

OK, we are probably being harsh. It was a beautiful pile of crap. Even a diamond-and-leather encrusted pile of crap. It was, in effect, an exquisitely designed device that gave about as much functionality as a £100 feature phone.

Even for a decade ago, the MERIDIIST looked obsolete. For a fraction of the cost you could have bought an iPhone 3G. With the money you saved... well, you could buy yourself a nice watch. A really nice watch.

Despite it being almost entirely useless, the MERIDIIST did seem to find a market with people who perhaps had more money than sense. These days you can pick one up second-hand for about £600 or so, which is still an expensive way to get hold of a pretty basic feature phone.

Image credits: TAG Heuer

Tuesday, 19 March 2019

Motorola E1000, E680 and E398 (2004)

Launched March 2004

Back in the early 2004, Motorola was on a roll. Their product line was expanding in diversity with a range of promising handsets that marked Moto out as a serious challenger to Nokia’s dominance, and in March 2004 they launched a trio of “E” series handsets focussed on entertainment.

The Motorola E1000 was perhaps the one that had the most market appeal – one of the few 3G phones on the market, the E1000 also came with a 2.3” QVGA display, 1.2 megapixel camera, video calling, expandable memory, multimedia playback, stereo speakers, Bluetooth and even GPS.

Offering almost everything tech-savvy consumers could want the real problem it had was the lack of take-up of 3G devices at all, combined with restrictive practices such as Three’s “walled garden”. But even though the button-up-the side design was just a little bit weird, you have to remember that Nokia’s first widespread attempt at a 3G phone was the completely insane Nokia 7600.

Motorola E1000, E680 and E398

Capable though the E1000 was, one thing it wasn’t was a smartphone. One of Motorola’s other offering at the time was the Motorola E680. This was a Linux-based touchscreen phone which fundamentally is what most people use 15 years later, except that the E680 had a 2.5” QVGA screen (tiny by modern standards) and no high-speed data of any sort. Despite having pretty strong gaming and multimedia capabilities, it was not a success. But then again, Nokia were also struggling to create the future with the Nokia 7700… which was also another weird device.

Although the E680 and E1000 were high-end devices, the funky-looking Motorola E398 was more affordable and was designed to be a capable phone for music and games. Let down by a lacklustre camera and Motorola’s fiddly software the E398 is perhaps best remembered as being the basis for the notorious ROKR E1 launched a year later. And frankly not even Nokia could outdo the disaster that the ROKR became…

Image credits: Motorola and T-Mobile

Sunday, 3 March 2019

Nokia 7610 (2004)

Announced March 2004

The Nokia 7610 was a phone with a rather obvious elephant in the room. Sure, this was a capable Symbian smartphone with a decently-sized 2.1” 176 x 208 pixel display with expandable memory, Bluetooth and a 1 megapixel camera. It had impressive multimedia capabilities, a large library of applications and you could even swap out the covers if you wanted a new look.

But it didn’t really matter how good the phone looked when it came to technical specifications but the 7610’s particular elephant was the keypad. One of the maddest keypads ever to be fitted to a Nokia phone.

Nokia 7610
Sure, Nokia could have arranged the keys in a traditional grid, but that would have been too easy. Clearly influence in part by the batshit insane Nokia 7600 from a few months earlier, the 7610 was all about curves. The asymmetric design of the phone had curves on opposite corners, and this was strongly reinforced by the curvy design of the keyboard.

The keys were all different sizes and laid out in a striking but not particularly obvious way. Presumably designed to be used with a thumb – it was unclear which thumb – the result was an impressive looking mess. Users either loved it or hated it, and it seemed that there was no middle ground. Compared with the preceding and pleasingly chubby Nokia 6600, the 7610 was a bit too radical for its own good.

For years and years, Nokia had a philosophy of not putting all the features they could in any single phone, so although the 7610 was a decently capable smartphone, it didn’t come with 3G support whereas it’s non-smartphone stablemate the 7600 did.

Nokia did address the controversial keypad later in 2004 with the release of the otherwise almost identical Nokia 6670, but somehow they managed to come up with something even uglier than the 7610. Eventually they started to get their act together with the 6680 launched in early 2005 which then morphed into the rather nice Nokia N70 in April 2005. Today a 7610 is a somewhat collectable device, with typical prices for an unlocked one in good condition being about £40 or so.

Image credits: Nokia

Monday, 25 February 2019

Motorola V80 (2004)

Launched February 2004

In these days of big slabby smartphones, it’s easy to forget that in the dim and distant past there was a bit more choice. There were monoblock “candy bar” phones, clamshells, sliders and even tacos and bricks.

On top of that, there was one other quite rare form factor - the rotator. Motorola were the king of this particular idea, and somewhere between the V70 of 2002 and the AURA of 2008 was the curious Motorola V80.

You could say that the V80 summed up Motorola in one handset. A combination of clever design, exquisite engineering, poor attention to detail and terrible software made the V80 both brilliant and infuriating at the same time.

To modern eyes, the V80 looks rather like the phones we have today, with the display dominating the front with a few buttons added in. But there was a trick – with a quick move of the fingers, the numeric keypad would swing out from underneath and rotate out. This was probably the most carefully engineered part of the V80, and was certainly its coolest feature.

There were some other cool features – the V80 could be pretty good at games as it was easy to use in landscape mode with a little joystick for control. Incoming phone calls would trigger a pretty epic display of lights, which you could customise according to caller. The 176 x 220 pixel display was sharper than most, and overall the physical design looked very different from anything else on the market.

There were some catches though, not least that the phone was nearly an inch thick. Given the phone’s pretty decent media and gaming features, there was no expandable memory so you had to make do with what was on board. The keypad itself felt cheap and the little green joystick had a habit of coming off. And because this was a Motorola from the early noughties, the software was pretty horrible too.

Despite its flaws, the V80 attracted a loyal fan base who often held onto their phones far longer than would seem reasonable. The rotator format itself remained pretty rare, but the Nokia 7370, Sony Ericsson S700 and Samsung X830 all attempted to do something similar. Today you can pick up a V80 for around £25 to £80 depending on condition.

Image credits: Motorola

Friday, 22 February 2019

Sharp GX30 (2004)

Sharp GX30
Announced February 2004

Back in the early noughties, Sharp was competing in the European market pretty successfully with a series of highly-regarded phones that offered features that were often far ahead of the competition.

February 2004 saw the announcement of the Sharp GX30 – the first phone in Europe to have a megapixel-class camera, complete with an LED flash. In addition to this, the GX30 had a best-in-class 2.2” 240 x 320 pixel display using a CGS (Continuous Grain Silicon) LCD display which give an exceptionally clear and – and forgive the intentional pun – sharp image.

The rest of the phone was pretty good too – the GX30 had expandable memory via a full-sized SD card, an MP3 player, Bluetooth and all of this was wrapped up in a very pretty silver clamshell design (although peculiarly it still had an external antenna).

In most European markets, Sharp handsets were exclusive to Vodafone who had access to all sorts of interesting Japanese devices through their ownership of one of the major Japanese mobile networks. Although some handsets did make it to other carriers – notably the Sharp TM200 – you were pretty much limited to Vodafone if you wanted one.

Perhaps it was this carrier exclusive agreement that stopped Sharp from having the breakthrough they needed, and despite some very good devices they faded out from the European market within a few years.

Perhaps not an obvious phone to collect, but the GX30 is pretty commonly available from about £5 to £40 depending on condition.

Image credits: Vodafone and Sharp

Sunday, 17 February 2019

Samsung Blue Earth S7550 (2009)

Announced February 2009

Ten years ago, phone manufacturers were experimenting with more environmentally-friendly designs. While much of this revolved around packaging and recycled plastics, there was also a move to look at adding solar panels to phones so that they could be charged from the sun.

Samsung Blue Earth
You might at this point realise that modern phones don’t have solar panels, and that this concept was not successful. And you would be right, but it’s an interesting side-note in the history of phone design.

The Samsung Blue Earth was first announced at MWC in February 2009 along with some solar devices from other manufacturers. The Blue Earth was one of the stars of the show though, with a touchscreen display and an attractive design to go with it. But it wasn’t until October that they actually revealed the specifications of the phone which started shipping the same month.

Despite the touchscreen, this was a feature phone rather than a smartphone. It came with a number of “eco-friendly” apps such as a pedometer which worked out how much CO2 you were saving by walking. The specs overall were competitive for the time and the overall response was pretty positive.

So why didn’t it catch on? At about €300 the device was fairly expensive, and then there was the panel itself. Yes, it certainly charged the phone but only relatively slowly. Even by Samsung’s own figures, you’d have to leave your expensive device sitting around in sunlight for an hour to get ten minute’s talktime.

The fundamental problem was the size of the panel that could fit on the phone – to be really useful, it would need to be much bigger than the phone itself. And of course there was no need for TARDIS-like trickery, you could simply attach a bigger panel by plugging one in. Even 10 years ago, you could get a decently-sized solar panel with USB outputs for £50 or so.

Today battery life is probably even more of a problem than ten years ago, but there’s an even simpler solution than wandering around the place with solar panels sticking out of you and that’s to carry a power bank with a large battery. And if you have solar panels on your house, you can even charge it with renewable energy too. Although it you really want one, you can currently buy a solar-powered iPhone of questionable taste.

Image credit: Samsung

Saturday, 9 February 2019

Nokia 9500 Communicator and Motorola MPx (2004)

Announced February 2004

We are going back fifteen years this month, a journey to the pre-iPhone era where smartphones were bigger, chunkier and altogether odder looking.

Nokia in particular had been pushing their own vision of what a smartphone should be with the Communicator series since 1996. These high-end devices looked like a normal albeit large mobile phone on the outside, but opened up to reveal a large screen and keyboard on the inside. In February 2004 they announced the Nokia 9500 Communicator.

Nokia 9500 Communicator

The display on the Communicators was like nothing else on the market, on the 9500 it was a 4.5” 640 x 200 pixel panel which was pretty good for rendering web pages, composing emails or writing documents. The keyboard was a little more cramped than the one in the previous 9210i, but it was still very usable. The 9500 was also the first in the range to have a camera, although it was only a pretty basic one.

One major omission was the lack of 3G support – it wasn’t as it they couldn’t fit the components into this massive brick of a phone, they just chose not to. The 9500 did have WiFi though, so get it near a wireless hotspot and it could do a decent job of coping with a web that was still designed for desktop PCs.

Nokia’s Series 80 platform was more capable than the Series 60 found in their other smartphones, and on top of that the 9500 had expandable memory, fax capabilities, a wordprocessor, spreadsheet and presentation application and if anyone tried to steal it you could bash them over the head with it.

It was a reasonably successful device in the days when smartphones were still pretty rare, and over the years the Communicator range acquired a dedicated and rather patient fan base. All Communicator models are highly collectable today.

Rivals Motorola were also eyeing up the QWERTY-equipped smartphone market, but they had a completely different approach. The Motorola MPx300 (later rename--d to just “MPx”) was a Windows clamshell smartphone with stylus-driven touchscreen inside. Unlike the large display in the Nokia, the MPx had a rather more modest 2.8” 240 x 320 pixel unit… this was still pretty good for 2004 though.

Motorola MPx
The stand-out feature with the MPx was the remarkable two-way hinge that meant you could open it up like a standard clamshell or the mini-laptop format of the 9500. In order to support this, the MPx had a really strange keyboard that was QWERTY in one direction and numeric in the other. Although on one level this was a stroke of design genius, it also badly compromised the usability.

In fact, the MPx was slow and had limited memory and there were hardware reliability problems too. Despite being announced in 2004, the MPx only got a limited release in Asia about a year later and by the spring of 2005 the worldwide launch was cancelled.

In the end, neither phone set the pattern for future smartphones which these days are unencumbered by a physical keyboard. For collectors, the Motorola MPx is quite a rare find but surprisingly inexpensive at around £50 or so. The much more common Nokia 9500 is conversely more expensive, with unlocked ones in good condition being around £150 or so.

Image credits: Nokia and Motorola

Monday, 28 January 2019

DECstation (1989)

DECstation 5000/133
Introduced January 1989

DEC were a pioneer in business computing, bringing powerful computers to medium-size business with minicomputers such as the VAX series (launched in 1977), hooked up to a dumb terminal.

In the twelve years since launch the VAX line had continued to grow and evolve with the times, but during the latter half of the 1980s it was becoming apparent that the underlying architecture was perhaps not what was needed for the 1990s.

Computer manufacturers were beginning to produce machines with more streamlined processors – Reduced Instruction Set Computers (RISC). High-performance CPUs were also being seen in microcomputers such as the Acorn Archimedes, but in particular the Sun SPARC processor was powering a new generation of Unix workstations which were competing successfully against DEC’s own business.

In January 1989, DEC announced the DECstation, their own take on a RISC-based Unix workstation. Unlike the DEC-designed VAX processor, the DECstation used a CPU bought in from MIPS. The original DECstation 3100 introduced in January 1989 was three times quicker than its VAX CISC-based counterpart, and given that DEC’s version of Unix (called Ultrix) was already a mature and widely-used product on VAXes it seemed that the DECstation had what it took to be successful.

Specifically, DEC was aiming the DECstation at the low-cost server and workstation markets. Both of these device classes were offshoots of the minicomputer that DEC had helped to pioneer. Much more powerful than PCs of the time, the DECstation and its competitors introduced technologies that didn’t find themselves onto most people’s desks until a decade later.

The DECstation could certainly have been a contender, but DEC itself was never really happy with a product that wasn’t 100% DEC all the way down, and after a couple of years of development DEC quietly abandoned the platform, instead switching to the DEC Alpha CPU in boxes such as the DEC 3000 AXP. However, MIPS-based DECstations were still commonly in use and supported by DEC throughout the 1990s.

They’re not the first thing you might think of as a collectable, but people do and a used base unit can cost around $500 or so if you are interesting in tinkering with redundant Unix hardware..

Image credit: Stephen Edmonds via Wikimedia Commons

Sunday, 20 January 2019

TiVo (1999)

Introduced January 1999

It’s easy to forget that recording TV shows 20 years ago was a major hassle for most people. VHS recorders could typically record just three to five hours in a strictly linear fashion. If you wanted to record from cable or a satellite box then it was tricky, and in any case if the show was running late for any reason you would miss it at least part of it. You also couldn’t watch something that you had already recorded while you were recording something else.

TiVo Roamio DVR with characteristic remote controller

The introduction of TiVo in 1999 helped to change all that. Ditching the tape, the TiVo recorded on a hard disk which could initially store 35 hours of programming, but this quickly increased. You record and play back at the same time, pause live TV and the integrated Electronic Program Guide (EPG) made it much easier to find shows in listings and could help to prevent missed recordings. Some models integrated satellite or cable receivers too, an essential modern feature for many.

Twenty years on and time shifting and binge watching whole recorded series has become pretty commonplace, and although online services such as Netflix are eating into traditional broadcasting’s market share, TiVo’s fifth- and sixth-generation boxes now support those too, along with up to six tuners and 3 terabytes of storage. Would you want to try doing the same thing with a VHS VCR? Probably not...

Image credit: TiVo

Sunday, 13 January 2019

Palm Pre (2009)

Launched January 2009

When Palm launched their Palm Pre smartphone half a decade ago, we were quite excited. Perhaps this was the phone that would have wowed consumers and changed the market forever. If it had been launched two years previously, that is.

Today, we still think the same. The Palm Pre was a brilliantly unique smartphone, which despite a few rough edges gave a user experience that was superior to anything else at the time. Designed from the ground up to be an easy-to-use multitasking operating system, the Pre’s webOS environment ran different apps as “cards” that users could swipe between easily. Comprehensive email support (which was important at the time), a decent web browser and even a reasonably large selection of apps were all available, combined with a cute curved design which made the Pre look very different from the rival iPhone. And it had wireless charging too, which was certainly a novelty for the time, and a physical keyboard set it apart from Apple's offering too.

Palm had been a pioneer – perhaps the pioneer – in early handheld computing. The Palm Pilot (launched in 1996) dominated that market segment, to the extent that the phrase “Palm Pilot” was sometimes applied to any PDA. But the rise of early smartphones such as the Sony Ericsson P900 effectively killed off standalone PDAs, and it took a while for Palm to respond with its range of PalmOS-based Treo smartphones that it acquired from rival firm Handspring.

A move into Windows phones hadn’t provided the boost that Palm was looking for, so they started to develop a completely new operating system called webOS. When it was launched in January 2009 along with the Pre, Palm still had enough market presence to have the phone dubbed an “iPhone killer” by the press (spoiler alert: it wasn’t).

Although the software environment was promising, the hardware was pretty shoddy. Palm fans who decided to be loyal to the brand were rewarded with brittle screens and cases, and keys and control sliders that would break or malfunction. This did not help sales.

The competition was also getting serious – the iPhone was in its second generation with the much improved 3GS on the way, HTC had already kick-started the Android market and Samsung was on the verge of releasing its first Galaxy smartphone. And if you didn’t want either of those, the Nokia 5800 XpressMusic was a pretty accomplished alternative. And all of those rivals had more apps to choose from than the Pre.

As good as it was – and even with the goodwill of Palm fans – the Pre was neither a success nor a failure. The Palm Pre 2 (launched nearly 2 years later) fixed many of those faults, but it was really just the product that Palm should have launched four years earlier. Even with the weight of new owners HP behind it, the entire line was heading for extinction.

WebOS eventually ended up with LG, who use it in smart TVs and other appliances, and the Palm name lives under today with the peculiar Palm Palm, made under licence by TCL who also build BlackBerry and Alcatel smartphones. Collectors of esoteric devices might be interested to know that the various generations of Pre can be picked up for between £10 to £50.

Image credits: Palm, Inc.

Tuesday, 8 January 2019

Sony Ericsson T630 (2004)

Sony Ericsson T630
Launched January 2004

The follow-up to the successful and stylish T610, the Sony Ericsson T630 was a product of a partnership that was beginning to find its feet and come up with its own design language. An elegant candy-bar phone, the T630 had all the fashionable features you’d find in a mid-noughties feature phone, wrapped up in one of the best looking handsets designed up until that point.

One of the key problems with the T610 was the rather muddy STN display, but the T630 came with a beautifully clear TFT instead. On the back was a basic CIF resolution camera that had been tweaked to give VGA resolution pictures. Somewhat atypically for handsets in this price range the T630 had Bluetooth, it also supported Java downloadable games and customisable polyphonic ringtones.

But it was the way that the T630 looked that attracted attention, with the white version in a translucent case being a particular hit. The understated design showed attention to detail with a distinctive Scandinavian flavour, and it set a benchmark that future Sony Ericsson phones would use in terms of design language.

This combination of features and styling was a big hit with consumers, and the T630 continued the T610’s sales success, making Sony Ericsson a serious contender in this slice of the market for a time. The long battery life and reliability of the T630 also won fans, and many people clung onto their T630s for a long time.

If you are after a slice of nostalgia, the T630 can cost as little as £10 in good condition and there are a range of accessories that can be found do go with it such as car mounts, docking stations and even spare parts.

Image credit: Sony Ericsson