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