By 2004 3G networks were becoming quite widely rolled out with most major carriers offering pretty good 3G coverage. There weren’t a lot of handsets though, and few of them really offered anything other than the high-speed data connection itself.
Vodafone had something up its sleeve though because of their Japanese subsidiary Vodafone K.K. 3G networks had been available for a little while in Japan, and Japanese domestic phone makers had come up with several interesting handsets that were quite unlike those being designed in Europe and the United States.
Sharp was key player in Japan, and they partnered with Vodafone to make what was quite possibly the best phone of its time – the Sharp 902.
Essentially this was just a big 3G clamshell phone, however the 902 exceeded rivals in almost every specification. One key feature was the camera – the first two megapixel unit on the market, it also featured a 2X optical zoom (rather than a digital one). The camera had a multi-coloured LED flash and built-in image-to-text conversion as well.
Inside the 2.4” display panel featured Sharp’s continuous grain silicon (CG Silicon) technology in a 240 x 320 pixel screen that was so much clearer than rivals it simply knocked them out of the park. The screen itself could rotate 180 degrees, so you could flip it back to front if you wanted and use it that way round. Nothing else on the market in Europe could do that.
Add to this a full-sized SD/MMC card slot, video calling, Bluetooth, streaming media support, an MP3 player and a whole bunch of other features – in most respects the 902 made other 3G rivals look primitive. In addition to the standard model, a striking red Ferrari edition came out which boosted the profile of the phone further.
|Sharp 902 Ferrari Edition|
It should have been a game-changer, but it wasn’t. It turns out that the much-vaunted 2 megapixel camera really wasn’t as good as people were expecting, the user interface was nowhere as good as Nokia’s and the handset was a Vodafone exclusive and couldn’t be unlocked. And although the Sharp 902 was undoubtedly an attractive device to look at, perhaps it was a bit too Japanese for conservative European customers.
Most importantly, your average mobile customer in 2004 wasn’t really that interested in 3G anyway. Most web pages were not optimised for running on mobile phones, streaming content and downloads were expensive and the sort of social media apps we see today simply didn’t exist.
The Sharp 902 ended up as a niche success, but it wasn’t enough to make Sharp one of the big handset sellers in Europe. Less than two years later, Vodafone sold its Japanese operations to Softbank which effectively stopped the flow of Japanese 3G phones into Europe. Today the Sharp 902 is pretty uncommon to find with prices starting at around £20 or so with the rare Ferrari edition being very much more expensive.
Image credits: Sharp and Vodafone