Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Handset Anticipation, At Last

Finally, after nearly a year of being decidedly unexcited about handsets, 3GSM 2007 appears to have thrown up some interesting models - and one of the most interesting from Motorola, of all people. Who would have thunk it.

I won't go into vast detail, but for anyone desperate for a sarky roundup of what has been announced:

My immediate reaction to the Nokia E90 was that it looked kinda interesting, but why S60? I remembered something about rolling S80/90 into S60, but presumed they'd have kept the good bits - but apparently not. Phenomenal waste of time, phenomenal shame. Same device with an overhauled S80 UI that looked nice and exceeded the old Psion 5 software, plus a good keyboard and a QVGA S40 UI on the front, well that might be something to get excited about...
However, I am now actually torn between two S60 devices - and a few months ago I never would have believed that. N95 or 6110 - difficult choice, but fortunately they're basically the same apart from the camera. I'll also inevitably regret this decision whilst I sit out my 9 month upgrade period swearing at the UI during those fleeting minutes the handsets can run without mains power, but for now, I think these two are very exciting.

The Moto RIZR Z8 - UIQ! Without a touchscreen! Not a brick! And without the serious usability flaws (allegedly)! From Motorola! I have to say I was taken by surprise - originally I saw this flagged as a Linux device and figured it was a cloned JIRA device like the Z6 with the new Moto UI, which is interesting as well but more in the sense that you're interested to try some new form of Japanese stewed fish gizzard, having nearly vomited on the last one. Then I saw it was Symbian and was confused, then I saw it was UIQ3 with a much needed overhaul and I was even more confused - until I saw it was created by the Sendo design team recently acquired by Moto, and then it all became obvious. They'll probably be sacked as soon as ZNDR finds out they shipped a usable interesting phone, but hopefully I can get one to play with first.

The F700 looks sweet. Not usually my form factor, but with a 5Mp camera etc I want one. Slight trepidation over what Samsung might do with a touchscreen UI though, but at least it will have a sensible battery policy, a good camera, a modern data connection and a tactile typing mechanism. I do wish people would stop saying it's an iPhone-killer before either phone is out though, that really is a little bit sad - compare specs if you want, but anything more strident and definitive ends up sounding like the rather heated online argument I remember stumbling upon about whether the Mines of Moria scene in the yet-to-be-released Fellowship of the Ring film would be better than the something else scene in the yet-to-be-released Harry Potter film.

Oh dear.
They still have the best UI (please ignore UIQ3, they knew not what they were doing). They still have the best marketing policy (clear use of Walkman and Cybershot brands to appeal to specific types of customer). But they are now falling into the Moto trap of just churning out stacks of identikit models, and that could easily do nasty things to the appeal of their brand. It's a very difficult tightrope to walk, breaking into the mainstream without putting users off with needless differentiation; they might pull it off, but my immediate reaction was 'yawn' and I'm not the only one.
Also, to my mind, a 2Mp camera should not hold the Cybershot name - it would be better kept to distinguish particularly good camera phones which really could be used instead of a cheap standalone camera, and for that you need 3Mp minimum. But that's just my personal opinion.

The Pearl surprised me, because the trackball isn't a trackball in the mouse-replacement sense but a trackball in a 2D scrollwheel kind of sense, and it works very well. Which should have been obvious, but the terminology got me wary and, well, after the mess they made of their Java support etc I'm not inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt on implementation details... the 8800, with a real keypad, is almost enough to make me want one for personal use. Almost.

Every minor player and operator seems ot be introducing the same rebranded HTC devices. They're trying to crawl up the value chain with the Athena reference platform, and it'll be interesting how we start to see XP/Vista and Mobile devices merge because there's a huge difference in functionality and complexity, but now at the meeting point not such a huge difference in size, form factor and price. Don't think they've nailed it yet but full credit for trying.

So, I think I counted four or five devices there interesting enough to make me pause for thought come upgrade time - which is three or four more than last time. Good news, but hopefully there'll be even more to come this year as the incumbents fight to counter the wave of hot air surrounding the iPrettyFaceButNotMuchOfAPhone.