Saturday, September 17, 2005

Mobiles Part 1: Where have all the nice phones gone?

Where are all the nice mobile phones?

Through a combination of planned obsolescence, theft, personal injury and a desire for new toys, I have settled into a year-long lifecycle for my mobile phones. The first one I had, how many years ago I cannot be bothered to count, was a Motorola d520 - essentially a smaller version of the brick d160, which around these parts was the first phone the carrier ever gave away for free.

My sister had a d160. There may very well have been a touch of sibling rivalry influencing my decision.

The d520 was incredibly small for the age, same size as a Nokia 6110, which was a posh one by anyone's standards. It was even compact enough to fit into the tiny sub-pocket of your jeans, which was a lovely idea in my mind - so lovely in fact, that I still carry my phone in that pocket to this day.

Incidentally, internal antennas are overrated. There's nothing like a nice chunky stub to pull your phone out of that tiny pocket.

Anyway, my dad bought me the d520 for 799 SCD (Small Country Dollars), and a year after, when the contract ran out, I sold it for 800 SCD. I'll leave you to work out for yourself whether I shared any of the money with Dad.

I went on to own a variety of models over time, fobbing off most of them to Dad if they still worked after a year, and actually charging him the market price for a used model. The Ericsson T10 lasted a particularly long time, well into its second battery, until one day it simply refused to boot up. I've had similar experiences with a Motorola T191, but I still think Motorolas are reliable and Ericssons are crap - probably due to a particularly bad experience with a 2618s.

Anyway, I now own a Motorola V500, by far the most expensive mobile I've had at 200 Euro (no contract though), and while I'm fairly happy with it, its lifetime is running out in early December - just right for an early Christmas present to myself. So I've started looking around, and have noticed a very peculiar situation.

All progress in mobile phone development seems to have stopped in 2004.

The hot phones out right now are things like the Nokia fashion phones. Ahem. I don't do fashion. Besides, Nokia, who used to have a clearly defined model structure, seems to be intent on maximizing the potential of their four-digit naming scheme: their ultimate goal, I believe, is to offer over nine thousand phones simultaneously, all with very minor styling and functionality differences, to fill up every model name from 0000 to 9999 (of course, they can't reuse old numbers).

Siemens was supposed to be my saviour, and it has delivered me from the woes of indecision in times past with wonderous offerings like the M55 (the phone survived my car crash, the screen was broken but it still received calls). But these days, they seem to have given up completely. The M65 has not gone down in price significantly since the same time last year, and at two hundred bucks, they can stick it. I hear their R&D division was officially closed down, as opposed to similar departments at other companies, which function nominally but have in fact deferred all their power to the marketing types, the kind that collectively jerk off to a 7ft blown-up poster of the iPod every full moon in a sacred ritual.

Sony Ericsson, I can't be bothered with. I'm not impressed with their styling, and I'm not impressed with the concept of a phone that doubles as a camera. I have a two-megapixel Sony Cybershot U, and I am well aware that it is a piece of shit. I'd like to have a P910i, but it's too expensive, and like I said, I need a new PC.

Samsung actually has the design right - I love the look of the X140, but it's too basic for me. The other desirable models are old.

Now, there is always the Moto RAZR, which is unassailably cool, but the software is exactly the same as my V500. Motorola has hardly presented a new model after the Triplets (V300/V500/V600), in fact they are pushing the E398, whose claim to fame is a set of stereo speakers, ostensibly pretty good ones.

I'm sorry, but if you use your phone as a baby ghetto blaster, you need to be repeatedly hit in the face.

In the good old days, new generations of phones used to be driven by a new killer feature - full-graphic displays, games, WAP, GPRS, color screens, cameras... and until a few years ago, size. The Nokia 8210 was as small as they reasonably got, and now phones are bigger. They are prettier, but they still don't have any new killer features.

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