I have a confession to make. I’m an addict. Since I first owned a mobile phone in 1997 I have diligently upgraded my handset at every available opportunity. As soon as the contract runs out I get these little pangs of anticipation and an insatiable urge to start looking around for something new.
This is in many respects completely out of character to the rest of my persona. I’m a consummate re-user of old bits of stuff. I had (still do) a Sony Walkman circa 1989 that was by default music player right up until I first got a mobile phone with an FM radio on it sometime around 2001. I keep bits of old wood (much to Mrs Penguin’s annoyance) on the off-chance they might come in useful one day for something and absolutely everything else in my consumer habits from computers, to tellies (got a Decca Colour that is at least 27 years old) through to clothes I will make do and mend or use till completely knackered and or unrepairable.
Partly this is down to a desire to not overly impact upon the natural resources of our little planet but mostly it’s down to being brought up that way – poor.
So without too many other aspects of my consumer lifestyle being dominated by a constant desire to buy more, mobiles are the one little vice in life and I’m happy to admit it.
The point of this post is more thinking out aloud rather than anything else because it’s that time again. My contract expired a month ago and I’m getting the shakes again for a new handset. The only problem this time around is that with all my previous upgrades there’s always been something more alluring knocking around and with equal measure, something about my current handset that I could pick fault with (with the exception of my first ever phone) but that’s really not the case this time around.
So without further ado, I thought it would be helpful to do a bit of a rundown and comment on every handset I’ve ever had.
The venerable Nokia 8110 AKA the ‘Banana Phone’ AKA the ‘Matrix phone’ (Yes, I know the photo is of an 8110i for the zealots but the phone is identical on the outside apart from ‘Nokia’ being written in white on the 8110 and dark grey on the 8110i)
My first ever mobile and well, it was great. It might only have had the capacity to store 12 text messages and look a bit retro by today’s standard with its sticky out aerial but it was an ace phone. Virtually indestructible (I did once drop it on concrete and snap the sliding out section off but no worry it popped back on and worked fine).
I really did like this bit of kit and I’d probably still have it lying around somewhere had it not been for an encounter with some muggers in Estonia but hey ho, that’s life and shit sometimes happens.
Compared to what was around at the time it was a very nice stylish phone and after seeing the horrendous menu structure on friends Motorola phones the logical and well thought out user interface was just perfect.
Not the prettiest of handsets ever produced but typical of the time. What it lacked in outward appearances it made up for in added functionality over the 8110.
Again building on a nicely laid out menu structure, more memory capacity, generally faster performance and a few niceties like the ability to store one solitary personalised ringtone that had to virtually be forced on to the handset through the not so perfect bit of software in Nokia Cellular Data Suite but at the time that was something really cool.
Long before late night telly was festooned with adverts for ringtones and background pictures of naked ladies, a world before Jamster or whatever the hell it’s called, this phone could have a personalised ringtone and in a world of ‘Nokia Tune’ coming out from half the handsets you’d come across in the street, that was something special.
Yes, me and my Dutch mate Rudolf were indeed probably some of the first people to start knocking up our own ringtones and when the Soviet Union anthem goes off in a bar in Finland, you don’t half get some strange looks. Not quite as strange as when we were once in a bar and a Soviet Union anthem ringtone went off and it wasn’t our phone, but that’s what happens when you flog it to Radiolinja and they start punting it out to customers.
Note, soon after this I switched to Maamme as my ringtone, the little ‘.wav’ audio file having stayed with me right up until a couple of months ago until I accidentally wiped it doing a firmware upgrade on my current phone. So now I have a new version of Maamme which I’m not quite so keen on. (Note to self, check old phones donated to parents to see if it’s still on one of those).
Sadly this phone got nicked in the mugging incident too although it wasn’t as great a loss as the 8110.
After having both the other phones nicked I was on the verge of cancelling my contract but O2 or as we used to call it in the olden days, BT Cellnet said they’d send me a replacement for free if I didn’t cancel and it wouldn’t be considered an upgrade so my contract would stay the same.
They didn’t say what they’d send me but this is what turned up.
Without doubt the most useless, crappy, hideous mobile phone I have ever had the unfortunate experience of using.
There is nothing remotely endearing about the handset. It was heavy, thick, looked shite, had a useless menu system, even though the battery was huge, it’s talktime was crap, even though the aerial was huge the signal was crap and the charger connector was loose.
Put simply, this is the worst phone I’ve ever owned and probably went some way towards ensuring I never bought anything from Ericsson/Sony Ericsson ever since.
It was so crap that a few years later when my boss broke his phone and I lent it to him, he had to selotape phone numbers on the back of the battery because he couldn’t use the memory system to store them as it was so rubbish.
Did I mention, this phone was crap?
There’s not a lot I can really say about the Nokia 6150. It was essentially a 6110 on steroids in both outward appearance and inner functionality.
I really did quite like it a lot at the time and I have a suspicion it may still be lying in a box in the attic somewhere.
Eventually after a lot of use it did start getting a bit funny. Mainly down the the battery coming a bit loose. I could probably have got a new battery to fix the problem but got a new phone instead.
All in all though, a nice usable phone with some good enterprise touches which probably represents how phone since it started to diverge into handsets aimed at different market segments.
Still to date my lightest and smallest phone which was both a good thing and bad.
It carried on the traditional functionality of the 6110/6150 in a smaller package but if I’m honest it was probably too small and light for me that I used to get paranoid it had slipped out of my trouser pocket as I couldn’t feel the damn thing.
That said, it was well built and took a fair few knocks in its time and I believe is still working to this day with a friend in Malta after having a prolonged loan period to my mate Wally in Walsall.
Nice phone apart from the size and weight.
This was a works phone. It was crap, the menu system was almost as bad as the GA628 but it had a whopping 2 lines instead of 1. It was heavy and the battery was crap.
That’s about all that can be said of this handset.
Another classic candybar but heavier and a bit larger than the 8210 which was nice.
Functionality wise it was pretty much the same but did have one horribly addictive space shooter game on it that I must have wasted hours of my life on doing the daily commute.
Not a great deal to say about it, simply another incarnation of the same sort of feature set as the 8210 but was a generally nicer phone to mill around with.
This phone did teach me the very important lesson of keeping mobile phone in a different pocket to my house keys as by the time I’d finished with it, almost all the metallic paint had been scratched back to the not so impressive looking white plastic underneath.
Nokia 9200 Communicator:
Another works phone, but one I chose this time and well, it was bloody brilliant (for its time).
The keyboard was a bit rubbery and almost Spectrun ZX 48K-ish but functionality wise, it was a world away from everything I’d had before and ushered in my first ever usage of mobilei internet, which as the contract covered 0845 numbers meant it was effectively free if dial-up was a pants really.
My only regret with this phone was not using it to its full potential but it did set me along the road to where I am these days in terms of what I find important in a handset.
I have mixed feelings abouth this phone. In many respects I liked it, but in others I didn’t.
It was a pricey handset and eventually the spring-loaded slider mechanism got quite touchy, in that over time the metal clips stopping it from springing up had worn down meaning it would open very easily or not stay shut properly.
Just after I’d upgraded from it, the keypad went bandy and overall it wasn’t as good or highly specced as the 6510i that it replaced. Bit of a disappointment of a phone really, but it did teach me to start looking more at the full tech specification sheet of phones rather than outward appearances. It is also the first of only two phones I’ve ever owned that has had a technical problem with it. (I don’t include the loose battery on the 6150)
This phone represents my shift towards a fairly consistant appreciation of the business orientated Nokia range, from the 6000 series through to the E Series handsets where functionality and capability has been a key aspect of any handset purchase ever since.
It also represents the first time I started to look at phones, less as what they come with, but more with what’s going on underneath and the first time I heard about Symbian (of which this ran Symbian S40) and a realisation of how important the software of phones was becoming.
It was also the first phone I owned that had a camera which even way back then could do video, of which the first ever home vid of my son was done on. The resolution wasn’t much to speak of but the still camera, even at 1.3Megapixels turned out surprisingly good snaps.
I really liked this phone and it is happily working away to this day in the safe hands of my father.
There’s a bit of an interruption in my upgrade schedule at this point in time because it’s when Mrs Penguin moved in and so we started down the road of alternating upgrade on my contract so technically speaking, the next phone I had was a Nokia N73 but she nabbed it and apart from fixing the odd thing on it for her, I never really got to use it which wasn’t a problem as I was still very happy with my 6230i.
I will note though that although a hideous looking phone, the N73 was a very good multimedia phone that even by todays standards isn’t exactly that far off the mark and the video quality on it was probably better than Mrs Penguin’s current phone.
Back to the list – the Nokia E65:
With it’s slider form factor hankering back to my old 8110 I have to admit I really did like this phone. It was pretty powerful and very good at multitasking running Symbian S60 3rd Edition.
It was also the first phone I used properly online with a data tarriff as prices were starting to get reasonable in the UK market.
It was the first phone I discovered how many applications there were actually available for mobile phones and the first I ever used Opera Mini on.
Put simply, this was a really ace phone but with my increased use of applications and in particular, mobile web access came a realisation that despite how fast I am at typing on a T9 configuration keypad, it was just that little bit annoying and I was looking for a QWERTY solution.
It’s also the first phone that I started regularly looking out for things like firmware updates which also made me realise the limitations of a network purchased phone when O2 can’t be bothered to punt out an update when Nokia release one.
It’s the first phone I ever used Nemesis on to change the product number and install default firmware upgrades and rid the phone of those bloody bubbles.
This phone represents a lot of firsts for me and even now when I decide to turn it on again to try something out, it impresses me with both its build quality and general performance for what is a pretty old phone these days.
This phone is currently in Germany as I forgot to bring it back from holidays, I hope to see it again soon.
The only criticism I’d lay at this phone is the battery life wasn’t as good as it could be. It did need recharging at the end of every day after being used with multiple applications. This by the way was the second phone that I’ve ever had a technical fault on, microphone went a bit screwey on it but it was fixed and worked fine ever since.
Right up to the present – my trusty Nokia E90 Communicator:
It’s hard to know where to start with this phone. It is my current handset and has been faithfully by my side for the last 18 months.
Barring a few bits of chipping in the exterior and D-Pad paintwork it’s in good nick and I really did expect the hinges to get looser over time but they’ve stayed solid.
It like the E65 runs on Symbian S60 3rd Edition Feature Pack 1 which gives it a massive selection of applications that are available for it although with it’s dual screen configuration this does cause the odd problem with a few but none that have bothered me.
The QWERTY keyboard is easily the best I’ve ever tried on any phone, past, present, hard or touchscreen, it’s perfect with the allignments of ever key obviously well thought out (that shift key below the ‘@’ symbol key, spot on).
It’s fair to say that general online usage, reading, feeds, Twittering, this phone has replaced my desktop. It’s not a complete desktop replacement, there’s things it doesn’t lend itself perfectly to doing but they’re few and far between.
By todays standards it’s speed is suffering a little against modern handsets but it is getting a bit long in the tooth as a design.
It is the first phone I’ve had that’s had GPS in it which has opened up a new world of daft little things to do with my phone.
In short, I really, really, really like this phone and if Nokia bought out a handset identical in form factor, upped the processor, RAM and memory (mine’s got an 8Gb chip in it), ditch the D-Pad and install a slightly deeper touchscreen, switch it to USB rechargable and fix the completely crap camera button I’d snap it up in no time irrespective of whether it’s running Symbian S60 5th Edition or Maemo 5/6.
Just to note, the battery on this thing is huge and lasts very well, unless you’re canning it on GPS and running wifi/3.5g, while listening to MP3’s all at the same time.
So where to now?
The simple approach would be to stick with the E90. It’s got no faults, hardware wise and runs quite nicely but the upgrade urge is very strong.
The problem I have this time around is that there are things I’ve come to appreciate which draw me away from the routine of call up operator and see what they’ve got and upgrade to it.
The main reason for this lies in operator customised firmware. I know operators may wish to tweak handset firmware to optimise it for their networks but I’ve not noticed any difference in performance between my O2 firmwares and my virgin Nokia firmwares, if anything at least the phones seem to run faster without the O2 stuff on them.
This is also important with the firmware upgrade cycle. My E90 was stuck on the 212.xxx firmware for ages because O2 wouldn’t update it until I complained and they bought out version 300.xxx by which time version 400.xxx was out. In the end I did a Nemesis job on it to get it to the latest Nokia produced firmware and it runs far better and definitely more stable than the 300.xxx firmware from O2.
This very much pushes me towards buying an unbranded sim-free handset in the future where my primary concern on firmware is what the manufacturer pushes out. I also quite like the idea of not being tied to a stupidly long contract as these have slowly moved from 12 months, to 18 months to 24 months over recent years and even arguing discounts for long standing custom is getting a bit of a pain these days. A simple cheaper tarriff with no lock-ins is starting to look preferable.
Software: (or as it seems to be called these days – apps)
I need a reasonably good selection and the focus of them is on functionality and productivity, not games or farting noises. I’m probably in that class of business user when it comes to things I need to run on my phone whether they’re pre-packaged as I’ve come to be used to with 6000 and E-Series Nokia phones or ones I can download from somewhere. There’s probably only about a dozen applications I need on my phone to cover various areas of usage for regular use and a dozen more for on-off usage or specialised functions but on-going development of applications for the handset is important which means something running an OS with a reasonable community/in-house company behind it.
Has to be obviously better than my current E90, so faster, more RAM, not that fussed about memory really, 8Gb is more than I need now anyway unless I start putting loads of movies on the phone. 5Megapixel camera seems to be the reasonable standard for a good smartphone these days, GPS obviously, all the connectivity options as well and a hard QWERTY keyboard. I recognise you can get touchscreen QWERTY’s but I generally haven’t liked them. Haptic feedback ones aren’t so bad like on Mrs Penguin’s 5800 but a QWERTY with proper buttons is a probably a must, at least this time round and I’ll see how good the touchscreen ones get in the future. Must also have a touchscreen for OS navigation and browsing.
Linked in heavily with the development and community support, has to have reasonable backing and definitely has to be able to multi-task, there is no debate about that. The OS being open source is also a distinct advantage from both ideological/practical reasons and the sad geeky hackery perspective.
Not too much, but obviously recognise something good is going to cost a fair bit of wonga.
I’m not that fussed on form factor apart from obviously prefering to have a hardware QWERTY keyboard is going to impact on this a lot and pretty much means a side slide-out keyboard ala Sony Ericsson Satio/Nokia N900, a bottom slide out QWERTY ala Palm Pre or a front side one like the Nokia E71/72 or Blackberry style. I should note, I’m not that keen on narrow QWERTY’s like the Blackberry/Nokia E71/72, I do prefer a wider orientated keyboard.
I think this is an area that’s often overlooked but having had the E90 and used other ‘smartphones’ I have come to the conclusion that any mobile device aimed at internet usage should have a minimum width resolution of 800pixels. I’m happy to accept that maybe it’s just me that thinks this but most of these phones sport around the 640pixel width displays and rely to some extent on making up for that by using innovative zoom features. I’ve never used the zoom feature on my E90 because the screen displays website fine.
For me, 640 pixels was my Amstrad 1640 circa 1990. Most websites are designed with resolutions of 800-1024pixels in mind and the best results from mobile browsing, taking into account how hard it would currently be to get a 1024pixel width display on a phone, then 800pixels is very much preferable. I’m not so fussed about the vertical resolution, 353pixels on the E90 has been fine but it’s a strange ratio and something a little bit taller would be nice.
I want good performance obviously.
Other odds and sods:
Less important but do need a mention. I am a bit of a greenie at heart, so extra bonus points go to stuff made by companies with good environmental records, produced in Europe. Sorry I can’t say Britain here but apart from those really stupidly expensive ones with diamonds and crap on them and a hotchpotch of weird, generally crappy custom made for network jobbies, we don’t make mobiles in this country.
So who’s in the running of the current or due to start coming out soon handsets:
Blackberry Storm 2/Curve:
I’ve never owned a Blackberry, probably on account of the orientation of their keyboards more than anything else. I recognise they’re solidly well built bits of kit with a good OS and user functionality but I’m reticent about one.
Mainly due to the proprietary/corporate nature of the way they work. I like open standards and minimal lock-ins.
There’s plenty of applications available, but there’s just that keyboard issue. I might consider the Storm 2 if the touchscreen keyboard were something special but that’s to be seen. I thought the Storm 1 had the most horrendous touchscreen keyboard I’ve ever used; more akin to banging on a piece of plexiglass that any sense of feedback.
Might be fun to try as something new but it’s not that far up on the list as things stand unless the Storm 2 is something brilliant.
The latest hyped bit of kit. I get tetchie about handsets that get hyped up, particularly in the US media. Hardware wise it looks well specced and the user interface seems very polished. I’m just not sure about this Web OS. It’s looks nice and functional but is there the developer community behind it or not?
I think in the case of the Palm Pre, in very much the same vein as an Android phone when the first one came out, I’d sit back and see what happens for a bit to see if it’s a viable proposition. Personally I can’t see what all the fuss is about, but perhaps I’m a boring old techie.
I’m getting a bit tired now, so enough of the pictures.
Earlier this year I have to admit I anticipated the N97 as the most likely replacement for my E90. It is a very good handset in many ways, I really do like the innovative angled hinge for the slide out keyboard but after having tried it out a couple of times there’s just too much about it that I would pick fault with.
The keyboard isn’t really that pleasant to use. I’m still humming and ahhing about this whole off-set space bar layout but I could probably live with that. However the keyboard on the N97 seemed tiny compared to my E90, and just didn’t look right. My two pence on what they should have done; ditch the D-Pad, it’s not needed and make the QWERTY larger and easier to use. It’s interesting to note that this seems to have been the approach with the N97 Mini but I’m not contemplating buying that anyway.
Added into this so hardware specs on the RAM, processor side which although with the latest firmware don’t impact heavily on performance, it’s still not much of a leg up from what I’ve got, so I’m definitely not going to get the N97.
I guess it’s compulsory to mention the fruit machine phone in any run down of higher end mobiles these days.
Simple, can’t multi-task, doesn’t have a hardware qwerty, a desktop UI that amounts to a layout of icons is so dated, locked down proprietary OS and one single monopoly vendor of applications, doesn’t support Flash, stupidly expensive and rip-off contracts by O2 (yes I know it’s coming to other networks soon, we’ll see how much they charge); answer’s no.
Sony Ericsson Satio:
I have to admit I really like the look of this phone. It has a very high specification and a lovely looking keyboard. It is probably my number 2 choice of any phone out there, or likely to be out there in the very near future. There are only really two major drawbacks to it. It’s not getting good reviews on battery life and there’s a question mark over how much upgrading or commitment there’s going to be to the software on it as it’s a highly customised version of Symbian S60 5th Edition.
Samsung Omnia HD i8910:
Again a phone I really do like. Samsung have done a great job customising the Symian OS on it and it’s solid in almost every area apart from the obvious lack of a hardware keyboard which pretty much puts it out of the picture.
Some form of Google Android based phone:
I haven’t rounded on one model in particular although the obvious would be the HTC Hero. I have to admit, I don’t quite get Android. I know everyone seems to rave about it being Linux based and open and all that but it looks more like a proprietary OS built on top of a Linux stack to me. I could be completely wrong but I also recognise that Google is coming at the market from being a service provider that is tryin to punt out hardware that compliments those services.
The problem is, apart from search and occasional maps, I don’t really used any of Google’s services so there’s not that much attraction to me. I’m also wary of the whole app store culture which has been why I’ve quite liked the open and varied marketplace for Symbian applications up until now.
I actually started penning this post last night but didn’t get round to finishing it. Since then I’ve been doing a bit of thinking and ‘if’ I get a new mobile phone, it’s going to be this one:
First up, it’s not perfect. I’m still not convinced about that smallish three line QWERTY with off-set space bar but it doesn’t look like there’s a direct replacement for the E90 Communicator coming along any time soon.
There’s a double edged sword in the OS, running Maemo 5. The downside being it’s brand new (yes Maemo’s been around for ages but version 5 was a major revision) and applications for it are obviously still quite light given that it’s the only phone in the world that runs that OS and hasn’t even been released yet.
There’s also looking to the future, which is obviously QT and it’s using GTK. That said, QT has already been ported to it so this probably won’t be a problem but something to consider.
There’s also the issue of how long it will be developed for with the N920 probably emerging in the first half of next year which I’ll admit does look very nice but it lacks the hardware QWERTY that I, at least currently, prefer.
I was a bit concerned about the battery in it. Still am. I’m used to pretty good lengthy usage out of my E90 with a 1,500 mAh battery and this takes a 1,320mAh battery. However it has had some good reviews on the battery strength so this may be a case of the OS being optimised to negate this issue. Still think Nokia should have put the BP-4L battery in it, if only so I had a couple of spare lying around.
That’s about it on the negatives, on the positives however:
It will be the most powerful handset available on the raw processing/RAM side. I’m not going to start wittering on about OMAP, ARM11 and virtualised RAM but the specs are good, very good.
However, even though it was a minus point in one sense, the Maemo OS is a massive plus which probably outweighs everything.
I actually really like the Symbian OS in all it’s current and recent flavours. It’s solid, has mammoth amounts of customisability and options hidden away in its labyrinthine menus. It has masses of application written for it, some of which I really do enjoy, like Opera Mini and JoikuSpot. (If you have a Symbian based phone with wifi, then I highly recommend checking out Joikuspot. Brilliant application that can save a fortune in dongles, and no I don’t work for or get any kickbacks from them, it’s just really good).
However what I really anticipate, should I decide to get the phone is having a handset that runs a Linux based OS. I’ve fancied one for a few years but LIMO phones never really impressed me. The openness of the OS is an increasingly important thing to me. I don’t necessarily intend to crack the software on it, there should really be no reason to need to crack the software on a phone if it’s open enough but I do fancy a tinker around. A command line would be very nice to see. The ability to add in other Codec’s (I’m talking Oggs here) would be very nice. I know it doesn’t support them by default but that should while away an evening trying – probably.
So to run down, it’s got the QWERTY keyboard, an 800pixel width screen, is a significant step up in performance over my E90 and runs and open source Linux based OS. Oh, and until the 21st of October I can pre-order it for Â£424.15 as opposed to the normal list price of Â£499 so I have a day or two to decide on it. I’m still a bit wary of ordering a phone I’ve not used, but that price offer seems too good to miss and if I don’t like it, then I still have a 14 day cooling off period in which to send it back.