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Smartphone crazy

Thursday 5 August 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

No Cell phoneSince the advent of the iPhone, the user expectations of what a smartphone is, how it looks and what features it provide changed a lot. A direct comparison of the years old Windows Mobile concept with every of its recent contender not sporting the Microsoft OS, will lead to an inglorious defeat for WM. Being a Windows Mobile powered Xperia X1 owner, I know this very well. During the long reign of WM there were companies that tried to modernize the system using personalized UIs, but in the end the concept was considered obsolete and even Microsoft decided to jump on the iPhone cousins bandwagon with its soon to be launched Windows Phone 7.

A modern phone
The iPhone concept (a sleek, flush, always connected slate device with capacitive touchscreen, touch UI and on-line application market) was a really successful one. It would be dumb not to emulate it. Microsoft choose not to follow this path and failed. Now it’s paying it with a big gap from the other OS competitor.

So far, so good. Right?
Well… it depends. I love my Xperia and I not so secretly think that its overall concept is still the best around, but is it an honest analysis or just fanboy nonsense? Let’s dig a bit more into this.
The iPhone concept does not really refer to the iPhone only. It’s more a macro-category that holds all new lineup from all main manufacturer that have a modern OS (Apple, HTC, Motorola Milestone XT720, Samsung, Nokia, LG, Sony-Ericsson, etc…). All of them are similar and very far from the old Windows Mobile world. Let’s put down these differences:

Modern smartphone Old Good Xperia X1
Size Up to 4.0″ display 3″ display
Weight Up to 157g 145g
Screen size Up to 960×640 800×480
Screen Up to 326 ppi 312 ppi
Colors 16M 65K
Touchscreen Capacitive with multitouch Resistive
Controls Buttons Buttons
Optical trackpad Yes Yes
QWERTY keyboard No (but found on other models) Yes
Stylus No Yes
G-sensor Yes No
Compass Yes No
Accelerom Yes No
Gyro Yes No
Proximity Yes No
Ambient lig Yes Yes
aGPS Yes Yes
2G network GSM 850 / 900 / 1800 / 1900 GSM 850 / 900 / 1800 / 1900
3G network HSDPA 850 / 900 / 1900 / 2100 HSDPA 900 / 1900 / 2100
Vibration Yes Yes
Audio jack 3,5″ 3,5″
Speakerphone Yes Yes
GPRS Class 12 Class 10
EDGE Class 12 Yes
3G HSDPA, 7.2 MbpsHSUPA, 5.76 Mbps HSDPA, 7.2 MbpsHSUPA, 2 Mbps
WLAN 802.11 b/g/n 802.11 b/g
Bluetooth v3.0 with A2DP v2.0 with A2DP
IR port No No
USB 2.0 micro USB 2.0 mini USB
Camera main 8MP with xenon flash 3,15MP with led flash
Camera sec VGA QVGA
Videocall yes yes
Video rec 720p @ 30fps VGA @ 30fps
Radio Stereo with RDS Stereo with RDS
CPU speed 1GHz 528MHz
RAM 512Mb 256Mb
ROM 2Gb 512Mb
Storage 32Gb No
Cardslot MicroSD up to 32Gb MicroSD up to 16Gb
Battery 1500mAh 1500mAh

Data taken from GSMArena. First column referred to Apple iPhone4, HTC Desire, Nokia X6, Samsung GalaxyS, Sony-Ericsson Xperia X10 and Motorola Milestone XT720. Second column is listing Xperia X1 data only.

There are differences, as obvious considering a two years old handset, but let’s keep in mind that “modern smartphone” is the union of the best characteristics of ALL the handset listed above. Furthermore, many of the differences are not related to the design itself but to the differences in technology between 2008 and now. I voluntarily omitted all the software features because are heavily dependent on the OS used and are not usually limited by the hardware platform. I installed Android 2.1 on the Xperia and is running fine, the only problem is the lack of drivers that made many peripherals not working properly or at all. But, again, it’s a support problem not a platform one.
The only real and big difference is the usage of resistive touchscreen. The lack of multitouch and the lack of touch UI were the death of WM phones concept. The new concept, however, has its drawback too. Of course Apple commercials (followed by all the other that choose “finger is better”) did not point this out, but the new design declared the death of the stylus.
It’s not a big loss indeed, but is a nice input method that I miss in newer phones. The touch concept with multitouch input is something that could be achieved even on resistive displays as shown by the great guys at XDA . Is also true that capacitive stylus are available as add-on so is not a real match of capacitive/multitouch against resistive/stylus. It’s just a matter of technical choices for the overall handset design.
I found a stylus really useful because I could take notes very quickly in written text and sketches, something that is really not good to be done with a finger. Furthermore the bigger the display the better the drawing. I could make a shopping list and delete things with just a line on the item and I could draw something with a simple paint-like software. That stylus (and the software that uses its use) is something I could live without, but that I’ll definitely miss in a new smartphone.

Long story short
Is what we currently have way better from two or three years in the past? Commercials aside, my opinion is no. If you have an old smartphone and manage not to be caught by “new is better” craziness, you probably just have what you really need in your hands. Your faithful device probably has also features lacking in the new handsets (such as the stylus or a IR port) that could be very useful for your daily use. Before rushing out to buy a 600€ new smartphone to replace a year old one, just honestly answer the question: “what do I really need from my unit?”
Match the answer against what you hold in hand… you’ll be surprised.

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