Saturday, March 22, 2008

My Retro Dream Phone

As I have mentioned before, I've been looking for a cell phone that both connects to the internet at reasonably high speed and functions as a pocket computer. So far as I can tell, there is nothing out there that is fully satisfactory for the purpose, indeed nothing much better than my current phone, a Nokia 9300. What I want is a 3G connection, a usable keyboard, and a screen with adequate size measured in both pixels and inches—5" diagonal and vga should about do it. There is at least one phone actually being sold, the Glofiish M800, with 3G, a keyboard and a vga screen, but the screen is less than 3," the keyboard doesn't look very good, and early users report a lot of problems. There is also one phone with 3G and an adequate screen—the HTC Advantage (also sold under other names). It has an odd design (two pieces connected by magnets), is relatively large and heavy and, perhaps most seriously, apparently has a keyboard whose keys don't move.

Thinking about it, it occurred to me that I already have my dream phone. It just needs a few minor improvements.

The Psion Revo was my pda of choice for years and one of my favorite gadgets ever. The screen has a diagonal measure of 5"; the keyboard is, for something its size, amazing. I can actually touch type on it, although not as well as on a standard keyboard. To convert it into my dream phone, all we have to do is:

Replace the screen with a color touch screen about 400x900.

Add the internals of a 3G cell phone.

Add a miniSD slot and a USB connection.

Camera and gps would be nice as well, but not essential.

The result would be bigger than almost most cell phones but still small enough to carry around all the time, as I used to carry my Revo. Assuming that replacing obsolete innards with their more up to date equivalent would leave weight and dimensions unchanged, we have:

157 mm x 79 mm x 17mm
200 g

For a comparison, the Advantage, the only phone I have so far found with an adequate screen, is:

133.5 mm (L) x 98 mm (W) x 20 mm (T) (with keyboard attached)
359 g

So my super Revo would be longer than the Advantage but smaller in overall volume and much lighter.

Of course, the Advantage is an unusually heavy phone. The M800 is smaller than the Revo but, at 178 g, only a little lighter. My 9300 is quite a lot smaller but, at 167 g, only about an ounce lighter.

Unfortunately, Psion exited the consumer market years ago after losing out in competition with Palm; I doubt they will reenter. But the Revo shows what it is possible to do in terms of screen size and keyboard while still keeping overall size and weight down to a tolerable level. Nokia, or Sony, or HTC could presumably license the keyboard design and work out the rest of my dream phone for themselves.

I have said nothing about software. I am reasonably happy with my Nokia 9300 but its successor, the E90, I found unworkable for several reasons, including its different and, in my judgment, much inferior version of the Symbion OS. I have no experience with Microsoft's competing OS. Perhaps, when my phone comes out, it should run Google's Android.


Anonymous said...

It's bigger and heavier than anything but the HTC Shift would accomplish everything you wanted.

Anonymous said...

I am unclear on why you want a single device to have all these features. Would it not be more plausible to get a G3 cell phone with bluetooth, and the rest of what you want in a palmtop that can use bluetooth to access the cell's data connection? (I say this as someone with a similar setup; I have a Palm T|X which connects via bluetooth to my 3G cell as a modem, and getts PPP from my cell carier.)

David Friedman said...

Robert suggests the HTC Shift. It weighs almost two pounds, which makes it poorly suited for something to carry with me all the time.

Siderea asks why I want a single device. I think the answer is that a single device would be less trouble than two devices that had to both be present and communicating. Besides, why have two screens, two keyboards, etc.?

Anonymous said...

Before exiting Wall Street and a ridiculous travel schedule I became enamored with a Toshiba Libretto... which is more computer than phone, but as wifi networks take over, using skype as your phone then as a combo-phone/laptop a Libretto could work.. But only if you really need a full computer. I gave up on a regular laptop and relied on the Libretto for just about everything when traveling.