Saturday, 29 March 2008

Dammit, I knew there was a catch!

I am, for reasons of ergonomics, protecting the screen and providing the maximum available real estate to both screen and keypad, a fan of the flip design of phone. See most famously the impressive engineering but flat and unfinished styling of the Motorola Razer/RAZR and the Samsung A701 which has been pleasing and infuriating me in such successful turns that I'm beginning to think that it's a tool of psychological warfare.

But there's a problem with this position, which we shall place under the "right took for the job" file. The problem is this: GPS.

If you build something like GPS into a device, it works a little better if you make it so that the screen is visible all the time. Which is okay for a sliding form-factor, but tends to bugger up a flip. Which gives me somewhat of a situation flavoured faintly like a dilemma. The obvious solution is to do what flip-phone stalwarts Samsung and Motorola (or what remains of Motorola, anyway) have already done, which is to put a high-quality screen on the outside of the phone as well. But that sort of redundancy, of duplication of services, offends what's left of my sense of elegance of aesthetics and is no solution at all.

Neither is relying on voice commands, through a speaker or headset, when the phone is closed. So we move to a slightly less inelegant solution, the flip-twist. This design is hardly new, having been used at least since Sony was building a Palm-powered line of PDAs glorifying under the ludicrous name of Clie (pronounced Clee-ay, and with an accent I think), and having since defined the tablet PC, as well as appearing on several awesome models of Sharp's Zaurus Linux-powered PDAs and the odd (and sometimes extremely odd) mobile phone. The essence is that the device hinges open to reveal the screen and then, if desired, rotates through 180 degrees and folds back down over the keypad to leave you with a compact device with, crucially, an exposed screen.

Nokia did half of this design on a line of camera-focused phones that they appear to be letting quietly die (the final one being the N93i), and Samsung have recently introduced the same hinge into a phone focused on mobile TV and glorying in the defensive moniker of "Widescreen". Sad, I know. In fact, almost as sad as Samsung's website. Those devices used an offset rotating hinge so that the screen could either be used like a video camera's flip-out screen, with a fat camera mounted inside the usual hinge and pointing sideways, or like a portrait-mode screen for peering intently at tiny little videos where you can't see any of the detail or read subtitles.

So it can be done. Should it? good question. Will it? highly unlikely, I'm afraid. There are candybar phones with GPS, and sliders, so why would anyone bother? Mind you, if anyone does, it will almost certainly be Nokia who does it.

One sentence review of "The Other Boleyn Girl"

Do not meddle in the affairs of kings, for they are childish, petulant and capricious.

Thursday, 27 March 2008

Is this supposed to be that fucked?

If there is one piece of technology design that needs to be obliterated on pain of considerable amounts of pain, it is this: Power plugs that are too wide to fit next to other plugs. Has anyone worked this out? Some companies have avoided this by putting the big chunky transformer halfway along the cord, with perhaps another cord plugged into it to help with adapters for different countries. But this gets messy and most just give up, and give you something that takes up so much space that you need a four-socket power board just for two devices.

And then there's Samsung. My growing annoyance with this manufacturer was given a good boost this morning when I attempted to move the charger from where it was plugged into a mega-powerboard behind my computer to somewhere it could be both plugged in and get reception at the same time. The adapter is very neat and svelte and quite sexy. And goes off to the left. When sitting in the powerpoint, it takes a sharp left turn. I couldn't put it there because it would run into the wall. I couldn't put it in the right-hand side of that double powerpoint because it would block off the left-hand side. I tried putting it in a powerboard, but between the power pack for the cordless telephone and the plug for the digital clock, there wasn't enough room. I now have three devices plugged into two powerboards.

I have to wonder: What do the designers of these products do at home?

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