12 May 2010

Portable Device History

My first PDA was a Psion 5, followed by a Psion 5mx in the late 1990s - possibly the most advanced handheld gadgets of their time, and with a QWERTY keyboard that in my view has still never been beaten on a pocketable device.  With the device open on a desk, I could actually touch type on it.  I ran my life on that thing, with no thought of synchronising with anything else - nor any desire to.  It had my calendar (most smartphone calendar apps these days could still learn a thing or two from Agenda), my contacts, my personal finances (courtesy of the brilliant RMRBank, with very slick integration with RMRFuel et al), my ToDo list (RMRTask), my supermarket shopping list (RMRShop), and all sorts of useful little snippets and documents.

After my screen cable failed (a common problem), and Psion had stopped producing the machine I searched around for a replacement.  The Palm didn't appeal to me, so I bought a newfangled Windows Mobile PDA - a Dell Axim 5.  When that died, I replaced it with a Dell Axim 50v.  The whole Windows Mobile period was pretty much a low point in my PDA timeline.  I've always liked physical QWERTY keyboards, and I never found a data entry method that I was happy with on the WinMo devices (and believe me, I tried loads).  I also hated the underlying assumption in Windows Mobile that the device was inherently "just" a portable copy of your PC.  Everything had to sync to Microsoft products on the PC with ActiveSync, and if there was any conflict, the PC won.  I never liked Outlook anyway, and was still used to running my life on the PDA, not the PC, so as far as I was concerned that whole approach stank.  The only saving grace on Windows Mobile was ListPro from IliumSoft - a brilliant and highly configurable list making application that could be used for ToDo lists, (reusable) shopping lists, (reusable) packing lists, and pretty much any other kind of list you might care to mention.  Try as I might, I've never found anything as powerful or useful on any other platform.  There was a PC version too, with synchronisation, although strangely I actually much preferred the Mobile UI for day-to-day use ;-).  

Then things took a turn for the better:  Nokia released the E70, a gull-wing QWERTY keyboard when open, with T9 keyboard when closed, and running what was then Series 60. After that, I progressed to the S60 communicator, the Nokia E90.  This time a brick of device with T9 on the outside and QWERTY and an enormous screen on the inside. It took over from my iPod as my music player, and I started to use it as my Podcatcher. In fact, downloading and playing podcasts became a core requirement. Sadly, because of the unusual screen dimensions on the internal screen, Nokia didn't keep the software updated as enthusiastically as they did for other devices, and anyway, what I really wanted was a more media-centric device. I wanted N-series with QWERTY. So, I pre-ordered the Nokia N97 (released on 19 June 2009), and despite its early problems was generally rather pleased with it.  

However, in parallel with all this, I was increasingly using Google's services for email, calendaring (I maintain at least 10 Google calendars, some of which are shared with others), and have read access to a number of others (either public, or shared with me by friends and family).  Early in 2010 I set up my domain to use Google Apps for Your Domains (aka GAYFD, or now - rather confusingly - just known as Google Apps).  I use Google Reader for RSS feeds, Google docs for documents I want to share, or may need when I'm out and about.  In short, I'm increasingly dependent on (and happy with) Google's services in general (plus Evernote and Dropbox), and I am increasingly running my life "in the cloud".  When the N97 was released, I considered the G1.  Android seemed to be a better fit with the way I was running my online life, but at the time, Android and the Android Marketplace were in their infancy and not yet up to what I needed from MY phone.  

A year on, and things had moved on fast in the Android world, but I was still tied into a 2 year contract on my N97.  However, a tweet from Steve Litchfield (of AllAboutSymbian and The PhonesShow fame, who I originally met back in my Psion days) alerted me to a way to try out Android.  Orange had dropped the price of the Motorola DEXT (aka CLIQ in the USA) to a very affordable £150 on a PAYG contract.  Having checked that I would be able to unlock it, I bought it (in April 2010) and promptly fell in love with Android.  Yes, it only ever officially ran 1.5 (Cupcake), so there were lots of things (turn-by-turn directions from Google Maps, in particular) that I can't use, but it dovetailed so well with my life in the cloud that I put up with the frankly inferior hardware for a while.

I was originally holding out until a) my contract expired, and b) somebody released a full Google Experience handset with a physical QWERTY keyboard, hopefully with a decent camera too! :o).  It never happened, but I decided that I could voluntarily manage without physical QWERTY for the first time in my life, and bought a Nexus One.

My contract expired, and as I was getting increasingly frustrated with the lack of application memory on my N1 while I was waiting for the NFC-enabled version of the Samsung Galaxy S2 to be released in the UK (which never happened), I bought a second hand Nexus S to tide me over.

Next up was the Galaxy SIII, which served me well for a year or so.  I liked it, and I liked the physical home button, but there came a point when an extended battery was struggling, and it wasn't getting updates.  Also, I had definitely fallen out of love with a physical button on Android.  By this time I was off contract, and haven't bought a device on contract since.

Then came the Sony Xperia Z2.  I liked the phone in principle, but in practice, it was uncomfortable (for me) to hold without some sort of case on it, and I don't like cases because at the time I was making heavy use of Brodit powered mounts in my car.  So, when the Z3 compact was released, I pounced on it.  (I actually took delivery of it from Clove at the March of the Droids event in Bournemouth in May 2014.) 

I also had a Sony Z-Ultra (which I treated as an ultra-portable tablet which lives in my handbag, rather than as a phone), an original Nexus 7, and a Tesco Hudl2, which was just such good value. 

Since then, I've kept the principle of a pocketable phone (even though they've grown in size of the years) plus a handbag sized phablet for larger screen, longer battery life and hotspot use. 
Sony Xperia Z5
Huawei P10
Nokia 8 (Android One)
Nokia 7.2 (Android One)
Xiaomi Mi 10T Lite
Huawei P8 Max (imported from China via Amazon UK)
Xaomi Mi Max 3

I did get a Gemini on the Indiegogo campaign but it seems that time has moved on, and my keyboard preferences are no longer met by the Psion 5-style keyboard.  What I'd really like is an Asus Flip-style of phablet.  Preferably with a full chrome browser rather than the mobile one.  But I guess I'm in a really small minority 😉. 

These days, I've given up on the Brodit mounts, choosing something more generic that both my partner and I can use, even if we don't use the same device.  Android Auto has also moved on since the days when it locked down your phone, and is now on our wishlist for our next car.  And all of that means that I can use cases on my devices.  I typically have a clear case on my phone, and a folio / flip case on my phablet (partly to protect the screen from getting scratched going in and out of my handbag). 

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