Techno Retro

This morning I was riding on the train and spotted 2 commuters holding rather dated mobile phones. One is using the Sony Ericsson T610

and the other was using the Sony Ericsson P800.
Occasionally I would also spot a Nokia 6210 user.
These phones are still seen being used by people simply because they are fantastic phones. I know because I owned them previously.

Many of you probably feel that buying the latest gadget is the way to make a fashion statement. Such is no longer the case when everyone is getting the same gadget as you. It is the people who does not discard their devices and become a slave to technology that are the bravest and who stands out from the crowd.

Recently, Motorola announced that they are releasing a new StarTAC model for the Korean market (which reminds me that I actually spotted someone using the vintage StarTAC X several months back). Being a previous user of StarTAC X, this latest release sad-to-say does not contain the 'vintage' factor of what the car maker Mini does to the new Cooper, or VW does to the new Beetle. Motorola should use back the same colour scheme, similar original keypad button design, and maybe position the battery behind the LCD screen just like the original StarTac X. But that's just my opinion.

If vintage cars are treasured, why not mobile phones? One major difference is the advent of technology. Face it: old phones have limited features, and the interface sucks. The Ericsson T18 is a revolutionary handset with spring-open mouthpiece, super-thin and super-small form, and selling for S$1388 at launch. During the same period, Nokia has its 8850 (my mum still uses it right now), a beauty.

But there are small prices to pay for being different and being vintage, isn't it? And then there are those that don't even need those new technology, like colour screens, GPRS, 3G, camera. For instance, new phones have soft ringtones due to the polyphonic characteristics, no good for the elderly, who swears by the old and trusty phones that have piercing rings.

So now most handsets come with powerful-pixel camera, MP3, 3G, Wi-fi. And if you are wondering when the growth will stop, it ain't. Currently, the latest feature in new phones are GPS, mobile Voice-over IP (mVoIP), and HSDPA - also known as 3.5G. Well, if it sounds unfamiliar, then you probably don't need it. But for the curious, GPS allows you to pinpoint your exact location on Planet Earth, by identifying the latitude and longitude that the GPS transceiver detects from the GPS satellite. Mobile VoIP allows you to make phone calls via the Internet instead of via GSM, so you pay only the data usage instead of voice usage. It's not a new technology, but it's now integrated into mobile handsets. As for HSDPA, it just provides higher bandwidth to access multimedia content. And with the Apple iPhone over the horizon, it appears that the next trend might be touch-screen interactivity.

Speaking of which, I have been using my latest mobile phone, Sony Ericsson P990i, for a month. So am I considered a slave to fashion or latest technology? I used to. I remembered going gaga over Nokia 8210.

I even printed the picture of the phone on paper in life size and put it on my office desk for inspiration. After waited for 6 months, it finally launched (on 18 Feb 2000, I still remember that beautiful day) and I headed straight to the shop and paid $888 without contract.

Now, the craze is no more. Mobile phones are utility, not fashion. My previous phone lasted me almost 2 years. I remember telling myself when the P990i launched on Day One last August (retail at S$1288), that I'll only buy it at $600. Last month, I paid $600 and got it second hand. P990i is a natural transition from my then-P910i because besides the existing features, it comes with 3G data and video calls, Wi-fi connectivity, 2mp camera, FM radio feature. Although the drawbacks are insufficient RAM and laggy interface, it's not as bad as claimed on the Internet forums.

Buying mobile phones used to be an easy choice when there are less manufacturers and easier comparison. Now, it's a tough choice. And to add to the challenge, resale value of mobile phones are very low compared to the heydays due to increasing shorter product life cycle. Many of my previous phones are sold at about 70% of the prevailing market price even after using for 9 months. Now, you'd be lucky to find someone to buy it off you if your phone model is older than 6 months.

Trivial: the "TAC" in "StarTAC" stands for "Total Access Communication". Prior to StarTAC, Motorola came out with MicroTAC