My Ideal Mobile Phone


Based on my experience testing the IBM Seer software on an Android phone [1] I have been considering what type of mobile phone to get when my current contract expires. Here are the features above what is common in current smart phones that I think most people will sorely miss if they don’t have them for the 2011-2012 period:

  1. Camera that takes reasonable quality pictures at a 5MP resolution.
  2. High resolution screen (VGA or better).
  3. GPS (for navigation and augmented reality.
  4. Digital compass for augmented reality.
  5. An open market for applications which allows free software to be installed – such as OpenSSH.

The first two items shouldn’t be a problem, there has been a constant trend towards better cameras and higher resolution screens in phones. The difficult ones are GPS and a Digital compass which require phone software to use them. I get the impression that Android and iPhone are going to share the market for fully functional smart phones (because they have the market of applications). So I predict that by 2012 the phone market will have iPhone and Android fully functional smart phones as well as budget phones that don’t support running applications (and will probably lack a compass and GPS).

Here are the features that while not essential, will greatly increase the experience of using a phone for serious users:

  1. At least 2G of storage built in – installing a 2G micro-SD card is not adequate.
  2. A screen that can be easily read during the day – maybe Pixel Qi.
  3. The ability to give a good quality of sound for playing video and audio recordings with a regular headphone jack (so I can use my Bose headset).

For my use a hardware keyboard (such as is used in the Motorolla A855 “Droid”) is essential. I want to have a pocket sized ssh client for emergencies, and I want to be able to type notes reasonably quickly.

I wonder what portion of the smart-phone user base actually needs a keyboard. I’ve seen many people who use a smart-phone as just a regular phone that can exchange photos. Even among people who are moderately serious about smart-phone use there are probably many who only want to take high resolution photos and tag them with GPS data. Currently there are no Android phones on sale in Australia that have a hardware keyboard, I’m worried that this may be an ongoing trend which will result in people with my requirements being forced to either pay significantly more or compromise on features due to the market meeting the needs of average people.

Finally I would like to have a smart-phone that has a regular USB port for plugging in devices (which would of course require an adapter as the size of a phone doesn’t permit a regular USB port). That would permit copying files from USB flash devices, driving a digital SLR camera, and printing photos directly to a USB printer. It would also allow connecting a USB video device, keyboard, and mouse to make a mobile phone work as a desktop workstation. Current smart phones have a lot more compute power than the desktop machines I was using in 1998, so there’s no reason that one couldn’t be used as a workstation with the appropriate peripherals.

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9 thoughts on “My Ideal Mobile Phone”

  1. The N900 seems to fit your needs and you should add it to your list.

  2. niq says:

    Nokia N900 has all of that, without even having to stretch a point to make that claim.

    I consider it more a pocket-‘puter than a ‘phone. My ideal ‘phone is smaller, more comfortable to hold in the hand (so smaller screen). In fact I love my E71.

  3. John Hughes says:

    Although the N900 is the best mobile phone available at the moment it misses etbe’s wantlist on two points – no compass and no support for usb host mode (you can use the N900 as a usb device, you can’t plug a usb device into the N900.

    Obviously neither of these was a deslbreaker for me!

  4. etbe says:

    John: Does the N900 have a screen that is really readable during the day? I feel safe in assuming that it hasn’t got anything near the quality of a PixelQi display, but it might have something significantly better than the phones I’ve used in the past.

    The Wikipedia page notes that previous Nokia devices had USB host support, so we can hope that they will do it again in the future.

    The N900 does sound promising, and being based on Debian the Maemo platform should have good application support.

    How good is the N900 camera?

  5. I don’t have to complain regarding readability during the day. Are you going to FOSDEM? I’m sure you could find a lot of N900 owners there that would be willing to show off and let you see what it looks like. :-)

    As for the camera, the Carl Zeiss lens and the 5MP sensor sure help with the quality of the pictures. I’m pretty sure you can find some pictures taken from an N900 on Flickr. In fact, here they are:

  6. wouter verhelst says:

    As many people already said, the N900 easily meets all of the above requirements, except for the USB host mode. However, with the N810, there’s a software hack which allows such things, and I see no reason why the same wouldn’t be true with the N900 (although I’m by no means an expert on the subject).

    Having said, that, it is perfectly possible to use the N900 as a laptop computer by way of the TV-out that it does have (it can produce either an NTSC or a PAL image) and a bluetooth keyboard, which it should also support (if it doesn’t, it’s still Linux, so you should easily be able to fix that)

  7. John Hughes says:

    The screen: I can read it if I take my glasses off :-) (50 years old, adding longsightedness to my myopia. Really have to get around to getting new bifocals).

    USB: Apparently Nokia left out USB host support in order to get the N900 out fast. (Getting USB “on the go” certified is apparently hard). Like you I hope they’ll add it to a future model, but there is exactly zero chance of it working on the existing N900 phones (needs hardware modifications).

    Personally I think the camera is crap, (totally useless in all but bright sunlight) but that may be due to software. Nokia Symbian phones with similar hardware are supposed to be quite good.

    By the way – did I mention that it’s the best phone in the universe?

  8. John Hughes says:

    (just a note about the screen – I take my glasses off to read the web or use ssh, I don’t need to to watch films &c).

  9. etbe says:

    Nokia doesn’t support OGG out of the box and is actively trying to prevent OGG being a standard – they want DRM.

    Nokia doesn’t sell the N900 in Australia or offer international warranty.

    Finally there is a design flaw that results in the USB port failing. If a device doesn’t work reliably for someone who is as careful as Dr May then I’m not going to touch it.

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