Mobile mockery

The choices are endless -- but do we really need everything our mobile phone sells us?

The choices are endless -- but do we really need everything our mobile phone sells us?

I have just embarked on a quest to find a new mobile phone -- my old phone was not as reliable as I would have liked with several keypad failures and particularly weak reception. It's my fault, I rarely wear a jacket and end up wearing my phone in my trouser pocket, so my last purchase was an ultra-light and ultra-small phone. Reception was fine in the Melbourne CBD but the Lab is 20km out in a bad reception area, and my home is even worse, so the convenience of size was soon outweighed by the inconvenience of not being able to use the blasted thing!

We recently tested a whole swag of business smart phones. I was sorely tempted by some of the phones' features but for me they were either too large a form factor -- definitely not pocket friendly -- or lacked one or two features that I consider show stoppers.

I'm impossible to please; I see what is available and then think to myself "if only it had more memory, or a better camera, or some other feature". Of course you can keep going this way forever but I needed a new phone sooner rather than later so I took a look on the Web. A few models caught my eye: the Samsung SGH-D500, Motorola Razr, Nokia N91, Sony Ericsson W800, and Sony Ericsson K750i.

The Samsung looked sweet, small, and compact and had good connectivity, MP3 playback, and a 1.3 megapixel camera. But the lack of a radio was a concern (one of the Labs guys swears by the radio in his phone when away on business trips!).

But the show stopper for me is the lack of memory expansion -- at just 92MB this phone is practically useless for MP3. This also killed my desire for the Razr. Sadly, the supermodel Razr is an airhead with hardly any internal memory.

The Nokia N91 looks superb and goes head to head with the Sony Ericsson W800 -- both are portable "Walkmans" that happen to have mobile phones built in. They can rip directly from a sound source, have superb audio quality, a two-megapixel camera, and can be expanded to 4GB and 2GB of internal memory respectively. They have enough gadgets to keep me happy for a long time with the Nokia edging the Sony out for first place because of its wide connectivity with WCDMA, and EGPRS for exceptionally fast download speeds, and very wide file-format support. But then came time for the reality check; would I actually use all this "fluff"?

In the end I settled on the Sony Ericsson K750i -- it too has a radio, two-megapixel camera, MP3 capabilities, is quite small, has good contact management features, and can be expanded to 2GB. Oh, and this phone also has great mobile-phone functionality with strong reception.

A new batch of phones soon to be released features 4GB of internal memory as standard! This was not solid-state memory but rather a tiny microdrive. When I bought my first 40MB 5.25 inch half-height hard drive, I dreamt of the days when the price of a drive would drop to $1 a MB and the drive would be small enough to fit in a portable PC. But now you can by a 120GB (120000MB) hard drive for a couple of hundred dollars.

The increase in data density on hard drives has actually left microprocessor development and Moore's Law in its dust. I saw in interesting comparison on the Web the other day that I will leave you with. In 1956 the first hard drives had a data density of 2000 bits per square inch. In 1990 this had exploded to 100 million bits, and today hard drives have 100 billion (Giga) bits per square inch, representing a 50-million-fold increase in density since the hard drive's inception. The author was predicting 200Gbs within two years and 400 to 500Gbs in the next four years!

Steven Turvey is Lab Manager of the RMIT IT Test Labs. Send feedback to

This article was first published in Technology & Business magazine.
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