Despite quickly slapped together responses to the iPhone last year, most handset makers have been taking their time to make a proper response to Apple's wunderentfettungseinrichtung. (I'm pretty sure that means "wonderful degreasing device," which iPhone owner can tell you is a perfectly accurate description.)
There's a mobile conference going on in Barcelona this week. Unlike the mobile phone conferences we have here in the States, it's sort of a big deal, and most of the important and innovative handsets are being talked up. Two in particular caught my eye, which is saying something, since I tend to find the glacial upgrade process and reticence to risk-taking design tedious.
The Nokia N96 is the follow-up to the wildly popular N95—at least wildly popular in the rest of the world. Although the N95 was released in the States, it never quite became the default object of lust for USians. The N96 is cut from the same jib, but with upgrades all around, both in features—dual-LED flash for its 5-megapixel camera, DVB-H mobile TV tuner, and 16GB of built-in storage as well as a microSD slot—and in looks. It's very nice looking in general and the dual-sliding action that reveals either a keypad or a set of secondary gaming/media buttons with which to play N-Gage titles looks nice.
What it lacks, just as its predecessor did, is a proper keyboard. Nokia makes several models of smartphones with QWERTY keyboards, but they tend to be bigger and clunkier. Why they don't think QWERTY is appropriate for their flagship is anyone's guess, but I suspect it has something to do with the European perception of what makes a handset a handset.
The N96 will probably be released in North America at some point in the future, even if it's just available direct from Nokia, but for now it's only been announced in Europe with corresponding 3G bands.
Product Page [NSeries.com]
Sony Ericsson's XPERIA X1 is a step in a new direction for the company, pushing not only a large, tactile QWERTY keyboard (hidden under a curved "arc-slider") but Windows Mobile 6. Previous Sony Ericsson models tended to use a custom version of Symbian, the same OS used by Nokia.
A motion-sensitive screen reorients depending on, uh, orientation—very iPhone—and a new "Panel" interface that can be used with the touchscreen without sliding out the keyboard. The screen is huge and high resolution, the processor should be plenty powerful, and it's got the standard complement of 3G and Wi-Fi built in.
It is, in short, a kitchen sink device of the first order, and presuming that Sony Ericsson can add the same level of polish to Windows Mobile that they did to Symbian (a tougher, but still doable task, I think) they'll have quite the device on their hands. I think it's going to be too large to really be considered an iPhone killer—that sliding keyboard, while definitely appealing to me, will make this too big for many pockets; the iPhone is 11.6mm thick, the X1 is 17mm—but it's the first SE phone in which I've been interested for a while.
Sony's got a dedicated project page up if you'd like to take a look at pictures. I'd expect the X1 in late '08 for the better part of a thousand dollars, although nothing official has been announced.
Product Page [SonyEricsson.com]