August 13, 2002
6:39 AM   Subscribe

We've seen some cool mobile phones before, but looking at the current North American cell phone offerings, I'm sorely disappointed. AT&T seems to have the latest/greatest phones, but their service is by far the worst. T-mobile has the Sony Ericsson t68. But none of these phones can compare to some of those picture snapping Japanese Jskies and i-modes, and cool European Nokias. How hard is it to bring these technologies to the North American GSM network?
posted by mad (38 comments total)
When I need to make a call on a cell phone, I generally look for one feature. The ability to make a call. Do we really need all these extra features?
posted by bradth27 at 6:50 AM on August 13, 2002

bradth27:Do we really need all these extra features?

I'd doubt you own nothing that you don't need.
posted by Hall at 6:52 AM on August 13, 2002

Find me a good GSM carrier and I'd consider it. Cingular? Voicestream? Not where I live. Forget about "cool phones" and focus on "widely available, quality network" instead. The phones are incidental.

The network is what counts, and no US mobile company has a network even close to what the foreign companies have in their own markets. Of course that's due to national telco/PTT monopolies and the fact that mobile networks are insanely expensive to roll out (especially on the scale that is the US) and that it was just smarter/cheaper to standardize on one protocol in the EU or Asia (GSM) than it was to compete with mulitple protocols like we have in the US (CDMA, TDMA, GSM, etc. etc.)
posted by gen at 6:52 AM on August 13, 2002

The only new feature I want to see is a tiny spike that automatically punches into the frontal lobe of any cell-phone user when it detects them using it whilst driving, and lobotomizes them....or is that redundant?
posted by MrBaliHai at 6:54 AM on August 13, 2002

it's damn dangerous! now you have a vehicle traveling 70mph with a lobotomized cretin at the wheel. oh wait, no difference, i guess...
posted by quonsar at 6:59 AM on August 13, 2002


Sure, I own a lot of things that I don't need. But I usually buy the item for one singular purpose. For instance, my DVD player plays.....DVD's. My pants cover my butt. My My car gets me to work and back. and on and on.
What I am trying to say is.... do I need a cell phone that has a dolphin screensaver, will brush my teeth for me every morning, will check my email, will download an Ebook so I can try to read it on this tiny little screen, and baby-sit my kid so the wife and I can go out to dinner?
No. I need a cell phone that makes calls. That's it. Damn it, if it has a rotary dial on it, I don't care. I just want to make a call.
posted by bradth27 at 7:00 AM on August 13, 2002

and some day, cell phones may be able to do just that!
posted by quonsar at 7:02 AM on August 13, 2002

Don't forget the company you contract to.

I have been with Orange for years and their customer service has been nothing short of superb. i have left phones on my car roof, slammed them in doors, dropped them in pints, and Orange still deliver me a new one each time within 24hrs by bike courier.
posted by Frasermoo at 7:06 AM on August 13, 2002

I don't have a cell phone. I guess I could say "yet", its inevitable, right? I was in tokyo last summer and couldn't get over the number of cell phones, EVERYWHERE. The jphone was pretty dang cool. It was smaller than anything here, it was color, smaller, and cooler. Maybe i'll get something once cell tech hits the next plateau, if that ever happens
posted by tomplus2 at 7:09 AM on August 13, 2002

Glad to see things haven't changed around here when someone mentions cell phones. *bleah* If you live in the States, you might as well get used to them. I can't walk three feet without seeing someone talking on their cell phone or sending an SMS message and I'm in Budapest, Hungary!

Actually, I have to tell you: I'm in love with SMS. Although every now and then, I wonder why not call the person instead of sending 10 or 20 messages back and forth, but it's a price thing. And it beats the HELL out of voice mail for all but the wordiest people or messages.
posted by fooljay at 7:10 AM on August 13, 2002

No one in the US uses GSM on the same frequencies as the Euros, so you need either US-specific phones or tri-bands that work in Europe and the US. Dual-band phones, like the way-swank Nokia 5510 don't work in the US. I was hoping that Cingular's nationwide GSM rollout will be across a Euro frequency. But it looks like it will be another US-specific hack. The real problem is that US consumers have shown no willingness to pay additional fees for downloadable ringtones, cartoons and SMS messaging to help fund network upgrades.

We're reaping the "let the market decide" approach to technology that Congress has traditionally taken. Coming soon to a theatre near you, "let the market decide II: HDTV". "Let the market decide III: DRM" is currently in production.
posted by jonnyp at 7:12 AM on August 13, 2002

Service is one issue. Making calls is #1, but once you have that ability you start to wonder why you carry around this device that can only make calls when other countries are carrying around one device that contains an integrated address book, a digital camera, portable gaming, mp3 audio, aol instant messaging, sync your outlook calendar, etc.

I'm just asking why its so hard to have that when its already available elsewhere. It can't be that hard to adapt those GSM phones to our tri-band GSM network. We're idiots for not using the GSM standard and now I pay because I can't play Pac-Man and take pictures with my phone, SMS my European friends, download Brittney ringtones, and customize my background!
posted by mad at 7:16 AM on August 13, 2002

I'm very satisfied with my Kyocera 6035 Palm Pilot - phone - wireless internet combo on Verizon CDMA, and am avidly looking forward to its successor the Kyocera 7135, which will run on Verizon's 3G network. However, my IT department is committed to BlackBerry only for integrated corporate wireless e-mail, so I have to carry a BB too, for the forseeable future.
posted by MattD at 7:24 AM on August 13, 2002

I can't live without my cell phone and my palm. They both aid me in keeping track of everything in my life. How nice would it be to have them all in one? I don't think that is too much to ask. Sure you can say I don't need it, but do we really need amenities such as color TV's? high speed internet? no, but they make life more enjoyable and maybe even a little easier.
posted by bmxGirl at 7:26 AM on August 13, 2002

bmxGirl: I was in the same boat. Got a Handspring Treo, and really enjoy the integration.
posted by Fofer at 7:31 AM on August 13, 2002

Text messaging is an especially important part of my life, as it's how I keep in touch with loved ones back in the Philippines, and on arriving here, I was surprised to see how far behind American phones were compared to the rest of the world. Why is it taking GSM tech so long to catch on here in the US, anyway?

(On the other hand, the wireless AIM on my Voicestream Nokia 3390 is a unique plus, I must say. Now I can update my blog by SMS. ^_^ )
posted by brownpau at 7:36 AM on August 13, 2002

Do you really think you'll see these attached to peoples' hips, here in the US?
posted by Gargantuan at 7:36 AM on August 13, 2002

Fofer - I hope you got a hands-free earpiece with the Treo; otherwise you'll forever be alternating between ear and hand when writing down notes from a call. ;D
posted by brownpau at 7:37 AM on August 13, 2002

Sprint's new PCS Vision service has phones with large color screens that play games, take pictures, net access, etcetera.

Now where's my check?
posted by toothgnip at 7:38 AM on August 13, 2002

European phone companies are in near ruin due to anticipating demand for neato phones that never materialized. Im very happy with my Verizon non-GSM phone (I think).

--thought: pay phones are almost gone

--thought: at least one carrier has started called weekend minutes "bonus minutes." Is this a preclude to the end of unlimited off-peak minutes?

--question: has anyone done the math on Verizon's new bundling of wired, wireless and DSL service?
posted by ParisParamus at 7:40 AM on August 13, 2002

But we do have super-cool cell phones!

Wait ... nevermind.
posted by poq at 7:41 AM on August 13, 2002

Here is the main(best) reason why GSM hasn't been adopted here in the US.
posted by Gargantuan at 7:50 AM on August 13, 2002

Hopefully you'll take the testimony of a Tokyoite as relatively authoritative: i-Mode sucks. Unless you're primarily interested in downloading ringtones, branded low-res animations, and exchanging inanities one painful syllable at a time - and paying through the nose for the privilege - you don't need it.

A deeper analysis is here:

The article is a little over a year old, but still not entirely irrelevant. Enjoy, if thou wilt.
posted by adamgreenfield at 8:05 AM on August 13, 2002

Actually, the best reason is that there isn't a demand. Remember, unlike those godless heathens in Europe and Japan, we drive everywhere in the US of A. By ourselves!

Huge percentages of us now have computers with internet access at home and highspeed access at work... so all this extra stuff, let's face it, there's no demand.

Sure, we yack on the phone in our cars, but we don't really have the need or desire to use "advanced" features on a 2 inch screen.
posted by ph00dz at 8:07 AM on August 13, 2002

I think you nailed it there, ph00dz. At least for me, I don't need wireless internet and all that other stuff (well, not most of the time...) because I'm quite often in environments where it's not desirable to have complex interaction between me and the phone. IE I'm driving. Or asleep. (or both!)

My phone (a Nokia 6360), while relatively feature-rich, is limited in the "cool features" department. Ok, so it can download ringtones and it's got rather good voice recognition. Big deal (actually, the voice recognition is a handy little tool...). Compared to the next-gen phones listed in the post, it's nothing. What little it does, it does well (or at least well enough for my needs).

(though that 9210 is mad sexy...)
posted by sigma7 at 8:29 AM on August 13, 2002

SMS, EMS, MMS, e-mail, video are all happening just now in Europe and SE Asia. SMS now accounts for as much as 12% of ARPU for European operators, and whilst voice will remain the core application in the near future, in five years time it will become increasingly less important.

In Europe and South East Asia a variety of wireless networks, from 2.5G, 3G and wifi will deliver a increasingly wide set of applications to an increasingly various set of terminals.

Those who see "wireless" as being just about phones, should look to the multiple applications that computers are currently used for.
posted by johnny novak at 8:36 AM on August 13, 2002

I'll tell ya, my Ericsson T28 is the best phone I've ever used and it has almost no 'supercool features.' It does have 5 hours of talk time and a week standby (w/ optional enhanced battery). I got a new phone with whizbang features and sold it back because it had less than a quarter the battery life. Seems like a misreading of what features people really need. My list:

1.) shortcuts that allow you to whip through the interface (motorola makes you navigate through menus everytime for everything.)

2.) long battery life (as in go on a camping trip with one battery and still have 25% of it left when you get back. I can't wait until we have a month of standby time.)

3.) thin! the T28 is about .5" thick. Small, thick phones don't fit in the pocket as well as slightly larger thinner phones do.

4.) won't dial your boss when it's in your pocket so he can hear you badmouth him without having to lock your keyboard. (this actually is #1)

5.) The earpiece speaker amplifier must get loud enough to hear people over Manhattan's din.

the sad thing is that the newer phones all seem to be moving away from all of these things. they are fatter, quieter, battery-sucking, and have crappy UIs but they have a long feature list. What gives?
posted by n9 at 8:44 AM on August 13, 2002

i don't need any of these multimedia features, but i'd love to have a golden phone that matches with my fake rolex.
posted by arf at 9:04 AM on August 13, 2002

With creativity, we can accomplish a lot with what we have. My phone only does text messaging, but using a mySQL database on a BSD box running postfix (a mail program like sendmail), I've turned this little thing into a PDA.
posted by greasepig at 9:09 AM on August 13, 2002

Do we really need all these extra features?

How wonderfully Luddite of you!

(I'm moving from Manila to New York to get my masters in a few weeks and got Nokia's triple band 6310i here in preparation for the move -- Bluetooth and GPRS, oh my. Great phone, and Nokia's menus are still better than those on Sony Ericsson's T68i.)
posted by lia at 9:12 AM on August 13, 2002

Oh holy cow, I forgot one of the coolest features of the phones here in Europe.

Your battery is running low. You're expecting a really important call. Your charger is at home. What do you do?

Ask your friend if you can use their phone for a bit. Pop out the phone chip standard and plug it into the other phone (no matter the make and model) and their phone becomes your phone. Someone calls your number and their phone rings.

Woooooot! I love it.
posted by fooljay at 9:23 AM on August 13, 2002

What a load of wet blankets!
My wonderful Nokia 5510 from Genie/o2 cost me nothing to buy, has 600 free SMS / month, - all for £20/month ($30?).
It has an FM radio, records from it if i want, MP3 player which connects via USB to my pc to swap files I got from WinMx, alarm, Reminders and calculator. If I want I can play games and send picture messages. It accesses WAP (no biggie there, admittedly) and has hands free as standard.

It also allows me to speak to people who are a long way away with 50 free anytime/anywhere minutes.

The phone is a great toy AND tool. I can't live without it & my pc anymore.
[/ends commercial]

In the UK, we haven't had a telco monopoly for nearly 20 years: admittedly, in landlines British Telecom have a huge market share, but their lumbering reaction to market changes holds em back. In the meantime, their old fashioned strangle hold on the local loop is delaying the takeup of Broadband over here. Mobile services [ run by Vodafone, Orange, BT - via Cellnet, Genie & 02 - , One2One, Virgin, et al] over here are v. competitive, tho' the fallout from exorbitant 3G prices paid has yet to settle. Each operator attempts to have 100% coverage.

The issue of a hands off gov't attitude to standards is a red herring. The companies choose not to collaborate and cut their overall costs. None of your US mobile networks appear to have satisfactory coverage, and it hampers further development of the market. Which I think is a shame, but what ya gonna do?
posted by dash_slot- at 9:43 AM on August 13, 2002

MattD: The new BlackBerry 5810's have a GSM cell phone build in.
posted by mfli at 10:10 AM on August 13, 2002

What ya gonna do? Stop having a government paid for and sponsored by corporations
posted by ParisParamus at 10:15 AM on August 13, 2002

T-Mobile is apparently going to be offering these bad boys sometime this fall is select US locations. They include voice, internet (email browser) and some rudimentary PIM functionality. According to this article, they will cost around 200.00 with a 40.00 monthly fee for limited phone and Internet service.
posted by harrylime at 10:28 AM on August 13, 2002

Yep, space is an issue. Or maybe I should say coverage versus acreage. Its easy to have coverage for a small country, but here in the US people want near to 100% coverage or nothing. When they are driving across the middle of nowhere they want it.
posted by tomplus2 at 11:05 AM on August 13, 2002

IMHO the coverage here in the U.S. is perfectly adequate. All the major cities are covered by almost all of the major carriers and even here in the boonies of the midwest amongst the corn and soybeans, I can choose from a variety of GSM, TDMA, and CDMA carriers. When I went up to Canada, I got perfect coverage along the way and was able to roam onto a Canadian carrier. I rather like the choice of different technologies since I can choose between cool GSM phones like the Sony-Ericsson T68i or the new CDMA2000 phones such as the Samsung A500. The only thing lacking is the use of SIM's with non-GSM phones which Qualcomm is working on for CDMA (I believe they already use a form of it in China for their CDMA phones).
posted by gyc at 2:45 PM on August 13, 2002

I was very much against getting a cell phone until i realized i could get a visorphone for free. I realize i'll sound like an add, but the thing turns my $100 visor into a phone, sms messager, web browser, and email messenger (though it took awhile to find an actual free independent isp). It's all through voicestream ($30 for 200 minutes and free weekends) and it's nationwide. I love when technology moves so quick that once ridiculously priced items (say $300) are given away. The only draw back is that everyone thinks i'm nuts when i put my visor up to my head and start talking.

Of course i now want my next pda to be a 2 mpix camera, a phone, full color, have voice recognition,...and of course brush my teeth.
posted by NGnerd at 4:02 PM on August 13, 2002

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