Previewing the Motorola A1010

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Rafe takes a first look at Motorola fourth Symbian phone the A1010. Announced at 3GSM it packs a lot of features including WiFi, 3G, and AGPS into a pen driven UIQ tablet form factor. It is a powerful phone and should see wider release than the previous models.

a1010 mockup modelThe Motorola A1010 is the fourth Symbian OS / UIQ device from Motorola following on from the A920, A925 and A1000. It the latest in the series of high end 3G tablet format communicators that Motorola have indicated will continued to be developed. It runs UIQ 2.1 which means the principal form of input is via a stylus. With the announcement Motorola is now the third ranking licensee in terms of number of Symbian OS devices announced after Nokia and Fujitsu. This will likely change when Sony Ericsson announces its series UIQ devices, but it is ironic considering that Motorola is often seen as the least supportive of Symbian from the major handset manufacturers. In reality that is not true, but Motorola see Symbian as just one plank of their strategy and their usage of it is driven more by custom demand that any potential economic of scale, control or technical imperatives as is the case with other licensees.

Curiously the key change from the A1000 to the A1010 was not mentioned in any of the press releases or indeed the specifications. Speaking to Bill Werner, a Motorola VP, I was told the key difference between the A1000 and the A1010 was the addition of WiFi. There's more from that interview in Ewan's write up. Clearly the addition of WiFi would be a significant move. The A1010 would be the second Symbian phone to support it (after the 9500) and would undoubtedly broaden the appeal of the phone, especially in Motorola's home US market. It also has interesting possibilities for VOIP (voice over Internet protocol) applications, which allow you to make voice calls using the Internet as your network. This was hinted at in a joint announcement by Motorola and Skype (a VOIP provider) that went largely unnoticed. In it Skype and Motorola announced their intention to work together to integrate Skype out of the box into some high end 3G and WiFi Motorola handsets. Although the A1010 was not specifically mentioned it seems a likely candidate and ties in with Skype's commitment to support other mobile platforms (currently it only supports Windows Mobile).

The rear camera has also been upgraded to 2 megapixels for still and video capture which should give some good results. The front camera remains at VGA resolution for video calling. Extra memory, currently up to 512 MB, can be added via the proprietary TransFlash cards. The business user is well catered for with VPN support and the ability to view office formats, pdf and other popular formats via the Picsel document viewer. Multimedia is also catered for with stereo MP3 playback available via a headset and support for streaming audio and video. Messaging support is beefed up with support for Instant Messaging added, although the protocol used is not yet clear. The Assisted GPS remains provide support for location based services. In the first models this wasn't much used, but there is an increasing amount of software available that does support the use of the built in AGPS. Notable among these are the car navigation products such as WayFinder. Having the GPS built in rather than linked via Bluetooth is an obvious advantage. We are also likely to see more Operators starting to take advantage of the location information.

There's only so much I can tell you about the A1010 in use since there was no working demo model available. Probably because if there are any they are not yet stable enough to be let out in public. The earliest release date mentioned was Q4 2005, with 2006 being mentioned as the global launch date. That probably means the handset is about half way through its development life cycle. Typically smartphone takes about 2 years to go from the first idea to the first product. That time scale does of course vary greatly depending on the type of phone and the level of experience within the product development team. Although the A1010 may appear little changed from the A1000 it is likely that the integration of the WiFi into the unit will take a significant chunk of development time. Symbian does not support WiFi within the OS, and so that is something that Motorola will have to develop and integrate themselves.

The shape is much the same as the A1000, though the design is a little less rounded. The buttons and general layout remain much the same. Thanks mainly to its tablet form factor it is still a large phone, but nothing like the pocket ripping monsters that were the A920 and A925, and it feels like there is a lot less unused space.

The A1010 is a technically very impressive phone integrating the leading mobile technologies including triband GSM, WCDMA, a multi mega pixel camera, Bluetooth, WiFi, and AGPS. Thus far the models have been limited to a single network, but that is set to change for both the A1000 and A1010, which Motorola says will be available globally on many networks. Together with the addition of WiFi this should mean you will be seeing a lot more of Motorola A series UIQ phones.

Rafe and Ewan also caught up with Bill Werner from Motorola at 3GSM - you can read the interview here.