Outing the Nokia N100?

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Wednesday morning sees the start of the S60 Summit in Barcelona, with Rafe and Ewan in attendance, more from them as it happens. See below, though, for photos and information on so-new-it's-almost-vapour Nokia N100 - the ultimate S60 smartphone? Plus my thoughts on Nokia's design strategies - maybe some of these will be taken on board by the manufacturers represented at the summit?

But first more on the Nokia N100 - you're dying to see it, after all:

Nokia N100

(OK, you've got me, this is a rather amateurish photoshop amalgam and can't be found in stores - so please don't email in! Read on for why I've pictured it...)

If there's one key theme that comes out of reviews of smartphones, over and over again, it's that every single design leaves something major out or has an obvious design flaw. For example:

Nokia N82: small and dim screen, fiddly keys
Nokia N95: smallish battery, low RAM, relatively flagile
Nokia N95 8GB: unprotected camera glass, still fragile
Nokia N93 and E90: far too many moving parts
Nokia N81: horrible screen that blacks out in bright light
Nokia E61i: low RAM, slow OS/processor

And that's just a handful of the latest Nokia-branded devices, off the top of my head. I've used Nokia as an example, but every other smartphone maker gets it wrong too. Even Apple. Somehow, something always gets left out or mucked up. And it's not just me that keeps observing this.

So, with this in mind, I've turned on my imagination and produced the Nokia N100 - there is nothing unrealistic in the spec and design here, this is not intended to be a fanboy wishlist - I'm simply trying to combine existing highlights from Nokia's S60 smartphone range into one device, with no silly compromises or strange design decisions. In short, there is no reason why the (ahem) N100 couldn't exist today.

Here's the breakdown:   (Not actual size, by the way!)

Nokia N100, annotated

Some extra notes (working from the top of the diagram above):

  • It's essential that any high-spec camera have a mechanical cover - the lens on the N95 8GB (and presumably N78 and N96) gets too scratched in real life, even under ideal conditions, producing slightly fuzzy results.
  • 2.8" is a minimum screen size - many rivals are in the 3" plus region. The days of tiny, hard-to-read displays are well and truly over - no squinting required!
  • It's an utter mystery to me why manufacturers keep on churning out designs like the N81 (for example) with low-tech screens that black out in sunlight. The transflective displays on (e.g.) the N95 and E61 are superbly visible, even in bright sunlight, outdoors - which is, after all, where you'll be using your smartphone a lot of the time, not in a darkened office.
  • There's a good reason why myself, Rafe, and numerous others from the smartphone world, all prefer candy bar designs when all is said and done. With no ribbon cables to break, no hinges to crack, no display wires to fracture, a candy bar smartphone will be more robust and longer-lasting than any other design, whatever materials are used.
  • A decent battery is a must. Anyone using the GPS, 3G, Wi-Fi and camera a lot in an existing current smartphone has to nurse it through a heavy day and charge every night. With a 1500mAh battery (Nokia make a lot of these for their Eseries range), you can leave everything on (more or less), all day, and simply not have to worry about ad-hoc recharges.
  • The 'Home' icon was an innovation for the Nokia E51 that deserves repeating across the range. A simple 'Home' icon makes a lot of sense on several levels - not least because it's the same behaviour as in the much-hyped Apple iPhone interface. You press the 'Home' button, you get to all your nice, shiny application icons.
  • Front keypad shortcuts to extra applications have been a feature on several recent Eseries devices, plus some designs from Samsung - and they're a great idea. Apps like Contacts, Calendar and Messaging are so core to the smartphone lifestyle that they deserve their own shortcut buttons - just as long as there's also a Settings dialog for changing the assignments - e.g. if the user prefers the third party Handy Calendar instead.
  • The experiment with the pencil thin keys on the Nokia N82 and Samsing i550 needs to end here. Regular sized keys are preferred by the majority of people and can look just as stylish. The bigger the keys, the less of a requirement for having fingers the size of toothpicks.
  • A 3.5mm audio jack is an absolute must. The Nokia N95 and N82 have shown that you can still have 4-way headset connections and TV out facilities through a standard sized jack - this should be standard across smartphones now.

Of, course, despite my eloquent(!) reasoning, you'll doubtless disagree with some of the above - in real life, there isn't one smartphone design that fits all. But my hope is that some of the S60 design teams present at the Barcelona summit get time to glance through this feature and ponder the N100...

Ideally, manufacturers would consult with, you know, real users, before finalising hardware designs. In this way, clunkers like the Nokia N93i (appalling screen and mike placement), Samsung i550 (appalling trackball control), Sony Ericsson P990i (appalling RAM spec) and Nokia N76 (appalling... err.... where do I start with this one?...) would never have been made and manufacturers would have saved themselves millions of dollars in development costs.

Steve Litchfield, All About Symbian, 27 May 2008