Shoe PhoneA short time ago, I read an interview with a science fiction writer (I forget who, regrettably) who was lamenting the fact that he was going to have to extensively re-write one of his stories.  The reason?  The story in question was about to be made into a film (or possibly a television program) but before this could happen the ‘technology’ in the story had to be brought up to date.  The author specifically made mention of the cell phones his characters carried.  It seemed the characters worked for some sort of government agency and therefore the phones they carried were some sort of uber-techno, bleeding-edge dream devices.

Or so the author believed at the time.  He thought he had dreamt up some pretty incredible, technologically advanced devices.  By the time the interview took place, though, the author lamented that more impressive phones could be purchased for less than $10 at Wal-Mart.  Technology had not only caught up with his imagination, it had surpassed it.

I bring this up because I have recently gotten a new cell phone.  My old one (a Motorola Razr that I loved dearly and that probably made me seem far cooler than I actually am) started to act up, so I checked with my carrier and discovered that I was due for a free upgrade.

I took a good, long, iLook around me, and came to the conclusion that touchscreen phones are the wave of the future.  There seems to be a certain – inevitability – about them.  As though (at least in the immediate future) phones are going to end up with touchscreens whether we like it or not.  This being the case, I decided that I should procure such a phone for myself, the idea being that I could thereby slowly indoctrinate myself into the Mysteries Of The Touchscreen.

Now – I didn’t want to get too crazy about this, mainly because I didn’t know much about them.  I thought an iPhone would be nice, but I didn’t know enough about either the technology or what I really wanted from the technology to justify spending the money.  So I decided I would simply order whatever touchscreen phone I could get for free.  Just to get my feet wet, as it were.  I assumed the phone would pretty much be crap, but that through ownership of it I could learn enough about the devices to become capable of making informed (hopefully intelligent) choices when I finally do take the plunge.  This same theory worked quite well when I got my first GPS.

Well, I have to report that I seem to have been correct on all points but one.  That one point would be my assumption that my new phone would be crap.  This is far from the truth.  The phone I ordered is a Samsung Solstice A887, and there is no doubt that it is the best phone I’ve ever owned.  I don’t think a day has gone by that I haven’t discovered a new feature.  It’s almost frightening.

Don’t get me wrong – there are a couple of things I would change about the phone.  I would give it the ability to connect to the internet through my existing home wireless network (as well as other networks – say at coffee shops or airports) for one.  For another, I would change the USB/power jack to a standardized one so I could connect and charge my phone without their cord (the connection issue was easy solved with Bluetooth, though).  So far, though, those are my only two gripes.  And they are far outweighed by the pluses.

The phone has a slot for a standard microSD card, up to 16 gigabytes (which is enormous for a cell phone).  It connects to a pc via Bluetooth (as mentioned previously) and can exchange files either through the computer’s interface (which – in Windows, at least – kind of sucks) or through a program Samsung offers as a free download, and which has an adequate (and user-friendly) interface.  The phone natively plays mp3s, through external speakers or through the built-in one (It’s oddly like having your own soundtrack.  I chase my son around to The Imperial March from Star Wars).  It also natively plays mp4 video, although you need to bring some mojo to bear to adequately tweak them (I’m currently carrying around a Harry Potter movie, ripped off the DVD with HandBrake.  It’s shrunk to 320 x 180, with 24 fps, but it looks surprisingly good for something in a phone.  And the file’s only a tad over 500 mb).  The phone can also read ebooks, although I haven’t yet put this option through its paces – so far, I’ve only put my own work in my phone (short reference crap, mostly), since it can read either Word docs or PDFs without doing anything fancy.  There are also a bunch of built-in apps, most of which I don’t really know what to do with.  Probably why iPhones scare me a little.  I think I’d be paralyzed by all the choices.

I also have the ability to shoot video, which I haven’t really explored yet.  The camera’s only 2 megapixel, which is small by today’s standards but at the same time the same size as the Sony Mavica I took with me when I studied at Oxford for a summer (I took almost a thousand pictures that summer and they still look good).  The camera also has its features, some silly, some cool, most unexplored by me.  I have played with the panoramas, though.  This was what my office looked like this afternoon:


Not too bad for a free phone.

Which brings me to the whole point of all this.  This phone was free, which means that – by today’s standards – it’s really not considered to be anything special.  And yet I used it to take that image from the mountaintop I stood on today (feel free to click on the image to see it full-sized).  And the device I held in my hand to take that image (and that I carried up there in my pocket)  also held several CDs, a few books and one movie, all of which barely scratched the surface of the device’s storage capacity.  And we haven’t even mentioned the device’s ability to connect to the rest of the world from a spot remote enough to challenge a GPS (but not really that remote – I do live in New England, after all).  As well as all the rest of the phone’s functions – from calculators to calendars to memos to banking to GPS to radio to video games to all the other stuff I don’t even know about.

All of that, and it’s not even the crazy part.  The crazy part is that all of that isn’t even considered to be a whole lot by today’s standards.  It boggles the mind a bit.

I have to say, though – it’s pretty damn cool.