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I’m thinking of starting a whole blog simply dedicated to glaring engineering / design mistakes that companies build into their products. But instead, i’ll start a new series of posts here where we can discuss some of the crazy things we encounter when reviewing handsets. Clearly someone chooses to make things this way, but many times it seems the consequences these choices have on users are totally ignored.

For instance, today we’ll take a look at accessory and headset jacks. These days most manufacturers are putting these jacks on the sides of phones. But like our mama said, just because everyone else is doing it doesn’t mean you should too. On some phones this placement is acceptable. For instance, tiny flip don’t leave any space on the top or bottom for jacks, so they must go on the side. When you connect a headset or a headphone adaptor to these phones, you can either turn the phone sideways in your pocket or you can leave it upright and let the adaptor jut out to the side a bit. The phone is small enough that you can get away with the mild discomfort of either of these solutions. But what about when phone is larger – like, say, a thick slider or a big QWERTY phone? Well then you’ll most likely have to turn the phone sideways in your pocket if you have a headset plugged in. And that, my friends, is very uncomfortable. The list of phones that commit this offense is longer than the list of phones that get it right, and that’s a shame.

If just one person at any of the guilty manufacturers had plugged one headset or set of earphones  in and tried to put the phone back in their pocket, they would have noticed how uncomfortable things would be. They could have made a difference. But instead a team or designers and engineers carefully placed these jacks where they would be cheapest or most convenient, and not where they made sense. And today, when trying to plug my Sennheisers into an offending phone that put a 3.5mm headset jack on the side, all I got was a pocket full of OUCH. I will not call out this phone by name since it is not uniquely guilty of this offense.

I know fixing this is not as simple as just moving a jack – it probably would require re-engineering circuit boards and designing bodies to accommodate the move. But making changes like this show that a company cares about us users, and that they expect us to actually USE the features they list on the box, and not merely just buy their product because said feature was listed. And for all those companies who would say, “well why don’t you just use Bluetooth headphones, Mr. high tech phone reviewer,” I would gladly argue back “Have you ever tried to use those?” Cripes if anything, including my own body comes between any phone and any pair of Bluetooth headphones I’ve tried, they always cut out. it’s so frustrating and such a drain on the battery that i refuse to use them. 

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According to gizmodo, this is the Motorola Zante, a new danger-based device that we’ve been hearing rumors about for many months. It’s reportedly a much thinner sidekick with updated features. But what i want to know is which one of these is the real Zante. The picture on the left is the first Zante’s that appeared on the net. If you look carefully, you’ll notice that the keyboard is a grid, the way most smartphone keyboards are laid out. When these renderings first appeared i noticed immediately, because as a former sidekick user, i know the one thing that sets these devices apart is their keyboard, which normally has offset keys like a full-sized QWERTY keyboard. I was disappointed that Motorola might have abandoned one of the sidekick’s biggest strengths in the name of making it thinner and more modern. but i knew these images were just renderings and so i reserved my judgement.

then yesterday, the image on the right surfaced. notice that in this image, the keys on the keyboard are offset from each other. in fact the keyboard looks almost exactly like the sidekick 3. If this is really the final rendering of the Zante, then it seems that Motorola has finally done away with the D-pad normally found on the left. Which only makes sense, since it became redundant after Danger introduced the trackball on the right to replace the old scroll wheel.

Of course all this analysis is still based on rumor, not fact. But if all these images are surfacing now, it can’t be long before this device is officially unveiled.

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on the right is picture floating around the internet of a rumored nokia feature phone called the 7500 of the new Nokia 7500, a fashion phone introduced in China today (see link in comments). on the left is the Prada store that opened in Tokyo about 3 years ago. is this Nokia’s answer to the LG Prada phone?

O2, a carrier in Europe, has begun to show off the Cocoon. It is a simple clamshell phone that was designed by a team of trend spotters and a custom manufacturer instead of by a large phone company or ODM. And even though it is just a clamshell phone, it is not a clamshell phone like all the rest. It looks more like something that came out of AU’s design series than yet another RAZR knockoff.

The Cocoon looks like a curved white bundle of ribbon with flat black plastic sides. On one side is external playback controls, on the other is a scroll wheel. And hidden under the curved white front is a huge OLED matrix that can display the time, incoming callers or track names.

Instead of O2 going to a manufacturer with a laundry list of new technologies they wanted, they contacted a firm who asked cool people they know. and what sort of features did these people come up with? It’s not video streaming or a laptop replacement or anything bleeding edge. It’s simple stuff that would enhance how most people use their phones day to day. The Cocoon comes with 2 GB of memory in addition to a MicroSD card slot, so there’s plenty of room for music and pictures even before users purchase a memory card. It comes with software that lets it sync music from Window Media Player or iTunes.

But memory is just the start. The designers looked at how these users wanted to make the most of their phone and took this into account. With full playback controls and an external display users don’t need to open the phone to use it as a music player. They took advantage of this to create a charging dock that holds the Cocool sideways so the controls are exposed on top. When in the stand, the phone displays the time in a large font and can be used as an alarm clock or mini stereo thanks to a 3.5mm speaker jack in the back of the dock. The camera is only 2 megapixels, but is auto-focus and has an automatic flash as well, so it is still capabble of taking decent features. And of course the Cocoon has a custom designed OS with lots of rich graphics.

Nothing about the Cocoon is high tech. It doesn’t have any newer features than the Sony Ericsson  W800 launched 18 months ago except for 3G calling. But it still feels new and exciting, simply because they listened to people and not companies when designing it.