Sendo X aims to out-Nokia Nokia, outsmart MS smartphone

The big bet for brand status

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Sendo founder and CEO Hugh Brogan yesterday announced the company's big bet smartphone, the Sendo X. "Announced", which is what it says here, is apparently different from "unveiled", which is what it says here, and is different still from having volume production shipping into the channel today. But glitches permitting the Sendo X will be with us in volume very shortly, and has enough going for it to give Sendo a shot at transforming itself into a big name in the smartphone arena.

It is just over a year since Sendo pulled the plugs on its previous shot at stardom, and the associated lawsuit will rumble on for some time. This year's model, not MS smartphone but Symbian OS Series 60, is however carefully calculated to make up lost ground by outbidding the key players in several areas. The graphiX co-processor leaves the phone's ARM 9 free for other tasks, making it just plain faster, and it's being positioned much more as a device with 'real' camera capabilities, as opposed to a handset with a 'good enough' camera included. It includes flash and redeye reduction, and can record up to 35-40 minutes of 15fps video. The screen is 176x266 with 65,000 colours.

It raises the game with audio too, with a 64 voice polyphonic capability, an acoustic chamber that makes it sound better at high volume, an MP3 capability (which is not standard with S60), and recordable ringtones. The latter strikes us as having all sorts of potential, some of it (e.g. the phone that rings with your kid saying, 'father, come home') quite chilling.

Sendo also repurposes some of the old Microsoft script by pushing the phone's capabilities as regards syncing with MS Office. According to head of product strategy and marketing Ron Schaeffer (who sheepishly tells us "you may have heard me say the same thing about the Z100 a couple of years ago") it's the only S60 phone that will do email synchronisation, and it's ready to work with SyncML servers just as soon as the operators start deploying them. It also comes with a wide range of document viewers as standard. The actual utility of strong sync and integration capabilities with Office strikes us as doubtful, but for anyone who subscribes to the bonkers Gartner viewpoint that Microsoft phones will rule the world for this very reason it's a checkmark to put against the Sendo X. The fold-away keyboard accessory is possibly also helpful here, given that if you want to do email on as mobile phone it might be nice to be able to type, and there's an SD slot to give it enough memory to back up any pretensions it has as a mini platform.

Sendo confesses that the SD slot is not SDIO, although this is starting to feature on people's wishlists. But the company has some interesting things to say on the subject of wi-fi - says Brogan: "We have a technical solution for how to do it. There are no product offerings currently on roadmap, [but] now we need a customer to ask us to do it, then we'll go forward." And assuredly, as Symbian phones start to overlap more with PocketPC devices, somebody will ask.

Schaeffer also offers a major come-on for operators. The X is a Series 60 phone that can be tailored in order to allow the operator to customise graphics and sound to achieve their own branded ' user experience.' Demoing yesterday he showed this very thing done with Vodafone livery, stressing that the choice of operator should be seen merely as exemplary, without other significance. Yes Ron, right... Vodafone is the one of the operators that's pushing hardest here, and is currently attempting to show Nokia how little it needs them. The Sendo X is a cool-looking upmarket phone that beats current Nokia specs but can come without trailing the Nokia branding. And Orange, another noted self-branding merchant, doesn't like you a lot on the grounds that you sued them. So Ron, who in the UK are you going to hug if it's not Vodafone?

Sendo is already hugging TIM in Italy, where Brogan says the order is comparable to the the size TIM is placing with other companies, "for example, Nokia." It will also ship in Germany with an unnamed partner before the end of March. Sendo puts its unsubsidised price at around €500, which places it on a par with what major brands expect initially from their top of the range handsets. Sendo is not as yet a major brand, so its bet must clearly be that it has added enough in the way of features and tweaks for it to overcome this hurdle and catapult itself to brand status.

Brogan next year sees a global smartphone market of up to 30 million units, with around 18 million of these in Europe, and Sendo establishing itself as one of the "four or five people who're going to have devices of this capability." Right now it looks lovely (pix here), and convincing enough to get the company a hearing. But it's a narrow window Sendo is aiming for, and this time around it definitely can't afford any breakages on the way to market. ®

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