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Can a phone have too many hinges?

Hands on with Moto's Symbian and Microsoft communicators

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3GSM Of the new phones showcased by Motorola yesterday, two very different communicators stole the show. The company promises that its third pen-based Symbian UIQ phone, the A1000, corrects many of the deficiencies of its predecessors. The specs are certainly impressive: it does video conferencing, with the main camera weighing in at 1.2 megapixel with 4x zoom, has GPS, Bluetooth and Picsel's amazing file viewer. And strangely, Mophun games support. This isn't official Motorola policy, but someone thought Mophun was cool, so why not?

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The form factor will be familiar to anyone who used the A1000's Paragon predecessors. If you haven't seen these, think of a thinner, lighter iPaq. The A1000 felt snappy and the model we tried had a camera.

Incredible shrinking 3G handsets

An even better camera, with 8x zoom, is found in Moto's E1000 3G phone, which is most notable for being one of the smallest 3G handsets to date. The E1000 also supports Bluetooth but adds GPS capabilities. It's exactly what the networks have been looking for, and if Motorola can ramp production as it promises by the end of the year, it should remove the "freak factor" from using a 3G network, and sell by the shed load.

Motorola has also announced an interesting Microsoft-based communicator with a QWERTY keyboard, the MPx. At first sight this looks like a version of the VT100 on steroids. But it's one of the more interesting, and certainly ambitious designs at the show.

The MPx is based around an L-shaped hinge, so it can open in two planes. This gives it three modes: in closed mode it's a typical clamshell phone. But it opens in either portrait or "landscape" mode. In the latter case, the QWERTY keyboard is on the left, and the screen on the right. This could take some getting used to. Motorola hopes to have packed in enough functionality so that you don't notice.

The MPx takes a full size SD/MMC card, has both Wi-Fi and GPRS, although not the EDGE variety, we were told. The very unusual QWERTY keypad tapers outwards from the left. As with the Blackberry and Treo, it's thumb territory only.

What's likely to keep it out of the mainstream - although it could still find a profitable niche amongst PDA buyers - is the sheer bulk. It's considerably heavier and wider than Nokia's brick, which is itself a niche device. To Motorola's credit, the designers haven't skimped on the hinge, which is a traditional breaking-point for such devices. But its size will keep it out of the shirt pocket and more likely, it will find a home in the briefcase.

We wouldn't be surprised to see more companies follow the MPx example, but the most successful will surely be the smallest. At its core, it's a phone, and phones don't belong in briefcases. ®

The Register 3GSM coverage in full

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