Danger's new gizmo – exclusive… er… sketch

Hands on - then hands off

3GSM Danger Inc. showed a prototype of its new Hiptop communicator - the world's most usable wireless device - at Cannes this week, and we can show you what it looks like. Alas, the illustration is not up the standards that you usually expect, because Danger imposed a no-photography policy on its new baby.

But it's the best we could do.

The new Danger Hiptop

Danger's new Hiptop: even more impressive in real life

In short, the device is longer, thinner and a little more rectangular than the first generation Hiptop. It's much more usable as a phone, however, with dedicated call and hang-up buttons that with characteristic Danger ingenuity, nestle around a more discreet, redesigned wheel. Which also doubles up as the earpiece. Over on the left are the familiar Menu and Jump keys, but are joined by a new D-pad.

When we could claw it out of the hands of Danger's Chairman and CEO Hank Nothhaft it did indeed feel much more natural as a handset. It now has the typical volume controls on the side of the device. Hands-free mode is better thanks to a beefy dedicated speaker. The screen remains the same, but the keyboard has been straightened out and some keys double as a number pad, as with the Treo. The rubber, rather than plastic, keys have an excellent, firm response. One problem might be working out which way is up when you fish the device out of your shirt pocket. But getting the Hiptop into the shirt pocket has been one of the triumphs of the new design. The network operators asked for, and have got a built-in VGA camera.

A few new applications were on the prototype we saw, including native' AIM (Hiptop applications are written in Java, not that you'd know) and Yahoo! IM clients. Mr Notphoto says that Outlook synchronization will follow.

Danger's real business is selling into the carriers. It offers a pretty fast and slick experience by compressing the data at the server,

The company says that "several hundred thousand" devices have shipped, despite a limited presence in Europe, where all the action is. When it ships "by the end of the year" the new device should increase Danger's profile considerably. Although we complain often about usability of mobile devices, the splendid Hiptop gathers the fewest moans: it's heartening to see great engineering married to a focus on ease of use. Many claim to do so, but few meet the goal. ®

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