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Nokia's Bluetooth CDMA phone draws iPod comparisons

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Nokia used the CTIA show last month to unveil a phone that's drawn comparisons to the iPod. The analogy can't be stretched too far, but it's a good one: after throwing all kinds of outré designs at the market, Nokia has produced a model startling in its banality. But this might be just what the company needs right now.

Much of the jittery reaction to Nokia's announcements is due to concerns about its competitiveness against low cost rivals. It's justified, as Asian manufacturers have a record of bringing cheap consumer technology to market and it's fuelled by the focus group belief that all people really want to do with phones is make phone calls. But as text messaging shows, if you put something will real value into people's hands, they'll find a use for it in spite of a forbidding user interface and expense.

Nokia actually pointed to a weak mid-range for its handset slip this week, and some of the company's most impressive handsets are at the low end rather than the high end open platforms we write about at El Reg. For example the 3200, a phone that allows people to print off their own cover designs, has a camera and an FM radio, and is currently being offered for free to new customers on the US networks.

Nokia's 6255 is a flip phone, which the company has been reluctant to bring to market, works on CDMA networks and is due to ship by in the final quarter of the year. It also has a VGA camera, MP3 player with removable storage for MMC cards, and a radio, and will be Nokia's first CDMA phone to feature Bluetooth. "It's not boring, it's beautiful," reckons Russell Beattie, who made the iPod comparison. Mobile Burn has a more information here. Boring it certainly is, differentiated from any number of steel trim Motorola or Samsung clamshells by a blue faceplate. Nokia has had a number of design accidents recently: 'sidetalking' being the most notorious. Add to that the 7700, a "media phone" with no conceivable purpose except to remind us what the aborted CX communicator could have looked like. And small annoyances too. We found the keypad to the 6600 to be fiddly: making texting difficult. Even worse is the flagship Series 60 consumer phone, the 7610, which gives great prominence to the 'Pencil' key - which is used far less than the Menu key, the most important key on the device and awkwardly to reach. By contrast, the 6255 is playing it very safe.

It would be a pity if Nokia, one of the few companies that take design experiments, were to succumb to the lowest common denominator. There's a fascinating discussion on why manufacturers lose their nerve marketing to the US market that follows a John C Dvorak column in which he asks, "Are we the dullest people on earth, or what?" Hopefully Nokia still has some much more interesting designs up its sleeve. We can live with the odd horror. ®

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