NEC N411i i-mode phone
Now that I've got i-mode out of the way, what's the N411i actually like?
It's pretty slim and light. I'm not the biggest fan of clamshell phones, but I did warm to the N411i slightly. With dimensions of 9.3 x 4.6 x 2.4cm and a weight of 95g, this phone can slip pretty unobtrusively into your pocket. The tri-band support will mean that you can use it pretty much anywhere in the world.
The main 1.9in TFT screen has a resolution of 176 x 220 pixels. There's a second display on the outside of the phone - by default this displays battery and signal strength indicators along with a large analogue clock. When someone calls you the external screen will display the number or name of the person calling. Above the external screen is a light that flashes blue when the phone has a signal - a strange feature and one that I found somewhat distracting when the handset was sitting on my desk. Above the light is the lens for the 1.3 megapixel camera, which takes pretty good still images but rather disappointing video. When you start to use the camera you find that the annoying blue signal light also shines bright white when in camera mode.
The N411i comes equipped with both Bluetooth and infrared, and there's a USB cable in the box for synchronisation with your PC. There's also a handsfree kit, and NEC has been smarter than most phone manufacturers here - instead of supplying an all-in-one solution, it has supplied the handsfree in two parts, allowing you to plug any headphones into the microphone section. This way you can get the best possible sound quality when listening to music by using your own headphones. That said, with only 25MB of internal memory and - bizarrely - no memory card slot, you're not going to be carrying masses of music around with you anyway.
When not in i-mode mode, the four-way navigator on the keypad defaults to Phone Modes when you press up, My Data when you press down, Missed Calls when you press right and Received Calls when you press left. Pressing the centre of the navigator will jump to the shortcut icons on the screen - although these can be configured, the phone will also add shortcut icons depending on the circumstances. For instance, if you receive a message a shortcut icon for that message will appear on your main screen, then pressing the centre of the navigator will take you straight to that message.
The N411i is available free from O2 depending on your contract, while pre-pay customers will need to shell out £99. The latter is pretty good considering that this is one of the first i-mode handsets on the market.
On the whole, the NEC N411i is a reasonable enough phone, although it feels a little underpowered and dated by today's standards. The keypad isn't tactile enough and the buttons are actually set below the surface rather than being raised, making dialling a lot more difficult than it should be. Put simply, this doesn't feel like the sort of handset that should be launching a service as good as i-mode.
And i-mode is excellent. It really is Internet at the touch of a button. There are downsides, though. First, O2 has a ten-year exclusive on i-mode services in the UK. But for true mass adoption of i-mode it needs to be available on all the networks.
The second issue is that of hardware. With only three i-mode handsets currently available, and a fourth due any day, there isn't a huge amount of choice. Most mobile phone users love having the latest, coolest, slimmest, smallest, lightest, sexiest phone on the market, and unfortunately none of the current i-mode handsets fulfil those criteria. I have an O2 contract and was due for an upgrade, but despite loving i-mode, I went for the Samsung D600 instead because it's a far nicer phone than any of the i-mode models.
There's no denying that i-mode is great. I love the way it works, the selection of content, the pricing structure, the speed of access and the bundled push email. Unfortunately, the NEC N411i just feels a little behind the times in today's world of super stylish and fully featured mobiles. NEC should be congratulated for getting i-mode handsets out so quickly, but something tells me that we'll be seeing far better examples in the near future.
|Price||£99 on pre-pay; free on contract|
|More info||The O2 i-mode site|