Chapter 19 – Two Ts and a Z

By November of 2003 I was still waiting for the first camera-equipped Treo — that’s how much I wanted one. I finally gave up when Fido released a smart little camera phone called the Sony Ericsson T616, and offered it to me for a price that I couldn’t refuse. At first blush there was nothing that special about it, apart from its compact size and metallic body. It had a camera, sure,  but it was nothing to write home about; a fixed-focus lens was expected for the day, but CIF resolution — a paltry 288 by 352 pixels — was bad even for those times.

And yet I used this “dumbphone” (along with two other nearly identical models) for over a year, thanks largely to a technological standard called SyncML.

If you didn’t know, SyncML stands for Synchronization Markup Language. It allows one’s personal data — calendars, contacts, to-do items and more — to be synchronized between phone and desktop computer. Now here’s the important part: Unlike Palm’s proprietary HotSync, SyncML is an open standard, so anyone can make software for it. By this time Apple’s OS X desktop had SyncML support through an app called iSync; while my T616 wasn’t fully supported from the get-go, a third-party program called PhoneAgent did everything that iSync didn’t.

I didn’t even need a data cable; Bluetooth finally proved its worth as a means to wirelessly synchronize my data and install files to my handset. And thanks to Sony Ericsson’s sizable fanbase in Asia and Europe I was able to trick out my T616 with all manner of custom ringtones and themes.

All of the above actually applies to three separate handsets — the T616, T610 and Z600. The two “Ts” were virtually indistinguishable from the outside; on the inside, the T610 had a radio with an extra European band (900MHz) while the T616 swapped that out for an extra North American band (850MHz). This was more or less irrelevant, as both handsets worked on both continents, and Fido didn’t support the 850MHz band at the time.

The Z600 shared the same camera and internals, but was a bigger flip phone with customizable front and back panels.

It’s hard to say which one I liked more; the Z600 felt like a Japanese keitai but clearly needed a protective case, while the T610 and T616 were small enough to fit into the lighter pocket of my jeans. Of course I ended up dropping two out of the three, each in a different exotic locale. I managed to dent the metal case of my T616 by sending it crashing to the hard wooden floor of a swanky Bermuda hotel, and did about as much damage to the plastic housing of my Z600 as I fumbled with it in a public washroom atop Table Mountain in Cape Town, South Africa.

I also remember these handsets for their goofy accessories. I bought a Bluetooth-controlled toy car for my T610 that my cat chased for all of thirty seconds, then never again. For the Z600 I got a snap-on game controller, which was far too ridiculous-looking to ever use in public. I still have both of them tucked away in a drawer somewhere.

Any takers?