Chapter 24 – Symbiotic

I’m going to mention my HTC TyTN one last time: One of the other phones I was considering for that purchase was a Nokia, the E61. The lack of an on-board camera ultimately put it out of the running but its replacement, the E61i, ticked all available boxes. I bought one in July of 2007, blissfully unaware of where my renewed interest in Nokia products would ultimately take me. More on that later.

Nokia smartphones of the day were powered by the Symbian operating system. The combination of the two was, for me, a culmination of every device I had owned prior. Like other Eseries devices the E61i was made for enterprise, with email support and a qwerty keypad worthy of a BlackBerry. But it also had a camera, and a not bad one at that. Like my Ericssons and Sony Ericssons the E61i supported Bluetooth and SyncML. Around this time I discovered a hosted SyncML service, so instead of shuttling my personal data back and forth to a single computer I could sync over the Internet and access it on the web, as I did with my hiptop — better, in fact, because now I could export my data at any time to standard file formats. Finally, like my TyTN the E61i had both 3G and WiFi radios — though 3G only worked in Europe and Asia. Did I mention that this device was never meant to be sold in the Americas, and was only available to Canada through an online retailer?  The lack of Canada-tuned 3G turned out to be a blessing, as I was paying my carrier far too much money for not enough data. If $25/month for a paltry 3 MB seems ludicrous believe me, it was.

Because Symbian — also confusingly referred to as “S60” — was so popular in Europe, I was able to sample mobile apps for the first time. There wasn’t yet an on-device app store; you would instead visit the developer’s website and purchase the app directly from them — imagine that! The available third-party software was generally excellent. There were task managers, giving the user control over the running processes on their phone. There was the free Opera Mini web browser, critical to browsing web pages on my ridiculous data plan. There was even software that could emulate old game consoles, like Nintendo’s Gameboy Color and NES. To play my favourite childhood arcade games on my phone was, well… it was just awesome.

My E61i travelled with me far and wide. Its first test was a trip to New Zealand, where I was able to peruse the morning news over breakfast via the WiFi in my hotel. Next up was a journey to the Great Pyramids of Egypt, where I used GPS for the first time with a Bluetooth accessory. To save on roaming charges I was able to store map data directly on my phone before I left. Accessing GPS satellites was free, and as I later found out, quite illegal in Egypt when I was there. Nonetheless, I’ve a particularly fond memory of being on an overnight train to Luxor, my eyes glued to the E61i’s screen as the train pushed forth into parts unknown.

Perhaps the biggest testament to the E61i’s world-phone abilities was that it actually worked in Japan. It might not have been as svelte as the keitai there, nor could it access Japan’s i-mode services. But as a camera phone and Internet-connected device it could hold its own. You’ll remember that early on I wrote about wanting only two things from a smartphone. In 2000 my VisorPhone had granted me my first wish, an address book that could be synchronized from computer to mobile device. Now I had a handset that I could use anywhere on the planet. Checklist complete.

And then the iPhone came along and changed everything…