We’ve been told that a 5G BlackBerry phone will be released in 2021. It would have taken a nice break from the waves of Samsung, Xiaomi and Motorola that we review every year. It didn’t work.
We are not surprised. Original owner RIM ceased to be the force behind BlackBerry in 2016 when the name was licensed to Chinese tech giant TCL. TCL took a leaner approach but its reign ended in 2020 and then the brand transitioned to OnwardMobility, an American company.
BlackBerry’s return to the US is a refreshing change after years of Chinese brands dominating most new mobile developments. But where TCL was already a huge manufacturing operation, OnwardMobility had to set up new manufacturing partnerships for this BlackBerry project.
Here we see the latest BlackBerry-branded tunes ripped from the tube, but getting them out is harder than you might think. Could there be other phone brands worth bringing to life?
Let’s look back on the smartphone years to find the series that deserves a refresh while we wait to see if the BlackBerry 5G is real or the vaporware of 2022 awaits.
The UK’s Wileyfox lasted around three years, from 2015 to 2018, but we have fond memories of using its phones. Wileyfox has made affordable Androids with surprisingly decent innards, like a OnePlus for the budget buyer. In 2015, Wileyfox seemed directly inspired by this company, in the CyanogenMod software and finishes it used, as well as in its aggressive pricing strategy.
Now that OnePlus has been swallowed up in the bowels of giant Oppo, we want more of that renegade spirit to return to the world of phones.
There is still better technology for Wileyfox to use at this time too. MediaTek and Qualcomm now offer lower-midrange chipsets that can handle high-end games like Fortnite well, and make Android browsing quite similar to that of a high-end phone.
Since the CyanogenMod software has been discontinued, perhaps Wileyfox could partner with Google and make these Android One devices. Phones like the Swift 2 were true no-frills handsets. It would be great to see a Wileyfox Swift 3 that has completely eschewed the tendency to pack the back with heaps of nearly useless cameras, to do something a little more like a Pixel 4a: put the limited budget into hardware good quality, rather than a lot of extra stuff.
Could this happen? After Wileyfox disappeared, STK took over the brand but didn’t do much with it. Now that we’re several years later, much of the limited Wileyfox brand recognition has worn off, meaning it’s likely gone for good.
Panasonic Lumix (2015)
In 2015, Panasonic made one of the neatest phones ever, and hardly anyone noticed. It was the Panasonic Lumix CM1, an Android with a 1-inch camera sensor.
Only a few phones have had such a large sensor, such as the Sharp Aquos R6 (only available in Japan) and the very expensive Sony Xperia Pro-I. The weird thing is that the CM1 went further than that Sony phone and did it more than five years earlier.
Where the Xperia Pro-I uses a cropped portion of its 1-inch sensor, making it name-only, the Panasonic Lumix CM1 has used the base hardware’s 20-megapixels. Hardly anyone has purchased a CM1, as far as we know, but we’d love to see what the company’s engineers could do with a sensor of this scale paired with modern computing techniques to improve low-light performance.
We should also give Panasonic a few years and a few tens of millions of dollars to invest in imaging algorithms, but hey, we’re dealing with a fantastic scenario here. Or wouldn’t it be great to see Google’s engineers team up with Panasonic’s and create the world’s best single rear camera phone?
There is already a near distant relative to this Panasonic dream phone, the Leica Leitz Phone 1. Leica has been a long-time partner of Panasonic and some of its lower-end dedicated cameras are based on slightly modified Panasonic designs. extra Leica shine. The Leitz phone is a modified Sharp Aquos R6.
If Panasonic were to do a rival, it could lead to an awkward family reunion around the dinner table, but a little tech drama that doesn’t revolve around who’s mining our data the most would be a welcome change.
Could this happen? No chance. Panasonic has spent the past few years exiting areas of business in which it cannot thrive. It quit telecoms in 2020, the semiconductor business in 2019, and announced in 2021 that it would stop in-house TV production. And Panasonic has made some of the best high-end televisions in the world. Panasonic shareholders would implode if they tried to re-enter the smartphone business.
N-Gage was a brand of Nokia gaming phones from the early 2000s. It was a total flop and the name was the subject of jokes for a long time. But it was a great idea that could be beautifully brought to life in partnership with former Nokia owner Microsoft.
That’s a very roundabout way of saying we want an Xbox Game Pass phone. He wouldn’t play the games. It would be a portal to stream games over Wi-Fi and 5G, and have sturdy clip-on controllers much like a Nintendo Switch.
It would also be pretty much the only phone with a true 1080p display, not the ultra-tall style that’s been the norm in smartphones since 2017. Without the controllers attached, you’d have a big little oddball with, say, a 5-inch screen. .6 inches. We’ll call it chunky.
Insert the pads and it’s more like a Steam Deck that you can actually fit in your pocket.
Is this a feasible idea? It would probably have a better chance if you left out the “N-Gage” part, which would see it mocking the internet from day one. But it could prioritize the feel of the controller and the strength of its Wi-Fi and 5G antennas to deliver a much better and less bulky game streaming experience than the alternatives.
While we’re at it, let’s also show some love for N-Gage’s catalog of games. The platform has been criticized for having a lame library, but it’s doing pretty well 10 years later.
N-Gage had Super Monkey Ball, Call of Duty, Gameloft’s Asphalt series, FIFA, Colin McRae Rally, Civilization, Rayman 3, Sega Rally, Sonic, Tomb Raider, Virtua Tennis, Worms World Party, Splinter Cell, an Elder game Scrolls, and more. And many of them were full 3D titles, years before Apple’s App Store launched. We were basic Java-based phone games back then. You can criticize the execution of the N-Gage, but the ambition? Certainly not.
Could this happen? With the N-Gage brand? No chance. The passing years have only ripened the sulphurous smell that hovers around the name. We would, however, be disappointed if Microsoft hadn’t at least formulated a prototype on paper or had discussions about potential hardware partners for such a project. Today’s gaming phones are mostly normal phones with uglier designs. It would be something else entirely.
Even mentioning the word Palm is probably enough to call you a boomer these days. But you had to be there, friends. In 2009, Palm launched the Pre, a nice little smartphone that combined the keyboard of a BlackBerry with the kind of user-friendly smoothness you might associate with a high-end Android or iPhone.
Only a small handful of Palm models were made before the company was sold to HP. It continued the series for a brief period before strangely abruptly ending. The announcement of the cancellation of the entire range was made just a day after the official release of the Palm Pre 3.
Palm’s return to the smartphone game is a horrible and impossible idea. But we don’t hate the idea of trying out a Palm phone that adopts and re-phone’ifies the software.
You see, Palm phones had software called webOS. This was eventually sold to LG, which uses it for the interface of its televisions. LG has now exited the smartphone business, leaving it free to license streaming service-filled webOS to the virtually non-existent Palm, in order to sell phones to anxious city dwellers eager to get away from social media, but not Netflix.
Not so long ago, a Palm phone was launched. In 2019, the Palm Phone was manufactured by TCL under license. It was a tiny Android with garbage battery life meant to help you cut down on your phone usage, but it didn’t quite do that. A “real” Palm phone could be, at the very least, oddly interesting.
Could this happen? The original Palm doesn’t even exist anymore. TCL’s lackluster Palm comeback was a flop and the idea of reconfiguring webOS into a phone platform is, let’s be honest, ridiculous.
Did you know Dell made phones? It was a key proponent of the “phablet” trend that surfaced a few years after the introduction of Android. There was the 5-inch Dell Streak, the smaller Dell Venue, and the Dell Venue Pro Windows Phone. They all landed in 2010 and by the end of 2012 the company had completely exited the phone business.
Why should Dell come back? Honestly, it doesn’t have much to add except that it’s a genuine American company, with a brand image still respected by the tech-buying public.
Still, wouldn’t you consider buying a Dell XPS phone if it was as good as rival Samsung? Apple and Google are the only major US companies making phones these days, now that Motorola’s phone arm is owned by Lenovo.
There is currently no American giant that only manufactures telephone equipment. Dell shareholders would hate the idea, but a return to the phone business would — oddly enough — add significantly to the diversity of the pool.
Could this happen? It would be a very bad idea for Dell to go back to phones. While we can already imagine a Dell XPS 6 with a sleek metal back that looks a bit like the lid of an XPS 13 laptop, the investment needed to make its cameras competitive would be huge. An Alienware (Dell’s gaming brand) phone might make more sense, but would only be worth trying something ambitious like our N-Gage Xbox Game Pass fantasy phone.