We were told that a BlackBerry 5G phone would 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 did not 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 moved to OnwardMobility, an American company.
BlackBerry’s return to the United States is a refreshing change after years of Chinese brands dominating most new developments in the mobile space. 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 bits and pieces coming out of the tube, but getting them out is harder than you might think. Could there be other brands of phones worth bringing back to life?
Let’s go back in the smartphone years to find the series that deserves a refresh while waiting to see if the BlackBerry 5G is real or the vaporware of 2022 pending.
The Wileyfox in the UK 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 its aggressive pricing strategy.
Now that OnePlus has been engulfed in the bowels of giant Oppo, we want this renegade spirit to return to the world of phones.
There is still better technology that Wileyfox can use at this time as well. 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.
As the CyanogenMod software was discontinued, maybe Wileyfox could partner up with Google and make these Android One devices. Phones like the Swift 2 were real practical handsets. It would be great to see a Wileyfox Swift 3 that completely bypassed the tendency to pack the back with piles of almost unnecessary cameras, to do something a little more like a Pixel 4a: put in the limited budget that there is. in good quality material, rather than a lot of extra stuff.
Could this happen? After Wileyfox’s demise, STK took over the brand but didn’t do much with it. Now that we’ve been several years old, much of the limited recognition for the Wileyfox brand has worn off, which means it’s probably gone for good.
Panasonic Lumix (2015)
In 2015, Panasonic made one of the most stylish phones ever made, and hardly anyone noticed it. It was the Panasonic Lumix CM1, an Android with a 1 inch camera sensor.
Only a few phones have had such a large sensor, like the Sharp Aquos R6 (only available in Japan) and the incredibly expensive Sony Xperia Pro-I. The weird thing is that the CM1 went further than this Sony phone and did so over five years earlier.
Where the Xperia Pro-I uses a cropped portion of its 1-inch sensor, making it a name only, the Panasonic Lumix CM1 used the 20-megapixel base hardware. Almost no one has bought a CM1, to our knowledge, 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 engineers at Google team up with those at Panasonic and create the world’s best single rear camera phone?
There is already a near distant relative of that Panasonic dream phone, the Leica Leitz Phone 1. Leica has been a long-standing partner of Panasonic and some of its low-end dedicated cameras are based on slightly modified Panasonic designs. additional Leica shine. The Leitz phone is a modified Sharp Aquos R6.
If Panasonic made a rival, it could result in an awkward family reunion around the dinner table, but a little tech drama that doesn’t revolve around who uses our data the most would make a welcome change.
Could this happen? No chance. Panasonic has spent the last few years leaving areas of business in which it could not thrive. It ditched telecoms in 2020, the semiconductor industry in 2019, and announced in 2021 that it would stop in-house production of televisions. And Panasonic has made some of the best premium TVs in the world. Panasonic shareholders would implode if it tried to re-enter the smartphone market.
N-Gage was a brand of Nokia gaming phones from the early 2000s. It was a total flop and the name has long been the subject of jokes. But it was a good idea that could be beautifully brought to life in partnership with Microsoft, the former owner of Nokia.
It’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 would 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 standard in smartphones since 2017. Without the attached controllers, you’d have a little eccentric with, say, a Screen of 5, 6 inch. We’ll call it chunky.
Insert the pads and it looks more like a Steam Deck that you can actually slip into your pocket.
Is this a feasible idea? He would probably have better luck if you left out the “N-Gage” part, which would make him laugh on the Internet on 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 gaming streaming experience than the alternatives.
While we’re at it, let’s show some love for the N-Gage game catalog as well. The platform was 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 Scrolls game, and more. And many of them were full 3D titles, years before Apple’s App Store launched. We were back in the days of basic Java-based phone games. We 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 matured the sulphurous smell that hangs around the name. We would be disappointed if Microsoft hadn’t at least formulated a prototype on paper or had discussions of potential hardware partners for such a project, however. Today’s gaming phones are mostly normal phones with uglier designs. It would be quite another thing.
Even mentioning the word Palm is probably enough to call you a baby boomer these days. But you had to be there, folks. In 2009, Palm released the Pre, a cute little smartphone that combined a BlackBerry’s keyboard with the kind of user-friendly finesse 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 ending weirdly abruptly. The announcement of the cancellation of the entire lineup came just one day after the official release of the Palm Pre 3.
Palm’s return to smartphone gaming is a horrible and impossible idea. But we don’t hate the idea of trying out a Palm phone that adopts and re-phones the software.
You see, Palm phones had software called webOS. It was eventually sold to LG, which uses it for the interface of their televisions. LG has now left the smartphone business, leaving it free to license the virtually non-existent Palm streaming service-rich webOS in order to sell phones to anxious city dwellers keen to get away from social media but not Netflix.
Not that long ago, a Palm phone came out. In 2019, the Palm Phone was manufactured by TCL under license. It was a tiny Android with insignificant battery life meant to help you cut down on your phone usage, but it didn’t really do that. A “real” Palm phone could be, to say the least, oddly interesting.
Could this happen? The original Palm doesn’t even exist anymore. TCL’s half-hearted comeback of Palm was unsuccessful, and the idea of redesigning webOS into a phone platform is, let’s be honest, ludicrous.
Did you know that Dell makes phones? He was one of the main proponents 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 left the phone business.
Why should Dell come back? Honestly, it doesn’t have much to add other than that it’s a true American company, with a brand image that is 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 telephone business would – strangely enough – add significantly to the diversity of the pool.
Could this happen? It would be a terrible 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 required to make its cameras competitive would be huge. An Alienware phone (the gaming brand Dell) might make more sense, but would only be interesting if it attempted something ambitious like our N-Gage Xbox Game Pass phone fantasy.