In the second of my 10 Retro Gadgets of the Week, I talk about arguably one of the most important inventions of the 20th century!
Don’t forget to listen in to the podcast link above where I talk about the gadget and its functions.
The Sony Walkman was a portable cassette player launched in 1979, it started a revolution in personal audio cassette players and altered the listening habits of people and brought music to the masses wherever they might be.
Soundabout, Freestyle and Stowaway
Originally invented as the Sony Pressman to allow journalists to record interviews using a compact device, it became a personal entertainment device shortly after, settling on the name Walkman after being names the Soundabout, Freestyle and Stowaway. It very quickly became very popular and Sony began marketing it under a single brand-name, the Sony Walkman was born.
Originally the Walkman came with two headphone sockets with individual volume controls and a Hotline button which lowered the volume levels and opened the microphone to allow for station announcements to be heard or the user to have conversations with other people.
Other manufacturers such as Aiwa, Toshiba and Panasonic soon followed suit launched competing products, but the devices all became known as a “Walkman” as the brand-name crossed over into popular culture and entered the Oxford English Dictionary in 1986.
The Walkman was used when walking, exercising and running. Sony launched the ‘Sports Walkman’ which offered a degree of waterproofing and allegedly drove the fitness craze of the late ’80s. It was during this time that cassettes began outselling vinyl as millions of people chose the Walkman for their entertainment.
As music delivery advanced forwards, Sony was quick to adapt the brand to suit new formats, thus they launched the Sony Discman for the CD marketplace, the Sony DAT Walkman, MiniDisc Walkman and Sony Watchman TV.
Without the Sony Walkman, we wouldn’t have modern personal music players and most certainly would never have seen the Apple iPod. Sony continued the brand of Walkman into the modern smartphone marketplace.
Don’t forget to listen to the podcast above! Like, Share and Subscribe and I will see you next week for the Retro Gadget No.3
Thanks to Matt Marvell at BBC Radio Suffolk for having me on his show as a guest again this week.
Many of us will remember the halcyon days when upgrading our mobile phone handsets was a six-month event.
No so now it would seem, instead, we are waiting much longer and are clearly looking for greater incentives to part with our beloved devices and even more importantly, our money.
You can listen into my interview with James Hazell on BBC Radio Suffolk where I talk about why the smartphone market is slowing down. Click on the link above to hear what I had to say.
A Short(ish) History
My first mobile phone was bought in 1993 (some 26 years ago) from Dixons in Derby. It was an NEC P100 and I think it cost me £50 and then £7.50 per month for the contract with Vodafone, no calls were included, so I paid 50p per minute if I did need to call anyone.
The phone itself ran on the old 1G analogue network at 900MHz which was very quickly superceded by the digital 2G networks split between 900MHz for Vodafone and Cellnet and the alternative 1800Mhz for Orange and Mercury One2One.
Note: if you don’t recognise many of these names, it’s because due to buyouts, rebrands and mergers, Vodafone remained, Orange became EE, Cellnet became BT Cellnet, then O2. Mercury One2One became just One2One and then changed to T-Mobile which in turn is merged with Orange to become EE. Then of course 3 launched a 3g service later on and of course, two dozen or so ‘piggy-back’ operators such as Giffgaff, Sky Mobile, Virgin etc, who don’t, in fact, run their own networks but instead using the Big Four’s network.
So my first phone was relatively cheap in today’s terms and in fact in ‘yesterdays’ terms too. the NEC P100 was meant to be a durable portable phone which it was and I kept it for some years until the analogue network was phased out and I had to get a more modern phone. The 2G network roll-out in the UK caused a market explosion and along with it came the Nokia 5110 and then 3310 phones which completely dominated the marketplace.
This explosion in popularity came with reasonably cheap phones with cheap and short contracts, this meant that phones could be renewed quite regularly and soon cupboards would start filling up with unwanted and out of date devices, fuelling development and in reality, a war between manufacturers and networks to provide more and more functionality. Heading this surge was Orange and O2 who had struck up a deal with little known manufacturer HTC to produce the very first Microsoft Windows CE based ‘Smartphones’, long before the birth of the iPhone.
HTC was at the time manufacturing the Compaq and HP iPaq Pocket PC and by adding cellular functionality, the Orange SPV (Sounds, Pictures and Video) and O2 XDA (extended PDA) began to be sold and the Smartphone was born.
Suddenly our dumb phones became ‘Smartphones’ and with it rapidly increasing prices. These costs had to be passed onto consumers via increased contracts with longer minimum terms (mainly to allow for the handset and network infrastructure costs to be absorbed ). Minimum six-month contracts became twelve, then eighteen, then twenty-four months. All of this was necessary to pay for the device and network overheads!
The phone networks began bundling minutes (and later, data), in part to placate phone users who were starting to become caught up in the ever increasing contract times. Subsequently, devices became more expensive, resulting in more expensive contracts.
With the launch of Apple’s iPhone, O2 and T-Mobile began offering ‘all you can eat’ data plans in order for these data-hungry devices to take advantage of the vast amount of content appearing. Once the iPhone 3G was launched, with its ability to consume vast amounts of bandwidth and data, the all-you-can-eat model was scrapped or altered with ‘acceptable usage’ policies to limit data consumption, unless you were prepared to pay more.
Now that the smartphone had become established as a Super-Gadget, the manufacturers began an ‘Arms-Race’ to establish themselves as the Go-To brand in the multi-billion dollar marketplace, the likes of Apple, Samsung, Nokia, Motorola, LG, Sony and HTC began pumping billions into product development, patent registrations, cross-licensing and all-out war!
In turn, the Smartphone industry has driven bigger, better, faster and more costly devices into the consumers’ hands! Meanwhile, in China, Xiaomi, Huawei and Honor are producing comparable and in some cases, better products, the market is now awash with products that were once competing with each other but are now blurring their differences making it difficult to see the differences
We now have a smart-device marketplace with astoundingly high-quality handsets costing £1000 plus! How can we justify paying over £100 a month for a mobile phone contract, when we are struggling to differentiate between ‘last-years’ model?
What is needed now is for the manufacturers to take a breath! They need to find out what their customers really want. Maybe we are becoming tired and bewildered of being told what functions we need by these companies and it’s time for them to start listening to their consumers.
In the lead up to the East West Road Trip in October I was looking for a smartphone to enable me to document the trip both with photographs and video and was particularly keen to live stream the video where possible.
Initially I was looking to live-stream the trip using a 360° camera, unfortunately this didn’t come off and I was faced with a last-minute race to find an alternative literally 2 days before we were departing!
Fortunately, I was offered the Sony Xperia XZ1 phone with 30gb of data from EE. This solved by data anxiety problems immediately and having used Sony Xperia devices in the past, I was confident they would step up to the plate with image and video quality.
Sony are an extremely well-established tech companies, in fact for many years they were ‘the’ tech company of choice and it’s no secret the mobile phone market is dominated by two other big tech brands, so I was interested to see how the XZ1 would differentiate itself in an ultra-competitive industry.
Out of the box, the Sony XZ1 is a sleek, smooth, black device, with Gorilla Glass 5 front facing glass and deep black aluminium at the back, a departure from the super-sized XZ Premium from earlier in the year which was covered from and rear in glass. With dimensions of 5.83″ x 2.87″ with a thickness of 7.4mm, this is not the most gigantic handset and its smooth edges make it comfortable to hold, although it is very smooth, so hold on tight! Aside from black, the device is also available in Moonlit Blue, Warm Silver and Venus Pink, so plenty of choice.
The phone is preloaded with the Google Android™ O (or Oreo) operating system and Sony have been very sensitive by not trashing the ideals of the OS by avoiding in the addition of their own ‘enhancements’ in the most part.
The phone packs a very bright 5.2″ TRILUMINOS™ display driven by BRAVIA® TV technology given HDR compatible playback X-Reality™ producing 138% of standard display colour spectrum, the companies experience in the display market really comes through. The display is noticeably brighter and colour more natural that other phone displays and playing HDR video from YouTube, Netflix or Amazon Prime is incredible. X-Reality™ intelligently removes noise and from videos produces exquisite results, it really is impressive. Some people would criticise the use of a Full HD screen HDR screen instead of the perceived standard of UHD and above, but I would beg to differ, having tried both UHD and 4K mobile devices, I see no real benefits, even when using VR Goggles.
The beating heart inside of the device is provided by a Qualcomm® Snapdragon™ 835 Processor, positioning the phone in the same bracket at the competition. In addition, storage comes as 4GB of RAM and 64 GB of super-fast UFS internal memory with support for an addition of a up to 256GB micro SDXC. It’s pleasing that support for additional memory has been included with the phone, although it’s quite fiddly adding and removing both Sim card and SD cards with the phone, but on the plus side it’s very accessible. It should be noted that around 9.5GB is used up by preinstalled firmware and applications.
The phone is powered by a 2700 mAh battery, featuring Smart Stamina 3.0 and Qnovo Adaptive Charging which prolongs the life of the battery by ensuring it is charged quickly and safely with the addition of Qualcomm® Quick Charge™ 3.0. I’ve come across battery charge management in the past with electric cars and particularly the Tesla Model S, this too allows for quick charging, but upon reaching around 80% full, charging speed is tapered off to ensure the lifetime of the battery. Sony does a similar job with the Xperia XZ1 by intelligently noting owners charge habits and adjusting the charge rate of the phone if for instance you are sleeping and don’t begin using your phone until 7.15am. It is also possible to use the phone to charge other devices using an Android OTG adapter, but in fairness mobile phone battery is at such a premium that use of it for anything other than for the phone itself is rare.
With normal use the phone easily provides a days use with something left over at the end and this will be using all of the phones features, even some of the cooler ones which I will talk about later. Charging is provided by a Qualcomm® Quick Charge™ 3.0 charger and USB Type C socket.
Moving on the the front and rear cameras, Sony has yet again infused the phone with their high quality optics and sensors. The rear facing 9MP Motion Eye™ camera with 1/ 2.3” Exmor RS™ with 1.22μm pixel pitch. The lens is a 25 mm wide G Lens F2.0. Sony again use their own BIONZ™ for mobile image-processing engine to give superb results. There’s a ton of features such as Predictive Capture (motion / smile), Autofocus burst, x8 Digital Zoom, HDR Photo, 0.6 sec Quick Launch & Capture, Predictive Hybrid Autofocus, Anti-distortion shutter, Triple image sensing technology, SteadyShot™ with Intelligent Active Mode (5-axis stablisation) and 4K recording at 30fps.
However, the ‘pièce de résistance’ is the inclusion of a 960 fps Super slow motion video capture. This is achieved by the inclusion of addition hardware installed directly into the camera sensor in the form of hyper fast dynamic memory which allows for raw footage to be saved directly into the sensor and then drip feed and standard speed back to the standard hardware. Due to the colossal amount of power required to pulling 960 frames per second, the sensor only actually captures .18 of a second at 720hd, stretching it to around 6 seconds of footage.
This is called Motion Eye technology and personally I’m looking forward to seeing how this develops for the future, because it’s really impressive. As expected, you need bags of light to capture at this speed, so it works best outside in daylight, I also noticed light flicker in my office due to the refresh rate of our lights. Normal lighting does not cause his problem though.
The front facing camera is a saner 13MP 1/ 3.06” Exmor RS™ for mobile image sensor with 22mm wide angle lens at F2.0, again Sony includes it’s proprietary SteadyShot™ 5-axis stablization technology.
There is one simply AMAZING feature included with the XZ1 which is the 3D Capture mode. This uses software developed by Sony, utilising both processor and camera to allow you to 3D scan objects, share them and even have them 3D printed. It takes a little practice and Sony actively limit the modes available to give you time to get used to simple scans until you are ready to scan ‘freehand’. My initial results were ok, but I soon became adept in scanning some great objects, from peoples’ faces, heads, food and any other object I could think of. This is a tipping point in this industry, no longer do you need super expensive scanners and solutions, you can now use your Sony Xperia XZ1 (and now XZ Premium) to scan 3d objects. It truly is incredible.
Sony has chosen to stick with traditional Xperia design, this means that the trend of big screens and no bezels isn’t a feature of this phone, instead the phone packs stereo speakers at top and bottom of the phone which in landscape mode gives supreme stereo sound, making use of the Qualcomm® aptX™ HD audio features, the phone can ‘upscale’ lower quality audio to a near uncompressed sound when streaming across Bluetooth. There are a host of other features such as High-Resolution Audio, DSEE HX™, LDAC, Digital Noise Cancelling, Clear Audio+, S-Force Front Surround, Stereo Recording and Sony’s Virtual Phones technology. The speaker volume has also been increased by 50% over previous models.
Gaming wise, the phone is going to be able to handle pretty much everything thrown at it at the moment due to it’s highest end spec, but also included is PS4 integration using Remote Play. this allows you to connect to your own PS4 remotely and play your installed games, you can even pair a PS4 gamepad if that appeals.
The phone retails at £599 off contract, but at the time of writing there are some pretty appealing deals including some nice add-ons, but in the UK you are still looking above £50 per month for two years and more if you want better data allowance.
Although the XZ1 doesn’t pack the 4K display of the XZ Premium, the screen is quite possibly richer, especially in HDR mode, the sound it great and performance very very quick. In a world where it is perceived we only have two choices, Sony have yet again produced a solid handset capable of sitting amongst the best.
I did end up streaming a fair amount using the Sony Xperia XZ1 during and after the trip and found it to be a very capable device and coupled with an effectively limitless amount of data, it worked well.
On a side note, EE’s 4G network is very impressive and we were able to live stream both through Glencoe and arriving at Ardnamurchan, they pretty much had us covered.
A little over a month has passed since we arrived back from the Scotland and as promised, we have donated the remains of our Gadget Road Trip fund to British Red Cross.
This afternoon, I transferred the remaining balance of £42.32 from our Monzo Card to the British Red Cross charity and thus rendered the account empty.
I was personally extremely upset by the Grenfell Tower disaster earlier this year, which I know also affected Paul. The British Red Cross were on the ground there immediately after it happened and provided much need assistance to the poor families that had lost their loved ones, their homes and everything they owned in a matter of minutes. It is because of this, that I wanted to donate to this charity. Since Grenfell, other disasters have continued to affect the people of our planet and the British Red Cross have continued to provide much needed support for these people who have lost absolutely everything they own and still lack the basics of clean water, electricity and food. If you would like to continue to help them, you can also donate via this link
Thank you so much again to the following people and organisations for their kind donations of funds or services!
XSItems Ltd ACPlus Favorite Fried Chicken Free Reign Internet Coderus Gavin Dadd Patrick Lohan Jackie Robinson Ian Brown Olive Porter Sandra Grilli Callum McGilvery.
We wouldn’t have been able to feed ourselves during the trip and have something soft to sleep on. Thank you again.
Thanks also to Hillcroft Park in Ullswater for allowing us to stay at their lodgings for two nights (They will be featuring in the upcoming sitcom ‘Home from Home’ with Johnny Vegas, so keep an eye out!) and Far View Bed & Breakfast in Kilchoan (I won’t forget little Gracie exclaiming “My wellington boots fell over!!” as I took her and her dad on a little test drive).
This week we find out how Matt got on wearing the Sony Smartwatch 2. Matt introduces the 6 Inch!!! Nokia Lumia 1520 and HTC One M8 and asks the question ‘Are smartphones ready to replace cameras?’. Wrapping up with discussion of ‘Yo!’ the app.
Thanks to Laura at Citizen Relations, Nina at Hope & Glory and Nadine at Axicom for the providing the above devices!