Nokia returns with N1 Android tablet

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Nokia is back and is back in style! Being a product that marks the former phone giant’s return to consumer electronics, naturally the announcement that Nokia is releasing an Android tablet is causing quite a stir. Sites as diverse as the Android Police and the BBC, the Phone Arena and Forbes, quickly gave Nokia’s announcement some deserved attention.

So should we be excited about the style, workings and capabilities of the N1 Android Tablet? Or is the hype merely bubbling because it’s the first product Nokia has released since it sold its smartphone business to Microsoft and is likely to be a disappointment?

Forbes, fairy impartially we have to admit, details the N1’s spec with little commentary or opinion. This 7.9-inch tablet has a Gorilla Glass 3 covered with IPS panel running at 2048 x 1536 pixels. The CPU is an Intel Z3580 which has 2 GB of RAM, 32 GB of internal storage and runs at 2.3 GHz.

The camera is an eight-megapixel rear camera and a five-megapixel forward facing camera, perfect, of course, for taking ‘selfies’. As Forbes writes, it will be interesting to see if Nokia has “retained its legendary image capability.”

The BBC spoke of how Nokia’s “surprise launch” pits the company against Microsoft, which concluded its takeover of Nokia’s previous mobile devices in April this year.

The BBC also points out how Nokia says it will not be making the device itself, but has instead licensed its design, software and brand to a third-party.

So what about the N1’s design?

Uncanny resemblance of the iPad Mini is one comment that is woven through a significant proportion of the preview reviews.

Digital Versus talks of the iPad Mini resemblance, stating how, with a screen that even uses the same 4:3 ratio, the designers must have taken some “serious inspiration from the iPad Mini.”

“So much so, in fact, that it’ll be difficult for the Nokia to plead ignorance.”

Admitting that Nokia, doesn’t “do things by half”, Digital Versus is quick to point out that its tablet is designed around the very latest version of Android, 5.0 Lollipop.

The 5.0 Lollipop is, as Android proudly asserts, the “largest and most ambitious release for Android yet!”

Asides the Android 5.0 Lollipop, the N1 is overlaid with the Nokia Z Launcher interface, a feature almost every report of the N1 is keen to mention.

As Wired mentions, Nokia describes its Z Launcher as “predictive”, as it enables users to quickly scribble a letter or two to retrieve content on the tablet quickly and efficiently. Eventually the Z Launcher will apparently learn which apps are in use and will predict what users are requiring based on the time of day and the user’s location – could be a tad frustrating we fear if the Launcher gets it wrong!

Of its design, Wired remarks that the colourful Lumias which Nokia were once celebrated for are gone, and it in place stands a single piece of aluminium with slightly rounded corners that look suspiciously like a device we’ve seen before that sports an Apple logo!

All in all there is a wave of excitement circulating the press about Nokia’s return to the consumer market – a return that is definitely ambitious.

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The N1 looks set to retail at $250 and should be released in the first quarter of 2015.

Microsoft Lumia 535 heralds the end of the Nokia phone era

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We can’t say we’ve been blown away by Nokia’s travails in the Smartphone market, largely because of the abundance of very capable competitors, but few could question their impact on the mobile industry in general. For many, a Nokia was their first phone, and if it wasn’t it would be the second or third. Cheap, reliable, solidly built – Nokia were the most popular phones around. It was a sad day when Microsoft finally announced it would be removing the old branding for good, then, and the device with the unenviable job of heralding the dawn of a new era is the Lumia 535.

Naturally it’s a Windows 8.1 smartphone and as the first branded by Microsoft, one that the company will hope can help kick-start an assault on Android and iOS. What’s interesting here is that it hasn’t gone for a powerhouse game-changer – in fact quite the opposite. Intended to tap the sub-£100 market it has perhaps quite sensibly focused on building numbers and tapping developing markets to increase interest in the mobile OS.

The 535 has a 5” IPS display with 960×540 resolution and 220ppi that’s coated in Gorilla Glass 3, a  Qualcomm Snapdragon 200, 1GB of RAM and 8GBb of internal storage with microSD expansion. Like many recent phones it also caters for the “selfie” generation with a 5MP camera on the front and back, though there’s no support for 4G. As expected it’ll be available in a wide range of colours, so our first thoughts are that it’ll be a bit of a hit with the youngsters.

There are no full reviews yet but various sources have gone hands-on. Let’s see if there’s enough about it to have a decent go at its target market.

TrustedReviews laments the passing of Nokia (as do we all) but points out that while the new 535 is steeped in Nokia heritage, is still a significant upgrade over the uninspiring Lumia 530. Reasons include the display, with IPS and decent overall performance marking it as “an improvement over the ugly TN-based LCD screen of the Lumia 530.”  Other immediate improvements include the camera, with a front-facer that has a wide-angle lens for “group selfies”, and a noticeable upgrade in terms of focusing speed and performance compared to the 530.

This doesn’t apply everywhere though – “the Lumia 535 uses the same quad-core Snapdragon 200 processor as the 530. This sounds good, but we weren’t impressed by its performance in the 530 and it’s arguably less powerful than the dual-core processor found in the ageing Nokia Lumia 520.”

Forbes discusses Microsoft’s strategy in this market, and defends its stance to make its first branded model a relatively low powered device. “This isn’t an afterthought from Microsoft, nor is it a lacklustre attempt to crack a market it doesn’t properly understand like other manufacturers. This is Microsoft’s mobile phone business plan – its entire strategy. The 535 is the flagship of budget smartphones and its price tag of $130 is supposed to cement Microsoft’s dominance in this area.” It goes on to describe the 535 as a “slightly better than average” budget device that retains a strong identity with the Lumia range with familiar brightly covered plastic and rounded edges. Not exactly an aesthetic triumph, but factors such as expandable storage and a removable battery are important features for developing markets that prioritise functionality over form.

It also discusses Microsoft’s “five great integrated Microsoft experiences”. These would be Skype, Office, 15GB of free OneDrive cloud storage, Cortana and Outlook – an attempt to one-up the competition and establish a more box-ready device

“This is Microsoft’s main gambit – access to its other services. Where cheap Android phones might leave the user in the wilderness in terms of updates and apps that provide a connected experience, Windows Phone users will have these out of the box.”

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We’ll conclude with CNet’s wrap-up of the 535, which it generally liked while acknowledging that there’s nothing particularly outstanding about it, which at the price point is probably to be expected.

“The Microsoft Lumia 535 isn’t exactly a standout device, which is surprising, as I was hoping Microsoft would use its first phone to show off what it can do. Instead, you get more of the same, though this is no bad thing.”

The Lumia 535 and Lumia 535 Dual SIM will begin rolling out to key markets in November, and will be available in bright green, bright orange, white, dark grey, cyan and black. Pricing for Lumia 535 and Lumia 535 Dual SIM will vary by market and operator, but is estimated to be around 110 EUR before taxes and subsidies.

Nokia Lumia 735 – the selfie smartphone

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Microsoft is getting bedded in with its new Nokia acquisition and one of the more interesting devices to come off the production line recently is the Lumia 735 – a smartphone with a rather unusual USP.

It’s a 4G phone with a 4.7” (720×1280) OLED display and 2.25D curved glass, which helps it to achieve a clear 180 degree viewing angle and supposedly good sunlight readability so those around you can enjoy whatever you’re doing on your smartphone at the time. A Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 quad core processor at 1.2GHz, 8GB of storage (with 15GB OneDrive included, alongside a microSD slot) should be enough for most, and it features wireless charging via an optional shell. If you’re interested it’s also the first smartphone in the UK to go on sale with Windows Phone 8.1 and a beta version of Cortana – Microsoft’s “personal assistant” that goes by the codeword of “Lumia Denim” for some reason.

But the big seller from Microsoft’s point of view is the camera, and not the one you might expect. A full HD 5MP front-facer promises “unbeatable selfies” by touting a wide angle lens that captures more of the scene around you and a Lumia Selfie app that helps you get more from your portraits. And as if to hammer home the point even further the regular camera is just 6.7MP, so the front snapper is truly the star of the show.

Is there a market for a phone that seems so squarely oriented around this rather strange selfie obsession? Read on for the lowdown.

TechRadar goes hands-on with what it calls a “cheap and cheerful” handset but isn’t too impressed with the build:

It’s obvious that the 735 has taken its design cues from the Nokia 800. However here the plasticky build feels a bit cheap, though not overly tacky, while it’s both lighter and thinner than its inspiration.”

It also comments that despite leading with camera technology, there’s no dedicated shutter button, which for selfies in particular does seem like an oversight. When it comes to a market for the phone, it quite astutely points out that with a wide range of colours and reasonable price point Microsoft could find a bit of a market with younger users, though “if you’re not so face-focused, you’re probably better off coughing up a bit more for Microsoft’s other ‘affordable’ phone of IFA, the Lumia 830.”

PCPro is quite impressed by the design though, explaining how a smooth, matte plastic back panel and comfortable curves produces a “simple, but tasteful design, once again showcasing Nokia’s talent for endowing budget devices with premium looks.” As well as crediting the wide-angle for group shots on the front-facing camera there’s a bit more information on the Selfie app here, which “adds a series of beautifying options such as a slimming option and the ability to make your eyes appear bigger and teeth whiter.”

Even the selfie-obsessed need a phone with more going on than a fancy camera though. Knowyourmobile takes some time to focus elsewhere and is quite impressed by the display, which uses Nokia’s ClearBlack technology for improved contrast and deeper colours, resulting in a screen where “image quality is fairly high, with a sharp, colourful picture, viewing angles are also fairly wide”. General performance is also snappy and responsive, which is largely down to well optimised software that brings a number of enhancements:

“It introduces a proper drop-down quick settings and notifications menu, and the app drawer is now sorted alphabetically with quick access tabs. Customisation has improved with the ability to set a picture wallpaper behind the transparent tiles on the Start screen, and you can add an additional row of Live Tiles if you wish.”

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You can expect the Lumia 735 to be available from all the usual retailers from 2nd October in a range of colours including bright orange, bright green and stylish neutrals such as dark grey and white. There’s no UK price confirmed, but it will start at €219 ex VAT in Europe. As to how it translates to the UK market, we’ll have to wait and see.

Nokia Lumia 930 review round-up

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Nokia continues to push the Windows Phone experience despite stiff competition from Google and Apple, and its new Lumia 930 is a flagship offering that looks to take on the big hitters in the market.

A quick run through the key specs reveals a powerful beast – a 2.2GHz Snapdragon quad-core processor should keep things moving nice and smoothly; it features a 5” OLED full HD (1920×1080) display at 441ppi, 32GB of storage (non expandable) and a meaty 2420mAh battery that claims to deliver 15.5 hours of talk time on 3G, or 75 hours of music playback.

Notably it also boasts a whopping 20 megapixel PureView main camera with ZEISS optics, a recurrent highlight of the Lumia series, which together with a Full HD camera underlines its ambitions to appeal to smartphone snappers. Rolling out with the Windows Phone 8.1 update this summer, the 930 looks well prepared to show off the full extent of the mobile OS’ capabilities, so we scoured the internet to see what others thought of its potential.

TechRadar got hands-on with the Lumia 930 and was pretty impressed, calling it “the most complete Windows Phone to date”. The display excites here, as does speedy operation from the power-friendly Windows Phone OS, but the plastic build and generally blocky design left it suggesting that the 930 would have to undercut Samsung, Sony and HTC on price to prove a worthy adversary.

The design and feel of the phone may be a rather subjective judgement because The Inquirer quite liked it, noting that the aluminium edging added to an overall robust impression. It is rather uncertain about the Windows Phone 8.1 update however, saying that they found the new custom wallpapers “a little busy at first, [though] it does make Windows Phone 8.1 look much more personal than before”. It was too soon to give the camera a full workout, but The Inquirer did note that “early impressions suggest that it will produce images of similar quality to those taken on the Nokia Lumia 1520, a camera that impressed us due to its crisp and natural image-taking abilities”.

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PC Advisor did test the camera in its hands-on, albeit briefly, noting that “our test shots on the Lumia 930 looked decent and since it’s the same as the 1520, we can confidently predict that you’re in safe hands with it”. Other areas of interest include directional audio through four high-performance microphones dotted around the device, which should be a boon to those who like to record video, and the built-in wireless charging, with Nokia including a wireless charger in the box. Though generally impressed with the 930 and various associated software tweaks to the new Windows Phone OS, it still lauds the issue of a lack of apps in the Windows Phone market, which while improving, is some distance behind Apple and Android.

Finally, DigitalTrends says what we’re all thinking by pitting the Lumia 930 up against the Galaxy S5 and iPhone 5S, complete with a handy specifications comparison of the three. It’s a mixed bag here, with each phone effectively “specialising” in certain areas. The Lumia takes points for its impressive camera and in particular the ZEISS optics, but the overall conclusion suggests “get your hands on each before you make your decision”.

The Lumia 930 seems impressive, then, and could well be the best Windows Phone smartphone to date. Whether or not it can take on the big boys is likely to be down to the choice of OS however, so the overall conclusion here seems to be the same – Microsoft needs to work hard on the Windows Phone app store if it’s ever going to truly compete with the big boys in terms of volume.

Review round up: Nokia Lumia 2520 tablet

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With Microsoft’s acquisition of Nokia all but signed and sealed, it’ll be interesting to see what the merger of these two tech giants can bring to the ever-changing handheld market. Whether the Nokia Lumia 2520, the Finnish company’s first (and quite possibly last) tablet, gets swept under the carpet in favour of the Surface or embraced as part of a more diverse portfolio really depends on how precious Microsoft is about its own baby, and, of course, whether Nokia can show that it has something worth looking at.

With a 10.1” full HD display, quad-core, 4G connectivity, Windows RT 8.1, an impressive 11-hour battery life and 6.7MP/2MB rear/front cameras, along with a choice of four colours, Nokia is going all out with a high-end entry from the off, so let’s see how it fares.

We’ll kick off with The Independent, who lays its stall out early by claiming that “This, Microsoft, is how to make a tablet”. Lauding the aesthetics of the 2520 and calling it “…a triumph of design and beauty, making Microsoft’s own Surface look clumsy and heavy”, Nokia’s tablet is praised for its simplicity, a neat selection of Nokia’s own built-in apps and fast and responsive touchscreen, though what could turn out to be a predictable disadvantage is the limited (albeit growing) selection of additional apps available.

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T3 is similarly complimentary about the design, claiming that it represents a mix of the elegance of the iPad Air, the bargain price of the Tesco Hudl and the PC-replacement nature of the Surface 2. It also praises the display, stating that “It looks great, not least because alongside excellent resolution of 218ppi it has Nokia’s Clear Black Display technology which makes the screen more easily readable in bright light” and “Movies look super sharp, with a rich colour palette and wide viewing angles.” Both overall performance and the impressive camera get a mention, and T3 concludes by saying that “This is one of the best tablets yet built, thanks to Nokia’s swish and tactile design that fits the hand splendidly”.

Pocket Lint likes the performance, battery life, display and viewing angles, and again praises the design over Microsoft’s Surface, though does note that the Surface has a kick-stand, more USB ports and a slightly better price. These are minor points, however, as it goes on to say that “…the Lumia 2520 is probably the best thing on the market for people looking to buy a tablet that doubles as a laptop.”

Phone Arena is slightly less dismissive of Microsoft’s own brand, claiming that the choice between the two “is a tough one to call.” The slightly more expensive 2520 appears to win out overall though, with the extra cost “…justified in the way that it’s sporting one attractive design, produces better results with its camera, and that it’s preloaded with various Nokia-branded apps that deepens the experience out of the box.”

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Finally, TIME magazine says that the Lumia 2520 is “the tablet Nokia was born to build” and offers similar praise for the design and overall performance. Holding it back, however, is that “…it doesn’t trump the iPad and can’t compete with its abundance of apps”, while musing over its future in the light of the Microsoft acquisition. Sadly, with Nokia’s previous head of design Marko Artishaari declining to join Microsoft, it may be the case that the 2520 is seen as too much of a threat, with no immediate means to replicate its aesthetic merits. But as what could be a final hurrah for a company that has been so influential in the mobile phone marketplace, it’s nice to see that the Lumia 2520 ticks a lot of boxes.

The Nokia Lumia 2520 is priced at £399 with 32GB of storage, a SIM card slot for 4G and is exclusive to John Lewis.

Nokia Lumia 1020 yet again redefines smartphone photography

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Nokia started the ball rolling when it comes to insanely specced smartphone cameras, and despite the HTC One offering a rather different take on proceedings, Nokia has laughed in the face of ultrapixels once again with another 41 – that’s FORTY ONE – megapixel camera in the Lumia 1020.With HTC’s take on what smartphone users really want (despite a rather mixed reception for ultrapixels), can the Lumia claim to be the unabashed photo powerhouse it needs to be?

Reviews of the device as a smartphone, because at the end of the day that’s what it really is, are mixed, even if the camera element is generally highly praised.

TechRadar said it awarded a relatively meagre 3.5 stars (out of 5) largely because of the camera, which is “the best there is on any smartphone in the market”. It goes on to state that “In auto mode, photos are generally well exposed with good dynamic range. Details are clear and sharp, and colors are accurate and rich” though it did bemoan the time it takes between the camera firing up and being able to take actual photos, as well as taking photos in rapid succession. It also criticised the relatively meagre app-support on Windows 8 and compares the combination of this and the camera with “putting a Ferrari engine in a 1998 Toyota Corolla”.

TrustedReviews also has issues with the “sluggish” camera processing alongside handling issues related to the lens housing. Being relatively poorly specced is notable, being “not much more powerful than entry-level phones”, as are similar issues with the Windows Mobile app market. It concludes by (perhaps predictably) saying that the Lumia 1020 only makes sense if the camera is significantly more important to you than almost anything else in a phone – we’re starting to see a theme developing here…

In fact it’s one that runs through many other Nokia Lumia 1020 reviews, including PCAdvisor, who awards it 3.5/5 but claims it’s “it’s expensive for what is essentially a now out-of-date Lumia 920 with a better snapper” and has some issues with battery life. DigitalSpy is slightly more positive, praising the aesthetics and design of the phone and claiming it’s one of their favourites of 2013, but still cites issues with the Windows Phone architecture, and Expert Reviews is very complementary, giving it 5 stars and calling it the “ultimate cameraphone”, though is largely focused on reviewing the phone as a camera rather than an all-rounder.

And finally GMSArena, in typically detailed fashion, takes every element of the Lumia 1020 for a spin and concludes that it may well be the final big swansong for the Finnish firm, and despite some excellent technology and impressive results from the snapper, other manufacturers have come further, despite less megapixels, on more fully-featured platforms.

The only other point of note from these reviews is that while the camera was widely praised, it was pointed out that it is still not an effective replacement for a dedicated compact system, so it seems that even with these sorts of specifications, smartphone-snappers still have some way to go before they will replace the traditional point-and-shoot.

So there you have it. Ultimate cameraphone the Lumia 1020 may be, but ultimate smartphone? It doesn’t look like it.

Nokia’s JobLens App: View Vacancies Around You

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“Britain’s economy has turned a corner at last” quip senior Tory MPs ahead of last month’s official Gross Domestic Product (GDP) data showing Britain’s output. Almost five years following the crippling financial crash the UK’s financial woes seem to be witnessing a flicker of optimism, but try telling the 29.70 million people who are looking and available to work but are unable to find a job that the “mood in Britain has changed.”

House prices may have seen a wisp of a rise; GDP may be a little healthier but for the millions unemployed, the rosy picture the Tories seem intent on painting could hardly be gloomier.

While help might not be readily at hand through the government, Nokia seems better prepared to tackle the UK’s unemployment woes in the form of an augmented reality app.

Nokia recently unveiled JobLens, a proactive app which enables job seekers to see more than 500,000 available job vacancies throughout the UK. Users can filter the open job opportunities through company, distance, salary or keyword. At a first glance you may ask yourself how JobLens is different from the likes of Moster.co.uk or Jobsite.co.uk. What gives JobLens an original edge is that users can view the vacancies on a map, or, on some devices, using augmented reality. With selected Lumia models, the app will open up a lens allowing users to search for vacancies in particular town or city.

Looking through a spurious camera lens to hone in on places where jobs are available might not save the UK’s unemployment problems, but at least Nokia is doing, well more than the coalition government that’s for sure.

Employment issues aside, the technology behind the JobLens app is interesting. Nokia’s HERE maps use sight navigation as a way to discover and find your way around the world. LiveSight technology advances HERE maps further by enabling users to pinpoint exactly where they are looking. Users simply have to open HERE Maps, click on the LiveSight icon and pan around. As you pan, shops, restaurants and buildings will stare back up at you on your phone’s display.

Besides allowing job seekers to pinpoint the exact location of a job with interesting accuracy, JobLens will recommend opportunities that are catered to a user’s qualifications, can create CVs and even share CVs with prospective hiring managers. What’s more, if you manage to bag yourself an interview, HERE maps will guide you to the destination.

In its JobLens press release, Nokia describes its new app as being a “catalyst for the employment market” as it “lowers barriers between job seekers and local vacancies.”

JobLens is only available for Nokia Lumia devices, including those operating Windows Phone 8 and 7.5 or higher.

It might not rectify a deeply embedded societal crisis in which the UK government is irrefutably failing, but JobLens certainly beats the old-school job hunting method of squinting over ads in a Job Centre window.

You can download the enterprising app here.

Top 5 Gadget Flops

Creating a new piece of technology requires years of research, painstaking development, numerous product designs and a great deal of testing. Vast teams of engineers with boundless experience work tirelessly to produce the latest gadget that aims to revolutionise the way we go about our daily lives. However, not every product is a success, with even the most esteemed tech aficionados getting it wrong. So for your viewing pleasure, here is a run-down of the five most futile and fruitless gadgets ever:

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1. Apple Newton MessagePad

A vision of the future? Ahead of its time? Or just a terrible product? Apple’s Newton MessagePad has been heralded by some as the initial inspiration for the iPad, however this early tablet variant ultimately failed to secure any notable success.

The Newton received a great deal of ridicule for its handwriting recognition feature. The technology had to learn the user’s handwriting over a long period of time and struggled to detect common dictionary words. An episode of The Simpsons even made light of this infamous shortcoming.

Too big to be carried around in the user’s pocket but lacking the computing power for serious work, the Newton struggled to find a niche in the market. Apple’s ambitious promises and optimistic marketing campaign couldn’t attract consumers either.

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2. Sony MiniDisc

In theory, the MiniDisc player had the potential to be magnificent – a compact data storage device with the ability to play high quality audio. Unfortunately for Sony, its arrival came too late to make an impact on the CD market and then suffered from the emergence of MP3 players towards the end of the nineties.

Despite popularity in Japan, a high price point meant MiniDisc players were out of reach for a vital teenage market. What’s more, the major record labels did not give support to a format introduced by music industry rivals Sony.

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3. Nintendo Virtual Boy

Promoted as the first video game console capable of producing 3D graphics, the Nintendo Virtual Boy promised a virtual reality experience. However in the real world, the head-mounted display delivered basic depth-of-field imaging and in some cases, nauseating side effects.

The monochromatic display and awkward ergonomic design left gamers with dizziness and headaches. It’s hefty price tag left consumers feeling sick to the stomach as well.

Some critics praised the consoles novelty, while others felt the Virtual Boy was a gimmick without much substance.

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4. Nokia N-Gage

A mobile phone lacking coherent design for day-to-day use combined with a portable games console devoid of any immersive visual stimulation, the Nokia N-Gage was doomed from the start. The phrase ‘Jack of all trades, master of none’ seems most appropriate here.

Humorously described as a ‘taco’ by several commentators, Nokia’s poor design also required users to remove the battery to insert a game. The keyboard layout was difficult for entering text and even worse when it came to interacting with a poor selection of content.

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5. Sony Betamax

One of the greatest consumer electronics companies of our time, yet Sony manages another product flop with its ill-fated Betamax video cassette player. Once again, Sony was the victim of its own success, as it chose not to license the technology to other manufacturers, believing it could conquer the market alone.

Even though the format was released a year earlier than JVC’s VHS alternative, the longer recording times of its rival saw Beta lose an established film studio and home video market share.