We were told that a 5G BlackBerry phone was going out in 2021. It would have made a pleasant break from the waves of Samsung, Xiaomis and Motorolas that we review every year. This has not worked.
We are not surprised. The original owner RIM stopped being the power behind BlackBerry in 2016 when the name was licensed to Chinese technology giant TCL. TCL took a slimmer approach, but its reign ended in 2020, and then the brand moved on to OnwardMobility, a US company.
BlackBerry’s return to the US is a refreshing change after years of Chinese brands dominating most new developments in mobile. But where TCL was already a major production operation, OnwardMobility had to create new production partnerships for this BlackBerry project.
We see the last pieces of the BlackBerry brand pushed out of the tube here, but getting them out is harder than you might think. Could there be other phone brands out there that are worth bringing back to life?
Let’s dig back through the years with smartphones to find the series that may be worth updating while we wait to see if the 5G BlackBerry is genuine or 2022’s vaporware pending.
The UK Wileyfox lasted about three years, from 2015 to 2018, but we have some fond memories of using its phones. Wileyfox made affordable Androids with surprisingly decent guts, like a OnePlus for the budget buyer. Back in 2015, Wileyfox seemed directly inspired by this company, in the CyanogenMod software and finish that it used, as well as its aggressive pricing strategy.
Now that OnePlus has been incorporated into the giant Oppo, we want more of the apostate spirit left in the world of phones.
There is even better technology that Wileyfox can also use in this era. Both MediaTek and Qualcomm now offer lower-end chipsets that can handle top-end games like Fortnite well, making Android navigation feel quite similar to that of a top-end phone.
With the release of CyanogenMod software, Wileyfox might be able to team up with Google to make these Android One devices. Phones like the Swift 2 were real no-nonsense handsets. It would be great to see a Wileyfox Swift 3 that completely bypassed the trend of packing its back with lots of almost useless cameras, to do something a little more like a Pixel 4a: putting the limited budget that is, in hardware of good quality, instead of a lot of extra stuff.
Could it happen? After Wileyfox’s death, STK took over the brand, but did little with it. Now, several years ago, much of the limited brand recognition Wileyfox once had has disappeared, meaning it’s probably gone forever.
Panasonic Lumix (2015)
Back in 2015, Panasonic made one of the nicest phones ever made and almost no one noticed it. It was the Panasonic Lumix CM1, an Android with a 1-inch camera sensor.
Few phones have had a sensor as large as the Sharp Aquos R6 (available in Japan only) and the conspicuously expensive Sony Xperia Pro-I. The strange thing is that the CM1 actually went further than the Sony phone and did so more than five years earlier.
Where the Xperia Pro-I uses a cropped portion of its 1-inch sensor, making it so only in the name, the Panasonic Lumix CM1 used all 20 megapixels of the core hardware. Hardly anyone bought a CM1, in our best belief, but we would love to see what the company’s engineers could do with a sensor on this scale matched with modern computing techniques to increase performance in low light.
We also had to give Panasonic a few years and a few tens of thousands of dollars to invest in image algorithms, but hey, we’re dealing with a fantasy scenario here. Or would it not be nice to see Google’s engineers team up with Panasonic’s own and make the best single-camera camera in the world?
In fact, there is already an almost distant relative to this Panasonic dream phone, the Leica Leitz Phone 1. Leica is a long-term partner with Panasonic, and some of its lower dedicated cameras are based on Panasonic designs, adjusted with a bit of extra Leica gloss. The Leitz phone is a tweaked 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 is not about who uses our data the most would make a welcome change.
Could it happen? No chance. Panasonic has spent the last few years leaving business areas where they cannot thrive. It gave up telecommunications in 2020, the semiconductor sector in 2019, and in 2021 it announced that it would stop its own production of TVs. And Panasonic made some of the best high-end TVs in the world. Panasonic’s shareholders would implode if they tried to re-enter the smartphone industry.
N-Gage was a Nokia gaming phone brand from the early 2000s. It was a total flop, and the name has long been the butt of jokes. But it was a good idea that could be brought back to life in collaboration with former Nokia owner Microsoft.
This is a very round way of saying we want an Xbox Game Pass phone. It would not play the games. It would be a portal to stream the games over Wi-Fi and 5G and have robust clip-on controllers a bit like a Nintendo Switch.
It would also be almost the only phone available with a true 1080p screen, not the ultra-high style that has been the norm in smartphones since 2017. Without the connected controllers you would have a solid little oddball with, let’s say, a 5.6 inch screen. We call him stump.
Put the pillows on and it will be more like a Steam Deck that you can actually have in your pocket.
Is this a feasible idea? It would probably have a better chance if you omitted the “N-Gage” part, which would make it laugh off the internet on day one. But it could prioritize controller feel and the power of its Wi-Fi and 5G antennas to offer a much better and less bulky gaming streaming experience than the alternatives.
While we’re here, let’s also show a little love for N-Gage’s game catalog. The platform was criticized for having a lame library, but it comes 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- games, and more. And many of these were full 3D titles, years before the Apple App Store launched. We were in an era of basic Java based phone games in those days. You can criticize N-Gage’s execution, but the ambition? No way.
Could it happen? With N-Gage branding? Not a chance. The years that have passed have only matured the sulfur-containing odor that hangs around the name. However, we would be disappointed if Microsoft had not 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. This would be something completely different.
Even mentioning the word Palm is probably enough to get you branded as a boomer these days. But you guys should be there, folks. In 2009, Palm Pre launched a nice little smartphone that combined the keyboard of a BlackBerry with the kind of friendly smoothness you might associate with an advanced 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 short period of time before getting a strangely abrupt end. The announcement of the cancellation of the entire series was made just one day after the Palm Pre 3 was officially released.
Palm returning to the smartphone game is a terrible, impossible idea. But we do not hate the idea of trying a Palm phone that adopts and re-telephones the software.
You see, Palm’s phones had software called webOS. This was eventually sold to LG, which uses it for the interface to its TVs. LG has now left the smartphone industry and leaves it free to license the streaming service-packed webOS to the virtually non-existent Palm to sell phones to anxious city dwellers who want away from social media but not Netflix.
A Palm phone was actually released not so long ago. In 2019, the Palm Phone was made by TCL under license. It was a small Android with poor battery life meant to help you reduce your phone usage, but it did not really. A “real” Palm phone could at least be bizarrely interesting.
Could it happen? The original Palm does not even exist anymore. TCL’s half-hearted Palm return was a flop, and the idea of rebuilding webOS back into a phone platform is, let’s be honest, ridiculous.
Did you know that Dell used to make phones? It was a major proponent of the ‘phablet’ trend that emerged a few years after Android was introduced. There was the 5-inch Dell Streak, the smaller Dell Venue and the Windows Phone Dell Venue Pro. They all landed in 2010, and by the end of 2012, the company had left the phone industry altogether.
Why should Dell return? It honestly has not much to add other than that it is an actual American company, with branding still respected among the technology-buying audience.
But would not you consider buying a Dell XPS phone if it was as good as the 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 US giant that only makes phone hardware. Dell shareholders would hate the idea, but a return to the phone industry would – oddly enough – contribute significantly to the diversity of the pool.
Could it happen? It would be an extremely bad idea for Dell to return to phones. While we can already imagine a Dell XPS 6 with a sleek metal back that looks like an XPS 13 laptop lid, the investment required to make the cameras competitive would be huge. An Alienware phone (Dell’s game brand) might make more sense, but it would only be interesting if it tried something as ambitious as our N-Gage Xbox Game Pass phone fantasy.