Cell phone interface reviews Jason 10 Nov 2005

39 comments Latest by Amy Hoy

I’d like to regularly review cell phone interfaces for Signal vs. Noise. If you’re a cell phone manufacturer, your phones work on the Cingular GSM network, and you’d be interested in providing a phone for review, please email jason at 37signals dot com. Thanks.

39 comments (comments are closed)

Andy 10 Nov 05

Hehe, man - wouldn’t we all?

By the way, if you manufacture money and would like to send me some to review, please email…

Dave Simon 10 Nov 05

I’d like to review high-end automobiles on my site. If you are a manufacturer of high-end automobiles that work on roads, and would like them tested in the varying conditions of the state of Montana (yes, we’ve got a speed limit now) - contact me through my site. Thank you.

Any high-end automobiles tested will become the sole property of me.

JF 10 Nov 05

Umm, I’ll be returning the phones. This isn’t for my own personal collection.

tim 10 Nov 05

I think it might be a good idea for phone manufacturers to send one for testing here. If they are sure about the quality of their products, there couldn’t be a better place to advertise. The readers of SVN are most probably part of their targeted audience…
(Plus Jason knows what he talks about in terms of UI…)

Don Schenck 10 Nov 05

I’d like to review supermodels …

Paul Watson 10 Nov 05

Was it 37signals who used to have a blog where employees would write reviews of products they owned? I remember it being very clean and usable and the writing was decent too. There were plenty of outdoor and gadget reviews as well as, for some reason, basketball shoes.

Jemaleddin 10 Nov 05

Hi, I’m incredibly persnickety about usability issues and widely read. If you’d like to have your phone’s interface flamed so hard that the designer’s will get second degree burns, please contact me at….

not my real name 10 Nov 05

I love this idea. In my experience, they’re mostly terrible. Hideous, unnecessarily complex and the main screen is dominated by a frankly useless background image and navigation is hinged on figuring out which non-standard icon brings up the menu, or the address book, or the camera.

It seems they spend all their effort on the external design, and let the programmers from an 1993 linux kernal do the interface design.

CLS 10 Nov 05

“hi i have jumped the shark on my own blog, if you have a blog that needs… um… shark jumping…. just email me…..”

come on guys… get back on track. you used to inspire.

Dave Simon 10 Nov 05

Jason -

Of course you’ll return the phones. I’m just saying I wouldn’t want to return the cars. :)

I do think that cellular phone interfaces need some work. I havee a Motorola E815, and there are times when there are functions I just can’t find, but I know are there.

My wife has one as well, and she’s found some things I haven’t, and vice versa. Together we know most of the features.

Ian 10 Nov 05

A great idea!!

Cell phone interface reviews is something that no one is doing consistently, but think about how much time and trouble the average person saves with a phone with a good interface? You could gain a lot of attention with this idea

My biggest pet peeve? Every phone needs a button (or easy combination of buttons) that lets you turn the ringer on and off. This function should not be buried deep in menus…

dp 10 Nov 05

McSweeney’s Reviews of New Food

“It’s not too late for Smartfood, or Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, or even Cheetos. By intervening now, we can save the just-cheesy-enough snacks from following the same sad and self-destructive path.”

7610 guy 10 Nov 05

So JF realized that cell phones and their interface will be big in a year and wants to be a big guy in the game. True. Look at Russels post. http://www.russellbeattie.com/notebook/1008682.html

By the way, watch out for Adobe flash interfaces for phones (yup its officially adobe flash now) Get flash player for your S60 if you haven’t already.

Reed Wiedower 10 Nov 05

This is kind of a no-brainer, actually. Other than Symbian, each vendor has its own proprietary interface. And, true to form, other than Symbian, each other interface stinks. Until other phone manufacturers form an alternate alliance to Symbian (which is dominated by Nokia) there really isn’t any reason to urge design changes.

For the record, I love the Symbian UI. Just one “special” button plus the regular telephone set gives you access to all the features. It’s intuitive and clearly designed, plus it can multi-task. I only wish I had a series 60 phone…

Ebrahim 10 Nov 05

I�d like to review supermodels �

..ahem..me too! :D

mk 10 Nov 05

what happend to this blog? The amount of noise is increasing while signals have been on the wane. Personally, I prefer quality over quantity.

Anonymous Coward 10 Nov 05

What happened to you, mk? I’ve been reading for 4 years and it’s only gotten better.

Paul Watson 10 Nov 05

Thanks Mark, that is the one.

Matt 10 Nov 05

I, personally, don’t think I want to ever buy another cell phone unless it has the 37s seal of approval.

God, I hate my Motorola phone.

Kyle 10 Nov 05

I’ve had it on the mind for quite some time recently to build a cell phone review wiki. Something where early adopters go to write loosely formatted reviews of the cell phone interfaces, where other users can go to back and catch errors in the reviews, etc.

I actually thought the software would look something like Backpack, although be open to public to edit, etc.

Seemed like a good idea.

JB 10 Nov 05

There was a dude linked on BB yesterday that is building is own FrOSS cell phone (Gumstix+some gsm stack+random bits of hw lcd/mic/keypad). My guess is that he is not a skilled interface designer. Perhaps you could put your photoshop where your mouth is and work on some mockups? He’s a long way from alpha, though, AFAICT, so there’d be no where to test for quite some time. Also, though the Gumstix runs linux, I don’t know if the hw/sw/lcd can handle running something like a browser (I would think xhtml+css+xml+javascript would be a nice easy way to implement the kind of iface I’d want to see on a phone). Time to start learning Qt/Embedded.

MH 10 Nov 05

Agreed, cell phones are just waaay too packed with dumb features. My Motorola V188 has a f’ing music mixer in it, fer cryin’ out loud. I guess if enough people are ridiculous enough to want to buy wallpaper for their cell phones, the manufacturers are going to put that feature in.

Seems like the field is wide open for someone to swoop in with a usable cell phone though.

Reed, do you have a link to the Symbian phone with pics/details of the UI?

Ian 10 Nov 05

Phones are getting worse every year. We have to do something. I support this.

melissa 10 Nov 05

In addition to the UI, perhaps you could also mention your opinion on the phones’ reception and sound quality.

I have a Sony Ericsson, which I bought because I prefer their UI over other brands. But the phone’s reception is terrible, and the sound quality is equally bad, even when the reception is experiencing a brief burst of full signal.

We seem to take it for granted that the really important part of phone functionality - which is to say the phone part itself! - just works… but it seems that’s not the case.

Kyle 10 Nov 05

Btw, as a word of warning to anyone with Sprint, avoid the LG325 at all costs. Fairly cool looking phone. Terrible, terrible user interface. I’d be shocked if they did any bit of task analysis during the testing of the interface.

Justin Reese 10 Nov 05

Oh my, yes, Jason, please do this and post the review for all to see. My wife and I don’t have a cell phone because I hate either the design or the interface, and usually both. I refuse to pay for the “lesser of the evils.” Cell phones offer some today’s greatest opportunity for design improvement.

Ryan 10 Nov 05

I second (or third) that phones suck and considering most shops won’t or can’t let you play with the ‘real deal’ before you buy (instead of the stupid empty shells on chains blah).

I’d like to be able to go ‘Oh, Basecamp guys said XYZ was good’ so upon renewal of my contract I can just quote that model number :p

MH 10 Nov 05

(jsp) I like this idea, I�m just not sure SvN is the place for it. This blog has a date-based organization with no categories and no search. How would people discover/compare reviews?

One would hope that they would evolve the format to fit the content, rather than avoiding particular content to fit the current format.

I look forward to reading the reviews.

Kevin Navia 11 Nov 05

Hope you get one of those Samsung phones (a900 - Moto RAZR look a like)… I’m fascinated with it, but their interface might not be really easy to use.

Andy 11 Nov 05

Reed >
And, true to form, other than Symbian, each other interface stinks.

My Symbian Nokia 6630 sucks long and hard. It’s like the Nok people forgot everything they ever knew about designing phone UI’s, and gave it to the work experience kid to do. It’s awful, and it’s going on eBay as soon as I can get a decent non-Smartphone Nok.

I only wish I had a series 60 phone�

No, you don’t.

Jammy 11 Nov 05

Hey Guys,

I work for a local (local to 37 Signals) mobile phone company.

Please keep this in mind:
We don’t always get what we want when we designing UI. That’s especially true for designing UI for our mobile phones. A good article that may help ya’ll understand how constrained designing mobile phone UI can be found here: http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/13.11/phone.html

We have to deal with Carriers first of all and since they essentially pay the bills they get to push us around a lot… more than they should since they aren’t always right (but sometimes they are).

My primary point here is that you can’t always blame the phone creator for the bad UI, many times it’s carriers, so be nice!


Victor 11 Nov 05

I think this is a great idea. To me the most important feature of a cell phone other than basic sound quality and reception is the UI. I don’t care about downloading ring tones, wallpapers, games, or any of the 3092 superfluous features that cell phones have these days. I just want to be able to call someone in my contact list without having to wade through 4 levels of menus.

I used to have a 50xx Nokia which I thought had a great UI. Two navigation buttons and a context sensitive action buttons were all you needed to accomplish any task. The most common tasks usually only required 1 or 2 key presses and even more complex tasks didn’t require more than 3 or 4 key presses.

I now have a 60xx Nokia and I think they’ve actually taken a step backwards with the UI. There are more buttons and it actually takes more key presses to do anything. I still don’t know how to adjust the volume in the middle of a call!

If anyone knows please tell me…

Stephen 12 Nov 05

Such a shame they’ll be a different set of phones to the ones msotly available here (UK). What I still find absolutely amazing - I had a similar experience with mice at PC World - is that you can’t test the phones in ninety per cent of the mobile phone stores here. Only look at them.

Well the case is important, but it’s really just a box. The interface and software are what interest me. But it’s a complete gamble, nowhere ever seems willing to let me look at a working handset.

boombox 15 Nov 05

Sorry Jason, Your readers are not our target market.
Designers dont have deep pockets.
We prefer Om’s blog.

Amy Hoy 15 Nov 05

I could save you a lot of trouble… “They all suck.” Actually, they’re all pretty awful except Nokia and Sony Ericsson, and even those both have serious problems. I agree with Victor, they’re worse now. It took me ages to find out that to adjust the volume on my 3120, I had to hit “Left” on the “d-pad” during a call, and then “right” until I chose my volume. Note that this involves removing the phone from your head, and there’s no context given anywhere to suggest that this is the case.

Ugh. It made me want to throw it across the room, Steve-style.

I keep thinking that if I could design only one “real world” (non-web) thing again, I’d try to make a better cell phone interface.