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Counterclockwise: HTC Dream, Galaxy S, Xperia

Counterclockwise is a weekly write-up that looks back on the history of mobile devices, concentrating on the current time of the year – late March in this case. This time around we got caught up tracking the launches of the flagship Android phones by HTC, Samsung, Sony and LG, but there was also enough time for a couple of curiosities.

Game of Phones

HTC made the first Android phone in partnership with a US carrier, the T-Mobile G1. The HTC-branded device was known as the Dream and in late March 2009 it was arriving in Europe. Looking through the archives we see that late march has seen some bitter rivalry between Android flagships.

A year later to the day Samsung unveiled the I9000, aka Galaxy S. From the humble beginnings, Android flagships were getting quite sophisticated with large, sharp displays and HD cameras. The Galaxy S was not alone though, the Sony Ericsson Xperia X10 hit the shelves just a couple of days after Samsung made its announcement.

As for HTC, it was still working close with Google. The HTC Desire was arriving in T-Mobile UK stores alongside the Xperia X10. The Desire was the HTC base for the Nexus One. A couple of years in, Android already had its biggest players vying for consumer attention.

A year later LG was pushing for dominance with the LG Optimus 2X, the first dual-core Android and first phone with 1080p video recording. This was a year before the Optimus G, which took the Nexus line away from Samsung, which had snatched it away from HTC.

Samsung’s first Nexus device, the Nexus S, was based on the original Galaxy S and came out soon after it in late 2010. The next installment was only loosely based on the Galaxy S II and was dubbed Galaxy Nexus. Anyway, the Galaxy S II itself was close to launch in March 2011 and one unit was already previewed.

Samsung Galaxy S II

HTC wasn’t taking the Nexus coup laying down. The HTC Pyramid was going around the rumor mill, the device to become the Sensation. HTC couldn’t decide on a name for its flagship line – Magic, Desire, Sensation, but it finally settled on One.

A year later the HTC One X was nearing launch and impressed with benchmarks of its two Krait cores. That was the AT&T model though, the international version was going to use the latest Tegra, the chipset line that also powered LG’s Optimus 4X.

The latest S flagship was close too, the Samsung Galaxy S III had leaked though the image and specs proved inaccurate. Anyway, it did come with a quad-core processor as did the international One X.

Sony was ahead in that it was already shipping the Xperia S, but the phone was a bit behind the curve. It had a dual-core processor – a Snapdragon chipset, but pre-Krait. While a dual-core Krait could put up a fight against a quad-core Cortex-A9 in a Galaxy S III or a One X, the Scorpion didn’t cut it. Also, the 4.3″ 720p screen of the Xperia S while sharp was smaller than its opponents. Big screens is a trend that is still defining the mobile market.

A year later Sony had unveiled the Xperia Z line, including the Xperia ZL. That generation was catching up and had a quad-core Krait processor and a large screen (5″ 1080p).

Samsung had also switched to Snapdragon after the mostly Exynos-powered S III generation. The 70% of Galaxy S4 units would be powered by Snapdragon 600 (the latest Qualcomm chipset at the time, the Xperia Z/ZL were a generation behind).

HTC still wasn’t 100% happy with its flagship name and decided to drop the letter. So, the HTC One it is. Or will be anyway, as the launch got pushed back from March 2013 to late April except for several markets.

Android’s March madness as Samsung was launching the Galaxy S5 across the world. HTC had reconsidered the letter thing and added brackets for good measure as the HTC One (M8) launched with a dual-camera.

Sony got out of lockstep as after the Xperia Z/ZL generation it started a “two flagships a year” strategy. It seems like it abandoned it after the Xperia Z3 launch late last year though. LG also took itself out of the yearly year rush and launched the LG G2 and LG G3 later than its competition, but brought better specs in a bid for the top.

This March saw the latest Galaxy S and HTC One launch, we’re still waiting for Sony’s and LG’s devices.

Double down on storage

Before smartphones, most phones didn’t have much internal storage – there weren’t many apps to install so there was little need for the fast but expensive embedded chips. Instead, memory cards could be installed by the users to hold heir files – MMC, MemoryStick, SD and their various mini and micro versions.

Those cards went from barely able to hold a few MP3s to massive. SanDisk was part of both the MMC and SD development and is the company that usually comes out with the biggest cards first. In March 2010 that was 32GB – dozens of times bigger than the first HDDs some of us had in our early computers.

Back then it launched at a whopping $ 200, while the “biggest ever” microSD from the year before was the 16GB and went for like $ 40. Last year SanDisk scored another first with the 128GB card. This year, however, it broke the “double each year” rule and launched a 200GB microSD. Apparently, that’s the most it can fit inside the tiny form factor, any bigger and the chip will stick out.

The roomy SD cards can easily (though not cheaply) fit 512GB. Now we’re waiting for smaller manufacturing nodes and 3D transistor arrangements to bring the microSD format back on track.

The mechanical-powered phone

Smartwatches now threaten to replace traditional watches, but what if a traditional watch maker decides to make a smartphone? Then you get something like the Ulysse Nardin Chairman. A unique phone, it featured hybrid power – a kinetic rotor similar to those in mechanical watches would feed the battery bit by bit.

Chairman Chairman Chairman Chairman
Ulysse Nardin Chairman

The Chairman was a luxury phone with a 2.8″ capacitive touchscreen and – get this – a fingerprint scanner. Not bad for 2009, unfortunately its hybrid power didn’t catch on.

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