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2006 in Review: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

22nd December 2006

2006 was a year in which we saw many more "good" handsets than "bad" ones.. and ugly ones were in short supply to. However, this is our pick of the best, worst and ugliest handsets of 2006. Enjoy!

The Good..

There were a lot candidates in this category, and most of them deserve a mention.. so before we get to the top 3, we'd like to go through some of the handsets that didn't quite make it.

Honourable Mentions

The Sony Ericsson P990i smartphone eventually turned up very late in 2006, and it's an impressive piece of kit.. when it works properly. Closely related to the P990i is the Sony Ericsson M600i which is a somewhat simpler device, that seems more reliable too. Currently Sony Ericsson are the only real competitors to Nokia in the Symbian marketplace, and both these devices are promising, and hopefully software updates will make them more stable.

Nokia had some problems with software too, particularly in smartphones. But several phones stand out in terms of features and design. You can't miss the everything-but-the-kitchen-sink Nokia N93 which admittedly is too much for most people. The Nokia E50 and Nokia 6131 turned out to be good business phones.. and the 6131 is one we didn't like the look of at launch, and now it's one of our favourites. The Nokia 5500 Sport shows an innovative way to leverage smartphone technologies in a practical package, and the Nokia 5300 is shaping up to be a big-end-of-year hit because of a good combination of multimedia capabilities and looks. And even though it's not a phone, we've been impressed with the Nokia 770 Internet Tablet with the 2006 OS as being a refreshing alternative to big-as-a-brick mobiles.

One of the stars of 2006 was the LG KG800 "Chocolate" phone, which showed that there was more than one way to design a fashion phone.. but Motorola demonstrated that there was still some life in the old RAZR concept by releasing the Motorola KRZR K1. Samsung demonstrated a third way of doing it with the Samsung X830, and this is probably the most practical phone of its type we've seen so far.

2006 demonstrated that serious messaging devices were popular. The BlackBerry Pearl is the first consumer-orientated BlackBerry and the combination of style, a brilliant screen and BlackBerry's practical design make a very attractive handset. In the business world, the BlackBerry 8707v added 3G to the already successful 8700 platform. In the Windows world, the HTC TyTN added more features than ever before, and is one of the first HSDPA handsets to market.

Runners Up

Nokia N73

In our view, Nokia haven't quite gotten all of the bugs out of the Nokia N73, but it's a huge improvement in almost every way over the older Nokia N70. The N73's great camera and screen, combined with an improved keyboard, multimedia and smartphone capabilities make this the high-end (but compact) 3G phone that the competition wants to beat.

Nokia call these N-series phones "multimedia computers".. and it's not surprising given that they can do pretty much anything. And they can even make phone calls! And because the N73 is a Symbian smartphone, it has been chosen as one of 3's X-Series handsets.

 Nokia N73

Motorola FONE F3

At the other end of the scale from the Nokia N73 is the Motorola FONE F3. The FONE goes to show that low cost handsets don't have to be primitive. This is the first mobile phone on the market to feature an electronic paper display, and it's also designed to be resilient, have a long battery life, stylish and inexpensive.

We thing that the FONE F3 is the best low cost handset of 2006, and it's likely to be a huge seller worldwide.

 Motorola FONE F3

Winner - Best Phone of 2006

Sony Ericsson K800i

A direct rival to the Nokia N73, the Sony Ericsson K800i is a much more polished device that shows great attention to detail. As a consumer device, it's just that bit better than the N73 and we understand that it's selling in huge quantities too.

The big advantage that Sony Ericsson has is the access to Sony's popular sub-brands such as Walkman and Cybershot. This is an excellent camera phone and surely deserves to carry the Cybershot name.. but it's also a great multimedia device too.

Unlike the N73, this isn't a smartphone.. but most consumers aren't really interested in smartphone capabilities at the moment.

 Sony Ericsson K800i

..the Bad..

(Dis)honourable Mentions

There were few truly bad handsets in 2006, but there were several that didn't live up to expectations. Chief amongst these was the bug-ridden Sony Ericsson P990i - yes, this is a handset with real good and bad points. But the P990i wasn't the only promising phone that had a serious flaw. The LG KG800 "Chocolate" looks great, but the heat-sensitive buttons have a nasty habit of deleting all your contacts. On a different track, the Motorola KRZR K1 was Motorola's most significant release of 2006, but ultimately it's just another bloody RAZR phone of which there are far too many already.. including the pointlessly redundant Motorola V1100 HSDPA phone.

Two long-anticipated phones turned out to be disappointments. The Sharp GX40 had been expected for two years and a damp squib. The Motorola ROKR E2 fixed most of the problems with the original ROKR, but it sank without trace. In most of the world, the ROKR brand is completely dead.

And the most pathetic handset of 2006 in our view is the BenQ-Siemens A38, which is just a hideous relic from the past.

Runners up (or Runners down?)

Nokia 6080

Good looking in a "blingy" sort of way, the problems with the Nokia 6080 are under the surface, and it goes to prove that you can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear.

It's a really basic and outdate handset underneath, and to us the Nokia 6080 appears to be an attempt to cobble together a "Chocolate" style phone from a pile of cheap parts lying around the Nokia factory.

Note to Nokia: if you're going to design a phone that's this good looking, please make sure that the beauty is more than scan deep!

 Nokia 6080

Nokia 6151

The Nokia 6151 is a horribly crippled 3G phone that comes with the worst quality display we've ever seen in a 3G device, rendering it pretty useless for more 3G applications.

Uniquely designed not to appeal to either consumer or businesses, the Nokia 6151 is just a mishmash of poorly matching features.

On the plus side, it's a relatively lightweight and cheap device, and it does come with expandable memory, an MP3 player and FM radio.

 Nokia 6151

Worst Phone of 2006

BenQ-Siemens EF91

Possibly the phone that killed BenQ-Siemens, the BenQ-Siemens EF91 looked good on paper, but when it was submitted to the carriers for testing, it was so poor that no carrier was prepared to certify it for their network.

The EF91 sums up BenQ-Siemens in a nutshell - here is a device that cost a considerable amount of money to develop, but was so poorly implemented that it proved to be a disaster. Indeed, the EF91 set a pattern for many other BenQ-Siemens devices in 2006.

 BenQ-Siemens EF91

..and the Ugly

Only their mothers would love their looks

Ugly phones are not necessarily bad phones.. in fact, some of those listed here are very innovative in their own way.

The Samsung i600 is a very promising looking Windows smartphone, but it just looks like someone has chucked a load of keys on the front more-or-less at random. An equally promising Windows device, the i-mate JAQ really just looks plain wrong.. oddly it reminds us of a high-tech Japanese toilet. And the Pirelli Discus Dualphone DP L10 is a clever combination of GSM and VOIP in one device, but it has a much style as a tyre iron.

Caution: may curdle milk

BenQ-Siemens A38

A rare combination of bad and ugly, the BenQ-Siemens A38 is a device with no redeeming features that somehow survived from prehistoric times.. well, 2003.. and has come back to life as a deeply ugly and very low-tech phone.

In many ways the antithesis to the excellent Motorola FONE F3, the A38 is another good example of why BenQ-Siemens went belly-up.

 BenQ-Siemens A38

LG KG920

The first 5 megapixel phone we've seen in Europe, the LG KG920 can either be described as "exciting and chunky" or "pug ugly".

It's actually a pretty sophisticated handset with quite a lot of features, hence the large number of buttons.. and at least LG weren't slaves to convention either. You'll either love or hate the looks.. but you certainly can't ignore them.

 LG KG920

It must have a lovely personality

Virgin Lobster 700TV / HTC Monet

The Virgin Lobster 700TV (also known as the HTC Monet) is another clever phone with unfortunate looks.

That lump on the side is there because this particular device has a free-to-air digital TV receiver in it. On top of that, it runs Windows, has a good size screen, a decent camera and a good multimedia player. It just looks like it has an unfortunate growth.

So in fact the Lobster 700TV does have a lovely personality.. which probably accounts for the strangely mis-shapen looks.

 Virgin Lobster 700TV

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