The Longest Now


The elegant uniPaq
Thursday November 04th 2004, 11:30 am
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I have before me a device designed with the utmost brilliance.  I
haven’t seen such a quietly pleasing design in a gadget-package in
recent memory.  Some of you know that I was aiming to purchase at
least a phone and a laptop this week, but I did not end up with the
Danger Sidekick I was angling for…

The sidekick was an understood quantity – delightful design, with a number of
charming flaws, and a few unfortunate barriers to improvement; a good,
and reasonable inexpensive, 1-year purchase to replace my ailing
phone.  A few troubles arose: 1) they no longer offer the ‘old’
sidekick in-store, in favor of the ‘new’ one (which is admittedly
sturdier and a better heft, but $100 more and with a less perfect
keyboard), and 2) I fell in love, just in time, with something else.

I discovered the first functional pda-phone I’ve ever seen.  And I discovered it by chance, simply because its attachable thumb-keyboard is so brilliant. 
As I was filling out the paperwork for my sidekick, I was chatting with
the rep about good mini-keyboards (or the lack thereof) and he showed
me the attachable keyboard for the iPaq 6315. 
It was light, the width of the pda, looked breakable, but had smooth,
responsive buttons that didn’t rattle or distress.  crazy
It was only then that I stopped to look at the awful pda-sized blob of
plascrete, no doubt like ever other such blob, and thought, ‘hmm, not
execrable.’

As I looked at it again, however, i could see that it had been
designed with love.  I won’t be surprised if it turns out IDEO had
their hand in this one.  Its cross-sections are elegant, its
understated mechanisms for keeping the battery from coming out, for
aligning plug-in modules to avoid wear and tear, for separating the
status lights for its three wireless networks within a square mm of
space… the way it blends external buttons and covers (a headphone
jack, a camera button [ugh!  yes, a camera; I got it despite that
sad fact], volume controls, a dedicated vocoder button, a smart-card
slot) into the slight rubberized outdent that serves as design, grip,
and shock guard.

This kind of triple-use design shows up throughout the system, all the
more remarkable for its being designed by different groups.  The
thumbpad that hooked me is by a partner design group; the nifty
elements of software integration, which float a great deal of
information up to the high-detail screens, were surely done by a
different group than the team which laid out the no-wasted-space
case. 

Miam, as someone I know would say.


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