As we round off the first decade in the new millennium, UrbanWire looks back at how far technology has come in just 10 years.
Curiously enough, as I’ve found out in the course of writing this article, the best evidence of this isn’t in how many functions a gadget has or how many Megahertz or Megapixels one can now get for a low price. Instead, it’s marked by the difficulty of finding tech devices that were raved about just a few years ago.
It took some scouting around Cash Converters, my storeroom, and chatting up PR personnel just to secure the 3 devices we have for this article.
So where have the rest of the gadgets disappeared to? According to a second-hand laptop dealer, Singaporeans typically only want computers less than 4 to 5 years old and anything older than that is simply discarded.
Also, the market for used mobile phones has completely fallen through the floor, as shown by most shops dealing in new phones. In fact, one of them tried to convince me to buy a new phone, enthusiastically saying, “only $5 more, better choice”.
Keeping that in mind, managing to even get these gadgets was a minor miracle in itself. All of them were in working condition, with only wear and tear as per normal usage.
Exhibit 1: A digital camera.
The Dimage 2300.
The Minolta Dimage 2300 was first launched in June 2000. Despite being introduced as an entry-level model, the Dimage 2300 carried a price tag of $738, a large sum in those days when a compact film camera was $300 to $400 on average.
In its defense, it boasted a whopping 2.1 megapixels camera compared to most of its rivals, who were still getting by with 1.3 megapixels.
Compared to modern digital cameras, the 10-year-old Dimage feels bulky and slightly insubstantial in the hands, as well as lacking in features.
The movie function, something present in even the lowest-end camera and most handphones today, is nowhere to be found. The more glaring omission however, is the lack of an optical zoom, which means not being able to zoom in on a photo subject to crop out unnecessary details.
Despite that, there’s still a certain thrill to using something that basic. Using it couldn’t be any simpler – Just point the camera at your subject, focus and take your photo.
The 1.5 inch LCD screen, despite its small size, dim backlight and bluish tint, did its job adequately, considering the low resolution of the pictures it takes.
General shot (top) and close-up shot (above) by the Dimage.
This camera was definitely from a time when we were still making that “uneasy” transition from film to digital, and it shows. The flash and macro settings are not changed on the LCD screen, but on a secondary display, just as how one would on a film camera.
Another interesting addition, a serial port connector, to cater to those wanted to join the digital revolution, but did not have the computers to match.
Unfortunately, the 2300 stumbled in what really mattered – Picture quality. Photos had an unnatural tinge of red to them, and the Dimage really struggled with focusing on an object. This was something that a later camera, 2003’s Nikon Coolpix 3100, shrugged off. However, for most general photography, the Dimage 2300 did okay, although that tinge persisted.
Compare this to pictures taken by Nikon’s 3100, just 3 years later.
Its feature-set and picture quality is easily bettered by cellphone cameras these days, a sign of how far we’ve come. In comparison, A DSLR like Nikon’s D90, like the ones our photographer buddies at Klix use when covering events for UrbanWire, has 12.1 megapixels. Even though megapixels are not the determining factor for picture quality, the pictures taken using the D90 is light-years ahead in terms of quality.
Exhibit 2: Portable music player
Look at that dinosaur!
2000 was definitely a period of time where MP3 were still only for the “only for rich techies”, or at least until the Apple iPod came along the next year and revolutionized the world. Scanning the newspaper archives back in 2000, MP3 players cost the better part of $400-$500, and had only 64MB-128MB of memory, compared to today’s 160gb iPod Classic . That meant space for only 1 to 2 CDs at that time, while 10 years later, the iPod can store up to 40,000 songs.
The most commonly used portable media player then was still the CD player. After some rummaging around in my storeroom, I found a Sony portable cd player; model D-E355, which was made in 2001.
Costing $135 then, its only major feature was a remote control that allowed one to control the player in the bag.
It’s amazing what they used to consider as portable then. Carrying one around on the bus these days and changing CDs are bound to elicit stares from bemused commuters, wondering if you just stepped out of a time warp.
There’s no competition at all.
Practicality aside, the portable CD player did quite well in terms of sound quality, despite its lowly specifications even back then (with its humble single bit digital-analogue converter), serving to highlight the superior sound quality of CDs compared to digital media formats.
Compared to MP3 files of the same quality played on an iPod, the CD seemed to let the subtleties of the music through. The Stone Roses’ Breaking Into Heaven’s gentle background guitar distortions were more distinct on the CD.
Discounting sound quality, another advantage is the ability to listen to a CD immediately after buying and opening the package. Still, the tiny size of modern MP3 players and the ability to have hundreds of cds in your pocket has won over CD players.
Exhibit 3: The mobile phone
The LG BL40 (left) and the Nokia 8855.
Probably one of the more iconic phones of the millennium era was the Nokia 8850, with its weighted sliding cover and polished aluminium finish. Retailing at the princely sum of $1,388 in March 2000, it was the phone to be seen with then.
The Nokia 8855 shown was found after some scouting around second-hand mobile shops (of which there are not many). In terms of specifications, it was identical to the 8850, save for the addition of a long outdated WAP browser and a new navy blue colour scheme.
Compared to modern cellphones, the 8855 comes across as being slightly lightweight and thick, despite its solid construction.
Check out the difference in thickness between the two phones.
Call reception easily matched that of my other phone, an LG BL40 holding on to mobile signals slightly better than the LG, rarely (if ever) dropping bars. Despite being 10 years old, the Nokia 8855 still had one or two features that proved useful in today’s mobile phones, a T9 text predictor and an organiser.
Then again, the 8000 series were more about style with only essential features of the day. Using the 8855 10 years on, there’s still a sense of novelty about it, especially with the slider, which is rarely seen with today’s candybar form factors like the iPhone being more popular.
The lack of features basically takes it back to when phones were just for calling and messaging. If that’s the case for you, you might be in for a surprise – A 10-year-old phone could be all you ever need.
Phones with style that cost as much as the 8855 today do much more than just look good, by being able to handle the web, music and take decent photos – basically combining the job of all 3 devices into 1 device, like the iPhone.