Mobile Phones: Style vs Usability | August 26, 2005

A while ago I mentioned my desire for a new mobile phone. Now I have to admit that there isn’t actually anything wrong with my current phone. In fact I’d go as far as to say it’s the best phone I’ve ever had.

The K700i is small, lightweight, looks great and has pretty much all the features I’ve ever wanted in a phone. The bevelled sides make the phone pleasant to hold while at the same time reducing its perceived size. All in all, a very impressive design.

However there is one thing has always bugged me, and that was the poor quality of the camera. Now I understand it’s a phone I’m talking about here, not the latest digital ixus. As such I shouldn’t expect professional quality images. However the K700 really doesn’t take good pics at all, not even good enough for posting to flickr. So despite loving my phone, I’ve been looking forward to the next generation of 2 Megapixel camera phones.

I had originally wanted to get a Sony Ericsson K750. I quite liked the look of the phone, although I wasn’t sure about the black finish. However the main problem with the K750 was the keypad. If you look at the keys, the two main function keys are tiny and set back into the body, making them difficult to use.

k750-keyboard.jpg

Also the number 2 on the keypad has a reasonably large chunk taken out of the top, also making it difficult to use. Now while I understand that you have to pack a lot of features into these smart phones, it shouldn’t come at the expense of their primary function, making phone calls.

I much preferred the keyboard on the W800.

w800-keyboard.jpg

The main control buttons are much easier to use, and while the actual number buttons are smaller than the K700, they don’t have any stupid chunks chopped out of them.

The W800 has the same features as the K750 with the addition of a dedicated music player only option, and a much bigger memory stick. The only problem was the colour, bright orange. Now call me a design snob if you will, but orange really isn’t my colour of choice for a mobile phone. Also the W800 looks that bit more chunky, boxy and plasticy than the K750 and doesn’t fit as nicely in the hand as my beloved k700.

So I was left with a bit of a dilemma. Get a phone I liked the look of, but had a badly designed interface, go for a more usable option who’s design I didn’t like, or stick which my current phone that looks good, is easy to use, but lacks a key feature I want.

This opens up and interesting question. Which is most important, design, usability of features?

Would you choose design and usability over features? Or if features were important, would design win out over usability, or the other way around?

I’ve made my choice, but I wonder what you’d choose.

Posted at August 26, 2005 2:46 PM

Comments

Michel Fortin said on August 26, 2005 4:02 PM

Why not you keep the phone you like so much and bring your digital camera with you more often? That said, it’s only until you find the perfect phone. :-)

Jeff Croft said on August 26, 2005 4:17 PM

I think I would choose the W800, but I don’t object to the orange like you do.

If I were you, I’d probably still choose the W800. I think the offensive color would be more bearable than the offensive interface. Unless it’s not that offensive. I’d probably just have to use it and see if I could live with it or not.

Another, fourth option is to simply wait. I’m sure it won’t be long before you can get a well-designed phone that looks and acts like you want it too, plus has a nicer camera.

owen said on August 26, 2005 4:18 PM

what I’ve discovered is that people will learn to use it - if an only if they have a desire to do so. iregardless of how user-friendly it is. But in my opionion I always choose functionality over design - for my stuff at least. Its like a 30/70 split.

Jason Landry said on August 26, 2005 4:29 PM

For me, having a notch out of the 2 wouldn’t be that big of an issue - I only use the number pad when I need to enter a contact, after that it’s function keys all the way. So, the small, recessed function keys on the K750 could be a big problem.

The W800 is orange, ‘nuff said.

I think I would wait for other options.

Rob McMichael said on August 26, 2005 4:34 PM

I have used the k750 and the keys are fine! I have never experienced any problems with it :)

However I did have the k700i and the stick went on it, meaning I couldn’t scroll up or down… this was after about 9 months of use and with no real insurance I was stuck with one of the most-frustrating problems ever. I have since switched back to Nokia (6680) although it’s too big and I’m wishing I had stayed with a smaller model :(

Chris Gibbons said on August 26, 2005 4:58 PM

I’ve had the w800i for 2 weeks now and can honestly say, it is the best phone that I have owned. The 2 mega-pixel camera is great for all those “wish I had a camera” moment on nights out and the walkman aspect of the phone is a great addition.

Would recommend to anyone!

Ben said on August 26, 2005 8:23 PM

Andy - perhaps you think the bit missing from the ‘2’ key on the k750 will be a problem, but try using the phone and see if it is an actual problem.

Or.. wait a month or two, and they’ll release the k800 in another colour, the choice is yours!

Marko Samastur said on August 26, 2005 9:06 PM

I wish I actually found a phone I liked. Or even that I would like phones at all.

In general I’d like to think that I value usability over design, but in reality it depends on how hideous something really is.

CraigM said on August 26, 2005 9:19 PM

ooh, sir suits you. Didn’t I see a “Link” ad on TV the other day (the one with the fast show guys), with a W800 bodied phone, but in 750i colours (no mistake…)? Could be your ticket. Time for a visit to churchill square…

Bruce Boughton said on August 26, 2005 9:22 PM

I just got a new K750i and I have to say I would definetly recommend it. The camera is very high quality—not just in terms of megapixels (well compared to other phones) but also in terms of focus and lighting, etc.

I went for a Siemens M65 last year on the basis that I didn’t like other phone’s keypads and that was a decision I paid for badly (the phone had to be replaced twice in one year!). I have fatish fingers and have no problem with the keypad on the K750i. I’m glad I didn’t try before I bought (couldn’t find it anywhere anyway) because the keypad would have put me off, when really it’s no problem at all.

I really would recommend the K750i. The MP3 player/radio is great quality and can go loud. The UI is very smooth. It even functions well as a phone! The only niggle is it’s Memory Stick memory which is expensive compared to other flash memory formats!

Stuart Langridge said on August 26, 2005 9:31 PM

In order: features, then usability, then design. (As you might guess, this informs my choice of operating system too, heh.) A phone is no good to me unless it does the stuff I want. I have pretty heavy requirements for a phone, too: decent J2ME support, GPRS connectivity available to Java apps, Bluetooth, SyncML, etc, etc. My big let-down with the K700i, which, like Andy, I have at the moment, is that it falls down heavily on usability. For a start, the next phone I get is going to have a flip, because I am sick of answering the damned thing in my pocket while I struggle to get it out when it rings. It’s nowhere near responsive enough to keypresses and so on; hangs for a second or two sometimes, which is completely infuriating. And the camera’s dreadful, as noted above. I shall be in the market for something new in November; to be honest, any decent phone these days has all the geek-level features I need, so I shall be looking at usability and design. My big problem is that I’m inclined towards design over usability, which means I’ll end up buying something like the Motorola Razr and then find out that I can’t use all the features without throwing the thing down a well out of annoyance. I don’t know a way of assessing the usableness of a phone without owning it for a month…

aj said on August 26, 2005 9:47 PM

It always depends on what other choices are available. If there is no equivalent…you gotta go with the phones you have, not the phones you want. Personally I’m waiting for the next generation of Motorola RAZR phones which will have a 2MP camera as well - the design and usability of those, both in the flip-phone and forthcoming candybar variants, is excellent.

For pure design, I like the Siemens SF65 - it’s almost what an iPod phone should be; it can flip its screen around to become a credible little digicam, although at 1megapixel it’s for snapshots only.

Makes you wonder - when are we going to see cellphones become like the generic PC market, where you can pick from various components - case, keypad, screen, operating system, network type etc. - and make your own ‘best of breed’ machine? Is anyone making ‘homebrew’ cellphones?

Neil said on August 27, 2005 5:41 PM

Andy,

I hated the k700i to be honest and sold it last week on Ebay for £70. Just got this handset from Orange this week:

http://www.vodkaforbreakfast.com/?p=104

Its really spot on!

Jens Meiert said on August 27, 2005 6:25 PM

The K750i is a great cell phone, actually. But I must admit, you are right suspecting the main navigation keys as well as the “2” to be more difficult to use - but it works nonetheless. From my point of view, SonyEricsson really improved the usability (of the menu, above all), and paired with all the features and the design (SE designs far better mobiles than Nokia) it is one the greatest cell phones currently available. I do not want to miss my K750i (now that is a testimonial).

Lau said on August 28, 2005 9:36 AM

If the W800 doesn’t fit as nicely in your hand, that is a functionality issue and not just style. I don’t care that the “2” button is a little smaller, I’m sure I can press it anyway. My brother has the k750i and it’s a really nice phone with great camera and audio functionality.

I much prefer the styling of the k750i and a 20% smaller “2” key wouldn’t make me get a phone with looks I don’t like. I mostly use the number keys for sending SMS and looking people up in the contact list.

PoodlesWithGuns said on August 29, 2005 2:12 AM

I own a K750i and love the thing i recently had to get the screen replaced and recieved a w800 from sony ericsson instead of a k750i. although it came with the new headsets and a 512 in the bay I hate the damn color and it looks way more plastic. also i find that flipping the camera on is alot less quick having to hit the little release button instead of just sliding the entire panel. anyways long story short i rather have a black k750i and am trying to get it back. being in the U.S i’ve been told they dont have any in stock and am waiting for a call back.

chaals said on September 5, 2005 12:38 AM

Must have the features I need. Otherwise anything I get is just a piece of rubbish waiting “until I might need it” (along with tons of other stuff). And then usability is important. Actual usability - which is hard to predict in many cases. So what does that mean? increased font size, GPRS, email client, browser that works, doesn’t call chile from my pocket often are required. So are buttons that I can press. The stylus on my phone is too small, but that’s OK. I pretty much always have somthing bigger that I can use. A lot of my feature requirements ARE usability.
What colour is it? I hardly care at all. How big does it look? Who cares. How big it feels in my hand really matters, as does whether it fits in my pocket.
Design is there to keep out of the way and make thngs that really make a difference seem just “part of the furniture”, in most of my life. Every so often some really cool piece of design does that, and yet stands out as brilliant. That’s when design is a major decision factor.
Like most kinds of brilliance, it is rare :-(

Julian said on September 7, 2005 6:05 AM

My mobile, a Siemens S65, has got a 1.3 MPixel-camera - but the quality of the images is that addicted to a perfect lighting (= the quality is usually very bad), that I decided to buy a digital ixus 50 and take it with me every time I go anywhere, just as I do with my mobile.