Counterclockwise: Galaxy S and Xperia X10 arrive, N8 hits 12MP


Welcome to this week's edition of Counterclockwise – our weekly article that looks back in time at what happened in the last few years. This time it's all about flagships – their killer features, their software and especially their cameras. We even look back at premium phones of another character, ones encrusted with rare, expensive materials.






Flagship family trees


On a day in late March 2010 Samsung unveiled the Samsung Galaxy S – the first member of one of the most successful smartphone lines in history. The very next day Sony Ericsson unveiled the progenitor of its Android smartphone dreams, the Xperia X10.


At the same time the first Bada OS phone, the Samsung Wave, got priced in Germany showing potential for a Google-free future for Samsung. Symbian, which was still going strong then, was hinting at one of the best camera phones in history that week too, but we'll get back to that in a moment.






The original Galaxy S caused a lot of excitement with an "ultra-thin body" (9.9mm), 1GHz single-core processor, 5MP / 720p camera and heavily customized Android 2.1 Eclair. The phone had a Super AMOLED screen – something that has become a trademark of the Galaxy flagships (S phones and Note phablets), but it wasn’t the first.






Oh no, that honor goes to the Samsung Wave – we remember back in the day when we compared it to an iPhone screen and marveled at its impossibly dark black and spectacular viewing angles. The Wave was very similar to the Galaxy S, but had a cool metal body compared to its Android counterpart and was far more compact. Plastic has unfortunately become the calling card for Galaxy S phones, just like Super AMOLED screens.






For one reason or another Bada failed and its successor, Tizen, isn't doing too hot either but at least it got to power a few smartwatches.


The first Sony Ericsson with Android was the Xperia X10, which got the jump on the Galaxy S – the X10 launched in stores just as Samsung was unveiling the Galaxy S.






The Xperia X10 is the grand-granddaddy of the Xperia Z2 but it also marked the beginning of a bad time for the company. The phone launched with Android 1.6 Donut, already behind the curve and it wasn’t until March 2011 that Sony announced it will update the phone to Android 2.3 Gingerbread in Q2 or Q3 that year.


While not official, a working Android 2.3.3 ROM for the Galaxy S had leaked. The update took a while and Android 2.3.5 officially started to roll out in mid-November. Still, Sony Ericsson was often behind on updates during that period and it was behind on chipsets too.


Sony is much different today and not just because it dropped the "Ericsson" name. It's latest flagships run the latest Android and use the latest chipsets. Its "two flagships per year" strategy helps it stay ahead of the curve.


The race to store shelves


Sony got the jump on Samsung back in the day and last year HTC tried to do the same – the HTC One was supposed to hit stores before its Galaxy S4 rival, it even scored "several hundred thousand" pre-orders in the US.


The Galaxy S4 was just going on pre-order at the time when the HTC One was on sale, or was supposed to be anyway. Due to production difficulties, the One launch was restricted to the UK, Germany and Taiwan. Not good news when researchers were predicting the Galaxy S4 will help Samsung double its lead in market share.






This year HTC tried to beat Samsung to stores once again, but this time it succeeded – even though the Galaxy flagship was announced earlier (late February at the MWC), the HTC One (M8) was announced and launched a few days ago on March 25.


With that done, HTC has relatively modest hopes – to capture 8-10% of the market.


Camera, lights, action!


Back in late March 2009, while the iPhone and Android were still young, one of the most popular phones in our database was the Sony Ericsson Idou – a camera phone with a 12MP camera and xenon flash, powered by Symbian.


We were gawking at live photos of the phone and the first camera samples from it. 12MP in 2009 was a big deal, the Galaxy S that launched in 2010 had a 5MP camera, and that was considered pretty good for the time.






Nokia has become known for ridiculously high resolution cameras lately, but the Satio (then called Idou) was a full year ahead of the Nokia N8. The N8 was the first 12MP shooter from the Finns, which just leaked that week in March 2009.






The Satio got delayed and launched in October 2009, but the N8 hit stores in October 2010, a full year later. The Samsung Pixon12 – another 12MP shooter – beat both phones to the market in August 2009.


Anyway, all this was just the middle act of the cameraphone wars between Nokia and Sony. Nokia took the resolution crown with the 808 PureView and held it with the Lumia 1020, but Sony's Xperia Z1, Z1 Compact and Z2 have bigger sensors than Nokia's latest cameras (the Lumia 1520 and Icon).


Samsung is still deep in it too with its own camera sensor design, the ISOCELL in the Galaxy S5.


Luxury phones through the ages


Early mobile phones didn’t do much beyond calling and luxury phones had a special status – they were just better than plain phones. As things started moving to more and more capable smartphones, luxury devices took a long time to catch up.


In late March 2008, Gresso unveiled the Sol and Luna Steel. Both featured 200+ year old African Blackwood, aircraft stainless steel, sapphire glass steel and a price tag to make your head spin.






A year later luxury watch maker Ulysse Nardin unveiled the Chairman, a rather unique phone. It featured a hybrid power system that had a mechanical rotor (similar to that in watches) to recharge the battery. Also, it had a fingerprint scanner, something that has become popular recently.






In March 2011 things have slowly started to shift towards Android in the ultra-premium segment. Another luxury phone maker, Mobiado, had partnered with luxury car maker Aston Martin and showed an amazing concept of a transparent smartphone.






The Mobiado concept was mean to integrate with your Aston, including snapping photos to post on Twitter and Facebook (how else will you announce to the world you're better than everyone else?).


Going back to Gresso, in March 2012 the company unveiled another metal phone but this time using the more standard (for the class) titanium. The Gresso Regal Black was machined out of a single piece of the tough, light and expensive metal and only 333 would ever be made. Unfortunately, it was a regression in terms of functionality because it was powered by Nokia's Series 40 software.






OS hacking


In the Counterclockwise article from a couple of weeks ago we paid tribute to the HTC HD2, the phone that has run the most different OSes.


The Nokia N9 is another hacking darling – the first (and only) MeeGo phone has been graced by Ubuntu Touch and more recently Sailfish OS that powers the Jolla phone. Most promising (or perhaps most anticipated) were Android ports like Project Mayhem and NITDroid.






They tried to run Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, while later projects moved up to Jelly Bean 4.1.1 and even 4.3. While Android gave the HTC HD2 a new lease on life for those that still use the famous smartphone, the Nokia N9 efforts haven't been met with quite such enthusiasm.


Nokia's MeeGo, just like Samsung's Bada, went out of favor and were later merged to form Tizen, which is yet to produce a smartphone.



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