If you thought your cool new WAP (wireless access protocol) handset was the latest and greatest in cellular technology, have we got some bad news for you. Those monochrome-screen phones have suddenly become old-fashioned.
Hitachi has just launched a new cellular handset in Japan - the first WAP handset to feature a colour screen. The launch comes amid an explosion of colour onto the screens of Japanese cell phone users. Colour LCDs (liquid crystal displays) began appearing several months ago on conventional handsets (the ones that just allow you to talk), and NTT DoCoMo launched colour versions of its handsets for the competing i-mode wireless Internet service recently.
Hitachi's C309H features a 256-colour STN (super-twisted nematic) LCD with resolution of 120-x-143 pixels. That's good enough to show animations and some very basic images.
In fact, the telephone comes with some built-in animations to amuse the owner. In normal mode, the user can view a selection of backgrounds, such as pictures of landscapes. An altogether more fun "hamster mode", designed primarily for Japan's character-crazy girls and young women, features a cartoon hamster that will dance on the screen.
The number of WAP Web sites that support colour is still low, although several applications, such as mapping services, are expected to make use of the new colour option. One service from Bandai, which delivers a new cartoon character into the telephone every day in return for a small monthly subscription fee, has already started providing colour services.
A useful feature of Hitachi's phone is the ability to switch between three different user-defined modes. The settings are intended for situations were answering the phone might be difficult and come preset for normal use, use while driving and use in a meeting. The meeting mode, for example, sets the phone to vibrate instead of ring and plays a message that informs callers that you are in a meeting.
The C309H is also music to the ears. Hitachi has gone the extra mile and built in a digital sound processor of higher quality than most handsets. This enables the phone to produce four sounds at once - against the standard single sound - so the days of "tinny" ringer tones are gone. The handset comes with 12 built-in ringer melodies and 9 memory positions available for original tones that can either be composed through the phone or downloaded from the service provider.
The phone also has a built-in sensor that detects the lighting level and adjusts the volume of the ringer accordingly, so that the phone rings more quietly after it has been removed from your bag or your pocket, for example.
At 89 grammes, the phone is heavier than some competing monochrome models and slightly heavier than Hitachi's C302 WAP handset, which was launched last year and weighs 84 grammes. The phone measures 46-x-19-x-130mm, has a talk time of 170 minutes and a standby battery life of 190 hours, which is almost eight days.
Devices and services like these mentioned here are likely to appear in the UK in the next 18 months.