A blueprint for the perfect phone

Does the perfect phone have a million features, or just a few features that work brilliantly? CNET.co.uk's mobile phone editor Andrew Lim has a crack at describing his perfect phone

Andrew Lim
8 min read

The perfect mobile phone doesn't exist. I wish it wasn't true, but believe me -- I've looked high and low. Pick any phone on the market and you'll find something wrong with it. But rather than criticise what's on offer, I'm going to present you with what I believe is the perfect phone.

It's codenamed DUB -- design, usability, battery life -- and it's the fruit of years of observations. All the technology I mention in this article is available to use now and the specs aren't outlandish -- I've tried to balance them relative to what I think most people want.

Talking to people every day about phones, the four themes that come up time and time again are design, usability, features and battery life. The DUB phone fulfils these four themes in a hopefully straightforward way.

Many of the features I've given the DUB phone are currently available on different handsets, but no phone has all of these features -- yet. Think of this as a call to arms -- can any manufacturer rise to the challenge and make the perfect phone? -Andrew Lim

Thin is definitely in, so the DUB phone would measure 10mm deep. Smooth lines are important too, since I don't want it to jab me in the leg when it's in my pocket. Clean, matte, non-stain surfaces would keep it looking at its best.

I'm not overly keen on moving parts because they can break, so it has to be a candybar-shaped handset -- and built to last. The frame would be made of metal and reinforced around the edges. The DUB's screen would be protected by hardened mineral glass to decrease the chances of it getting scratched.

Touchscreens are very 2007, but I don't think you can beat a standard keypad. For starters, large touchscreens drain battery power and, in general, are rather fiddly to use. Keys you can push produce the kind of tactile feedback that lets you know you've done something without needing to look at the screen.

The keypad must be well-designed and large enough to press without needing to use a fingernail. Each key should be separated from the other without being set too far apart. The keys should also be slightly raised in the middle, similar to the Motorola Q 9's keypad, so that they're easy to find with your thumb.

All the keys on the keypad are backlit by a white light. When you receive a call on the DUB, the send and end call keys' backlights change colour and turn red and green respectively. The send call key also turns green when you're searching through contacts, clearly indicating which button you have to press to make a call.

If I have to squint to read messages or look at photos, then the screen isn't large enough. Unfortunately, big screens drain battery, so the DUB's screen would be divided into two sections.

The top section would be a small electrophoretic screen, similar to the one used in the otherwise awful Motorola F3. This screen is visible in almost any light and would display essential info such as battery life, signal strength, missed calls or messages, and incoming caller details (name/number) during a call. The beauty of electrophoretic technology is that it barely consumes any power.

The lower part of the DUB's display would be a much larger OLED colour screen, which would consume much less power than an LCD, but still show bright, colour images. This screen would only be activated when you clicked on the navigation key and would optimise its brightness depending on ambient light via a light sensor, further saving energy.

Underneath the OLED screen at the top of the keypad there would be a navigation key like a mini version of Apple's Click Wheel, which would also let you click it up, down, left and right, as you would on a four-way navigation key. In the middle of the navigation key there would be a semi-spherical OK key that's easy to find and press.

On the back of the phone, the camera would be located at the top of the handset and be used in conjunction with the OK key rather than a dedicated camera button. It would also be covered by hardened mineral glass, to avoid any scratches.

Last, but definitely not least, I want as little branding on the handset as possible. I already know which network I bought the phone on and who made it, so I don't need a constant reminder on the handset's surface or screen. You never see home furniture covered in the words IKEA or DFS, so why would you want it on your phone?

Usability sounds straightforward but is often ignored in phone design. I'm going to focus here on the DUB's software interface.

Almost everyone wants to make calls and send text messages. Other features should be easy to use, but calling and messaging have to be paramount when designing a phone's interface. Calls should sound fantastic and the DUB would come with a sensor that automatically alters call volume depending on ambient noise.

Making and receiving calls, adding new contacts and sending messages on the DUB phone are all one click away from the homepage. Any recent call or message activity is displayed on the home page in a translucent list, similar to how emails are displayed.

This list would be a mixture of the latest five calls and messages made or recieved. If, for example, you've just sent a text message or someone has recently called you, then it appears on this list. When you click on any name, it shows you the message or call details and gives you the option to call or text them. This should make it very easy to contact your nearest and dearest, the people you call and text most often.

If you want to contact someone who isn't on that list, then you'd simply start tapping in their name and the correct number appears, similar to Windows Mobile's contact-search function. Alternatively, you just click down on the nav key and immediately go into your list of contacts, which you could then search through using the key's Click Wheel function.

Once you've located the correct contact name, then you are immediately given the option to message or call that person. The DUB's text editor would use XT9, which remembers regularly used words and phrases, making texting much quicker. Anything you inputted would be saved, so that if you press the end call key by mistake, your last message is still there when you go back into the editor. There would also be a text-to-speech option similar to Nuance or SpinVox's offerings.

Underneath the recent call and text activity list there are two fields similar to those on the Nokia 6300, which runs on Series 40 3rd Edition feature pack 2, that enables you to jot down a note and view upcoming calendar entries on the phone's homepage.

As for accessing the rest of the phone's features, it's a simple case of pressing the OK key and you're in the menu. All the menu's features are clearly marked using easy-to-understand icons and rather than clutter the menu with rarely used options, the DUB lets you customise the menu to display only the things you need. Practically everything can be customised on the DUB, from the soft keys to the wallpaper to the alarm ring tone.

The DUB would need to provide the right features for as many people as possible. There would be 4GB of on-board memory, enough to store a significant amount of messages, music and third-party software. You would have the option of adding 8GB of external memory via an expandable microSD HC card slot, that alongside the SIM card slot, is easily accessible from the outside.

With that much memory in the DUB you could store a significant amount of music, which is why there's an on-board music player that supports a variety of formats, including MP3 and FLAC. To listen to your music, all you have to do is simply plug a pair of normal headphones straight in to the 3.5mm jack at the top of the phone.

To put music, or any content for that matter, on the DUB you just drag and drop music files straight on to the DUB's music folder, which you access by connecting it to your computer via a standard USB cable.

During music playback you would be alerted of a call and the music would be paused while you answered it via a microphone in the provided wireless Bluetooth (A2DP) headphones.

The DUB also comes with a great camera. Unlike any camera phone to date, the DUB camera would feature a 5-megapixel sensor, auto-focus and use folded optics, similar to Sony's Cyber-shot DSC-T7 camera, to cram in 3x optical zoom.

The camera would also feature a xenon flash like that on the Sony Ericsson K810i Cyber-shot phone, allowing shots to be taken in very low light. Photos could be immediately uploaded via HSDPA (3.5G) to the Web, or sent to friends via MMS or Bluetooth.

You can also connect it to a laptop or PC via a standard USB cable and use the DUB as a portable modem to search the Web on your laptop. If you don't have a laptop with you, you can browse the Web on the DUB's own browser.

The DUB's Web browser would support flash, HTML, JavaScript and XML, combining aspects from Nokia and Opera's Web browser. You could navigate full-sized pages in desktop mode using an overview window and open tabs to navigate to other pages.

At the beginning of this section you might have noticed that I mentioned storing third-party software on the DUB's internal memory. That's right -- the DUB is completely open to developers and an SDK would be available, so that any developer could develop applications and games for it.

The DUB phone would also have a straightforward email client that allows you to access a variety of email accounts, including Microsoft Exchange and BlackBerry. There would also be a very straightforward desktop application that lets you synchronise your phone with your PC, backup all your content and type and send messages from your computer.

Battery life
Battery life is everything -- without power, all you have is an expensive paperweight. So the DUB incorporates an electrophoretic and OLED screen, and a light sensor that dims the backlights depending on ambient light, which all contribute to saving energy.

On their own, those features aren't enough, and as anyone who regularly listens to music, browses the Web or takes photos on their phone will tell you, the battery gets drained very quickly. This is where a dual-battery system comes into play.

Rather than use the same battery for the MP3 player, camera and phone, the music player and camera run off a secondary battery. This battery is far smaller than the phone's battery, but when you look at the size of the Sony NW-E013 Walkman, which has a 30-hour battery life, then you see you can get plenty juice from a tiny cell.

Both batteries are charged via the same charger and at the same time. You can see how much power is left in each battery via the electrophoretic screen's twin power meters.

Finally, the DUB's battery life warning system is customisable, so you decide when you should recharge your battery and not the phone. If, for example, you think that 30 per cent left is too low, then you can set the phone to warn you at that point.

The DUB is my perfect phone. It's thin, it's packed with the features I think most people need and it looks gorgeous. You never know, maybe one day a manufacturer will produce something close.

If you have a drawing and spec for what you think is the perfect phone then we'd love to see them -- send them to crave@cnet.co.uk, or talk up your own personal uberphone in comments below.