Winner: BlackBerry 5810
RIM’s line of organizers already had a loyal following in 2002 because of the company’s top-notch push e-mail delivery system and reputation for epic battery life. But BlackBerry was put on the fast track to becoming a household name when the 5810 arrived. Physically, the 4.7-ounce 5810 ($499) very much resembled the earlier BlackBerry 957, including the excellent full QWERTY keyboard and side-mounted trackwheel, but it added a GSM/GPRS radio and the J2ME operating system (a first for a RIM device), which allowed a slew of custom applications to run on the handheld. Although you needed a headset to make calls, and the display was monochrome, the 5810 and its successors would propel RIM to becoming a leader in the worldwide smart phone market.
Finalist: Jabra FreeSpeak BT200
Before Jabra hit the scene, Bluetooth headsets delivered mediocre audio quality and were too awkward or uncomfortable to wear for extended periods. The FreeSpeak BT200 stood out because it offered a secure fit that was easy to wear, thanks to its soft MiniGel eartips. It also possessed easy-access volume controls and a forward facing boom that provided excellent microphone sensitivity. Add in a wireless charging station that doubled as a headset holder, and you had a winner.
Loser: DataPlay Discs
DataPlay looked to change how we stored our media with its much-vaunted DataPlay Discs: quarter-sized memory devices that used advanced compression techniques to hold 500MB of data. The goal? Initially, to replace the CD (DataPlay could house five hours of CD quality music versus one hour for a 650MB CD) iRiver even released a DataPlay-enabled music player. However, despite winning a Best in Show Award at the 2001 Consumer Electronics Show, the technology was too expensive compared with CD-Rs and was laced with DRM. In fact, once you moved your MP3s to DataPlay discs, there was no way to get them off. This locked-down mentality would prevent the format from having any real impact on the digital music industry and from branching out into promised categories such as digital cameras and PDAs.
Finalist: Xybernaut Poma Wearable PC
Unless you frequently attend sci-fi conventions decked out in Borg attire, it’s difficult to appreciate Xybernaut’s Poma Wearable PC. Powered by a 10.9-ounce Windows CE device (and bundled with Pocket versions of Internet Explorer, Outlook, Windows Media Player, and Word), the get-up featured an optical mouse and a color display mounted on a headband that let you view 800 x 600 images on the go. This $1,499 device enjoyed some interest from vertical markets, but was way too geeky for the masses.