Mobility

Is Commodore about to break into the smartphone business?

With the help of Android, a favorite throwback technology is about to stage a minor comeback. Jack Wallen fires up his C64 to see what's up.

commodorehero.jpg

No. Yes. Sort of.

Commodore hasn't been relevant for over two decades. But during its time, it was something special. Since its demise, it's attempted resuscitation at least four times (in the form of various joysticks, emulators, etc.). Soon, however, the Commodore PET will be making a comeback.

Remember the PET? The Personal Electronic Transactor (PET) was a line of personal computing devices produced by Commodore in 1977. That's right, 1977. I wasn't even a teenager.

The PET specs looked like this:

  • Type: Personal computer
  • Release date: October 1977
  • Discontinued: 1982
  • Operating system: Commodore BASIC 1.0 ~ 4.0
  • CPU: MOS Technology 6502 @ 1 MHz
  • Memory: 4 to 96 KB
  • Storage: Cassette tape, 5.25" floppy, 8" floppy, hard disk
  • Display: 40×25 or 80×25 text
  • Graphics: Monochrome character graphics
  • Sound: None or beeper

Hold onto your pants, ladies and gents, the Commodore PET smartphone will be released in France, Poland, and Germany later this month (July, 2015) and will feature the following specs:

  • CPU: 1.7 GHz octa-core Mediatek processor
  • Camera: 13-megapixel rear facing camera with a dedicated shutter button
  • Battery: 3000 mAh battery
  • Memory: 3 GB
  • Storage: 32 GB storage (support for external microSD card up to 64 GB)
  • Operating system: Android 5.0
  • Display: 5.5 inch at 1920 by 1080 resolution
  • SIM: Dual SIM card support
  • GPU: ARM Mali T760

The specs for the PET phone aren't too shabby. It's not a flagship device, but it certainly isn't a budget-spec'd phone either. So, what makes this rebranded Orgtec WaPhone even remotely interesting (and remotely Commodore)? First and foremost is that all-too familiar chicken head logo emblazoned on the back and the brand name below it.

Commodore

Yeah, that's nice.

Next, the emulators. I know, I know... who needs/wants emulators on your smartphone? Anyone who was a fan of the Commodore or... wait for it... Amiga. That's right. With the Commodore PET phone, you can harken back to those joy-filled days of playing Jumpman, Lode Runner, The Bard's Tale, Lemmings, Turrican, Defender of the Crown, Elite, and so much more. Toss aside all the modern trappings of today's games and get your nostalgia on.

Okay, it'd be fun for a little bit. But eventually, the novelty would wear off (and maybe even the chicken head logo) and you'd have yourself a fairly standard Android phone that cost $365.00 for the high-end device and $300.00 for a lower-end device (2 GB of memory and 16 GB of storage). To make the hard sell a bit more complicated for the PET, you can already install Commodore (and Amiga) emulators from the Google Play Store (there's Frodo 64, C64.emu, and the emulator installed on the PET... VICE).

So, in the end, you're really only paying for the chicken head logo. For some users, that's enough. For the right user, being able to answer "A Commodore PET" when asked the question "What kind of phone is that?" is worth the price of entry. No one needs to know you're actually using an Android phone. You could even take the time to install a minimal home screen launcher (like Nova Launcher) and add Minimalist: Text Widget to create a pseudo old-school look on your home screen.

If BlackBerry can hop onto Android's cape, there's no reason why Commodore can't enjoy the slightest comeback (even if only in name). This is actually part of the beauty of Android—it enables companies to produce products without having to reinvent a very challenging wheel. Let's face it, the single biggest barrier for entry to a smartphone startup is platform. Hardware can be as easy as grabbing a generic device (from the likes of Orgtec).

Software, on the other hand, is where everything falls apart. That's why so many companies rely on Android—there's no cost associated with making use of the base platform. Yes, you do have to pay a rather hefty fee to add Google Mobile Services (GMS), which bundles Gmail, Google Play Store, etc. In fact, that fee can range from $40,000 to $75,000 dollars (which is why you see some of the knock offs attempting to roll out Android without GMS). But the operating system alone... free. At some point, someone is going to develop a solid replacement for GMS, and the little guys will light up the world with Android clones.

When that happens, I'd like to see the Atari Phone, the OS/2 Warp Phone, and even the ENIAC Phone, which will be the size of phone booth, but who cares?

What throwback device would you like to see make a comeback in smartphone form? Let us know your thoughts in the discussion thread below.

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About Jack Wallen

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website jackwallen.com.

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