The NEC N411i is available free from O2 depending on your contract, while pre-pay customers will need to shell out £99. The latter is pretty good considering that this is one of the first i-mode handsets on the market.
On the whole the NEC N411i is a reasonable enough phone, although it feels a little underpowered and dated by today’s standards. Just sitting it next to my Samsung D600 makes it feel inadequate, and just a generation or so behind the times. The keypad isn’t tactile enough and the buttons are actually set below the surface rather than being raised, making dialling a lot more difficult than it should be. Put simply, this doesn’t feel like the sort of handset that should be launching a service as good as i-mode.
The important thing here is that i-mode is excellent – to quote O2’s marketing campaign, it really is Internet at the touch of a button. As far as I can see there are only two major down sides to i-mode. The first issue is that O2 has a 10 year exclusive window on i-mode services in the UK – now this may seem like good news for O2, but I’m not convinced it’s great news for i-mode. Personally I think that for true mass adoption of i-mode it needs to be available on all the networks, since I just don’t see customers switching networks in order to use i-mode – well, not too many anyway.
The second issue is that of hardware. With only three i-mode handsets currently available, and a fourth due any day, there isn’t a huge amount of choice. The problem here is that mobile phone users love having the latest, coolest, slimmest, smallest, lightest, sexiest phone on the market, and unfortunately none of the current i-mode handsets fulfil those criteria. Take me for example, I have an O2 contract and was due for an upgrade, but despite loving i-mode, I went for the Samsung D600 instead because it’s a far nicer phone than any of the i-mode models - considering that Samsung is one of the two companies producing i-mode phones, it's a shame that there wasn't a D series i-mode model at launch.
Hopefully it won’t be long before all the major phone manufacturers are producing i-mode handsets, then I can see more people making use of this great new service. I’m hoping that when upgrade time rolls around again there will be an i-mode phone that satisfies my needs.
There’s no denying that i-mode is great. I love the way it works, the selection of content, the pricing structure, the speed of access and the bundled push email. Unfortunately the NEC N411i just feels a little behind the times in today’s world of super stylish and mega featured mobiles. NEC should be congratulated for getting i-mode handsets out so quickly, but something tells me that we’ll be seeing far better examples in the near future.