By Harry McCracken | Monday, May 10, 2010 at 10:15 am
Back in December of 2008, I went to a sketchy sale and snapped photos of a bevy of cheesy iPod knockoffs. The slideshow I published went on to be one of Technologizer’s most popular stories to date. This weekend, I was in Santa Cruz, California. A similar sale was being advertised on TV about once every three minutes, with an urgent-sounding announcer who specifically mentioned half-price iPods. So I went.
The sale was in a forlorn-looking ex-Circuit City location, with the Circuit City signage intact. And it was disappointing–at least if your primary objective was to snoop around for silly Apple-like electronics.
At the earlier event, stacks of iFrauds were the first thing you encountered upon entering the show floor. At this one, the consumer electronics were tucked in a back corner. There were some iPoddish MP3 players, but in much smaller quantities, and they were mostly the same ones I’d seen a year and a half ago.
But one gizmo did catch my eye: a touch-screen phone, in a trim black box. I quietly took a snapshot of the packaging with my iPhone.
Then a sales clerk ambled over. I asked her about the phone. “That isn’t an iPhone,” she said. (She repeated the point, and told me, unprompted, that it wouldn’t work with iTunes–maybe she wanted to be absolutely sure that nobody could accuse her of duping people into thinking they’d bought an Apple product.)
She pulled the phone out of the box. At first glance, the hardware was a more-than-passable clone of Apple’s design–it looked more like an iPhone 3GS than that handset some guy found in a bar. Big screen, home button, metallic trim, black plastic back and all. The most obvious signs that the thing wasn’t designed in Cupertino were an inauthentic-looking grating behind the earphone and the fact that the back of the phone, like the box, called it simply the “Phone 3G.”
Then the clerk turned it on. You could use the phone with your finger, she told me–“but it works best with a stylus.” She was right: I couldn’t get it to respond to my fingertip at all, but the stylus worked, once you got the knack of tapping very firmly, and pressing the stylus for around a second before releasing it.
I poked around in a few applications–most of which looked like generic phone apps which had been covered up with rough approximations of the iPhone interface. (The phone was apparently based on Java–note the icon in the lower right-hand corner on the box.) I was tempted to buy it simply so I could “review” it for Technologizer.
Except it was $169, for a model the clerk told me had 64GB of storage, was unlocked, and would work on AT&T. That seemed a tad pricey for a phone that was of interest only as a curiosity–and which I pretty much expected to be a lemon. (The “iPlay” MP3 player I’d sprung for at the earlier sale had broken within 24 hours of purchase.) The clerk was surprisingly resistant to haggling. I left without buying anything.
(On my way to the exit, I checked out some refurbished laptops, including several seven-year-old iBooks with G3 processors and the ancient “Panther” OS. They were overpriced at $325 apiece.)
I’m still intrigued by iPhone knockoffs. I wonder what the chances are that this “Phone 3G” is about to be replaced by the Phone 4G–complete with a front-facing camera and other thrilling new features?