One more reason to love Nokia: standard audio jacks


(This is for my Sun.Star Cebu column on Tuesday, May 12, 2009)

Two Nokia phones I’ve recently tested steeled my conviction to transfer to the Finnish mobile phone manufacturer from Sony Ericsson, whose phones I’ve been using for at least a decade. The two units, the Nokia 5800 XpressMusic and N96, have standard jacks for audio and video-out connections.

With standard audio jacks, you can use regular headphones, including those you buy for laptops or personal computers, with your mobile phone. Not only do you have more choices when it comes to the quality or design, you also have more options when it comes to the price.

With the current design of mobile phone accessories like earphones and external speakers, you are locked into the phone manufacturer’s usually expensive product offerings. The other option is to risk buying cheap knockoffs that at times conk out in less than a week.

Standard headphones with the Nokia 5800 XpressMusic
USE REGULAR HEADPHONES. The Nokia 5800 XpressMusic has a standard audio jack and you can use any type of headphone with it. Above, a regular PC headphone works with the device.

These “original” accessories cost so much more than many branded earphones sold in gadget and computer shops. With standard audio jacks in phones, you can choose to buy these types of earphones instead. Most of these earphones, which cost less than “original” phone headsets, have excellent audio quality.

With the 5800 and N96, I was able to use my headphone of choice, the so-called circumaural headphones or those with earmuff designs, instead of the current fad, the earbuds. I used the headphones, bought for use with a laptop, both to listen to songs and talk—you just have to hold the phone like a walkie-talkie because while you are using the headphone to listen to the conversation, you need to use the phone’s built-in mic to talk.

Earmuff headphones are cooler, with its retro look, and more comfortable. Earbuds, on the other hand, may lead to hearing loss, according to a previous study.

I don’t know how hard it is from an engineering standpoint to use standard audio jacks as connectors for earphones but with Nokia’s move, there is a chance the other manufacturers will be spurred into following. Nokia isn’t the phone manufacturing leader for nothing.

In my extensive experience with Sony Ericsson, the audio connectors are among the first victims of wear and tear. After a year of extensive use of the headset that comes shipped with the phone, you start experiencing sporadic connectivity and sometimes the music—or worse, the conversation—gets cut off repeatedly and you have to wiggle the connecting points to recover the connection. You don’t have this problem with standard audio jacks.

What’s worse is that these connectors are also the ones used for power and you’d also have to wiggle the connectors when charging your phone.

I don’t know what spurred the company to take the design decision but it shows a lot of respect for standards and consumer choice. I’ve always thought how great it would be for phones to be engineered like personal computers, with standardized parts that you can interchange and upgrade.

That might be impossible but building on standard components like regular audio jacks is a good start. Soon, we can have standard ports for PC connectivity, such as mini-USB, or even power connections. That way, we can use interchangeable chargers or PC connectivity cables.

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