When Ericsson launched the T28 in 1999, it was the lightest and slimmest phone on the market. It was also the first handset ever to use a lithium polymer battery. The T28 was a premium device -- Ericsson described it as "designer technology", and it was successful with business executives before the Blackberry became popular. Unlike its bar-shaped competitors, the T28 was immediately recognizable by its signature antenna stub and "active flip" keypad cover. Ericsson packed the phone with state-of-the-art features like voice dialing and an optional Bluetooth dongle. It came in three versions: T28s (GSM 1800 / 900), T28z (GSM 1900) and T28 World (GSM 1900/900). Our T28z review unit started life on VoiceStream (eventually acquired by T-Mobile). How does this classic handset stack up to our modern pocketable computers? Find out after the break.
Ericsson T28z review
The T28 sports a minimalist look and feel. While its direct competitor, the Nokia 8210 series, was intended as a stylish high-end phone, it uses a forgettable bar form-factor with interchangeable covers just like many of its contemporaries. Ericsson chose instead to refine the design of its T10 and T18 -- with their antenna stub and unique "active flip" keypad covers -- into the lightest (81g / 2.85oz) and slimmest (15mm / 0.59in) handset on the market. Even today, the T28 stands out as an elegant, premium device with top-notch materials and build quality. For a while it was the go-to phone for CEOs and VIPs worldwide, at least until the Blackberry took over thanks to push email.
While we were never fans of external aerials, the T28 features what's probably the most attractive and distinguishable antenna stub of any handset, ever. It can also be removed and replaced with a new stub (if damaged) or with Ericsson's "high performance antenna IAT-10" for an even stronger signal in problem reception areas. The "active flip" covers the keypad and contains the microphone. It's spring-loaded, and released by pressing the button on the right side of the T28 -- open it to answer a call, close it to hang up. According to the service menu (enabled by pressing right * left left * left *) the "active flip" on our review unit was opened 3,884 times (and counting).
A choice of three batteries are available for the T28: 1,400mAh high capacity, 650mAh slim and 500mAh ultra slim, the latter being the first lithium polymer battery ever used on a mobile phone. Our handset came with the 650mAh version, which is rated at two hours and 45 minutes of talk time and 70 hours of standby. The T28 is equipped with a tiny (to today's standards) rectangular 1.4-inch monochrome screen (101 x 33 pixels or three lines of 12 characters) with a blue-ish green backlight. It's easy to read, even in direct sunlight -- just don't expect to be able to display your favorite animated GIFs of grumpy cat, okay? There's also a bi-color (green and red) notification LED right above the earpiece.
The T28's keypad is a standard affair: it features the usual number, * and # keys, plus buttons for call, end, left arrow, right arrow and clear, all backlit with the same blue-ish green glow as the screen. As we mentioned previously, the "active flip" release button is located in the middle of the right side and there's a volume slider on the left edge near the top of the device. The bottom is home to Ericsson's custom power / data / audio connector which lived on well beyond Sony Ericsson's T610. Our review unit came with a rather large world charger (compatible with both North American and European sockets and voltages), a wired earpiece and the rare optional Bluetooth adapter that attaches to the bottom of the T28 (more on this later).
One of the other unique design elements of the T28 is the back / chassis which is cast in some sort of magnesium alloy and provides the handset with incredible rigidity and durability. There's a black plastic accent all around the edges, with the majority of the phone -- the front, "active flip" and keypad -- finished in a handsome shade of dark gray plastic (cream and blue being the other two colors available). Each battery pack clips directly onto the magnesium chassis which is also home to the standard SIM slot. A spring-loaded battery release slider is located in back next to an external antenna connector (something you're not going to find on modern devices).
In terms of specs, things are pretty meager compared to today's handsets. Besides lacking a camera, WiFi, GPS and even music playback (obviously), there's no color display, WAP browser, email client or T9 predictive text (which all came with the T68i), and no GPRS packet data or built-in Bluetooth (which both arrived with the T39). A vibration motor is present, but there's no speakerphone. The radios are model specific, with a choice of GSM 1800 / 900 (T28s), GSM 1900 (T28z) and GSM 1900/900 (T28 World). Our review unit is an unlocked T28z which enjoyed a happy life on VoiceStream and eventually T-Mobile.
Ericsson made some interesting accessories for the T28, like the "CHA-10 Chatboard" (a QWERTY keyboard for text messaging), the "MP3 hands-free kit HPM-10" (an MP3 player with an MMC card slot and standard 3.5mm headphone jack) and the aforementioned "Bluetooth phone adapter DBA-10". Speaking of which, this optional dongle plugs into the handset's proprietary connector, includes a pass-through power socket, and supports hands-free and DUN profiles. The company eventually shipped a camera module for the T39, which sadly isn't compatible with the T28.
Performance and battery life
The T28 feels snappy enough when navigating the UI and generally milling about the menus. Calls sounded loud and clear in our tests and reception was excellent, especially in poor signal areas -- no doubt thanks to that mighty antenna stub. According to the status screen on our review unit, our 650mAh battery pack is still good for two hours and 38 minutes of talk time and 74 hours of standby -- not too shabby for a 13 year old battery, right? We suspect this is slightly off, but we easily managed to get two days of light use out of this phone. Clearly, Ericsson put a lot of effort into making the T28 a no-compromise device.
Forget apps: the T28 isn't a smartphone and there's no Internet connection anyway. Calls and text messages are the killer app. If you're feeling adventurous there's also an alarm clock, a timer, a stopwatch, a calculator, and a couple games (Tetris and solitaire). Tetris is our favorite: it plays from left to right (or just rotate the handset and control the keypad with your left hand for a more traditional top to bottom layout). Be aware that the address book is limited to 99 entries, so now's probably a great time to start paring down that friends list in Facebook. With a Mac capable of running Power PC apps (Snow Leopard and older) and the optional USB data cable we were able to run GSM Remote (a free OS X app) and transfer 99 of our favorite contacts to the the T28. Isn't technology wonderful?
Navigating the phone is a breeze thanks to a simple and intuitive UI. The left and right arrow keys are used to highlight menu items which can be selected with the call button -- the end key is basically a back button. Ringtones and alerts are monophonic and play through a tiny buzzer for that ultimate 8-bit vibe -- just don't expect anything fancy. Voice dialing is by far the T28's most advanced feature -- it lets you record the name of up to 10 contacts and dial them by simply speaking their names. This works surprisingly well.
We doubt that back in 1999, Ericsson knew it was creating such an iconic handset with the T28. Today it's a device that shows the direction the company was taking at the time, a path that continued with the T39 and culminated with the T68i right after the merger with Sony. These devices have stood the test of time, both in terms of durability and desirability thanks to stylish, premium designs and innovative features. Sure, there are many phones from that era that can make calls and receive text messages, but few that are still functional and worth showing to other geeks. We don't plan to give up on our modern pocketable computers anytime soon, but in a pinch or for a change of pace we'd have no qualms proudly rocking the T28.