Video: Hands-On with the First ELSE Phone

You might remember that back at CES, we got a first look at the Israeli-born, Linux-based First ELSE handset. Well, they were here at Mobile World Congress, and we thought to check in and see what’s new. As it turns out, they have been busy at work, and have included quite a few new features.

Before getting into that, let’s talk a bit about what we already know. The so-called Intuition user interface is optimized for one-handed operation, both for general navigation and smooth picture zooming. From the home screen, you navigate to one of three categories aligned in an even arc, and with inward gestures, you can drill down right to pertinent data, like frequently-used contacts, and upcoming calendar items. A slightly more standard icon grid can also be pulled up if you’re not into the crazy avant-garde thing. As far as hard specs go, the First ELSE has a 5 megapixel camera, Of course, lefties may be out of luck for this particular phone.

New to the phone is the media player, which minimizes into a nice little player in the top-right corner, accessible from any screen. A programmable gesture area is also working smoothly just to the left of the home screen arc. So, for example, you could draw a G with your finger to pull up Google in the browser.

I asked about why they went with hardware-based LEDs along the top and side, rather than include them either in the software (for the top band) or as separate keys (for the right-side band), and they said that it was mostly in an effort to dedicate the entire display to the user interface, rather than static information. They’re all still touch-enabled so perfectly useful, but they just seem a bit out of place to me – maybe they seem a little low-tech for something that’s supposed to be drawing inspiration from Minority Report. Now, ELSE is doing some pretty cool stuff here, but I still can’t help but think they’re letting the whole project go to their heads – the team won’t refer to it as a phone or smartphone, since it’s “something else“. Apple-esque snobbery aside, ELSE is certainly doing something different, which I can only applaud and be excited about.

We should be seeing this out in the market in Q2 or Q3, and talks are certainly in place to get the First ELSE into North America.

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