Sony has seen dramatic ups and downs in the technology market since its inception. The Japanese tech powerhouse, which once ruled the consumer market with the Walkman, Vaio laptops and the Trinitron TV and even made big bets on Hollywood by acquiring Columbia Pictures, still exists but its priorities are now different. It continues to thrive in the high-end consumer electronics space with the PlayStation brand, Bravia TVs and mirrorless cameras, despite increasing pressure from its American and Korean rivals.
Many people owned Sony products in their childhood, and they invoke great memories even if you haven’t used them in years. Sony is a hot brand in the collectors community – and people are ready to pay a huge sum for rare devices. Today we’re going to take a look at just some of the weirdest and out-of-the-world products that have come out of Sony’s lab through the years. These devices may not be as successful as Sony’s other products, but they did showcase how this company was once willing to take risks and had no inhibitions to roll out crazy products in the market.
An MP3 player, a built-in speaker and an autonomous robot in the shape of an egg. Launched in 2007 for $400, the Rolly is till date Sony’s most weird device. It never took the tech world by storm but it showed that the designers and engineers at Sony had full liberty to think of something as wild and bizarre as the Rolly and bring it to the market. When the egg-shaped music player plays music, it flaps its side flippers, flashes lights and jiggles like a robot.
The Rolly was unique enough to be easily differentiated from the iPod, the dominant music player of its time but Sony’s digital-audio player didn’t do well commercially. The Rolly had two speakers, but it lacked a built-in headphone jack. Consumers at a time wanted an MP3 player that they could carry in their pockets but Sony was looking to tap in a new demographic with a device that offers a unique experience to people.
Long before the Galaxy Z Fold 3 and Surface Duo, Sony experimented with a device that was meant to excel in multitasking. The Tablet P wasn’t anything like the iPad, which was crushing Android-based tablets in 2011. With two displays and a hinge, Sony tried to make a dual-screen tablet but it never received commercial success. The idea wasn’t half-baked, but the Tablet P was too ambitious for its time. It boasted two 5.5-inch displays, although it weighed a hefty 372 grams, the tablet could easily be slipped in a back pocket.
Not that the hardware of the tablet was not top-notch; it had a 1GHz Nvidia Tegra 2 processor and 4G but the software was a big let down. The tablet lacked built-in multitasking features; plus, third-party apps weren’t dual-screen friendly. Sony’s own apps were optimised for the Tablet P but these were mixed-bags. Since the launch of the Tablet P, many companies have experimented with dual-screen and foldable devices but we are yet to see a device that convinces users to ditch their existing phones for something like the Galaxy Z Fold or Surface Duo.
FES Watch U
We bet you’ve never heard about the Sony FES Watch U, a completely customizable watch with an electronic ink face and strap display. High on experimentation, the Watch U wasn’t exactly a smartwatch. It didn’t bombard you with notifications on the wrist or let you measure your heart rate. Instead it simply focused on customisation and the ability to personalise the e-paper watch face and watch strap. Pitched as a ‘fashion watch’, the main proposition of the Watch U was to change the entire look of the watch.
All you need to do is use an app on your smartphone and choose between 100 preinstall designs, choose the one you like and use those designs on the watch. While there’s no denying that the FES Watch U was instantly recognisable on the list, thanks to its e-ink display, its price of 549 pounds made it niche and limited to the fashion-obsessed crowd
A year before Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone and changed the tech landscape, Sony launched its first Ultra-Mobile Portable Computer (UMPC), the VAIO VGN-UX50. Marketed as a new breed of ultra mobile PCs, the UX50 was a handheld computer with a tiny integrated keyboard and a slide-out touch capable display. It wasn’t a pocketable device but rather designed in such a way you can hold it in your hands and use it. Its specs were beefy of its time, including an Intel Core Solo CPU, a 30GB hard drive, Wi-Fi, a fingerprint reader, and front and rear digital cameras.
The whole idea of UMPCs like the Vaio UX50 was to experiment with PC form factors and bring Windows OS to more users. However, the UX50 wasn’t a perfect device. Its non-tactile keys made typing a lot difficult and the battery life wasn’t any better than rival UMPCs. Regardless of the fate the UX50 met with, this device remains one of the coolest Vaio PCs. It cost roughly $1600 when it went on sale.
Xperia Pureness X5
At a time when the Motorola Droid was the coolest smartphone on the market and the Palm Pre was hyped like anything, Sony debuted a phone with a transparent display. The Sony Ericsson Xperia Pureness X5 was aimed at the crowd who wanted simplicity but didn’t mind spending $1000 on a dump phone. It lacked a built-in camera, no GPS, no memory card slot but its claim to fame was its see-through transparent display. When you turn on the phone, there’s no colour to the 1.8-inch display, which is almost completely transparent.
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Turn the phone around, you can see the display in reverse. The interface just floats in the air, something you get on the now-defunct Google Glass. Critics weren’t kind to the Xperia Pureness when it was commercially available, calling it “impractical.” Till date, tech makers dream of making a transparent phone but building one is too expensive. There are, of course, tech challenges. But the bigger question is: are transparent phones even practical?