Most of the mobile world is en route to Barcelona this week for Mobile World Congress, where discussions of the future of mobile are sure to be plenty. This got me thinking about my own mobile history and rewinding back to the time before cellphones. Here’s an ode to all the phones I’ve owned before, largely in a chronological order, and with my best effort to actually figure out the model number*.
It all started with a Motorola Timeport or a candybar phone very similar to it (not sure if it was the same model in SE Europe). Motorola had a reputation for being indestructible (I remember trying to disprove that and failing with my dad’s ginormous grey ironically named Moto MicroTac flip phone). Texts were the main method of communication and the Timeport had an enviably big screen (compared at the time to the more stylish Ericsson T-18 that had one line’s worth of screen real estate – I tried it and switched back to the Timeport quickly). This phone was a workhorse and had survived, amongst other things, falling from a balcony and multiple water submersions.
By the early aughts Nokia was really kicking ass — after a short flirtation with the Motorola Star Tac (seemingly the phone of choice of every shady businessman in the Balkans and beyond) the Nokia 3210 became my phone of choice. It was small, light, very sleek and its operating system looked like the future compared to Motorola’s clunky and unintuitive one. I’ve had several 3210s, then switched up to the 6610 with a color screen, of which I’ve also had several. One remains in full working order — until a few years ago it was in use with local prepaid sim cards while traveling. If I could find a charger for it it would probably happily power up today.
From left: Motorola Timeport, Ericsson T-18, Motorola Startac, Nokia 3210, Nokia 6610
There’s something inherently dramatic about hanging up a flip phone – it’s equally great for lovers’ quarrels and frustrating work calls. And the Razr at the time was unlike any other phone on the market — super-thin, fancy screen, lightweight; I went with the matte black which wouldn’t look out of place on Batman’s desk (assuming Batman has a desk and a phone in 2004). Aside from the form factor everything about this phone was frustrating: the Motorola operating system was dreadful compared to Nokia’s, the phone had atrocious battery life, and the screen was so sensitive there was a chance you could break it if you sneezed in its general direction. After only a couple of weeks I started regretting the switch from Nokia to Motorola and contemplating switching back. The experience was so bumpy I promised myself I would never get another Motorola again.
Hey, remember Symbian? It was the future in 2005! Nokia had launched the 6680 – a candybar with a slide to open an excellent back camera (hello cellphone photos that you can actually look at) and a front camera for video calls that showed great promise (I don’t think I’ve ever used it to actually make a video call and I still have the phone). Its web browser reminded me slightly of Teletext but it showed potential of apps and mobile browsing to come. It’s still one of my favorite phones of all time and I would have probably used it longer if Symbian wasn’t so unstable (the phone was prone to self-restarting randomly and frequently, and would freeze apps often).
From left: 3 views of the Razr, and 3 of the Nokia 6680
The 6680 had email but wasn’t very good at push notifications so my next phone was the Blackberry Pearl. Yay super-productive email on the go! Nay super obscure keyboard that required re-learning the layout of keys and rendered me absolutely useless as a texter on any of my older phones. I became a big full keyboard fan as soon as I switched to the Curve, the next gen Curve, and then finally the Bold. It wasn’t just the keyboard: BBM was fantastic for international texting, the camera wasn’t terrible, and you really didn’t know what you were missing until the iPhone and App Store rolled around. If Blackberry had built a better browser, I might still be a customer today.
Some time in the Blackberry era I also broke my promise to never get another Motorola and got the Droid 2. The phone was so dreadful that it completely soured me not just on the device itself but on Android as a whole. The one nice thing I can say about this phone was the haptic feedback keyboard — although having used normal haptic feedback keyboards since, I think I’m being overly generous with praise. Hey Ana of the future – I know you think the MotoX looks cool with all those neat customization options but please remember that we’re never, ever, never getting another Motorola no matter what.
From left: Blackberry Pearl, Blackberry Curve, the next gen Blackberry Curve, Blackberry Bold, and the uniquely terrible Motorola Droid 2
Oddly I didn’t like my first iPhone much and really only used it for the apps. I couldn’t type on it to save my life — things got a tad better with the 4S although I try not to type on it as much (voice recognition & dictation for the win***). Right around the same time I got the Samsung Galaxy S3 — huge leap for Android from my first experience with it on the Droid 2, and I warmed up to the phone and OS very quickly. Now a full-on Android convert, I was in for a treat when the S3 bricked itself and pushed me to get the S4: this is a phone I truly love. It’s addressed all of the things that I found annoying on the S3 (e.g. battery life, much better camera, randomly erasing SD cards, etc).
From left: iPhone 3G, iPhone 4S, Samsung Galaxy S3, Samsung Galaxy S4
So what’s next?
Since we are in MWC season, when I look at my own mobile evolution and what I like and dislike on phones today I think the future will be much less about the device itself and much more about the OS and app ecosystem. My next purchase will probably be solely driven by battery life, screen size, and camera quality — everything else is an app and is device agnostic.
* I’m pretty sure there are a few discrepancies since I know that Nokia had different labels for US and rest-of-world phones. I relied on an image search and then listed the phone that most looked like the one I actually own(ed). It was a fun exercise in cellphone design evolution.
** Too cool for school. And some vowels.
*** English Siri and I have become fast friends. He cracks me up and largely tolerates my attempts at sexy cockney speak. Oi!