Here’s an easy-to-forget fact: mobile phones are quite young. Born in 1973, as a consumer product they grew slowly, not penetrating public consciousness until the mid-eighties – as expensive exoticisms for nerds and yuppies. Even as recently as twenty years ago, they stubbornly remained more luxury than necessity. Not until 1999 did the tipping point arrive, when suddenly everyone and their mother had a mobile and you couldn’t leave the house without hearing the bleep-bloop of the Nokia theme.
Now of course, their ascent is total. We can no more live without mobiles phones than without air (they’re, geddit, our O2). But certain questions still dangle. Does their connectivity and convenience come at a cost? Are smartphones one of the great emancipating advances, or have we become subject peoples, ruled by the lump of metal and Gorilla Glass in our hand?
First thing in the morning, having dismissed our smartphone alarms, our first order of business is to read our smartphone emails, check our smartphone WhatsApp messages and scrutinise our smartphone Twitter mentions. All assuming, of course, there’s still charge in our smartphone battery. These days, we measure out our lives not in coffee spoons, but in phone contracts, twenty-four months at a time.
And if you’re anything like me, you still keep your old phones: heritage handsets gathering dust in a bedroom drawer. Laid in chronological order, they tell a tale. Not just of the warp speed of technological development (compared to my Samsung Galaxy S7, my first Nokia is a museum piece) but of something more autobiographical. Whether or boasts a camera or not, a mobile phone takes a snapshot of your life. Each one is a chronicle of your tastes, your value systems, your spending power at the time. Cue this fascinating article: a complete history of every mobile phone I have ever owned. Please turn off your mobile phones.
2002-2004: Nokia 5210
My first mobile phone came late. For my first sixteen summers, I owned neither smartphone nor dumbphone – making me one of the last holdouts in my school. In the unlikely event you wished to get in touch, your options were as follows: snail mail, landline, telegram, face time (real conversation, that is, not Apple’s videotelephony app). Suspecting – wrongly – that I was missing out on all the great parties, I resolved to be behind the times no longer. Finally, I would possess a blessed mobile phone.
It being 2002, there was no choice but to choose Nokia: they were masters of the planet. But rather than default to the 3310 like everyone else, I dared to be different, slightly. Small, sturdy and packing a built-in thermometer, the 5210 was made for the more adventuresome consumer. The battery life came in at over a week, and carapaced in a thick rubbery exoskeleton, the handset was as idiot-proof as possible. While not quite armour-plated, the 5210 was certainly thick-skinned. And it needed to be. My sister called it, with dismissive hauteur, a ‘camping phone,’ and it met with a cool reception at school for being, well, uncool.
For all that, I liked my 5210 greatly. It dragged me into the modern world, and only rarely was I frustrated by the ten-text-message limit and low-pixel monochrome screen. After all, with a mobile phone in my pocket I was supplied for every eventuality, or so I thought at the time.
2004-2007: Nokia 6610i
In 2004, university beckoned: the most vital three years of any geek’s life. And to be ready, I needed a serious makeover. A fresh wardrobe. A fresh computer. A fresh personality. And, with all the friends I’d be making, a fresh phone. Though reliable and worthy, the 5210 was more clunky than sexy. What I desired instead was something sleek, new – a phone for the student I wanted to be, not the student I was.
Sadly, no such phone existed in 2004 (and arguably still doesn’t). So I settled instead for another Nokia: the 6610i. Having ditched the rubber exoskeleton for a blue plastic onesie, it did out-cool its predecessor – just. And there were further advancements. First, the colour screen, which I gulped through my eyes in wonderment upon first pressing the ‘on’ button. Second – and here’s a real extravagance – it had a camera. It was a ‘camera phone.’ Not only would the 6610i store my new friends’ numbers, but it could prove they existed. Look at the smiling pictures – the camera never lies! Of course, in the end I used the camera barely at all. Not just because no one let me photograph them. At a piddling 0.1 megapixels (288×352), the image quality shamed a daguerreotype.
But the 6610i gave good service. It accompanied me on my undergraduate adventures and misadventures (mostly in libraries), and bears the marks of a life well-lived. I could have looked after it a bit better, in truth. By 2007, the shiny new phone of three years ago was a battered ruin, its keypad worn away, its blue plastic cover warty with spilt ink.
No longer a student but a keen-jawed graduate itching to put my stamp on the world of Work, I obviously needed a new phone. A serious phone. A corporate phone. To the Orange shop I duly went.
2007-2008: Sony Ericsson K810i
2007, also known as When The iPhone Launched, was the Year Zero of smartphones. Naturally I had no idea of that at the time. In 2007, I was still two years away from my first iPod, and anyway, as a pound-conscious recent grad, the iPhone would have been hopelessly beyond my purse.
But I was aware of certain other industry developments. I knew that (much like my old beaten-up 6610i) the shine was starting to come off Nokia at this point – that other players, chiefly Sony Ericson, were muscling in on their market share. To see why, you only need behold my shiny new handset of the time, the Sony Ericsson K810i. It had a great camera, a superior screen and – farewell, faithful Discman – an MP3 player. If, by today’s standards, my first two Nokias were phones from before the flood, this one looks recognisably twenty-first century.
But with these advancements came a pact with Beelzebub – or to be more precise, a contract with Orange. This marked the point where I ditched pay-as-you-go for something more binding. Sign here, here and here, and the phone was mine for a term of 18 months. If my first phone meant freedom, now I was just another node in the network, surveilled by Orange’s all-seeing eye.
It was a hint at things to come. The great age of the smartphone, of GPS and mobile data, was round the corner, and the K810i – 3G enabled – was a proto-smartphone. Unfortunately, and perhaps tellingly, my K810i’s internet button fell off. Perhaps society wasn’t yet ready to be Always On.
2008-2010: Sony Ericsson C905
In 2009, I didn’t just change my phone, I changed my form factor. No longer would I tolerate a ‘bar’ phone – after all, they were a bit 2002-2008. Rather, all like the best handsets of that era, the Sony Ericsson C905 was a ‘slider.’
The slider is seldom seen these days. But in 2009, it was enjoying a moment. A sliding mechanism made the handset more compact overall, and with the rise of touchscreen, physical buttons were beginning to look unsexy. The solution? Hide them away. That’s the C905 summed up – a tidy, if unspectacular presence in your pocket.
But don’t mock. While the C905 may not be the pick of my smartphone litter, it was still first-rate as dumbphones go. A phone of practicality over aesthetics, the build quality was excellent, and it took half a week to make inroads into the battery life. Even now, it would make a very decent stand-in were my Galaxy S7 to go west. But I’m getting ahead of myself…
2010-2012: HTC Desire
In July 2010, my life changed. Or at the very least my phone number did. But it was worth the administrative headache, because the HTC Desire was my very first smartphone. And not any old smartphone either. Highly touted by all the review sites, HTC’s flagship handset was prized and praised even beyond the all-conquering iPhone. The name said it all: Desire. Everyone wanted one.
I lie, of course. Everyone still wanted the iPhone (naturally; it had an Apple logo). But in a fair fight, the Desire – faster, cooler, sharper-screened – would have destroyed the competition. I bought mine on holiday, undiscouraged by rural Devon’s non-existent 3G signal. The phone felt sleek in my hand, the screen was arrestingly big and beautiful, and if it existed in the real world, the Android Market had an app for it.
But once I’d got over the hot thrill of being a smartphone user, the chinks in the Desire’s armour began to show. The biggest, undoubtedly, was the lack of internal memory: a woeful 148Mb. Installing anything new involved a delicate dance of arranging existing apps by size and removing the non-essentials, the Angry Birds, the YouTubes, to make room. And then there was the battery life – one of the running sores of our age. It was certainly a rude awakening for me. Used to phones that lived a week, now I was reaching for the charger once a day at least.
Oh HTC Desire, what could have been. You were a marvel and you were a mess.
2012-2014: Samsung Galaxy Ace 2
In October 2012, I left my HTC Desire in a Lidl supermarket. Convinced it had been stolen, I hastened back – but not before ordering a replacement. It hardly matters which one, I told the Orange operative breathlessly, so long as it’s a smartphone, and is cheap. The phone he duly offered me – the Samsung Galaxy Ace 2 – placed a check mark in both boxes. Certainly I could make no complaint at the price: at a footling £11 a month, it was £25 cheaper than the HTC Desire. Which no one had stolen, by the way. I rushed back to Lidl and it was still there, unwanted, unclaimed. Undesired. But by that point I had already ordered its replacement.
Thinking on it now, perhaps I left my phone in Lidl on purpose. During my two years with the Desire, I had begun to weary of wishlist phones and trophy tablets. What was the point in forking over £35 a month for a top-end phone that was, in its essentials, no different to a low-end phone? It was just so much idle vanity.
Thus it was that I unboxed the Galaxy Ace 2 the next day – unenthusiastically. And my disappointment wasn’t disappointed. Turning it over in my hand, the design was charmless, the proportions bulky, the rear of the case pleasingly cheap looking. In fairness, the phone was not less usable for being affordable. Both the battery life and internal memory were both much improved over the HTC Desire, and there was even a front-facing camera to capture my habitually underwhelmed expression. It was exactly the phone I needed.
2014-2016: Nokia Lumia 635
2014, or as I call it, The Homecoming. After seven years in the howling wilderness – with Samsung, Sony Ericsson and HTC – I went back to where it all began. My first, my only. Nokia. Only the Nokia that greeted me in 2014 was very different to the company I knew in 2002. Having entered into a pact with Microsoft, Nokia no longer had a software platform they called their own. Now they made Windows Phones. The Lumia 635 that I carried home from Carphone Warehouse was a Windows Phone first and a Nokia phone a distant second.
I chose Windows Phone because I wanted a change. But chiefly because the Samsung Galaxy Ace 3 – my logical next upgrade – was dementedly overpriced at £21 per month. By comparison, the Lumia 635 was arithmetically cheap, and clad in a zesty lime case, colourful to boot. And at first, I liked my new phone. The Windows software was intuitive and idiot-proof, and even the battery life was good. At last, here was a smartphone I didn’t have to feed the charge lead every blessed night.
But over time, the low-res screen did nag at me. Then there were the software gremlins. Apps like the countdown timer had a whimsical tendency to restart, and twelve months in, the alarm clock stopped working. And why was the Windows store missing so many apps? Where was the front-facing camera and rear flash? These shortcomings, insignificant in themselves, added up to one big fail. Even the admittedly great podcast and music apps couldn’t begin to make up for it. Nokia, you disappointed me. Or do I need to blame Microsoft?
2016- : Samsung Galaxy S7
And so we get to now. The present day. The first phone in this list that doesn’t languish a drawer, but has life coursing through its electronic veins. And what veins. The Samsung Galaxy S7 is the culmination of all that came before it, the greatest smartphone in the annals of consumer electronics, the final word in mobile telecommunications and pocket computing. Until the Galaxy S8 or some other flagship smartphone get released next year, that is.
But until then, let’s savour the S7 awhile. It really is the most wonderful creation. I can’t get enough of the lean frame, the sensationally lovely screen, the extremely respectable battery life. But the camera is the clincher. Or maybe it’s the heart-rate sensor. No, it has to be the fact you can drop it in a toilet and – providing you don’t flush – continue your conversation as if nothing happened. Compared to the S7’s bells and whistles, my old phones are relics from the old stone age.
And I’m obliged to say that I feel pretty flash whenever I whip my S7 out in public. It was none too cheap, but – my coffers boosted from four years of budget tariffs – I reckon I can afford it. After all, phones are now auxiliary limbs, or extensions to our brain. Would you skimp on those?