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The World Before The iPhone: 25 Phones That Made History

Before iPhone was launched we lived in a very strange world. And when I say strange, I mean it in the best way possible. Back then,  phone manufacturers like Motorola, Nokia or Ericsson had so many crazy ideas that they called “phones” that the market was filled with a huge diversity of handhelds. From clamshells to wacky circular shapes, we had it all.

Nokia 101
Year: 1992

The Nokia 101 was the first phone which showed Nokia’s distinctive approach to mobile phone design and the reason for the company’s long term success. Other firms competed for the crown of the smallest or lightest phone, Nokia wanted to make their phones the easiest to use.

Paul Chellgren, President of Nokia Mobile Phones Inc, explained that Nokia’s research showed that whilst people wanted a small phone, they also wanted one that was as easy to use as a big phone. These days of course, we are much more used to using small phones, but in 1992 things were different. Peoples’ experience of mobile phones was either non-existent or of using something the size of a house brick with a large keypad. (Source)


Motorola Startac
Year: 1996

The Motorola StarTAC is a clamshell mobile phone manufactured by Motorola. It was released on January 3, 1996, being the first ever clamshell/flip mobile phone. The StarTAC is the successor of the MicroTAC, a semi-clamshell design that had been launched in 1989. Whereas the MicroTAC’s shell folded down from below the keypad, the StarTAC folded up from above the display. In 2005, PC World put StarTAC at #6 in The 50 Greatest Gadgets of the Past 50 Years. The StarTAC was among the first mobile phones to gain widespread consumer adoption; approximately 60 million StarTACs were sold.

Nokia 5110

Year: 1998

Nokia 5110 is a GSM mobile phone that was introduced by Nokia in March 1998. The 5110, also known as the Nokia 5146 on One2One (now T-Mobile), or nk402 on Orange in the UK, was intended for the consumer market. Its design was based on the same platform as the Nokia 6110 for the business market. It features a similar simpler, revamped user interface, but lacked the infra-red data interface. It could, however, be interfaced with a computer via a cellular data card and the appropriate cable – enabling it to function like a modem for connection to remote computer systems, via the Public switched telephone network.

The Nokia 5110 was rugged, had excellent battery life, and featured an 84 by 48 pixel monochrome LCD with four LED back lights, operated by the Philips PCD8544 display controller. It was one of the first mobile telephones with a replaceable faceplate (which Nokia branded ‘Xpress-on covers’), a concept they incorporated into several other consumer-oriented cellphones aimed at the young adult market, allowing users to customize their device. It was also one of the first mobile phones to feature the game Snake. It became one of the most popular phones of its era. The Nokia 5110 was discontinued in 2001, replaced by other smaller and lighter devices.

Nokia 3300 family
Year: 2000


The star of the family, Nokia 3310 is a GSM mobile phone announced on September 1, 2000,[2] and released in the fourth quarter of the year, replacing the popular Nokia 3210. It sold very well, being one of the most successful phones with 126 million units sold worldwide.[3] The phone is still widely acclaimed and has gained a cult status due to its durability. It is one of Nokia’s most iconic devices. Several variants of the 3310 have been released, including the Nokia 3315, 3320, 3330, 3350, 3360, 3390 and 3395.

The 3310 was developed at the Copenhagen Nokia site in Denmark. It is a compact and sturdy phone featuring an 84 × 48 pixel pure monochrome display. It has a lighter 115 g battery variant which has fewer features; for example the 133 g battery version has the start-up image of two hands touching while the 115 g version does not. It is a slightly rounded rectangular unit that is typically held in the palm of a hand, with the buttons operated with the thumb. The blue button is the main button for selecting options, with “C” button as a “backspace”, “back” or “undo” button. Up and down buttons are used for navigation purposes. The on/off/profile button is a stiff black button located on the top of the phone.

The 3310 is known for being reasonably durable due to its casing and construction, a feature which is often humorously exaggerated in online communities. Numerous videos also exist of the phone being put through damage tests to test the phone’s strength, including being dropped from a great height and being crushed by heavy objects, many times of which the phone proved its record.

The 3310 is known for having many features that were rare for the time. These include many utilities, such as a calculator, Nokia network monitor, stop watch and a reminder function. It has four games: Pairs II, Space Impact, Bantumi, and the hugely popular Snake II. The Snake series of games had been popular on Nokia handsets since the late 1990s. CNET remembered Space Impact, a shoot ’em up in which the player fires projectiles at oncoming aliens, as a mediocre game overall but impressive for fitting a mobile device with its complexity and length. It was later recreated for other mobile devices. The Telegraph said that the phone was remembered for its games.

The 3310 was popular for SMS text messaging because it allowed long messages three times the size of a standard SMS text message, at 459 characters. It also featured threaded SMS writing and SMS Chat. The phone also has voice dialing for the quick dialing of selected numbers.

Motorola Razr v3

Year: 2003

Motorola Razr (styled RAZR, pronounced “razor”) is a series of mobile phones by Motorola, part of the 4LTR line. They were first developed in July 2003 and were released in the market in the third quarter of 2004. The V2 was the first and the v3 was the main phone at the height of the series popularity.

Because of its striking appearance and thin profile, it was initially marketed as an exclusive fashion phone,[but within a year, its price was lowered and it was wildly successful, selling over 50 million units by July 2006.Over the Razr’s four-year run, the V3 model sold more than 130 million units, becoming the best-selling clamshell phone in the world to date.

The Razr series was marketed until July 2007, when the succeeding Motorola Razr2 series was released. Marketed as a more sleek and more stable design of the Razr, the Razr 2 included more features, improved telephone audio quality, and a touch sensitive external screen.

Nokia 8850
Year: 1998

The Nokia 8850 is a mobile phone handset manufactured by Nokia. It was a light alloy-bodied enhanced version of Nokia 8210 model with slider protection of the keypad and blue lighting of the keypad and screen. The 8850 is considered to be an un-repairable phone, thus resulting in very few active handsets in the market.Today it remains a collector’s item. It was introduced as a successor of an earlier model, the chrome phone Nokia 8810

Motorola ROKR
Year: 2005

The Motorola Rokr is a series of mobile phones from Motorola, part of a 4LTR line developed before the spin out of Motorola Mobility. Rokr models were released starting in September 2005 and continuing into 2009. They were notable for incorporating support of media player features.

The E1 is the first phone to be integrated with Apple Inc.’s iTunes music player, which was next used in a phone in 2007 on the iPhone. It was launched on September 7, 2005 in San Francisco, California. The phone had been widely expected, with technology sites reporting on collaborations between Motorola and Apple as far back as December 2004.

Motorola v70
Year: 2002

Motorola’s stylish GSM/GPRS mobile that features a unique rotary design is also customizable; the circular silver bezel that frames the menu is interchangeable with gold, silver, or white accessories. You can even wear it around your neck by inserting a lanyard (such as the one made by Gucci) into the hole at the top of the phone. The menu is customizable as well, so you can reorganize the menu list and program shortcuts.

Nokia 9000 Communicator
Year: 1996

The Nokia 9000 Communicator was the first product in Nokia’s Communicator series, announced on CeBIT 1996 and introduced into the market in August 1996. The phone was large and heavy (397 g) in comparison with its later equivalent the Nokia E90 (210 g). The Communicator part is driven by an Intel 24 MHz i386 CPU. It has 8 MB of memory, which is divided between applications (4 MB), program memory (2 MB) and user data (2 MB). The operating system is PEN/GEOS 3.0. The Communicator is considered to be the first smartphone on the market, following the HP OmniGo 700LX, a DOS-based palmtop PC with integrated cradle for the Nokia 2110 cellular phone announced in late 1995 and shipping in March 1996.

LG Chocolate KG800
Year: 2006

LG KG800 is the European version of the LG Chocolate, the first product of LG Black Label Series. It is a GSM Tri-Band mobile phone manufactured and sold by LG Electronics. It was released in May 2006 and had its marketing strategy planned and executed by John D. Bernard, a marketer based in the UK. The KG800 is a ‘slider’ style phone that reveals heat-sensitive touch buttons on its face, which activate upon sliding the phone open. A slightly modified version, released as the LG TG800, was sold by Rogers Wireless (discontinued) and Fido in Canada. Additionally, Bell Mobility has a modified version of this phone that works on their CDMA/3G EVDO network despite the offering of the LG Chocolate (VX8500) in Canada available there through Telus Mobility.

Nokia 7110
Year: 1999


The Nokia 7110 was the first mobile phone to run Series 40 and to come with a WAP browser. It was announced in February 1999 and released in October 1999.

The 7110 was Nokia’s second handset with a sliding cover that could be used to answer and terminate voice calls. As with the 8110 before, with the cover deployed, the microphone was brought closer to the user’s mouth, improving the clarity of the voice reception. New to the 7110 was a spring-powered release mechanism, which would release the cover when a small metal catch on the rear of the handset was depressed. The cover could also be opened manually.

Connectivity is provided via a standard IrDA transceiver on the top edge of the handset. A serial cable can also be attached to the handset’s expansion terminal, to allow synchronization of the phone’s contents, and to allow the phone to function as a Modem. Data capabilities are limited to circuit switched data; GPRS was not available on this handset. The WAP mini-browser established a connection to the internet using CSD.

The navi-roller was used in place of the familiar up and down buttons, allowing the user to rapidly scroll through lists of options; depressing the roller selected the currently highlighted option.

The 7110 was the first cellular phone to implement the T9 Predictive text input method for composing SMS messages.

Contrary to popular myth, though the Nokia 7110 does feature a spring-loaded cover concealing the keypad, this is not the model featured in the first Matrix movie, which is the Nokia 8110 (made 3 years prior), which was adapted with a spring mechanism to feature in the 1999 film.[

Nokia 7250i

Nokia 6260
Year: 2004

The Nokia 6260 is the first clamshell smartphone from Nokia. It uses the Series 60 user-interface and the Symbian operating system. The screen rotates on two axes allowing different modes of usage of both the camera and the phone itself, making it unique to other smartphones released at the same time as the Nokia 6260. Other unique features are a built in radio and the ability to ‘hotswap’ the memory card(RS-MMC) – that is to change it without turning the unit off.

The Nokia 6260 was specified to play MP3s, although the quality is poor (mono sound and no bass). However, this does not apply for the quality of the built-in radio as this uses a different chip to process the audio.

The processor found in the Nokia 6260 is capable of handling advanced software such as movie players and PC games of recent history such as Doom.

The phone features industry-standard Bluetooth and IrDA connectivity, along with Nokia’s proprietary ‘Pop-port’ for USB and audio connections. The camera is only VGA resolution (640 × 480) but has reasonably good colour reproduction. The memory card slot can accept an RS-MMC card.

Nokia N95
Year: 2007

The Nokia N95 (N95-1, internally known as RM-159) is a smartphone produced by Nokia as part of their Nseries line of portable devices and released in March 2007. The N95 runs on S60 3rd Edition, on Symbian OS v9.2. The phone has a two-way sliding mechanism, which can be used to access either media playback buttons or a numeric keypad. It was first released in silver and later on in black, with limited edition quantities in gold and purple. The launch price of the N95 was around €550 (about US$730, GB£370).

Its capabilities include:[a Global Positioning System (GPS) receiver with maps and optional turn-by-turn navigation; a 5 megapixel digital camera with Carl Zeiss optics, flash, video recording and video conferencing; wireless connectivity via HSDPA, IrDA, 802.11x and Bluetooth; a portable media player with the ability to download podcasts over the air; an FM Radio tuner; Composite Video output via included cable; multi-tasking to allow several applications to run simultaneously; a web browser with support for HTML, JavaScript and Adobe Flash; messaging via SMS, MMS and e-mail; Office suite and organizer functions; and the ability to install and run third party Java ME or Symbian mobile applications. It also supports GPRS (2.5G), EDGE (2.75G), UMTS (3G), and HSDPA (3.5G), one of the first smartphones to support 3.5G.

Sony Ericsson T68
Year: 2001

The Ericsson T68m (often called simply T68) was a candy-bar style mobile phone by Ericsson Mobile Communications. Launched in time for the 2001 Christmas season, the T68 was the first Ericsson mobile phone to have a colour screen, a passive LCD-STN with a resolution of 101×80 and 256 colours. Despite its diminute size (3.94×1.89×0.79 in or 100×48×20 mm, 2.96 oz or 84 g), it was one of the most feature-rich mobile phones at the time, with Bluetooth, IrDA port, GPRS 3+1, tri-band compatibility (900 MHz, 1800 MHz and 1900 MHz), SMS with T9 (predictive text), EMS, WAP, and customizable monophonic ring tones. A simple bitmap image editor was provided, allowing the creation of monochrome pictures by guiding a cursor around the canvas and setting or unsetting individual pixels (several ‘brush’ sizes were selectable to make this easier). These images could be set as the phone’s background image in standby mode, and sent to owners of EMS-compliant phones. With EMS soon to be succeeded by the superior MMS, few owners made much use of this feature. At its release, the phone cost around € 500, GBP299 in the UK, in either two-tone grey or all-gold.

In 2002, after a slight cosmetic redesign and a software upgrade, the T68m was re-released as the Sony Ericsson T68i, as by then Ericsson had created a joint venture with Sony Corporation to produce mobile phones as Sony Ericsson. The upgrade, also available to owners of the T68, provided a built-in e-mail client, SyncML support, and, for the first time ever, two-way MMS with full SMIL implementation. The underlying hardware remained unchanged.The T68i is known for being a highly effective example of stealth marketing. Before being released Sony Ericsson paid actors to pretend to be tourists and asked people to take pictures of them with the T68i. The previously included Tetris game was not present in the firmware of the T68i.

A camera was not present, which was sold as an add-on (MCA-25 CommuniCam) and, at the end of the model life cycle, was offered with the phone. Calendar Items, Wallpaper Images, Screensaver Images, Pictures of Senders, and Ringtones can be sent to the T68i through the Bluetooth protocol, or infrared.

Ericsson T28
Year: 1999

The Ericsson T28s is a GSM dual-band, compact flip mobile phone manufactured by Swedish telecoms company Ericsson Mobile Communications in 1999. The T28 was the lightest and slimmest mobile phone at the time, with a weight of only 83 grams.

Unlike mobile phones of the time (1999-2001) it had a fixed, stubby external antenna. It was probably best known as the first phone that used lithium polymer batteries. At one point, it was the best selling mobile phone in America.

In terms of market positioning, Ericsson designated this as a premium phone, as such it was priced substantially higher (often more than triple) the price of the T10 and T18 devices – their nearest cosmetic and functional competitors. It has a tiny LCD screen and an spring-loaded latch mechanism to release the ‘flip.’

Ericsson R380
Year: 2000

The Ericsson R380 Smartphone was a GSM mobile phone made by Ericsson Mobile Communications, released in 2000. It combined the functions of a mobile phone and a personal digital assistant (PDA).

It was the first device marketed as a ‘smartphone’. In December 1999 the magazine Popular Science appointed the Ericsson R380 Smartphone to one of the most important advances in science and technology. It was a groundbreaking device since it was as small and light as a normal mobile phone. It was the first device to use the Symbian OS that had previously only been used in Psion personal organisers.

The display was a black and white touchscreen, partially covered by a flip. For that reason it can be considered the clear forerunner of the popular P800/P900 series of smartphones. It predates the UIQ user interface which runs on those later phones, but again, the heritage is clear.

Despite the sophisticated user interface, users could not install their own software on the device.

Samsung D900
Year: 2006

The Samsung SGH-D900, also known as the Ultra Edition 12.9 or Black Carbon, is a slider-style mobile phone created by Samsung Electronics that was announced in Q3 2006. It is marketed as the world’s thinnest slider phone. Since the end of 2006, a Wine Red edition was added and 2007 marked the introduction of a chrome edition to the lineup. There is also an upgrade of this model, the Samsung D900i which can be used to access documents on your computer from your phone and added an FM radio as well as was made out of higher-quality materials.

Nokia 8910
Year: 2003

Nokia n-Gage
Year: 2002

The N-Gage (a pun on engage) is a smartphone and handheld game system from Nokia, announced on 4 November 2002 and released on 7 October 2003. It runs the original Series 60 platform on Symbian OS v6.1. Its original development codename was Starship.[citation needed]

N-Gage attempted to lure gamers away from the Game Boy Advance by including mobile phone functionality. This was unsuccessful, partly because the buttons, designed for a phone, were not well-suited for gaming and when used as a phone the original N-Gage was described as resembling a taco, which led to its mocking nickname “Taco phone”.

Nokia 6230
Year: 2004

he Nokia 6230 is a mobile phone based on the Nokia Series 40 platform. It was announced on 28 October 2003 and released in the first quarter of 2004.

It does not have built in music keys on the side but it is considered to be the third-loudest Nokia phone.

Cingular Wireless was the primary GSM carrier that offered the Nokia 6230b in the United States. Other companies such as Cincinnati Bell, Simmetry Communications, Viaero Wireless and Telcel also offered this model.

It features a 16-bit TFT color screen with a resolution of 128×128 pixels, a VGA camera that can record video clips in H.263 (SubQCIF) format at 128×96 pixels at 15 FPS, built-in Bluetooth wireless technology, FM radio (when a wired headset is attached to the Pop-Port interface to act as an antenna), and playback of 3GP video/audio at up to 30 FPS and MP3, AAC and AMR audio. It is also EGPRS (EDGE) capable of speeds up to 220 kbit/s. In addition, it has changeable Xpress-on covers available for purchase.

Nokia 7380
Year: 2005

Nokia 7380 fashion phone was released in 2005, as part of the “L’Amour Collection”, along with the 7360, 7370, 7373 and the 7390. The 7380 was designed at Nokia’s Design Center in California (Lead Designer: Miki Mehandjiysky). What distinguishes this phone from others is its sensory navigation key which differs greatly from a conventional keypad and functions similarly to the touch-sensitive navigation wheel of the iPod. The display of the phone is another point if interest, measuring approximately 1.5 cm by 7 cm. The screen is also known for becoming highly reflective when in power saving mode, with the ability to double as a mirror. This function, however, does not seem to hinder its visibility, including in dark situations. The Nokia 7380 was one of the first phones to implement the use of real materials- such as metal and leather- in mass production.

Nokia 6820
Year: 2006

The 6820 was the most popular phone in the series and was often stocked in shops when it was released early in 2004. This phone was smaller than the previous models, with much smaller and more closely spaced keys. A variant, the 6820b, was marketed in North America with support for the 850MHz GSM band instead of the 900MHz band used by the 6820. The 6820 was functionally identical to the 6810 except for a 352×288 camera instead of the built-in radio.

Nokia 3250
Year: 2006

The Nokia 3250 (code-named Thunder) is a smartphone running Symbian OS v9.1 (S60 3rd Edition), announced on September 26, 2005. It features a unique ‘twist’ design that transforms the traditional phone keypad into a camera (90° CW/CCW) and dedicated music control keys (180° CCW). It was marketed as a music phone and can store up to 2 gigabytes of music (500 songs) and other data thanks to a microSD memory card slot, and features a two-megapixel camera as well as other smartphone capabilities.

Sony Ericsson W910i
Year: 2007

The Sony Ericsson W910i is a slider model music phone. The W910i was announced on June 14, 2007, as a branded “Walkman phone” and uses version 3 of the ‘Walkman Player’. The phone also features the shake control feature found on the W580 that enables music track switching by shaking the phone and also for Java ME based video games and applications using the JP-8.

The phone, alongside the K850 Cybershot and the more expensive W960 Walkman, was one of the first phones from the company to use the Sony Ericsson Media Manager which replaces the now-defunct File Manager seen on older models. The Walkman music software also uses the ‘SensMe’ feature which designates the mood depending on the genre and the speed of the track the user is playing. The phone has had its camera interface revamped and resembles the one seen on K850; however the BestPic feature has been replaced by Burst Mode.


Bogdan is the founder of Top Design Magazine. You can find him in Bucharest-Romania so next time you want to drink a beer there and talk about web and stuff, give him a message.