skip to main content

20 Years of Personal Cellphone History

published icon  |  category icon retro

It all started with the Nokia 3210. Remember that brick? No, not the Gray Brick, nor as heavy as Nintendo’s lovable but not so little device, but just as rectangular. You could play games on it! Snake 1! I think its legacy is mostly condensed into the “tududu-duu tududu-duuu tududu-duu duuuuuh” tune. The battery lasted for more than a week. Good times, cellphones used to call instead of waste time on social media cesspools. I thought it would be great fun to use Ruben’s template from the favorite game meme post to lay out all phones I once owned in a grid:

A listing of owned cell- and smartphones.

Regular readers already know my disliking for the medium, which got gradually worse as these cellphones evolved into smartphones. It still surprises me that I managed to utilize nine of those things—that number will likely go up very fast if you’re a more serious phone addict user. This again shows what a wasteful society we live in. These fashion statements—of which the high end devices nowadays require €1200—are almost as rapidly replaced as a pair of underpants. I stopped caring long ago. Let’s briefly go over them:

Nokia 3210 (1999): Thé iconic Nokia. See above. I got one in 2001: the beginning of the end.

Nokia 3410 (2002): Hey, it plays Snake 2! I’ve had this thing for a long time, and was really content with it. Compared to the 3210, it felt lighter and better, although the differences weren’t that big.

Sony Ericsson T610 (2003): My first cellphone with a color screen. The T610 included a frustratingly bad joystick that had you constantly missing menu items. One of the worst things I’ve ever owned as a hand me down from my mother. They keyboard sucked too.

Sony Ericsson W810 (2006): After the T610 failure, I was eager to go back to Nokia. However, this Walkmanized W810 got my attention, as I attempted to cut down on hardware. The W810 was a very capable music player. I could sell my dedicated MP3 player, the Creative ZEN Micro from 2004. The only downside was Sony’s proprietary flash card system. The stupid joystick didn’t disappear, but Sony did improve it.

The Creative ZEN Micro MP3 Player.

Nokia N82 (2007): Digital photography was gaining traction and I bought a Canon EOS 1000D in 2009. As I did not want to lug it around every single time, I was looking for a phone with a capable lens. The N82 came out as the winner. It even included a Zeiss flash! The SymbianOS was dear to me and easy to customize. Another great phone. I even joined the N82 Flickr photo group.

iPhone 2 (2008): “What a nightmare” is my first reaction when I look at pictures of that phone. I was one of the last to make the jump to “smart”-phones, and I vividly remember colleagues laughing at me and my pitiful N82. My sister upgraded her phone and I decided to give her old one, the iPhone 2, a try. A week of jailbraking attempts with obligatory cursing later, I officially hated the thing. I bought a MacBook that year and never looked back, so I’m far from an Apple basher. I did strongly dislike Apple’s tendency to do yearly marginal iPhone upgrades to persuade people to pull out their wallets. It still works.

Nexus 4 (2012): After a few months, I just had to get rid of that iOS garbage. Others were calling it salvation, I was calling it the nine gates of hell. The perhaps late introduction to the Android ecosystem was a breath of fresh air and the Nexus was a fantastic device. Until it broke after an unlucky fall. And broke again after another fall.

Nexus 5 (2013): Tired of replacing the screen, I bought a second-hand version of the next model. I still can’t be bothered to spend much on a phone, I’m still disappointed with the fragility of the screens compared to the N82 or W810 or earlier, and I’m still puzzled by the poor battery life. Yes yes, the megaflops, the terabytes, the 3 cameras, wow!

Sony XPeria XZ1 Compact (2017): Guess what, the Nexus 5 broke after exactly one year or so of casual usage. This time, it wasn’t the screen: it just refused to boot. I could throw my 3410 down the stairs and still pick it up and make a call. Anyway, fed up with the ever increasing size of these phones, I wanted something I could put in my jeans pocket. This was the smallest acceptable thing I could find, and a friend was about to throw his one out for an upgrade.


Best phone ever: tie between the 3410 and W810. Worst: iPhone. Hate mail incoming…

When I look around, I see people carrying “fridge doors” with them, boasting 5 camera lenses on the back. The sheer size of recent smartphones is just ridiculous. 4K baby! I wonder whether these people know we used to carry fridge doors with us in the nineties.

These trends merely amuse me from time to time. But what does depress me is that as phones evolved, so did having a simple face-to-face conversation: a few seconds of silence is suddenly a sign to whip out that big smartphone and start scrolling. That is not only distracting but also very rude. Another striking fact is the gradually developed fear of calling. WhatsApp groups and a few chat messages seem to be enough to convey the message, but makes me feel really disconnected with the person on the other side. Even my parents revert to this.

Admittedly, I just tag along. Secretly hoping to get a call.

Shit, my battery just died. Again.

I'm Wouter Groeneveld, a level 36 Brain Baker, and I love the smell of freshly baked thoughts (and bread) in the morning. I sometimes convince others to bake their brain (and bread) too.

If you found this article amusing and/or helpful, you can buy me a coffee - although I'm more of a tea fan myself. I also like to hear your feedback via Mastodon or e-mail. Thanks!