Thursday, 13 November 2014

13/11/14 - Mobile Telephones, etc

I remember being totally blown away when my uncle got a Rabbit phone in the early 1990s. Remember them? You could only make calls if you stood near a base station, so you had to keep an eye out for shops displaying the Rabbit logo. And yet today we take instant go-anywhere connectivity for granted, with our great big internetting smartphonery and whatnot.
But that’s a diatribe for another day. Of course the technology has moved on, that’s what mankind does. We can’t stop fiddling with things. No, what particularly interests me right now is the size of the things. It’s a hilarious cliché, of course, to cite the early bricks with their really-quite-long aerials and battery backpacks, but the first mainstream mobiles – that’s ‘mainstream’ as in ‘most people can afford one’ – weren’t actually that big, particularly by modern standards. Sure, they were a lot simpler; calls were a gimme, texts a nice-to-have, and it took a while before games started appearing in the menu options or you could pay £1.50 to have a Nike or Hugo Boss logo on you dot-matrix screen (seriously, why did we do that?), so their girth isn’t in line with 21st-century electronics, but they could still happily fit in a pocket. They got steadily smaller and smaller as technology allowed and fashion dictated, and by the early/mid-noughties it was embarrassing to have a phone that you could actually comfortably operate – you needed to have one that was so small that you couldn’t push the buttons properly.
But then they started getting bigger again. The advent of smartphones - and with them, the ability to watch video, browse proper websites instead of that old WAP shite, etc – meant that people wanted bigger screens. And much in the same way that phones got absurdly small, they’re now getting absurdly big. I recently upgraded to an iPhone 6 Plus, but had to send it back after a few days as it was just too damn big. The line between phones and tablets is increasingly blurred, and you’d look like a right wally holding a full-sized iPad up to your ear to take a call.

But this is all just unnecessary ranting, of course. Technology moves on, and devices reflect what the public desires – these things exist because people want to buy them. So instead, let’s take a wander down memory lane. I’m going to bore on about a few of the more noteworthy phones I’ve had over the years. Perhaps you’d like to nostalgia-ise about some of yours too? (If not, feel free to go and do something else, you won't be missing much.)

Philips C12
My second ever phone, back in the late 1990s. It had rubbery buttons and it was as solid as a rock – you could leave it on the dashboard of your Vauxhall Nova, watch it fly out of the window on a roundabout and go bouncing down the road, and it’d still work fine.
It also had a brilliant hack that was quickly discovered and shared by cheapskate pay-as-you-go schoolkids like me – when you sent a text message, if you turned it off while the screen still said ‘sending’, it’d send the text without charging you. Something about the amount of credit being held on the phone rather than the service centre, I think?
It also had a horoscope feature, which was stupid but mildly diverting in a late-nineties ‘oh, look at this gadget’ context.

Nokia 3310
Probably the most dependable mobile phone ever built, and they still have a huge fan following today. It’s pretty hard to break them, the battery lasts forever, and they’re the perfect size to hold in your hand.
It was a pioneering gizmo for the new millennium, packing a calculator, stopwatch, diary reminder thingy and, of course, Snake II – the irritatingly addictive game that killed more hours than Angry Birds and Candy Crush combined. They sold 126,000,000 3310s, which says a lot.
I bet you know someone who still uses one. You might even still have one in a drawer at home.

SonyEricsson T68i
A magical development in 2001: it had a colour screen! And there was all sorts of other stuff in there to make your mates’ Nokias seems distinctly last-generation – Bluetooth, predictive text, WAP, customisable ringtones… but most importantly, it had a camera! You could take photos with your phone!
Um, OK, so the camera wasn’t actually built-in – you had to buy a separate camera unit and plug it into the bottom. And the pictures were so lo-res it wasn’t always easy to figure out what you were looking at, but still, WOO! CAMERAPHONES!

Motorola A835
Phew. This was a whopper.
When 3 first set up the UK’s 3G network in 2003, they were very keen to get everyone video calling. I totally fell for it, and got an enormous A835. No-one else I knew did, which meant that I never made a single video call with it. It was a bit crap at taking videos too (think You’ve Been Framed circa 1994-ish), although you were also able to watch ITN news on it, which was momentarily exciting. But after the first week of paying £1 a pop to watch a minute of news (which was, er, free if I just turned on the radio or TV), the novelty wore off and I was lumbered with a really huge phone for a year. But thankfully this was a long time before people latched onto the annoying phrase ‘first world problems’, so it was just my own private irritation.

Motorola RAZR V3
Probably the coolest phone ever made, and I’d have one today if they could make the screen work like an iPhone. Flip phones allow you to end a call with a gesture of dramatic flair, and the RAZR V3 was super-thin and stylishly formed from chilly aluminium, so you felt like a boss when you were using it. And the neon-blue lights in between the buttons were straight out of a futuristic movie from the 1970s.

I haven't kept a single one of these handsets, of course. They exist purely as memories; things that I carried around at all times for a year, then callously discarded for a later model. There's probably some sort of conclusion to draw about the frivolous and fickle nature of mankind in that, or something. Dunno.

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