Reflection: My Mobile-Phone Journey

Pansonic G500I graduated from Kingston University in 1996 with a well earned 2:2 degree (I could’ve done better, but didn’t!). By the end of 1996 I had a decent (and stable) enough salary to afford a monthly contract and got my first mobile phone. I spent at least 3 months reading magazines, trawling the shops, picking up the handsets and talking to the sales assistants (can I call them that these days?) before taking the advantage of a Christmas sale and got this one: The Panasonic G500, in ‘gold’, with a leather pouch to ‘protect it’.

It was great: it had a battery that lasted a couple of days easily (whihc was good for it’s time), it could store a couple of hundred numbers, it could make calls and had a really good reception on the network (except in the New Forest, I’ve never had a good reception in the New Forest!). Amazing. I had it for nearly 2 years before I saw something cheaper, sexier, more intuitive to use,  and not anywhere as bulky … it was the Nokia 8210, and I was in love.

Nokia 8210It was small, easy to carry in all sorts of pockets, had an amazing 120 hour standby time so I charged it perhaps once a week. It was one of the first that I heard about that you could change the fascia and therefore colour of your phone, and really make it personal. I seem to remember it came with a red and blue fascia but I bought a silver / brushed aluminium effect one and had a present of a chrome one that looked good for about 2 hours before the scratches and dents appeared and the chrome-effect cover started to flake!

What was great about both of these phones is that they did what they were supposed to – make calls, store numbers, look good, and WORK!

Nokia 8310Then Nokia got all fancy and upgraded the 8210 to the Nokia 8310 and gave us a back-lit keypad and changeable fascia, and it was the first phone I had that had a game on it (I think it was snake – basic but still game). At this time phones did not have the Internet, did not have anything more advanced than a version of snake or tetris, and there were no camera phones either. My time with these two Nokias was good: solidly built, good call signal strength and above all reliable.

But that was to change. And so too was the quality of choice in handsets. My next phone was a real dud, a pup, a very dark time for mobile phones. I ditched the 8310 (which I loved!) and foolishly followed the crowd and got a clamshell – the Samsung A800.

Samsung A800On paper, and in the phone shop, it looked good – colour screen and a call-light that you could have change colour when a call was coming in and polyphonic(?) ringtones instead of just beeps and more beeps. The larger screen (from the Nokia) meant the WAP connection was worth using, even if WAP wasn’t. I think I had this phone for all of 6 months before changing as it was awful – call signal was poor (even with extendable antenna), handset volume was diabolical (I could never hear what the caller was saying), and the colour screen was just plain annoying and really poor quality. Sorry, but I just did not like this phone.

After about a month the hinge started to get worryingly lose and the two halves never really fitted together properly after that. Nothing had happened, I hadn’t dropped it or anything, it just didn’t stand up to life in pockets very well!

Siemes SL55The next handset was the Siemens SL55! Oh, that was lovely. Only slightly smaller than my old Nokia (and slightly fatter, but who isn’t these days?) the keypad was shown when you slid the screen/top section up – the kaypad was a solid and clunky little affair, much like the Nokia I used to have, but was easy to touch-type the numbers and texts from.

This was also my first camera-phone – it didn’t have one built in but I bought an accessory that plugged in to the data connection port at the base and was designed to fit around the phones curved design. Now I was at the cutting edge of mobile phone use (not really, but it felt like it).

Nokia 6300Now this is where my memory fails me – I had the SL55 for a couple of years as I liked it so much. I nearly upgraded to the SL65 on a couple of occasions but the reviews never made me feel it was worth it. But upgrade I did at some point, and I went back to Nokia for their Nokia 6300 handset. I can remember why too – I got a good deal on two handsets and a cheaper monthly contract for both my and my wife. Nothing more than that – just a good deal!

It was a reasonable handset with a decent (for it’s time) camera but after a couple of months I released what a pup it was, on my carrier, for call quality. But stick with it I did for a year or so .. then the mobile phone market changed forever … the iPhone was here!

Palm PreContrary to what you’re thinking I did NOT get an iPhone straight away – it was too costly and, for me, unproven technology. I waited and watched, hoping someone else would do the same thing as Apple only better and cheaper. But they didn’t. By the time the iPhone 3G was out I was looking everywhere for the best deal and, as I was about to dive in and get one, the iPhone 3GS was announced – so I got the Palm Pre instead!

I liked it (I already had an iPod Touch at this point, so had something to compare the Pre to) – the screen was good and sensitive enough, but not too much, to be useful. The apps were a let down as was the slide-down kaypad. For my fairly small fingers it was difficult to tap, even more than on the virtual keypad of the iPod Touch, and the top row on the keypad was too close to the hinge which made it difficult to use. The Palm did have the advantage over the iPhone at that stage that you could swipe between open/running apps, but the camera was a let down too: hard to focus and not very good. Ultimately the Palm Pre was not as good as the iPhone (and which is still around today?) so it was sent back within the 14 day cooling-off period, and I got an iPhone 3GS.

Apple iPhone 3GSIt was great – the camera, the connectivity, the apps, the shape, the way it made me feel, etc. The iPhone is a great media-centre, but even now with my iPhone 4 I can’t help thinking the phone quality and simplicity I loved in the Nokia 8210 has been lost – the quality of connection to the network is, at best, not particularly good and calls (even on the 3GS) cut out or just couldn’t be heard. There are times I just want to carry a phone around with me, not the connectivity of emails, Twitter, Facebook, games, books, utilities, bank accounts, social networking, weather reports, photo albums, newspapers, geolocation services, maps, videos, etc. Don’t get me wrong, now I have the iPhone I couldn’t be without it and everything I use it for, but I sometimes think back to simpler times and think it wasn’t all that bad.

So, what’s next – iPhone 5? Probably, yes, providing it get’s a better camera. Now I have everything set up and downloaded (and bought!) through Apple it’d have to be something quite extraordinarily good and different and worth it to get me to start that all over again. I’m sure it will happen, I don’t think Apple will stay at the top forever, but it sure looks that way at the moment.

Apple iPhone 4

I hold my hand up and can honestly say that the decisions I made on the handset have been primarily based on look, feel, cost, and network the handset came from. Very few decisions were based on call volume, build quality (case in point – the Samsung, which had a poor reputation that I ignored), network coverage, etc. I think this is why I fought so hard against the iPhone originally as “everyone was getting one” and I didn’t want to follow the crowd. It was only after looking really hard at it and the alternatives that I realised that it was the best option, and still is.

Mind you, I know where the Siemens SL55 is – if I can get a SIM card to fit I might try it out again … you know, nostaglia and all that!

Do you remember your first mobile phone? What was it, do you remember it fondly or that it was a naff decision based on nothing more than “I must have that gadget”? Go on, tell us … ?

Images from byemobile.com

  • Kay

    Very nice article. While I read through your article it took me back to the years since I started using a mobile phone. Though today I own an iPhone 4 I miss the simplicity of the phones which came out years ago. A phone which was used only to make calls and send text messages. No complications,no high end technology,no complexity just a plain phone to fulfill the basic purpose of communicating. But with pacing technology we need to keep up with it. Its a rat’s race out there :-)

    • Hi Kay – remembering my old handsets has made me want to get a new pay-as-you-go SIM and get my old Siemens SL55 out again. It was so much easier and I weas happy to be without my phone if I forgot it for a day (unlike now, when I feel totally useless and un-connected without my iPhone if, like today, I leave it at home by mistake)/
      All the best, David

  • I really enjoyed reading this post and it made me go all nostalgic for my light blue Nokia 3100 that lasted for years. If I remember rightly there wasn’t any moving graphics at the start and the hands didn’t connect the way they do now. It gave it a kind of Michaelangelo feel but the truth was probably much more prosaic.
    I repinned your post to a new Pinterest board along with Will Self’s article on his new iPhone. Don’t know if you’ve been mentioned in the same breath as Will Self – but you have now.

    • Hi Graeme. I’ve not been mentioned in the same breath as Will Self before either, and I’m sure he’s honoured by the connection now [smirk]. I remember the 3100 as one I nearly got, but went for the 8210 instead.

      I want to get my old phones out again (if I had a SIM card that would work) as it just made more sense, a phone doing what a phone should do .. make calls!

      Thanks for the comment, all the best. David