Nearly a Quarter Century of Mobile Phones

Thu 09 May 2024 by R.L. Dane

A fedifriend, Joel recently shared an older blog post detailing the smartphones he's owned over the years. It's an enjoyable read, so definitely check that out.

Since a lot of my blogging plans the past month got waylaid by various difficulties that I won't get into right now, I thought this would be a perfect blog post to get my creatives juices flowing again. So here's a complete list of mobiles I've owned:  

The Early Years

The... PAGER?!

Before cell phone plans were remotely affordable for ordinary mortals, there were... pagers. YES. XD
I got a pager from a family member around 1998. An old-fashioned, one-way, numeric-only pager. I honestly hated that thing. It was a clear Motorola Bravo pager, and I think I carried it around for a year or two.

Honorable mention: PDAs

It's hard to know where to draw the line on this one. Do I include the folding PDA I had in the early nineties that was little more than an addressbook with very rudimentary notetaking function and a painful-to-type-on membrane alphanumeric keypad with less tactile feedback than a ZX81? ;)
Probably not. But here is the list of the bona-fide (and almost bona-fide) PDAs I owned:

  • Honorable-honorable mention: HP 48G
    • This was not a PDA but a graphing calculator, and not even my first grahping calculator. But it deserves a spot because of how versatile it was, how nice the screen was for the time (131x64!!), and how programmable it was. I got it in 1993 and lost track of it sometime in the 2000s
  • First real PDA: Palm IIIx
    • I was ecstatic to get this device in 1998 and daily-drove it until 2001. I enjoyed playing with many different games and sketches (which is what we called "apps" on that platform), and even had an acoustic coupler "backpack" modem that it plugged into for email. THAT was living the geek life in the year 2000. I even read entire books on its somewhat painful green-backlit 160x160 display. I wound up giving it to my mom when I bought my next device:
  • Sharp Zaurus SL5500 - 2001
    • I think I only daily-drove it for a year or two, but I thought it was the coolest thing ever, and it was the only pocketable device I've ever had with a hardware QWERTY keyboard. I kinda wish I still had it, honestly. I also gave this one to my mom for her to use, but she didn't get on with it as well as the Palm.
  • Palm Zire 31 - 2005-2007
    • I remember being so excited to get a Palm device with a color screen, but looking back, it was such an obvious step down from the Zaurus that I don't understand or remember why I stopped daily-driving the Zaurus. I scritched out a LOT of notes on its little color screen for the approximately two years that I used it.

"Dumb" Phones

When smartphones became the norm, regular phones looked so dumb and limited by comparison. In retrospect, these devices were marvels of simplicity, usability, and honestly, sanity.

  • Nokia 5160i - 2000
    • This was a lot of people's first mobile phones before the incredible wave of popularity of the smaller and later 3000-series phones. This phone had swappable faceplates, and I got a blue lightning faceplate that I was rather fond of. The reason for the "i" suffix? The stand-out feature of the phone: SMS!!! (Which I almost never used, because SMS didn't take off in the U.S. until much later). The last time I saw it was in 2007, still stitting in its box and working perfectly. No degredation of the battery at all.
  • Ericsson R280 - 2001
    • This was the first device I owned that had any kind of mobile internet. I used to play an online game called "Gladiator" a lot with it, and the internet access was unmetered -- you could use it as much as you wanted! (Of course, there wasn't that MUCH to do with it -- it barely supported images (monochrome-only, and pretty low-res).
  • Nokia 7210 - 2002-2005
    • This was one of my all-time favorite phones, and I deeply regret trading it in (for the next entry). It had a gorgeous 128x128 color screen, internet connectivity, and an external camera module you could get for $80 (*cough*!!) that plugged into the proprietary charging/sync port at the bottom. It took very-agressively JPEG-compressed VGA-resolution pictures, and I still have the few that I took before the camera broke (lol). IIRC, I got to use the camera ONCE. I remember getting directions using either yahoo maps or mapquest on the itty bitty mobile web browser (not a graphical map, just directions), and it could even cell-trangulate your location (within about a block or two, lol). The internet access was now metered, but the generous FIVE MEGABYTE plan got me through most months. XD
  • Motorola V265 - 2005-2007
    • This was my first clamshell phone (often erroneously referred to as a flip phone, but "flip phones" were bar-style phones with a flip-down keypad cover), and my first phone with a built-in camera. It was a nice-enough phone, but not particularly sturdy, and the included belt clip was pretty poor, out of which the phone was always falling and getting damaged. Although I'm not fond of that phone, I have a decent number of dearly-loved photos from this era of my life just because of it. This phone finally took one to many falls, and I had to hastily buy the next one...

The Early Smartphone Era

  • Nokia 2865i - 2007-2009
    • "That's not a smartphone," you bellow. True enough. I didn't say it was. I just said it was the smartphone era, or the era where smartphones quickly became the default option for many people. I didn't splurge on a new smartphone for a few years, though, being decently frugal by nature. When my Motorola died, I had to buy a new phone in a hurry, and I was not yet in my upgrade cycle (this was back in the days where phones were overpriced, but subsidized), so I had to buy a dinky phone for way too much (I recall it being over $200, which still feels like a rip-off). This phone had a small color screen, no camera, a mushy directional pad that gradually failed, and (IIRC) no mobile internet. It felt like a worse phone than the previous Nokia I bought five years prior for only about $100 more. Nevertheless, this was a valuable companion during some really sweet years in my life, and I used the built-in audio recorder option a lot, and still have all of my old recordings in AMR format.
  • Nokia 3606 - 2009-2010
    • (No, not even my last Nokia, lol). This was my second and last clamshell phone, and I was back in business with a decent (for the time) built-in camera. This phone also did not tolerate drops very well, and starting glitching increasingly more over time because of them. Still no video recording functionality, but it took nice enough pictures, and had a pretty comfy, big T9 keypad for texting. I have warm memories in 2009 interacting with friends on Twitter while at work via Twitter's SMS gateway. I forced myself to keep it for a year (frugality again), but I was really wanting to get rid of it because it was increasingly unusable from being dropped. When it was getting around time to replace it, I was eyeing phones like the Moto DROID closely, but I just couldn't justify the incredible expense of the data plans of the time.
  • iPod Touch 2G - 2009-2010
    • I guess this belongs to the PDA category as well. I carried the iPod Touch (which was a gift from a family member) as a companion to my phone during the same time. I loved playing the various mobile games on it (long before mobile games became TERRIBLE), and it whet my appetite for having a true smartphone with an always-on internet connection.
  • Blackberry 8120 - April-July 2010
    • So, I immediately went out and bought a brand new iPhone next, right? Well, not exactly. Frugal, remember? Instead, I bought a pretty sad Blackberry for about $80. This was the one with the not-quite-T9 keyboard (non-QWERTY, two letters per key) which I'm sure the engineers thought was a great idea, but in practice, it was only slightly less annoying than T9. It had a pretty dinky camera and could record dumbphone-quality videos, as well as watch Youtube at a retina-searing 144p. This only made me want an iPhone worse. ;)

Finally on the REAL Smartphone Train

  • iPhone 4 - 2010-2013
    • FINALLY. This was actually a gift from my grandmother, as I still couldn't justify the price of the phone itself (frugal, remember?). Getting this phone was like HEAVEN to me, and I still remember flipping it around over and over, because the back looked too much like the front, lol. This was the first device the world had seen with such a high resolution color screen, and it looked AMAZING. I would look at pictures on the phone with one eye closed, holding still, and it felt like looking through a window. This was the GOLDEN era of iOS (4-7), and of apps in general. I still have this device (the oldest phone I still possess), and occasionally boot it up to reminsice.
  • iPhone 5c - 2013-2017
    • One word: CURSED. I thought I was getting both a great deal ($100 less than the 5S) and a great upgrade to my iPhone 4, and the stupid screen broke after around a month. Screen replacements without AppleCare+ were basically as expensive as buying a new one, so I had to go back to my iPhone 4 for a few months until the replacement screens were actually available to buy. Then after a year or two of having the 5c again, the logic board failed (possibly due to a bad charger/cable), and I had to basically buy the phone again (logic board relpacement). I still have this one as well, although I almost never boot it up.
  • BLU R1 HD - 2017-2018
    • Even more cursed. How is that possible? Three words: AMAZON. AD. SUPPORTED. Yeah, I don't know what I was thinking. I mean, it was a nice-looking NEW phone with a nice screen for $60, but even after I paid the roughly $30 to remove the ads, it soon became unusably slow, and the camera was kind of a joke. It was my first Android phone, though, and got me interested in that OS. I recycled this phone after a year with great impunity.
  • Nokia 6.1 - 2018-2019
    • My last Nokia. A solidly-designed phone with an OK camera and 4K video recording. It slowed down a good bit over time, unfortunately, and Nokia refused to unlock the bootloader (for shame, Nokia). I still have this and use it every great once in a while when I need to try an app that I don't trust enough to put on my main phone.
  • iPhone 7+ 128GB - Early 2019-Dec 2020
    • My last iPhone. This was a hand-me-down from a relative, and I switched back to iOS, not because I necessarily missed the platform so much (although I have to admit that it felt a lot more polished in some areas at the time), but because this was when I started becoming aware of privacy issues and realizing the gaping privacy hole that Android was. But after having used Android for a couple years, iOS' lack of flexibility and lack of good FOSS apps felt pretty stifling. Overall, I was happy to have access to iMessage and Facetime again, though. As well as some of the iOS-only apps I really loved from previous times, like the iconfactory's excellent BitCam.
  • Pixel 4a 5G - Dec 2020-Aug 2023
    • I absent-mindedly decided to watch youtube while in the shower on my "waterproof" iPhone 7+ one day, and it contracted "audio sickness" immediately after that (requiring the use of headphones to make phone calls). I tried repairing the affected component, but it didn't help, so I sold it for parts, and got a Pixel 4a 5G, which was quite new at the time. I'm not totally sure why I decided to go back to Android, but it was probably a combination of frustration with Apple's rather constricting walled garden (AFAIK iOS STILL does not have a true BT stack), and interest in using privacy-respecting Android builds like CalyxOS. I used stock Android for almost a year, and then switched to CalyxOS, and never looked back. Well, I looked back a little. One thing that's hard to do on de-googled Android is to use Google apps "safely" (namely, the ones that have to be logged into in order to work). But for the most part, I'm quite happy with CalyxOS.
  • Pixel 7 - Aug 2023-current
    • Remember how I killed my last iPhone? Wellll.... One day in late summer last year, I went for a swim. I had on my goggles, ear plugs, and nose clip, and gently waded into the warm water. As I started to swim, I felt a familiar pressure against my leg. So a familiar, that I had completely ignored it until almost completely submerged. OH CRAP, MY PHONE!!!! My completely-NOT-IPX-rated phone! I leapt out of the water, found a plastic basin and proceeded to submerge my phone in 91% Isorpopanol and swish it around, hoping to remove/dilute the highly corrosive saltwater. I thought I had done enough, but no. It was completely inert within a few hours. Fortunately, I had backups, and the Pixel 7 was on sale at the local big-box store, as the Pixel 8s were due to be out within about a month. I tried GrapheneOS on the Pixel 7 initially, but went back to the Android variant I'm more familiar with: CalyxOS