Motorola V3 (2004)
After a number of design hits, from the MicroTAC flip-phone at the end of the 1980s to the StarTAC in 1997 and the clamshelled v.3688 in 1998, Motorola had a bit of a dry spell – preferring to re-use existing designs and add new functionality.
Then, in late 2004, Motorola surprised the world by revealing the V3 RAZR. Besides being the phone that launched the four-letter naming system (the ‘4LTR-system’), it was another icon of design.
A laser-etched keypad, large colour display and a super-thin metal casing. The first models came in presentation cases – probably more expensive than some of the rival handsets it was up against.
But, it wasn’t a high-end premium phone for long. In no time, the V3 was being sold by anyone and everyone and prices fell.
Motorola wasn’t bothered. It had an ace up its sleeve. Not long after V3 sales started to wane, it released the phone in a range of new colours. From an industry that was happily selling new phone casings as accessories, Motorola now found a way to sell a whole new phone for someone that decided black, pink or gold was the new silver.
The RAZR series went on to spawn the V3i, V3X and other variants around the world. The 3G version lost the svelte look, and had abysmal battery life, but it was a defining moment for Motorola. Its only problem was thinking it would last forever. Do you remember the KRZR?
Nokia 3310 (2000)
Surrounded by powerful and iconic smartphones in this list, you might ask what place there is for a phone that can boast a 84×48 pixel monochrome display and monophonic ringtones.
The Nokia 3310 was built to meet the demands of the time – having succeeded the earlier 3210 model. Changeable covers were still making good money for retailers (and market stall holders), and people seemed quite content with only being able to play whatever games came on their phone. The 3310 came with four games, including Snake II and Space Impact.
Text-messaging fans could now send longer messages (up to three messages joined together automatically), although the network would of course hit users with three separate charges. Voice dialling also made an appearance, while users could create ringtones with its internal composer.
Orange SPV (2002)
With all the fuss over Windows Mobile 6.5, and whether it’s a stop-gap before Windows Mobile 7, it’s easy to forget that it all started back in 2002 with the very first Windows-powered phone, launched exclusively on Orange.
The SPV (standing for Sound Pictures Video) was a pretty ugly looking handset – whether looked upon from the front, back or sides. But it was so eagerly awaited and probably one of the first mobiles to attract early adopters in droves. For all its faults, and there were many (from bugs to hardware issues), it was a huge success for Orange and Microsoft.
Most of the interest came from the fact that the SPV looked like an ordinary mobile phone, not a bulky PDA like earlier Windows CE models.
In what would go on to become Windows Mobile Smartphone Edition, it offered users email via Outlook, Microsoft document viewing, a pocket version of Internet Explorer and PC-synchronisation.
It also opened a new avenue for mobile application developers. Later models would tidy up the keypad, reduce the size and feature an embedded camera to meet the growing demand for cameraphones.
The SPV was built by HTC exclusively for Orange, and the successive models helped establish the company as a serious hardware manufacturer.
HTC would later go on to build models for other network operators using the Xda (O2), VPA (Vodafone) and MDA (T-Mobile) names. By 2006, it was selling handsets under its own name. But the SPV was where it began.
Nokia 6310i (2002)
Without this phone, an update on the 6310, Nokia would probably have never had the credibility to launch the Eseries range. The 6310i was a phone that refused to die, even after Nokia had long moved on with a range of consumer-friendly designs, colour displays and the launch of the Series 60 platform.
Nokia had already introduced the Communicator line, but the business man (or woman) on the street demanded this phone. They’d probably worked their way up through the original 6110 in 1998, the dual-band 6150 a year later, and finally the 6210 and 6310.
The 6310 brought Bluetooth to the table, but the 6310i fixed a number of issues and improved compatibility with a growing number of headsets and wireless car kits. Another godsend for business users spending half of their life on the road.
The 6310i was also a tri-band GSM phone, with the addition of Java. The battery performance was exceptional – with a choice to suit people wanting a lightweight battery or those demanding a heavyweight monster that would last a fortnight.
The amazing battery life saw this phone kept by its owners long after the phone was life-expired. Even after upgrading, it was more likely the new phone would be sold on eBay while the 6310i continued, perhaps with investment of a new battery.
Sharp GX30 (2004)
Vodafone’s relatively short-lived involvement in the Japanese phone market did produce some gems for the UK market. Sharp, which only ever managed to get the majority of its handsets released on Vodafone’s network, struck gold when it became the first handset manufacturer to get a megapixel cameraphone on sale.
At exactly one-megapixel (1144×858 pixels), it only just made it – but that was enough to get all of the glory and have all the technology press raving. Suddenly, a mobile phone could (almost) take on the digital camera world.
The GX30 retained the gorgeous QVGA-resolution display used in the GX20 – but increased the colour count to 262,144. Using a similar technology to its flat-panel television range, the screen was way ahead of its rivals. At the end of 2004, Sharp would release the 902 with 2x optical zoom and two-megapixel camera.
HTC Hero (2009)
If there’s any operating system that might give Apple a run for its money in the coming years, it will be Android. Think of the future of mobile as being Apple vs Android, just like PC vs Mac. The internet forums are already full of Apple and Android fanboys arguing their cases in ways that only a fanboy can.
For Android to succeed, it needs devices to run on. While the first model to introduce Android was the very disappointing T-Mobile G1, the defining moment came from the release of the Hero. Here was a phone that got almost everything right from the outset (the camera was, and still is, its weakest feature).
Some aspects that made the Hero stand out from the crowd were down to features that went beyond the standard Android user interface. Indeed, HTC cannot actually call the Hero a ‘Google phone’ on account of its TouchFLO front-end and Sense software, which gives the phone seamless integration with a range of online services, including Facebook, Flickr and Twitter.
But that’s what Android is all about. It’s an open sourced operating system where customisation and building-on extra features is not only tolerated, but is in fact actively encouraged.
BlackBerry 7230 (2003)
It’s easy to see how emailing devices from RIM ended up earning the nickname ‘CrackBerry’. Even back in 2003, the company had managed to produce the ultimate messaging device.
Although the 7230 was incredibly wide (74mm, which is 11mm wider than the rather bulky 3G Bold), it was relatively thin and had a decent sized (2.8-inch) display and respectable resolution.
What’s more, the BlackBerry had a colour screen that didn’t come at the expense of battery life. In fact, compared to the current BlackBerrys, the 7230 could reliably go for almost a week between charges.
There were two reasons that made this possible. Firstly, the screen didn’t have a very bright backlight. Secondly, most people would go on to use the 7230 as a secondary device.
Web browsing wasn’t an amazing experience on the BlackBerry, but where it mattered most, RIM had it nailed; mobile email.
With its full QWERTY keyboard and server-based push-email system that made it possible to read emails with large attachments almost instantly, plus the huge savings on mobile data charges and a level of security that made it acceptable to corporate businesses, it was as much a must-have tool for business people then as it is today.
Nokia N95 (2006)
When Nokia spoke of all mobile phones becoming ‘Multimedia Computers’, it sounded like a throwaway line from a company CEO wanting to sound important.
Then along came the N95 and it all fell into place. As the flagship model in the Nseries range, set for high-end devices with the latest cutting-edge features, it amazed the press who were simultaneously shown the phone at events in London and New York.
Here was a phone that had a large screen, 5-megapixel camera and flash, decent video recording, a new web browser, Wi-Fi, GPS, accelerometer and a powerful processor that really brought the Series 60 platform to life. Nokia had finally made its ‘Multimedia Computer’.
It was the must-have phone for 2007, but it did have a few major drawbacks. Firstly, the GPS receiver was nothing short of useless. Without any sort of network assistance (a feature that was added later from one of many firmware updates), it could take anything up to 15 minutes to get a fix.
Not a lot of good for stepping out of a tube station, or arriving in a foreign country by plane, and wanting to find your destination on Google Maps.
Within the year, Nokia had announced the N95 8GB, with a slimmer casing, a larger capacity battery and vastly superior GPS reception. The successor was the better phone, but the original still has a place in our hearts.
Ericsson T68 (2001)
The T68 was an incredible leap in technology terms, with Ericsson opting to include everything on a single phone as rivals preferred to wait-and-see.
Where Nokia dragged its heels on features such as Bluetooth, Ericsson decided to produce a tiny phone that had a 256-colour display, GPRS and HSCSD (dial-up data), email, games, themes, animated wallpapers, Bluetooth, Infrared, SyncML and even an optional clip-on camera that offered VGA-resolution photography – if you didn’t mind the huge wait to save the pictures.
The phone also had a feature that was a godsend for users slowly accepting battery life was decreasing as features increased – a battery meter that showed how many hours of talktime and standby was left.
It gave people security that couldn’t be matched by counting how many bars you had left. The feature survived the Sony Ericsson-branded T68i, but was eventually dropped because it proved long-distance calls drained the battery.
Following its huge success, Sony Ericsson went on to release the best-selling T610 in 2003.
Apple iPhone (2007)
Is the iPhone really going to be three years old by the time the next model is released? We can still remember the rumours about Apple getting in on the mobile phone market. We can remember the websites that invited people to post up their self-generated ideas of what the iPhone would look like.
And then in 2007, Steve Jobs announced it to the world. It was a major turning point for the whole industry. Despite being behind Windows in the computer world, almost overnight everyone had Apple down as being the market leader in the phone industry.
This was despite introducing a phone that didn’t support 3G (but Jobs made such a convincing argument against 3G at the UK launch event in its flagship London store, even we started to believe 3G wasn’t needed) and missed many vital features available on just about every other mobile phone. Nobody cared.
Naturally, by the time Apple managed to get its 3G chipset up and running, the advertising changed to point out that 3G was what you always wanted after all. Well, quite.
The main success of the iPhone is in the App Store, and every other company that tried to build its own ‘iPhone killer’ seemed to spectacularly miss this rather fundamental fact.
That, and the brand reputation of Apple.
Anyone can make a touchscreen smartphone, but the iPod generation has bought an iPhone because of a little thing no other manufacturer can copy; the little Apple logo on the back.