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Engadget: our first cellphones

Ryan Block, @ryan

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So we were all hanging around the Engadget HQ watercooler reminiscing like we often seem to, when we started talking about our first cellphones, and about those pre-millennial days when they only did one thing: make phone calls. No email, no Bluetooth, and definitely no camera. Normally we'd selfishly keep all these entertaining anecdotes to ourselves, but we thought we'd force everyone to write them down to share on the site. And of course we're dying to hear what your first cellphone was, too. Extra points to any of you out there who actually had a Motorola DynaTAC 8000X.

Ryan Block - I held off for a while because I wasn't living in the city, where a cellphone is totally essential. But when I moved to New York I started off with an Ericsson T28 on VoiceStream (that was back in the days before they got bought out by T-Mobile). This thing was killer; it was the smallest American phone at the time, and it had Tetris and was one of the first available with Bluetooth (though it was add-on that looked more like a huge cameraphone attachment). The thing had such a high SAR I was sure to get brain cancer in 6 months, and it pumped out so much juice it made my scalp sweat?when I used it within 15 feet of any speakers, they would often get this crazy squelching interference. But it was worth every penny. I went through like 4 of them in a year.

Peter Rojas - Nokia 6162 As a so-called gadget expert, it's a little embarrassing to admit that I had trouble remembering what my first cellphone was. I was working at Red Herring (the original one) in the late Nineties and was given senior editor Brian Taptich's old Nokia as a hand-me-down which had been sitting around unused on a shelf for months after he left the magazine (after consulting with Eric I'm pretty sure it was the 6162?I never even noticed who the carrier was). I remember that no one bothered to erase the phone book before it was given to me, and I was too lazy to delete the entries myself. Not that it made much of a difference, since I hardly ever used it except when traveling for work?I couldn't even remember what its number was. The phone seemed completely dispensable at the time, though the first thing I did after I was laid off and forced to relinquish my cellphone was to sign up for service with Sprint and get a Samsung flip-phone. It was stolen less than eight weeks later. Fast forward a few years and I'm now obsessively checking email on my Treo every five minutes as if somehow a message going more than a few seconds without being answered will spell the very end of Engadget.

Eric Lin - 688 I wasn't ever that keen on PDAs, but I was always infatuated with mobile phones. However (just like with my first PDA), I refused to buy a phone before one was small enough to actually fit in my pocket. My first opportunity came when I was living in Oregon, working for an ad agency that had a number of clients in the cellular industry?even back in the mid '90s I was already a cellphone freak. I was moving to a new house and when I went to check it out I discovered that despite what the phone company told me, the land line didn't work. Calling the phone company again, I learned that it wouldn't be hooked up for another four weeks. Since I couldn't go that long without a phone, I used the situation as an excuse to get my first cellphone. It was an Ericsson 688 with the extra-thick extended-life battery that lasted about 2 days between charges and made the phone about as big around as a MagLite. I got a plan with free long distance and tons of minutes on AT&T. That day I gave all my friends and family my mobile number and never bothered to learn a landline number again.

Simon Spagnoletti - Motorola StarTac I'm not a hundred percent sure, but I think my first phone was the Mororola StarTac on Sprint. Yeah, that sounds about right. Wonderful phone. Small (it's still thinner than some of today's phones), well designed (it helped inspire the Palm V, after all) and quite durable, which I unfortunaly put to the test by constantly dropping the thing on every possible side. But I'm better now, I promise. Of course, it had an absolutely awful OS, probably one of the worst I've ever used of another Motorola, a Samsung, two LG's and one or two Nokias I've had since. I've managed to block most of that out, but I do vaguely remember having to hit the FCN key every time I wanted to do pretty much anything. And I must have gone through at least three antennas. I still have the phone lying around somewhere and I'm sure even the last antenna is hanging off precariously. On the other hand, I still have fond memories of that green LCD. I'm a fan of color displays mind you, but there will always be a soft spot in my heart for that classic green.


Katie Fehrenbacher - I moved to Brighton, England, during horrible floods and an epidemic of Foot and Mouth disease spreading across the country, so being stuck inside a 10 square-mile area and not knowing anyone I thought it best to get a cellphone. I got the Nokia 3360, which was the only free option at the lot, but it was still a lot better than the American ones I had looked over at home. Everyone was already texting like crazy in England and new English friends would constantly text me completely incoherent messages. But I remember you could email text to the phones, which seemed somewhat advanced at the time. The 3360 had no external antenna and was very square and dumpy, but in a cute way. It was also really heavy and brick-thick. I remember dropping it repeatedly and amazingly it never broke.

Sharp A241

Gareth Edwards - My first phone was a Sharp A241, which has to be one of cellphone history's tiniest footnotes. I got it while I was at university in Tokyo in 1996 because I lived in a bedsized room that I was never in. It was Japanese and gadgety when the rest of the pack were these boring straight-type things; it cost about $150. It was a PHS, which work off lunchbox-sized base stations that can be stuck pretty much anywhere, but there was never one near enough. I'd always be leaning out of windows pointing the phone around to trying and get a signal. My first real cellphone was a Mitsubishi D501i, one of the first i-mode phones with a color display, which I bought in 1999. It was cool in that it came with a real email address and a web browser, and you could write sites for it in HTML rather than learning the Martian code you needed to make WAP pages. It had a springloaded scroll/enter key that was fantastically useful, and I also had this thumb keyboard with shortcut keys for the major apps that strapped onto it with a velcro loop. The sound quality was awful and it had a terrible cheap purple plastic case and a dorky pullout antenna, but all those functions made up for it.

Joshua Klein - bagphone Let's get old school for a minute?real old school. You remember the big square faux-leather bags that weighed a ton and had a handset connected to them by a long curly cord? The ones you had to plug into the cigarette lighter in your car? When I was in high school I had one of those, a 300-watt Motorola Bag Phone duct-taped into the emergency brake hole in my VW rabbit (the brake lever came out in an accident). No text, no camera, no data, no nada, just a nice thick cord and a residual hernia from lugging the thing around. The sound quality was terrible and you had to drive around forever to find a parking lot with reception, but damn I was cool going through the drive-through at to the Mickie-D's to see that hot girl from math class and pulling out the phone. "Oh excuse me, I have a phone call. Yeah, a phone call. In my car." Never mind that it was usually my parents wondering where the hell I was. The best part about it? You could really improve coverage by putting it on the roof of the car where it would act as a planar antenna. If you could do it without denting the car, I mean.

motorola marco

Phillip Torrone - I'm pretty sure my first cellphone was a Motorola Ultra or Classic II brick-style. But I was always a data first kinda kid?shocking?so the devices I used most were the Motorola Marco the Apple Newton with a Wireless Paging card over my eWorld and Compuserve accounts. Yeah dawg, memories of kickin' it 1995 style. Almost 10 years of cellular now, and no tumors. But I am completely sterile.

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