Thomas Ricker: Nokia 6110, Vodafone UKGiven to me by my employer in mid 1997 under a corporate account. It featured an Infra-red port and was the first Nokia phone to ship with Snake.
As cellphones were becoming popular in the US in the late 90s, I was living in the Haight Ashbury neighborhood of San
Francisco -- an oddball mix of homeless hipsters holding ironic signs of homage to the poor-is-cool notion, aging hippies unable to move on, and art-school brat-pack wannabes more concerned with mixology than gadgets. For all their eccentricities, each of these groups had one thing in common: technology was the enemy, a weapon to be wielded by Ayn Rand herself at the end of days. As such, the only people who had cellphones were rich trust funders who could afford one for personal use, or corporate suits who begged their management for this ultimate symbol of upward mobility. I was neither.
That changed when I left the US for London (and a more mature perspective) back in 1997. As a new hire of a young startup, the first device given to me wasn't a laptop, but a cellphone. A Nokia 6110. A phone based on the consumer-oriented 5110 but with a more advanced user interface. A device that made US cellphones appear clumsy and brickish by comparison with its beautiful iridescent finish and icon-based UI that was intuitive even for a first time mobile (pronounced mo-Biyl) phone owner. Oh, and it had an infra-red port and Snake. It was glorious, I had arrived.
I was fired 3 months later when our startup was purchased by a larger competitor. I kept the 6110, later replacing it with the Ericsson T28s and the world's first Bluetooth headset, the £199.99 Ericsson HBH-10.
Laura June - Nokia 6110 - VoiceStream Wireless
Bought somewhere in the space between 1997 and 1998, for who knows how much money, the Nokia 6110 had a max contact count of 50, and no camera, but it had Snake and made calls, and really, nothing else mattered.
In late 1997 or early 1998, despite the fact that almost no one I knew had a cellphone, I decided to buy one, simply for the fact that, having bought my first car, I was afraid of being stranded somewhere alone on the side of the road. The only people I knew that had cellphones at the time were my younger brother (who also had an intense series of pagers), and my cousin, who also went to college with me, so she, I thought, could serve as my guide into this mysteriously uncool territory I was wandering into.
My first cellphone began my long love affair with Nokias, and though I was at pains to determine which model was actually the first one I had, I've nailed it down to the Nokia 6110, on VoiceStream Wireless. I have to admit, it was the commercials featuring Jamie Lee Curtis that ultimately decided what carrier I would go with. I went to a mall kiosk, set myself up with my new phone, and headed home. It wasn't snowing, but it was freezing cold and there was plenty of snow on the ground. After parking my car outside my apartment (also my first), I gathered together my various items -- purse, gloves, school books (one, I remember, was the 10 or 15-pound Riverside Shakespeare that I hauled around for years), and my brand new cellphone, and tore into my house.
When I got inside, I could hear someone leaving a message for me on my answering machine, and as I made my way from my carpeted living room into the linoleum floored kitchen, I wiped out because my feet were soaking wet from all the snow. Though I tried valiantly to keep my new gadget from flying out of my hands, I failed, and as I lay there, face down on the kitchen floor, embarrassed for myself, I saw it, in several (possibly just two) pieces. As I recall, I set those pieces on the table carefully, and just looked at them for a good half hour, not really having the courage to reassemble the phone. Sure, it looked like it would just snap back together (in fact, it was really just the rather giant battery pack that had flown off the back), but I was afraid that I would find, once reassembled, that the phone simply didn't work anymore. And then, there were the stories my brother had told me about how if there were signs that your phone had been wet, well, you'd never get a replacement from the carrier, and yes, my phone had had some telltale signs of snow on it when I picked it up -- don't ask me how that came to be. Anyway, I did snap it back together, and it did work just fine.
My fondest memories of the phone, of course, are the hours I spent mastering Snake. My most embarrassing memory of the phone? Well, the fact that I simply didn't understand the technology itself, or didn't think about it -- and kept my phone turned off unless I wanted to make a call -- for the first few months that I had it. In retrospect, it sounds silly, but then again, nobody ever called the darn thing back then anyway, and when it did ring, it was inevitably at the bottom of my giant purse, and scared me half to death, so foreign was the sound of its ring to me. Of course, I quickly got over my incessant, near obsessive need to conserve battery power, and these days, roughly 8 Nokias, 1 BlackJack, 1 BlackBerry and 3 iPhones later, you'll find me, like the cool kids, with my cellphone always on. The sound of the ring however, still scares me to death because you know, nobody calls.
Ross Miller: Nokia 5120, BellSouth MobilityBought in 1999, probably free on contract. Specs included a 47 x 84 black and white screen and the game Snake.. what else really matters?
Back in 8th grade, I was busy doing things I figured most kids my age were supposed to do -- namely, work. I was giving guitar and bass lessons to 6th graders and making a business out of it. To be honest, I really can't recall a time since then where I haven't been working, with the exception of maybe a couple months here or there, but I digress. It was at that point where my parents decided it'd be best if I got my own cellphone, instead of just constantly stealing my dad's nondescript Nokia flip for when I wanted to catch a movie or hang out at Wendy's (hey now, don't judge). And make no mistake, we were a Nokia family; if you can believe it's possible to have company loyalty at a time consumer cellular devices were in such a state of infancy, well, In Espoo We Trusted. So that was that.
The carrier was BellSouth Mobility, which would later become Cingular, which would later become AT&T. And being from Atlanta, we always kept with the company regardless of its name and / or ownership. Of course, reception never really sucked when you live in the backyard of the carrier's headquarters. Now, I'm gonna let you in on a little secret, dear reader. I loathed writing this contribution. Not because it isn't interesting and not because I didn't want
to write it, but frankly because I couldn't for the life of me remember what model I had. And it's been killing me... but I've now given up, and my best guess, based on gut reaction to image search and some matching details (candybar, screw-on antenna, Snake) is the ultra-successful Nokia 5110 or some variant thereof, maybe the 5120. Or the 5125. Or the 5160. Or the 5165. Whatever.
I guess I could've made phone calls or sent text messages, but to me, it just some device for playing Snake all day long. It's the sole reason I kept with Nokia, and I'd later pick my next phone based on having the original Snake (Bonus: that second phone had an awesome ringtone composer I used to recreate the main riff of Blur's "Music is My Radar.") Say what you will about Nokia, but you know what? Those candybars never had bad reception and would run for days without a charge. I haven't been able to say that about another phone since.
Nilay Patel: Sony D-Wave Zuma CM-Z200, AmeritechBought in 1999 / 2000 for an unknown amount of money on a 2-year Ameritech contract. Specs included an 800MHz CDMA radio, a four-line monochrome display, a texting function that wasn't properly supported by the network, a 99-entry address book, and -- most importantly -- a flip-out microphone.
How cool was my Sony D-Wave Zuma CM-Z200? I passed up my mother's hand-me-down StarTAC to grab the Zuma, and that was serious business at the tail end of 1999. Sprint carried the black CM-Z100 at the time, but I signed with Ameritech to get the silver Z200 -- presaging a lifetime of being kicked in the ass by carrier exclusivity. But oh man -- the Zuma was so hot, I didn't care. The software underneath was the same Qualcomm CMDA platform everyone else got, but the hardware itself was a classic piece of insane Sony engineering, built before the Ericsson linkup and the shift to "fashion" phones. Remember when Sony put Jog Dials on everything? The Zuma's Jog Dial combined with the flip-out microphone, so you could pull off a maneuver my friend Kyle dubbed "the scroll and flip" when you wanted to make a call. You could also answer and end calls by flipping the mic -- heaven.
Sadly, It wasn't the incessant flipping of the fragile mic stalk that ended my time with the Zuma, nor even Ameritech's eventual merger into SBC and then Cingular and AT&T and GSM over CDMA with it. Nope, it was something much, much dumber -- the external antenna. It was a pull-out piece, the last of the old school, and the base was just one unreinforced chunk of weak plastic. I snapped at least four of 'em over the course of my time with the Zuma, each time furtively trying to superglue things back together before sadly heading back to the store for a replacement. Eventually the hassle of having to return to Wisconsin from college in Chicago to find an Ameritech store became too much, and I abandoned the Zuma for a Sony Ericsson T616i on AT&T. It was a great phone, that T616i -- I was well on my path to Sony Ericsson fanboydom. But nothing has even quite been as sweet as that silver Zuma. I keep trying to find one on eBay -- I'll even take the lame black Sprint version -- but they seem to have been memory-wiped from existence, and Sony couldn't even help us find a high-quality press photo. But I'll never forget you, Zuma. In my heart, we're still scrolling and flipping forever.
Joanna Stern: Nokia 3390, CingularBought in 2000 for some amount of money at Cingular. Specs included GSM 900/1800, 84 x 48 monochrome display, vibrate and predictive text input. Nope, no camera or speakerphone here.
I wish the story of my first cellphone was more exciting, but like many of my talented colleagues, my mobile journey began with a Nokia handset. As I remember it, I was in tenth grade and I convinced my parents that I needed my very own cell -- to, you know, call them if I was getting out of school early or forgot my cheese sandwich at home. Up until then I had always taken the family Nokia 5190 when I needed to be "in touch," but for whatever reason my dad agreed to buy me a phone to call my own. So, I set my eyes on Nokia's more petite 3390, and I was forever changed. Okay, that's a bit dramatic, considering I used the phone like any teenage girl -- to get in touch with my girlfriends at the mall and wait for the older cute boy to call. Yes, I was that cliche -- I can actually still remember getting excited when I'd see his name pop-up on the monochrome screen. I'm fairly certain somewhere in between all those calls there were some major fights with my father regarding going over my monthly minutes, but I believe I paid them off by picking up some added household chores and babysitting jobs. I actually think he thought the phone was a total waste of money until he called me on it on September 11, 2001 to let me know what had happened to the Twin Towers and that he'd be picking me up from school immediately.
Yes, Nokia lived up to its "connecting people" marketing slogan, but it also connected me to a monochrome line that inched across the screen. I, too, was a Snake
addict, and I seriously couldn't get enough of the game. Actually, the 3390 was one of the first phones to come with Snake II
. So while everyone else was controlling the old, stick-like digital image, my snake had a small animated mouth! I actually tried to replace the keypad at some point because the 2, 4, 6, 8 keys were so worn. Sadly, I can't remember my high score -- it disappeared when I gave up the phone in 2002 for the much cooler looking Motorola V60i flip phone. I guess I thought I was done with the high school games and ready for a fresh college look.
Richard Lai: Panasonic G-520, unlockedProcured in 2001 or 2002 while rummaging through the shelves at home -- was probably a raffle prize that my father won at a company banquet (I never dared to ask). Specs included GSM 900, low-res monochrome LCD, 650mAh battery, and polyphonic ringtones!
I was only 13, and at the time, parents were only starting to equip their kids with cellphones. Even after my supposedly lucky find in my Hong Kong
apartment, it was only my cautious self that brought the G-520 back to my British boarding school as a "just in case" measure -- I would've happily avoided this hideous phone had there been other options. For instance, back then many of my schoolmates were carrying a Nokia 3310 (not far off from Joanna's phone above), which sported a built-in antenna and the legendary Snake game; my G-520 had neither. Oh, and it didn't have an infrared port, so I could only -- with much jealousy -- observe others beaming virtual cards across their trendy handsets.
With the little usage I had on my G-520, I struggle to recall what other features the phone might have had (Google isn't helping much, either) -- all I know is that back then I lacked the technical brain power (and potentially phone credit) to set up WAP, plus the weak signal in the English countryside meant pigeon mail would've been more reliable than SMS. Consequently, most of the time the phone was left inside a dedicated compartment in my school bag, yet the paintwork around the corners still managed to slowly fade away. Needless to say, the arrival of my second-ever phone -- a Sony Ericsson T630 -- the following year was a great relief.
Vlad Savov: Nokia 6510, T-Mobile UKObtained in 2002 via my mother's free contract upgrade (yeah, that's how I roll). Specs included GSM 900/1800, 60 x 96 5-line monochromatic panel, FM radio, vibration alert, and yes, Snake II.
It's impossible for me to reminisce about this phone with anything but the happiest of feelings. Just look at those sharp, aggressive lines -- that's molded plastic at its absolute best! One of the biggest adaptations for me, having spent a lot of time hijacking a family-owned 5110, was to the switcheroo Nokia pulled with the arrow keys coming to the middle and shifting the OK key out to the side. A second upheaval was the fact that Snake II
was a pale shadow of its predecessor, which I still consider the best damn mobile game ever made. Perhaps the Snake
to Snake II
transition was a sign of the N-Gaging
things to come.
Trifling flaws aside, the 6510 continues to represent the ideal pure
phone for me. It withstood scrapes and drops like a champion, had the endurance of a marathon runner, and its reliability was unquestionable. Which is something you can say about a lot of Nokia phones from that era.
Ultimately, my experience mirrors Darren's below. In a world where calls were priced by the minute and my student budget allowed for few luxuries, my trusty Nokia was mostly used as a texting device, receiving the occasional call now and again. It did
make meeting my girlfriend a whole lot less complicated an affair, but my life never did manage to turn into the happy, sunny people on Nokia's ads. For shame.
Sean Hollister: Kyocera QCP-6035, Sprint PCSBought in 2002 for an incredible rebate-packed discount of the long-forgotten kind at CompUSA. Discovered only afterwards that the phone was locked to Sprint. Specs included a 16MHz processor, 8MB of memory, CDMA 850 / 1900... and a Palm Pilot!
Eight years ago, I was more concerned with whether my parents could track me down than the ability to make calls, so I was among the last of my high school friends to carry a cellphone. But when I did finally embrace my mobile calling, I like to think I did it well, with Kyocera's QCP-6035 - a genuine smartphone at a time when the BlackBerry was a pager that did email. Mind you, back then the definition of a smartphone didn't require app stores or Google Maps, and the QCP-6035 didn't have anything remotely resembling a camera, much less a front-facing one. It was simply a flip phone that turned into a tiny greyscale Palm Pilot when you opened its door, and the then-ingenious ability to dial contacts directly from the Palm's address book.
Months before the Treo popularized integrated connectivity (and added a QWERTY keyboard on top) I was kicking butt and taking names at 10WPM using Graffiti shorthand on the 160 x 160 resistive touchscreen -- or occasionally, beaming them over the infrared data port. I'll admit I never paid Sprint extra to use the primitive web browser, nor got the chance to tether my laptop at 14.4 Kbps dialup speeds -- another mildly amazing feature at the time -- but I did go to school every day with freshly cached Slashdot articles to read at lunch thanks to AvantGo, played loads of Bejeweled, Space Trader and Zap!2000 and every once in a blue moon, made a fairly clear CDMA PCS telephone call. By today's standards, the Kyocera Smartphone is a cheap, flimsy brick at which even today's cheapest featurephones would thumb their nose, but I loved my QCP-6035's handy jog dial, retractable antenna and literally-split personality... until the day I got my Danger Hiptop in 2004.
Darren Murph: Motorola 120T, U.S. CellularBought in 2002 for $100 on contract. Specs included TDMA, 2-way SMS, voice dialing, 5.5 hours of talk time, WAP 1.1 internet, and a black and white 96 x 64 resolution display.
Dare I say it, but I was one of the last Americans to actually have a driver license before
a cellphone. Bizarre, right? Of course, I was also one of the first in my grade to procure said license, but I digress. Motorola's 120t was the first cellie I was able to call my own, and while I had toted my mother's mobile around on occasion (trendy, I know), there was just nothing quite like having a 10-digit string of numbers to call my own.
Truth be told, I never really used my first cellphone all that much. Minutes were pricey back in those days, and I mostly used it just to phone home or dial up my ladyfriend (who I've since married, I'll have you know). Texting was a foreign topic, and I never sent nor received a single SMS on the 120t. Shock and horror aside, my first cellphone definitely made an impact on my life. It was the first occasion where I could actually call ahead and ensure plans were still on track, and it gave me the golden opportunity to ring my mum on the road and let her know I'd be a little late and to not worry. These sound like such small things now, but coming from a mobile-less world, the little things actually amounted to a lot.
In many ways, it wasn't the 120T that changed my life -- it was that blasted Snake
game on my girlfriend's Nokia. But it's safe to say this gem sparked my desire to never roam without a cellphone, and for that, I'm eternally grateful. And indebted to a carrier.
Paul Miller: Sony Ericsson T616, CingularBought in 2003 for about $100 on contract. Specs included GSM / 128 x 160 16-bit color LCD, 2MB Memory, 319 x 288 camera, custom themes, and a ringtone composer.
Having already bared my soul on Growing Up Geek
, I guess I can't be too embarrassed... alright, so I was hanging out at Best Buy this one day, bugging the cellphone rep. (A general impression of my activity can be obtained from Ross Rubin's classic poem: "The Maven
"). Some customer came up and was looking at the options, and I kept interrupting to the Best Buy rep with my own opinion, particularly with my high concept thoughts on Bluetooth. See, I thought Bluetooth was going to change everything
. I imagined a Foursquare-style service, where you could see who else was at a party or a bar, then swap music, interests, or phone numbers with them without having to, you know, converse. All over the magic of Bluetooth.
The only decent phone that had Bluetooth on this Best Buy rack was the Sony Ericsson T616, so I was pushing it hard on this hapless would-be customer, and eventually the Best Buy rep got fed up with me: "Why don't you
buy the T616, if you love it so much?" So I did. I didn't have a Bluetooth Mac at the time, so I couldn't use the excellent Salling Clicker software, and while I bought a Bluetooth headset early on, I lost it quickly enough to make me wary of splurging on another. So I just used the phone like a phone and I loved it. It was simple enough to be usable for a first timer like me, but fancy enough to let me feel superior over my friends with their ultra simplistic Nokias and Motorolas.
I still hardly use Bluetooth for anything but my computer's Bluetooth keyboard, but the I feel like the dream is more or less alive and well in some vague amalgamation of Zune, Foursquare, Facebook, and this strange new art I'm learning of actually talking to people at parties.
Myriam Joire: Sony CM-B1207-CNT0, ClearnetBought in 1998 for some amount of money on Clearnet (now Telus) in Canada. Specs included dual-mode CDMA / AMPS radio, SMS, vibration, lithium-ion battery, four-line monochrome LCD, retractable antenna, and -- the killer feature -- a jog dial.
It was the fall of 1998, and I was a year into my career as a video game developer, finally making enough money to really start paying off my student loans and buying some toys. Clearnet was just rolling out its brand new PCS / CDMA network in Vancouver (Canada) with affordable phones and plans, and I was hoping to ditch my landline for some mobility. It was the perfect storm, and I was right in the middle of it.
The Sony CM-B1207-CNT0 -- a mouthful, I know -- was Cleanet's first and most affordable phone, and boasted some impressive features for the time. The jog dial was the star of the show, letting me navigate menus and scroll through the address book like a pro. Most of the time I was using Clearnet's CDMA digital network, but the phone supported roaming on Bell and Rogers / Cantel's AMPS analog network, which happened often, but was free.
I once made a 30-minute call to my mom in France on new-years eve from a basement party with only poor AMPS reception, and not only did the international long-distance call cost me a fortune, but the phone did something crazy: it roasted the skin on my ear, presumably from the combination of low signal, high RF power, and my many ear piercings. Clearly, I've been a mutant and phone addict ever since.
Eventually, Clearnet was absorbed by Telus, and I upgraded to a Nokia 6188 which was similar, but smaller, thinner, lighter, and way more Finnish. Snake anyone? After moving to San Francisco in 2002 and loathing a brief stint with a Sanyo SCP-6000 on Sprint, I purchased a Sony Ericsson T68i (unlocked) and ported my number to T-Mobile. I've enjoyed SIM freedom ever since and I've never looked back.