A new phone has been delivered in time for Christmas, a combination of probably needing one soon and a modest treat for self, and with a better camera, for the website.
I rarely buy a new phone, and even though I used to work in the industry any knowledge from then is useless today.
In the early years, when I worked in the mobile phone industry, I always bought the newest and best, mainly as I needed to be able to test out new services before they went mainstream. At least that was my argument for upgrading.
In more recent years, I’ve tended to buy discontinued or even second-hand phones, as while I use a handful of apps, and the camera a lot, I don’t see much benefit in paying for the latest bells and whistles that are of no use to me.
Over the past few months, my current phone seems to be struggling. The Samsung store has started telling me it’s running in the background and I can’t get rid of it. The battery is struggling, and can’t be replaced. The camera seems to have worn out somehow, and as I now tend to rely on it for photos and less often carry a dedicated camera around, that’s starting to be noticeable.
When even my poorly eyesight can see the photos seeming to be a bit off, then there’s clearly something wrong.
Buying a brand new phone on a contract irks, but it turned out to cost the same as buying the phone unlocked and having a SIM-only contract over the same time frame.
But what phones have I owned over my life?
1994 – Sony CMR-111
This was my very first phone, bought at a time when I was selling them in a Slough retail store. I needed a phone as I was moving home and need to be contactable for paperwork issues for a few months, but went mobile as BT wanted a hefty fee to connect a landline to the flat I was renting, and I resented spending so much money on that.
Compared to all the phones on the market at the time (and for many years after), it was by far smaller than anything else available on the market.
As a retailer though, we struggled to sell them because it didn’t come with a screen, and people felt mobile phones needed a screen to see the phone number they were typing in. At the time, landline phones didn’t have a screen, so why it was felt essential for a mobile still baffles me to this day.
I still think it was one of the best phones I’ve ever owned, thanks to the compact size.
And yes, the flip-down microphone was super fun.
1997 – Nokia 2110
My first digital phone, bought on a discount as I was still selling phones, although now in London.
It was the first that could receive and send SMS — all the others on the market at the time could receive only, and the design made it a firm favourite.
It was also one of the first where people started swapping out the covers for new designs — the wood effect design being particularly popular with the office workers. Working in the shop, I probably saw the innards of more phones during those years than many repair people do today.
1999 – Nokia 7110
The flip phone – not quite the Matrix phone, but close enough to be “cool” to own. It was also the first to support WAP – an early and much-derided form of mobile internet, that was in truth closer to Cefax than the internet.
I bought this as the old phone was wobbling, but mainly as I was working for a Geocities clone that was doing a lot of work with WAP. At a time when news reports said hardly any WAP websites existed, we were hosting over 100,000 of them on a subsidiary company, WAPDrive.
Like the internet in general, most of them were rubbish, some were pretty good, but we had huge numbers of wap sites live on the platform.
There was also a lot of porn, which is pretty impressive in a way considering that WAP could only display really small low-resolution B&W images on a green background screen.
2002 – Nokia 7560
My first proper “smartphone”, bought when I was working at one of the largest ringtone providers in the market, that you never heard of. However, if you bought a ringtone from your internet provider or a newspaper advert, it was probably us behind the scenes.
We were experimenting with lots of new ideas – operator logos, wallpapers, polyphonic ringtones, anything really.
We ended up winning the contract to supply lots of mobile services for Channel 4’s Big Brother TV show, including the first ever mass-market MMS service, which umm, didn’t exist when we won the contract beyond a basic concept that I had built on a test server, and needed to be quickly scaled up to a commercial product.
That was a hectic few months, and it still amuses me that I spent 6-months working on a notorious TV show I can’t stand to watch.
I was probably in the handful of first people in the UK to own this phone, as I needed it urgently for work and paid full price for it as soon as the first ones arrived. But it was an exciting phone to own at the time, and candidly a huge help in the job showing off what consumer phones would be doing in a year to two.
2007 – Nokia E61i
This was a mistake. I wanted a thinner phone to carry around and wanted better email capabilities, both of which this phone had in abundance.
However, it didn’t have a camera, which I only realised after I bought it.
Still, it was good for everything else, so I clung onto it for years at a time when I was quite happy lugging a big camera around when I wanted to take photos.
2011 – HTC Desire Z
This was bought for one reason only – I wanted a camera to live-tweet an event, so time to upgrade.
Loathe to switch to touchscreens, I hunted around and found to my mind the perfect solution, a typical smartphone with a slide-out physical keyboard underneath. It was discontinued when I bought it, and it tended to show its age but did the job I wanted at the time.
The big downside is that it wasn’t a Nokia phone – not because I am a brand loyal sort, but because one of Nokia’s early genius decisions was to keep its handset menu roughly the same each time they released a new phone, so upgrading was a less painful learning experience. Unlike almost every other handset manufacturer at the time who seemed to redesign their menu for each phone.
I ended up owning two of these HTC phones, as the original died on me, and I spent some effort hunting on eBay to find a replacement. Although getting better with a touchscreen, I still preferred the physical keyboard.
It was also my last phone that didn’t look like a generic slab as all phones do now. While the design clearly works, I slightly miss the old era where phone manufacturers were experimenting with all sorts of shapes and layouts.
2014 – Samsung S4 (inc a free tablet)
Time to join the modern world and go completely touchscreen at last.
The old HTC phone was struggling to keep up with the handful of apps I did use and the Android OS hadn’t been updated in years.
It was when I was getting invites to try out apps — it was app-mania at the time — and was finding out that the few companies building for Android as well as iPhone were only building for the newest versions of Android. As a coder, I appreciate there’s a cost in supporting older systems, but at the time the Android OS I was using still had a decent market share, so dismissing about 20% of your potential customer base seemed an odd decision to me.
I still use the Samsung tablet to this day though, as it’s ideal for reading The Economist on and it’s my Kindle reader. No need to replace it, which is not bad for a gadget that’s nearly 7 years old, and is more a tribute to Kindle and Economist app developers for not bloating them with features that make it a struggle for them to work on older devices.
2016 – Samsung S6
The old phone froze and died on me. So I needed a replacement. That’s the only reason.
2020 – Google Pixel
My latest iteration bought due to the aforementioned worries about the performance of the current phone.
I’ve switched from Samsung to Google because Samsung bloat their phones with tons of junk I have no interest in and can’t (easily) get rid of. Google also tends to be better at ensuring OS updates are sent to phones quicker than Samsung.
Let’s see how it does.