The most iconic mobile phones in history, celebrating 40 years since the first call

Forty years ago today, Martin Cooper, a Motorola researcher and executive, made the first call on a handheld mobile phone to his rival, Joel S. Engel of Bell Labs, from a street corner in New York. 

"As I walked down the street while talking on the phone, sophisticated New Yorkers gaped at the sight of someone actually moving around while making a phone call," Cooper is reported to have said. "Remember that in 1973, there weren't cordless telephones or cellular phones.

'I made numerous calls, including one where I crossed the street while talking to a New York radio reporter - probably one of the more dangerous things I have ever done in my life."  

He used the Motorola DynaTAC for that fateful call, a "mobile" phone that weighed more than a kilogram. Today's phones weigh a tenth of that, and are far more powerful.

It has been a long and arduous journey to get from the back-breaking, heavy shoulder-strapped behemoths to the paper-thin smartphones of today. Pocket-lint takes a look at some of the more iconic handsets that have marked the path along the way.

Motorola DynaTAC

Where it all began and made famous in many movies both released and set in the 1980s, such as Wall Street (Gordon Gekko uses it on the beach to talk to Buddy) and American Psycho. 

There were several Motorola handsets released over a 10-year period - from a prototype model in 1973 that didn't have a display, to the pinnacle of the series in 1983 that came with an LED screen so you could at least see the number you were calling. 

The battery allowed for a call of up to 60 minutes, after which it was necessary to charge the phone for up to 10 hours in a trickle charger or 1 hour in a fast charger, which was a separate accessory.

Motorola 4500x 

The size of a small bag, the 4500x was more suited to the car (starting the "carphone" nomenclature). However, you were also able to take it on the go with you, to use in your meeting. 

Gordon Gekko had the DynaTAC, while everyone else who actually needed to do some work had the transportable range from Moto. Yes, you needed strong muscles, but you could also make phone calls virtually anywhere. 

Philips C12

Made by Philips - it made phones at one point - the C12 stood out as one of the classic candybar handsets of the late-1990s and was available originally on the BT Cellnet network in the UK.

Its party trick was that it could save ten text messages and had an aerial you could screw on and off. There was also a rumour that the C12 was able to top-up credit  itself for free. Urban legend goes that, if you held the 5 button down long enough, an extra £10 would be added to your balance.

In 2006, O2 told its C12 customers that they could no longer use the phone on its network, causing many to be thrown away. Sad times.

Nokia 3310

Released in 2000, the crowning glory of Nokia’s incredible user-focused design, the 3310 was the mobile phone that anyone could use. There was a period in the early noughties when it was as ubiquitous as the iPhone is today. To this date Nokia has sold more than 126 million of them, making it one of the most popular mobile phones of all time.

The handset was virtually indestructible, packed a great battery life and decent call quality. It also shipped with Snake 2, which was awesome. But, perhaps its biggest draw was that you could swap the cover of the phone for a custom face and back plate. The accessory market has never been the same since.

The Ericsson T28

Another classic, the T28 did away with the chunky design of its contemporaries and opted for something much thinner. It had a minuscule single-line screen which made reading text fairly problematic.

Its success lay in that it was the smallest and lightest phone available at the time. Weighing in at 81grams, the T28 sparked the trend for pocketability in phones which we see today. Some of the old guard here at Pocket-lint had one. 

Ericsson T68

Launched in 2001, the T68 was Ericsson's first phone to have a colour screen, sporting a whopping resolution of 101 x 80 and 256 colours. 

 

A year later, under the ownership of Sony (Ericsson became Sony Ericsson), the T68i became one of the first phones to have a camera. We say "a camera", but what we really mean is an optional accessory that you could connect to the phone so you could snap pictures on the go. Mega.

BlackBerry 6230

Imagine sitting in an airport working because you are able to read your emails on the go. Sounds standard now, but in 2003 you were a demi-god if you had that power at your fingertips.

 

Up steps the Qwerty keyboard-touting BlackBerry 6230, which promised secure email on the go from a device that you could type on without having to get all T9.  

Sony Ericsson V800

Sony’s V800 flip phone was one of the first handsets to hit the UK with 3G in tow and was the Vodafone flagship to promote its new service. The tri-band handset landed in 2004, with a rotatable 1.3-megapixel camera attached so you could make video calls. 

Packing 7MB of internal storage, the phone also had the ability to read Memory Stick Duo cards, which meant it was expandable all the way up to 16GB - a lot of storage for the time, especially when you consider there were no apps to download. 

Motorola Razr V3

Until the Razr, virtually every phone had been big - having been about getting the job done and not much more. But the Razr V3 was a sleek, slim, clamshell phone that changed all that. From here on, if you wanted to sell a phone it had to look good. 

Sadly, the same couldn't be said for the clumsy interface. However, its Tron-inspired looks meant this is one of the all time greats. Oh, and the hot pink version sold like hot cakes.

LG Chocolate

Another handset to capitalise on the emerging clamour for pink gadgets was the LG Chocolate (or KG800, to give it its true UK designation). While it wasn't the first in the range, with the original colour scheme coming in a box that smelt like, well, chocolate, the pink version pretty much changed the landscape for gadgets, not just mobile phones.

After its success, you couldn't move for pink gadgets in the mid to late-noughties. Whether women really wanted their games consoles, PDAs, watches or calculators in pink was another matter, they were being hoiked on every corner. LG didn't mind, it sold bucketloads of each of the variations of the phone - something it hasn't really repeated to this day (apart from the Nexus 4, but that could be attributed more to Google).

Motorola Rokr E1

Motorola was on a roll after the Razr (how times have changed), and teamed up with Apple to create the first iPhone, of sorts - then dubbed the Rokr E1. The idea was that you could sync your phone with iTunes and take a massive 100 tracks on the road with you. 

 

As you can imagine, it failed, and failed badly, with a clunky interface and a lack of excitement over a device that could hold only 100 songs compared to the iPod's (now classic) mammoth storage options. It would take Apple a further two years to come up with the iPhone we know today. 

Nokia N95

iPhone, what iPhone? Nokia’s N95 was way ahead of its time. Launching at the peak of Nokia’s fame, it was one of the first proper flagship smartphones that became a must-have product. The phone was released in 2007 with a 5-megapixel camera, GPS, web browser and a stack of other neat tricks.

It also included Symbian OS 9.2, which offered plenty of proper smartphone functionality, like web browsing and basic apps. The inclusion of expandable microSD storage marked the start of a trend in smartphones we still see today.

iPhone

There is no denying that the iPhone is an iconic mobile phone. It shifted the entire focus from making calls to doing something much more. But, for all its exciting feature set, it was a very different phone from what we have now. No cut and paste, no third-party apps, and it was painfully slow. 

The original iPhone combined Apple’s iPod, already a huge seller, with a mobile phone, resulting in one joyous union that continues to this day. It ensured Apple rose to the top of the tech market. Let's not forget the world of apps either, which has changed almost every consumer electronics device, not just the humble phone.

Bang and Olufsen Seranata

B&O decided to turn its design hand to the world of mobile phones, releasing the extremely unusual-looking Seranata. It included a built-in speaker in October 2007, just months after the launch of the first iPhone. 

The concept was simple. If you liked your B&O kit, this was the phone you would want to be using. Sadly for B&O, it never really took off and the company didn't make a follow-up. Perhaps that was down to its price:  around £650 in 2007.

T-Mobile G1 with Google 

Apple had the iPhone, while the Open Handset Alliance fronted by Google had the Android-powered T-Mobile G1, made by HTC. 

According to Google and the operators at the time, HTC wasn't a strong enough brand to have its own name on the device, so the name changed depending on which country you were in and what operator was backing it. Deciding that you might not be ready for a full touchscreen experience, there was a slide out keyboard, and a trackball (BlackBerry-style) that could be used to navigate around the phone's new icons. 

Motorola Aura 

Iconic simply because of its absolutely outlandish designthe Motorola Aura put even Nokia’s craziest offerings to shame. At nearly £1,400 when it first went on sale in the US, the Aura was the most elite of mobile phones.

It was produced from stainless steel and boasted a complex front plate with moving cogs which took manufacturers two weeks to produce. The phone also rotated, with the circular screen in the centre protected by a Swiss-made lens.

Samsung Galaxy S2

Announced in February 2011, the SGS2 is seen by many as the start of Samsung's huge march to the top of the mobile phone pile. Before this, Android had been championed by the HTC Desire, but this was a phone that was thin, powerful and more like the iPhone than anything else before it. 

In the next two years, Samsung would go on to create the Galaxy S3 and the soon to be announced Galaxy S4, featuring such sci-fi tech as the ability to control the phone with your eyes. Expect the Samsung Galaxy S5 to have mind-control features, probably.

Conclusion

And so we come bang up to date. We could have included some of the very latest handsets, such as the HTC One, which we're particularly fond of here on Pocket-lint for a number of reasons, but to become iconic the phone will have to be used for a time and be seen to have made a significant impact on the industry for the better, or worse.

Needless to say that the humble mobile phone, 40-years-old today, has changed the world. Here's to you Martin Cooper, here's to you.

What are your iconic phones of the last 40 years? Do you agree with us, or have we missed one out? Let us know in the comments below...