My first mobile phone was a Philips Savy Vogue. It had a one-line display and its most special feature was the horoscope program that would calculate your daily scores regarding love, friendship, energy and so on.
I think that mobile phones, even before Apple’s product designs from the early 2000s, got me into design. I was such a nerd I would rebuilt iconic phones with FIMO modeling clay; studying folding mechanisms in flip phones and exploring keyboard layouts. It’s a really odd thing to do as an 10-year-old child, and my parents must have thought that I was crazy.
Here are the six phones I found most fascinating as a kid:
Sony Ericsson T610
Released in 2003, the T610 impressed me because of its simplicity. While all other phones from that decade either looked like toys or like fax machines, the T610 was elegant, with a glossy black top and polished aluminium bottom. The joystick was horrible, obviously. It does have some form factor familiarities the first iPhone, released in 2007.
When it comes to ugliness, this is my absolute favorite! I never owned one of these, but their design was mesmerizing, even from afar. Who would want to use a circular keyboard?! In general, Nokia was the king of odd phone designs in the 00s—here is a neat collection of them.
Sony Ericsson Z200
I was always fascinated by flip phones, as their product design included another layer of privacy, sound design (that noise when furiously closing the device after an emotionally stirring phone call!) and general mysticism. Back then, everything was allowed—so why not combine an analog watch into a smooth clamshell design, and add a little handle on top?! So classy.
My class-mate had one of those, and they were the oddest piece of technology. Almost as if someone designed a device that wanted to prevent you from calling someone, you had to hold it sideways to your ear to hear anything. With its ridiculous price, it wasn’t able to compete with mobile game consoles back then. But with the horizontal keyboard, it paved the way for mobile computing that later became popular with the Hiptop/Sidekick.
Sony Ericsson T300
One of the phones I admired and actually could afford. It wasn’t a technical revolution; it even didn’t have an integrated camera but only a clip-on device (so awkward!). But I loved the design; the glossy, flat front layer and the soft, matte off-white back. There were no annoying edges, bumps, notches. It felt as if it was made from one piece.
The N90 looked like a camcorder, but more fragile and less powerful. YouTube was only founded two months before the phone was released (February 2005), so there was not really a place to share all those videos. It’s funny how the camera only had two megapixels, but they still decided for a full-fledged camcorder design.
From all the regular cell phones I owned, I can hardly remember any interfaces (except the one from the Nokia 3310). UI design was nothing spectacular back then—the hardware was the most exciting part. That changed completely: Smartphones are, by now, only a slim layer of glas or plastic, and the UI defines the experience. I wouldn’t mind today’s devices to become a bit more visible again—if it isn’t possible to make them fully invisible.