Can you hear me now?

Last call: Waiting for the phone to ring

By Leslie T. Snadowsky

It’s been 146 years since Alexander Graham Bell was granted a patent for the telephone. His prototype looked like it was made in a high school woodshop class, but it successfully connected Bell with his assistant, Thomas Watson, from Boston to Salem, Massachusetts. What did Bell say during his first time on the horn? “Mr. Watson, come here. I want to see you.”

He should have texted.

But what would Bell think about the evolution of his person-to-person invention, one of the most influential communication tools of the modern age? And what would he think about the leap to the mobile/cell phone?

From Motorola’s “Brick” to Apple’s iPhone 13 Pro, the wireless wonder is now part of all our lives. And looking back to how we gave each other a jingle may now make you giggle.

Hello, it’s me

If you had a Motorola DynaTAC 8000X (1), aka “The Brick,” back in 1983, you were in high cotton. It took 10 hours to charge it enough for a 30-minute conversation; it weighed more than two pounds, had a large rubber antenna and was priced at nearly $4,000. Having one became a “yuppie” status symbol as these telephonic fossils added some major bling to briefcases and luxury cars. In fact, one of the first wireless calls made on the DynaTAC was from a Chrysler convertible to inventor Bell’s grandson. The DynaTAC was the first mobile phone, and it ran on advanced mobile phone systems (AMPS) or other analog networks.

Motorola stayed in the game with its 1996 StarTAC, a first-of-its-kind gray flip phone that ran on a 2G network, and its Motorola RAZR series that revolutionized the industry in 2006 with its fashionable razor-thin design. More than 100 million were sold that year.

Call me, maybe

The NEC 9A (2), created by the former Nippon Electric Company, debuted in 1987. Its lighter, sleeker design made it the fastest-selling hand-held mobile phone of its time. It also offered storage for up to 60 names and numbers, an LCD with back-light illumination and a speaker for hands-free operation. Its five bars showed signal strength, but you were out of luck if it showed fewer than three. For about $2,000 this model marked the emergence of a portable device that was cheaper and easier to carry and maintain.

Hold the line

In the 1990s Nokia dialed in with multiple models, and more than 160 million Nokia 3000 (3) series cell phones were sold in 1999. The ubiquitous Nokia 3210 weighed .3 pounds, was the first cell phone to be mass-marketed with an internal antenna and used a Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) 2G network. Its design was geared toward a younger market, boasting games like Snake and Memory and software that allowed users to create monotone ringtones and send texts. You also could store up to 250 contacts to limit wrong numbers.

Party line

By 2006 the BlackBerry Pearl 8000 (4) series, including the popular 8120, helped herald the introduction of the mainstream smartphone with its proprietary BlackBerry OS, its translucent trackball, media player and camera. T-Mobile released it, and it weighed a little more than three ounces. Its Wi-Fi and Bluetooth capabilities and full keyboard made this phone a must-have gadget for executives, but in just 10 years the industry essentially hung up on the Blackberry as the new Android and iOS platforms started to dominate the market.

Smooth operator

Smartphones like the iPhone and Samsung Galaxy turned cell phones into mini-computers that are indispensable today for work and for play. Looking back we had the first iOS iPhone (2007) that had only 16 apps including Mail, Safari and iPod, and the Android Samsung Galaxy Note (2009) with its stylus and 5.3-inch touchscreen. Affectionately called a “phablet,” it was a cross between a smartphone and a tablet. 

The only thing retro about smartphones today is that they are being sold for “Brick”-like prices as they start at more than $1,000.

On the market now are the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold3 5G and the Galaxy Z Flip3 (5) 5G which are reimagined smartphones that bend (literally) all the rules with ultra-thin glass, super steady video and many more mind-bending breakthroughs.

The top-of-the-line iPhone 13 (6) has up to 1T of storage, a 6.7-inch OLED display and weighs 8.46 ounces. Its new A15 Bionic chip and telephoto camera make this smartphone one of the best yet — until the iPhone 14 comes along in September.


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