The most important mobile phones in history

The mobile phone is a relatively recent invention, but it’s very difficult to imagine life without it now.

These portable computers are with us around the clock, taking care of schedules, photos, news, social networking, entertainment, security, payments and much more besides.

Here we look at the most important mobile phones in history.

Nokia 3210 (1999)

01 nokia 3210

It looks plain by today’s standards, but the Nokia 3210 was the start of a real hot streak for Nokia and the culmination of three years’ work on Web-enabled handsets.

It got the combination of form, features and price just right and it was the first mass-market handset that didn’t have an external antenna ruining its aesthetics. It was pretty much the iPhone of its day… at least until the 3310 came along.

Sharp J-SH04 (2000)

02 sharp j-sh04

There’s some debate about which was the very first phone to have an integrated camera: most tech historians seem to agree it was the Samsung SCH-V200 released in South Korea early in 2000, but we know more about the Sharp J-SH04 pictured here (on sale in Japan in November of that year).

Whatever the exact timing, these two handsets introduced a phone feature that we wouldn’t dream of trying to live without nowadays.

Nokia 3310 (2000)

03 nokia 3310

The 3210 was good, but the 3310 was perhaps even better — as the 20th century turned into the 21st century, Nokia pulled off a one-two double-hit that made it the undisputed king of the mobile phone market.

The 3310 was smaller and lighter than its predecessor, though it kept all of the key features (including Snake) and most of the design of the earlier model. It eventually sold more than 126 million units — a huge achievement for the time.

Motorola Razr V3 (2004)

04 motorola razr v3

The Razr V3 will have a special place the hearts of many people of a certain age. While it didn’t have any standout features that were particularly innovative or unique, it combined form and function in a way that felt like the future.

Motorola went on to sell some 50 million Razr V3s in the two years after its launch, making it the most popular clamshell phone ever made, and it influenced a host of imitators.

iPhone (2007)

05 iphone

It’s hard to overstate the original iPhone’s significance: it introduced concepts like the touchscreen and the app store before anyone else was taking them seriously (though the first model famously didn’t have support for third-party apps).

At first glance it seemed like a crazy departure from the smartphones that had gone before it, but the hardware and software template set down by the iPhone have defined the years since in terms of smartphones and tablets.

Nokia N95 (2007)

06 nokia n96

It came out the same year as the iPhone, and it didn’t have a touchscreen, but we shouldn’t forget the importance of the Nokia N95.

With a decent camera, mapping capabilities and a large colour screen, it was one of the first handsets that showed just how powerful smartphones would eventually become — in fact in terms of raw specs and features (a 5-megapixel camera!) it was a notch above the first iPhone.

T-Mobile G1/HTC Dream (2008)

07 t-mobile g1

There was nothing particularly groundbreaking about the T-Mobile G1 with the exception of the software running on top of it: a fledgling mobile OS called Android, bought by Google in 2005.

Nowadays it’s hard to imagine Google without its mobile apps and mobile OS, but this was a real departure for the company that made a search engine and Gmail. At this stage Android wasn’t much to write home about, but it definitely had potential.

BlackBerry Bold 9000 (2008)

08 blackberry bold 9000

For a few years after the iPhone hit, BlackBerry continued to make high-quality smartphones that business users loved, and the Bold 9000 was one of the best that the Canadian company ever put out.

It’s classic BlackBerry, with the full QWERTY keyboard and that trackball in the centre of it. It was definitely an attempt to capture the imagination of the consumer market, but by this point it was already too little too late.

Samsung Galaxy Note (2011)

09 samsung galaxy note

Samsung gets a lot of flack for copying Apple, so let’s give the South Korean company credit where it’s due: Samsung realised we all wanted big phone screens long before anyone else did.

The original Note’s 5.3-inch screen was gigantic for 2011, but now it seems par for the course (this year’s Galaxy S6 is just a little smaller at 5.1 inches). The super-sized Note series has been one of Samsung’s most reliable sellers.

Nexus 5 (2013)

10 nexus 5

 

Google’s Nexus series is worth an entry in our list, but it wasn’t until the fifth device (manufactured by LG) that the handsets really made sense. The Nexus 5 hit the sweet spot of specifications, price and features, and with Android 4.4 KitKat on board, people signed up to buy it in their droves.

It remains the most well-loved phone in the Nexus series, though the new Nexus 5X (again from LG) might change that.

iPhone 6 Plus (2014)

11 iphone 6 plus

All the iPhones that Apple has put out since 2007 have been influential in some way or another, but last year’s iPhone 6 Plus was more significant than most: it showed the Cupertino company admitting that there was demand for phones with larger screens.

The 5.5-incher has been followed by another one this year, and it looks as though the larger iPhone is here to stay — even if it hurts sales of the iPad mini.

Lumia 950 XL (2015)

12 lumia 950 xl

We’re mentioning the new Lumia 950 XL from Microsoft not because of what it is but because of what it represents — Microsoft’s final roll of the dice as far as smartphones are concerned.

Can Windows 10 make its mark on mobile devices as well as desktops and laptops? Can Microsoft break the dominance of iOS and Android? The flagship Lumia 950 XL handset should tell us one way or the other in the near future.