10 Of The Weirdest Mobile Phones In History
We have a lot to be excited about over the next week, as Mobile World Congress invades Barcelona and we get to see the future of the very device you’re probably reading this on right now…
Plenty of new smartphones are set to be announced at the show, all with (probably) one glaring thing in common. Give or take the odd flexible screen, they will all be monolithic slabs. Since the birth of Android and iOS, all trends have led to this rather simple design language that (as I wrote about before) has become a little bit boring.
And I only say boring because I remember a time when mobile phone hardware design was significantly more bonkers than it is today! Look to the past two decades and you will see a whole host of bizarre form factors, as companies made ambitious bets on what they thought the future of the phone would be.
This pedigree is a rich one of beautiful phones, but for every sleek design, there is a downright weird one that became the laughing stock of the gadget world.
So, sit back, grab a cuppa and join me on a trip down memory lane with the 10 strangest mobile phones in history.
1. Nokia N-Gage
Start strong, am I right? Let’s dive into the world of Nokia’s failed portable gaming phone experiment. It came into this world with a massive fanfare of promotion, a library of decent titles, including Tony Hawk and Civilization and the Nokia name.
It left just as quick with a rather naff attempt to take on the Game Boy Advance’s hardware, a lack of continued hardware support, an 11:13 screen ratio and the fact that you had to REMOVE THE SIM CARD TO REMOVE THE GAME… Let that sink in for a while.
2. Toshiba G450
Let’s keep up the weird energy with Toshiba’s…I’m going to say TV remote/paracetamol tablet hybrid. With a circular display and keypad spread across two further circles below, this was a downright ugly attempt at a mobile phone.
And the worst bit? This thing came out in 2011 - the year of the iPhone 4S and Google Nexus. This thing didn’t have a camera and its only media capability was an MP3 player! Don’t be afraid to laugh. We all did when the announcement dropped.
3. Siemens Xelibri 6
Because fashion matters more than features, Siemens jumped into this weird world of stylistic phones with this terrifying piece of hardware. With a mirror inside for doing your makeup, a painfully uncomfortable-looking keypad and the tiniest of tiny 101 x 80 pixel displays, be thankful this trend didn’t catch on.
4. Nokia 7280
Allow me to introduce you to fashion phones. Basically mobile phone companies believed that women didn’t want technologically capable or well-designed phones - they just wanted something that looked like a lipstick (…feminism?).
Step right up, Nokia 7280 - with a tiny 208x104 pixel screen on the side, a touch-sensitive spinner replacing a keyboard (imagine texting on that) and a design that resembled this key part of any make-up look. The only thing it had going for it was an eye-catching design, but that made it all the more obtuse.
5. Vertu Signature Touch
Nowadays, a grand for a phone is becoming a bit more common place, but what about over £10,000? Hopefully we never get to that point, but that hasn’t stopped people from trying.
Vertu had a crack at such a phone, with average-to-poor hardware internals but a design of premium materials…although when you see it, you wish they hadn’t tried. A hideous combination of leather and titanium, plus the OS was packed with bloatware.
6. Kyocera Echo
Oh look - hideous innovation! What was a rather dull 3.5-inch screen phone with a bizarre hinge, swung open to reveal a second screen for a tablet mode.
The bezels made for an awkward tablet experience and the limited support of the two screens to just small handful of apps made it rather pointless (imagine something as basic as the contacts app stretched across two screens? Pretty bad, right?).
It’s only real achievement was being able to single-handedly kill a battery within an hour.
7. Motorola Backflip
At the birth of capacitive touchscreen phones, companies were unsure which way the market would go. Would people flock to full screen experiences, or prefer the tactile feel of a keyboard?
That led to hybrid designs, and some were…bizarre to say the least. Motorola’s Backflip was one such example - both a full screen android phone, but with a keyboard that flipped from the back (get it?).
But since the keyboard was the back of the phone, you had all kinds of unintended touches, and the phone itself was thicker than we all are after a few pints.
8. HTC Rhyme
Carrying on the trend of “women don’t care about specs, they just want glitzy looks,” HTC came out with this purple and plum monstrosity that is pretty patronisingly gunning for a female market.
For this bog standard midrange Android phone, you got a special glowing charm, which you could attach to your purse and see when someone was ringing. Pretty garish, if you ask me.
9. P7 Pen phone
…you know what, I’d actually be slightly impressed if this was also actually a pen.
But unfortunately, that’s just the design it was inspired by. The P7 Pen Phone had a minuscule tall screen with a rather fiddly joystick and what looks like a horrifying keypad for writing texts. It actually had a camera though, so that’s one victory over the Toshiba G450, which came out six years after it.
10. C99 Star phone
And finally, we look to the stars… This masterpiece could be hung on a string around the owner’s (usually a child’s) neck. Here is another prime example of tech companies assuming what different audiences want. Just because they’re kids, doesn’t mean they just want a flashing ruddy star.
Let’s hope MWC doesn’t bring anything like these.