10 cellphones, 20 years: Breaking up wasn’t always hard to do

2014-02-09 06:00

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Cellular phoney Gus Silber looks back at his favourite affairs with 10 phones and “phablets” from 20 years.

Nokia 2110

The successor to the big, ugly Nokia “Brick” that launched the cellular revolution in South Africa, this was a sleek and sexy model with the purplish iridescence of gunmetal.

It had a recessed breastplate beneath its buttons, which made it look like the kind of phone Batman would use to call from his Batmobile.

It was a phone with real stopping-power, instantly capable of stopping a meeting in its tracks, as everyone around the table oohed and aahed and said, I want one.

Nokia 9110 Communicator

This clamshell beauty opened with a sigh and shut with a slap, boldly announcing to everyone in earshot that you were a cellular phoney of class and substance.

It was the first truly convergent mobile device, capable of connecting to the internet, screening video clips, recording conversations, and bashing out documents on its generous keyboard.

In South Africa, it was fondly known as the “ANC phone”, because everyone in government seemed to have one.

Ericsson T65

My favourite “ag shame” phone. It was so compact that I was forever patting my pocket to make sure I hadn’t left it at home.

Its four-arrowed navigation button had the consistency of a half-chewed fruit pastille, which only increased its cute-enough-to-eat aesthetics.

But its big flaw was its little flaw – it hovered too far from the mouth for intelligible conversation. It kept breaking up, so sadly, we broke up.

BlackBerry Curve 9320

I always hate having to pick sides in culture wars, so for a while, I carried a BlackBerry in one pocket, and an iPhone in the other.

I loved the BB for its tactile keyboard, its blinking red light, its little nudges and buzzes and vibrations.

But like all BBs, it suffered from serious internal complications, requiring emergency resuscitations and battery transplants at the most inconvenient moments.

It took ages to reboot and mere seconds to re-freeze.

I felt often like hurling it high into the air, where it probably would have collided with someone else’s loathed and lifeless BB.

But I do miss that keyboard sometimes.

Nokia 8110

It was known, rather unkindly, on account of its smooth, curved façade, as the Banana Phone.

Then Keanu Reeves came along and used it to switch between the Matrix and the real world, and suddenly, it had the hip cachet of black leather and wraparound shades.

The 8110 had a spring-loaded slider that made a sound like a shotgun locking-and-loading, and I performed this move so often, as an obsessive-compulsive twitch, that the slider broke off and I was left with the naked banana.

Still, it was the last real masterpiece of the dystopian industrial era of cellphone design.

Samsung DUOS

A great little prepaid phone, with a BB-style keyboard, days and days of battery life, and, best of all, space for two simcards.

Thereby doubling your chances of getting a usable signal on your choice of South African cellular networks, if you should be so lucky.

In line with my personal theory of cellular division, I use it as my primary voice-phone, to spare my iPhone 5 the indignity of being used as a mere cellular phone.

Sony Ericsson P900

A beautiful-looking flip-phone with a stylus and a big screen. I don’t know what it’s like as a phone, to be honest, because I’ve never used it as such.

The model I have is a limited-edition “multimedia art project” by the Cape Town Pop artist, Richard Scott, who called it MARS: Mobile Art Richard Scott.

The artworks, a series of colourful Giclée prints, are housed within the phone itself, while the phone itself is also a work of art.

So much so, that another edition of the P900 was stolen while on exhibition in Cape Town a few years ago, although it’s not clear whether the thief was after the phone or the art.

ZTE Prepaid phone

I picked this up for R49 at Pick n Pay one day, for no reason other than the fact that you can’t buy much for R49 these days.

Least of all a cellphone with a built-in radio, games, and the ability to make and take calls without breaking up.

In fact, the ZTE had the most consistently clear voice signal I’ve ever heard on a phone.

It was a revelation. Then, one day, I dropped the phone from a height, and it broke into little pieces.

Sony Xperia Z Ultra

This is not a phone, actually: it’s a phablet. A cross between a phone and a tablet. Either way, it’s a phabulous multipurpose device, styled like a jet-black obelisk from a sci-fi movie.

It has a breathtakingly vivid screen, ideal for movie-watching, gaming, and, okay, working on a variety of Android apps. But the thing that really endears me to the Xperia is its unique ability to be dunked in water without seizing up or fritzing in a shower of sparks.

I have yet to figure out a scenario in which I would want to immerse a phablet in a body of water, but I did once drop my iPhone in the toilet, so you never know.

iPhone 5

My camera, my camcorder, my voice recorder, my book-reader, my notebook, my music-player, my radio, my GPS, my flashlight, my planetarium, my diary, my pedometer, my document scanner, my decibel-measurer, my newsreader, my calendar, my encyclopaedia, my song-identifier, my calculator, my atlas, my cellular phone if you really must insist.

Who could have dreamed, 20 years ago, that a device like this, a device designed to render other devices redundant, would one day be small enough to fit into a pocket, and big enough to change the world?

Thank you, Steve. But I do wish you’d given it a longer-lasting battery.

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