On the 40th anniversary of the cell phone: revisiting some of the worst cell phones ever designed

In News by Alex Moore / April 4, 2013

Wednesday marked the 40th anniversary of the first mobile phone call. On April 3, 1973, Martin Cooper of Motorola stepped out onto 6th Ave and 53rd street and placed a call to his rival at the then-equivalent to today’s AT&T.

Toting a phone that was in all likelihood a brick even bigger than Gordon Gekko’s in “Wall Street,” Cooper made the first cell phone call to his rival… to passive-aggressively inform him that he had beaten his ass in the race to the world’s first cell phone. Which is sort of a badass move, if you think about it.

Thus began 40 years of dropped calls, butt dials and drunken sexts. And some terrible phone designs to boot along the way. Here’s a look back at just a few of the worst:

1. Nokia 5110
Screen Shot 2013-04-03 at 1.41.48 PM
Those of us old enough to remember it remember Nokia 5110 as the first phone we ever got. Just slightly smaller than the kind of mobile phone hard-wired into cars in the ’80s, it was just small enough to fit into a lady’s purse and exactly nowhere for a guy, unless you were that guy still wearing Jncos. The only convenient way to use it was like this:
Screen Shot 2013-04-04 at 9.37.15 AM

2. Motorola RAZR:
motarola razr pink
Building on the success of what was probably the world’s first really cool phone, the StarTac, the Razr was supposed to be even better—a super-thin flip phone that was highly futuristic. But was terrible—it dropped calls like crazy and then they made it pink and Motorola went from being futuristic to the phone equivalent of a vanity license plate—lame.

3. T-Mobile Sidekick:
Screen Shot 2013-04-03 at 12.27.21 PM
Again, the Sidekick initially held the promise of futurism—the first pocket computer to flip around and present a full-sized keyboard below a big screen—complete with AOL Instant Messenger! Futuristic it wasn’t.

4. Nokia 7280:
Kudos on thinking outside the box, I guess, but did you ever try dialing and talking on one of these lipstick-tube phones? Total nightmare.

5. Palm Treo
Palm could never let go of the idea that writing on your cell phone with a “stylus” is super awesome.

6. Toshiba G450
Again, WTF was this thing?

7. Motorola Rokr
Was supposed to be the first phone to bring iTunes to your mobile experience, 2 years before the iPhone. Except it totally sucked and Apple distanced itself from the phone before inventing iPhone.

8. Nokia NGage
Again, WTF?

9. LG Chocolate
Another pre-iPhone attempt to bring music and media to phones, it was just lame. Plus no one wants a phone named after food. (The black model was named “Dark Chocolate” btw.)

10. iPhone 4
Ah yes, any list on the worst cell phones would be remiss without Apple’s worst-ever PR flop to date. When the iPhone 4 released and dropped calls due antenna problems, Steve Jobs bungled the PR by sending snarky emails to tech journalists and telling people who’d shelled out big money for a new phone to “relax.” Not Apple’s finest moment.