Friday, 25 April 2014

Museum pieces

This is another gadget post. It's got a kind of social-history slant, which may be interesting. But even so, I quite understand if your eyes are already glazing over. Just look away, and await tomorrow's post.

Well, I was up in the attic yesterday and came across two things that I'd forgotten I had up there. One was a series of photocopied cartoons from the 1980s, given to me by a biker friend in the 1990s (there'll be a post on that). The other was my Dad's mobile phone. He let me fix him up with a dead-simple Nokia 1100. This was the phone I'd now rediscovered.

The Nokia 1100 was an inexpensive little phone intended mainly for users in developing countries. It was plastic but robust, with a small mono screen and a battery life you might measure in weeks. Here'a 2004 picture of mine:

It did voice calls and texting rather well, and had WAP (ugh) if you really wanted the Internet. It was an honest, foolproof low-cost device of obvious durability. If you dropped it, it wouldn't break.

I bought 1100s for myself and M--- in July 2004. I bought a slightly more refined version for M--- (the 1112) in June 2007, and for all I know she is using it to this day. Her 1112 came from Tesco: the phone itself was free; you simply had to buy an initial £30 of pay-as-you go airtime, likely to last her six months. Say £5 per month all in. What a good deal! That was the point of such phones: simplicity, handiness, long battery life, low running costs.

That's the reason I bought Dad one. It was set up so that if he wanted to phone me he just pressed '1' on the keyboard. I think he kept it in his car. He may have needed to charge it up two or three times before he died in May 2009. Hardly more.

I suppose I'd now better justify the title of this post, and take you through my mobile phones. The first ever was a Sagem MC920, bought at Woolworths in Shoreham-by-Sea in November 2000. I'd been experiencing commuting difficulties - a spate of delayed or cancelled trains - and then, after I struggled in one winter's morning only to find that there was no power at the office, and my journey had been wasted, I decided that it was now worth buying a mobile phone so that people could reach me (and I could reach them) if I happened to be stuck on a station platform, or in a held-up train. Thus my mobile phone ownership commenced as a reaction to a genuine need.

The Sagem was horrible phone really, the epitome of creaky plastic, strange operation, and hard-to read, hard-to-press buttons, all swathed in a vile black stitched-leather-and-plastic case, as in this shot from May 2002. It's the Thing (by May 2002 the Much-Unloved Thing) at top left centre:

It's resting on my encased Nikon Coolpix 990 digital camera from May 2000 - still fairly cutting-edge at that moment. Below, another early-2000s icon, a Palm m500 PDA, which I did love. But wouldn't you agree? All of them museum pieces now?

I got so cheesed off with the Sagem that in April 2003 I bought a Philips Fisio 825, which superficially seemed to propel me into a different, brighter world. It had a colour screen! Nicer buttons! It creaked less! Here it is, in a shot from July 2004, sitting on the right of its Nokia successor (tricked out in an experimental blue case - I soon reverted to black and silver):

The Philips was an improvement on the Sagem, but it wasn't an endearing or simple or fast phone to use, and we didn't bond. Good buttons, and good navigation menus, really mattered in the days before touchscreens. You could get them on the high-end phones of the day, notably the BlackBerries. But I wasn't yet sold on paying big money for a mobile device. I still had the notion that phones were for speaking to people, but I hated speaking over the phone. And nobody in my everyday life could text. It just wasn't worth getting anything amazing.

The Nokia 1100 (from July 2004) was a back-to-basics phone compared with the Philips, but it did its stuff so much better. It turned me into a Nokia fan. Gradually I had more and more reason to call people and text, and the Nokia 1100 made these chores seem almost enjoyable. It had a long run in my hands. But there was still no Internet to be had on it, except WAP (retches and pukes). It wasn't a 'fun' device, unless you were addicted to a game called Snake. I wasn't.

Then, with transition in full swing, I decided that I needed a much more sophisticated approach to telephony, and the Internet full-on. So I bought a Nokia E71 online in March 2009. It was a revelation. A nice colour screen; indeed, the largest screen yet. Excellent sound output - I could install my music collection, and it was lovely to hear. It was high-grade white plastic and chrome metal, and it looked rather classy. It held its own against my new fashion acquisitions:

The Nokia E71 was much more satisfying to use. I called it Joanna, my first phone to get a name. Joanna gained my high regard. But she wasn't perfect: those tiny keyboard buttons were always a pain. I found it fiddly and tiring to use them to compose blog posts while away in the caravan - although that was something extraordinary in itself, the ability to blog using a mobile phone! And my eyes felt strained after a long post: the screen was still too small. But I stayed with Joanna for over three years.

Inevitably I moved up to a touchscreen phone. In August 2012, still mindful of costs, I got a Samsung Galaxy SII (or S2) from the Vodafone shop in Brighton. My first contract phone. Last year's phone, but still a big advance for me in 2012. Here she is next to Joanna, on this day-of-acquisition shot:

Quickly named Eloise, this phone changed my entire approach to phone ownership and what I might use a phone for. A smartphone was essentially a super-connected computer that you could pop into your bag. With all the possibilities that implies. I won't dwell on my S2. Eloise gave me superb service until replaced by Demelza, my S5, exactly two weeks ago on 11 April. Demelza has effortlessly upped the game.

Now look at this! It's Dad's old Nokia 1100 from 2005 nestling next to Demelza from 2014:

Demelza looks like a phone from another planet. No wonder her kind seem like weird monoliths of the sort found on the Moon in the film 2001: a Space Odyssey.

You know, I firmly believe that I may now evolve further (stops making ape noises, and stands up with bone in hand). Time for a cuppa.

1 comment:

  1. Evolved? Battery drained flat every day whilst my 1100 stays charged for months. Whatever WAP is I cannot seem to find it in the 48 page instruction book, remember when you got instruction books with electric toys? 1100 is small enough to live in my bag and go everywhere without me noticing.

    My circle of friends just don not do text and call me old fashioned but making a call in public just feels wrong and bad mannered. We thought they might be handy when we went our separate ways on city trips but neither of us could hear the ring or if we did could not hear the caller because of city noise...

    Ours cost £40 for two, each came with £10 of calls which last about a year or more. I was so thrilled when my partner came home with the new toys that the bag lay unopened on the floor next to the TV for over two months.

    They are still working after eleven years and I do not think I shall be up grading to a computer in the pocket any time soon... I do wish I had known about the colour change though...


This blog is public, and I expect comments from many sources and points of view. They will be welcome if sincere, well-expressed and add something worthwhile to the post. If not, they face removal.

Ideally I want to hear from bloggers, who, like myself, are knowable as real people and can be contacted. Anyone whose identity is questionable or impossible to verify may have their comments removed. Commercially-inspired comments will certainly be deleted - I do not allow free advertising.

Whoever you are, if you wish to make a private comment, rather than a public one, then do consider emailing me - see my Blogger Profile for the address.

Lucy Melford