Cell phones have evolved immensely since 1983, both in design and function.
From the Motorola DynaTAC, that power symbol that Michael Douglas wielded so forcefully in the movie “Wall Street”, to the iPhone 3G, which can take a picture, play a video, or run one of the thousands applications available from the Apple Store.
There are thousands of models of cell phones that have hit the streets between 1983 and now.
We’ve picked a few of the more popular and unusual ones to take you through the history of this device that most of us consider a part of our everyday lives.
We have tried, wherever possible, to include the most popular phones and the phones that were “firsts” for a particular feature, but may have missed out on your favorite phones due to the sheer number of models that are out there.
We invite you to post your faves in the comments section if they are not listed here.
Mobile phones are just now beginning to be as vital to North Americans as they have been to Asians. You can always see what is coming to store shelves in the next six months to a year by looking at the models that are currently available in Japan.
North America also had a spotty 3G network that has only really been revamped recently in order to deal with increasing demands for faster loading speeds from mobile customers, whereas Asia and most of Europe have had proper 3G networks in place for some time.
This has led to a revolution in 3G phones from 2007 until now, with more due to come out in 2009.
The list does not include any phones that were not portable handhelds. Car phones and some handhelds that were the size of a small briefcase were in use in the 1970’s and 1980’s, but since this is more about design than function we chose not to include them here.
Motorola DynaTAC 8000X
Analog Motorola DynaTAC 8000X Advanced Mobile Phone System mobile phone as of 1983.
Motorola MicroTAC 9800X
The first truly portable phone. Up until its release, most cellular phones were installed as car phones due to the inability to fit them into a jacket pocket.
Motorola International 3200
The first digital hand-size mobile telephone.
This was the first mass-produced GSM phone. It was produced until 1994.
BellSouth/IBM Simon Personal Communicator
The IBM Simon was the first PDA/Phone combo.
The first clamshell cellular phone. Also one of the first display screens featured on a cell.
Alternately called the “banana phone”, this phone was popularized in the first Matrix movie.
Nokia 9000 Communicator
The first smartphone series, driven by an Intel 386 CPU.
This iteration of Nokia’s Communicator series significantly reduced the weight of this precursor to the smartphone.
This cell phone was the most popular consumer model at the time of its release and for some time afterwards.
This phone was loved for its customizable design, but hated for its screen fade.
The first mobile phone with a WAP browser.
This phone was known for its durability and splash-proof interchangeable casing.
This was the first instance of a GPS being integrated into a mobile phone, and was sold mostly in Europe.
Samsung SPH-M100 Uproar
The Uproar was the first cell phone to have MP3 music capabilities.
The internal antenna and predictive T9 text messaging sold approximately 160 million of these phones.
The R380 featured a black and white touchscreen, partially covered by a flip.
This popular phone sold 126 million models, and was particularly popular in Europe.
One of the first phones with a WAP browser. A version of this phone was released in China that allowed Chinese character SMS.
This phone featured a full QWERTY keyboard. It could also store up to 64mb of music.
This phone contained premium features not normally found on handsets of the time, such as Infrared, a fully functional calendar and a FM Radio.
This tiny handset was the first Bluetooth-capable phone.
This diminutive entry from Ericsson was the height of a cigarette.
This was Ericsson’s first handset with a colour screen.
Siemens’s first ever GPRS mobile phone with 360kb of internal memory – high at the time.
The first Nokia phone to bring GPRS internet services to the mass market. The 3510i, pictured here, was a more advanced version with a colour screen.
This was the first Nokia set to feature a built-in camera and was featured in the movie Minority Report.
Sony Ericsson P800
This smartphone featured a touchscreen and up to 128mb of memory.
This model sold from 2002-2005. It featured an LCD screen and internet connectivity through GPRS.
The 6310i quickly gained popularity in the corporate world for its simplicity and long battery life.
The first camera phone. Despite the low quality images it produced, it was the first.
This extremely popular design has sold over 200 million since its introduction in 2003. This phone is rumoured to have sold for up to $32,000 in online criminal communities due to its ability to intercept one-time banking passwords.
Nokia’s answer to the Game Boy advance, this phone/games system had a couple of award winning titles before it succumbed to its clunky interface design.
PalmOne Treo 600
One of the “it” gadgets from 2003-2004 until BlackBerries overtook them in popularity. Three or four days between charges and a successful merger of phone, PDA, and camera made this the business tool of choice.
This design was available in a wide range of colours and featured a monochromatic screen.
Considered very advanced at the time of its introduction due to its Symbian OS-based Nokia Series 60 platform. Released in the US market as the Nokia 6620.
BlackBerry Quark 6210
Research In Motion’s first integrated phone/PDA.
BlackBerry’s first colour screen.
One of the first 3G smartphones by Nokia, still one of the lightest and smallest.
Motorola Razor V3
When this was introduced it set the standard for sleek design in the industry.
Sony Ericsson P910
An attractive flip smartphone with full internet connectivity.
Nokia’s first smartphone with a 1 megapixel camera.
The first entry-level Nokia phone that offered full internet access.
The first cell phone to allow for global roaming.
Listed by Fortune Magazine as one of the best products of 2004. Also referred to as the “lipstick” phone.
Released as a low-end GSM phone, and widely used in developing countries.
One of the first 3G phones, the Nokia 6680 was considered to be high end at the time of its release.
This was the first 3G Pocket PC phone at HTC and the first to come with Windows Mobile.
Motorola RAZR V3 Magenta
This hot pink phone gave the fashion set something to talk about – and on.
HTC TyTN 100
This model was sold as the Orange SPV M3100 in the UK, keeping with HTC’s tradition of private labelling for individual carriers.
This immensely popular smartphone has sold millions of models worldwide, and is still in wide use as of 2009.
The “BlackBerry Killer” from Motorola.
The first design-conscious entry from RIM, the Pearl is still being offered on the market today.
A fabulous design available only in Japan.
O2 XDA Flame
The XDA Flame is the first dual processor PDA-phone in the 02 line.
LG Chocolate KG800
One of the first well-designed phones made for mass market use.
Samsung i607 BlackJack
Research in Motion sued Samsung over the name of this phone. The lawsuit was settled out of court.
Originally released to target business users in the European market.
The original iPhone was released in June 2007 with an auto-rotate sensor, a multi-touch sensor that allowed multiple inputs while ignoring minor touches, a touch interface that replaced the traditional QWERTY keyboards, and many other features that helped to give Apple an almost instant healthy market share on its release.
LG Prada KE850
Touchscreen phone that took home a Red Dot Design Award for “Best of the Best” in 2007.
This design was touted as LG’s take on the iPhone.
HTC’s answer to the iPhone with its own multi-touch interface and a high screen resolution.
Motorola RAZR2 V9
The solid steel hinge and the metal case make this sleek design feel luxurious and durable.
This fine-tuning of the Motorola Q was released in Italy and the US in 2007.
Nokia E90 Communicator
This update of the first smartphone launched the fifth generation of the series.
Nokia’s popular smartphone features a slider to access multimedia buttons and a numeric keypad.
Work on this “ultimate messaging and talking machine” began before Helio was a company.
This phone won another Red Dot for LG in 2007. Also released in Gold and Titanium Black.
This phone features the Opera internet browser and CrystalTalk technology.
Palm Treo 755p
The Treo 755p is a smartphone developed by Palm, Inc. It was released on May 14, 2007 as the first CDMA Treo without an aerial antenna.
A phone firmly focused on visuals. DivX Certified playback and 5 megapixel digital camera with Schneider Kreuznach optics are just a couple of the features of this simply designed phone.
The iPhone 3G was made even more desirable by all the apps that could be purchased for it in the AppStore when it was released in July of 2008.
The LG Vu was one in a series of phones that included the LG Prada phone.
T-Mobile G1 Phone
The G1 phone was the first phone to be released with the Android operating system designed by Google. Also known as the HTC Dream. One million devices have sold as of April 2009.
This GPS-enabled entry in Nokia’s smartphone line features a sleek, compact design.
Nokia 5800 XpressMusic
This phone was featured in The Dark Knight.
The outside of the LG Secret, a 3G slider phone, is constructed from carbon fiber. Also features the world’s slimmest 5.0 megapixel camera on a smartphone.
The Instinct was introduced as the “iPhone killer” from Samsung at a low price of $129.00.
Designed to be a direct competitor to the iPhone 3G and other 3G smartphones; RIM’s first device to do away with the QWERTY keyboard and incorporate a touchscreen.
Blackberry’s “middle ground” solution for those who wanted a 3G phone and a QWERTY keyboard.
Cell Fanatic found this entry by Samsung offered superior image quality over the Apple iPhone 3G and the BlackBerry Storm.
The Samsung Gravity is their first to feature a slide-out keyboard that has proved popular in other brands.
The Krave design features a transparent flip that acts as a secondary touch surface to access additional features.
The Samsung Omnia features a simple touchscreen interface and a speaker on the back.
Billed as the budget business smartphone.
The handwriting recognition and simple touchscreen styling of the Dare is enhanced by the easy-grip back.
Sony Ericsson W760i
Includes the “Sensme” music feature, as well as all of the other features from the Walkman phone brand.
The Nokia N79 has a Naviwheel, GPS, a 5 megapixel camera with a Carl Zeiss Optics Tessar lens and more.
HTC Touch Diamond
This attractive smartphone featured a resistive touch screen which is better for Asian character recognition.
LG KC910 Renoir
The LG Renoir has an 8-megapixel camera with xenon flash and Schneider-Kreuznach optics.
The steel frame of this sleek smartphone from Nokia fits into your palm.
Prada II or LG KF900
The second iteration of the Prada phone designed by LG. The sliding QWERTY keyboard is new, as is its 3G capability.
The first phone with LG’s 3D S-Class user interface. This UI reorients with the rotation of the phone and allows you to scroll film-reel style through available apps.
BlackBerry Curve 8900
Released in February 2009, the Curve features an improved trackball and a higher resolution screen. Still a 2G.
Comes with an attachable QWERTY keyboard and a virtual keyboard on the touch screen.
Sidekick LX 2009
This 3G incarnation of the Sidekick includes improved support for social networking applications.
The Samsung Magnet is a cheap alternative for pricier smartphones with much of the same functionality and a cool design.
Another slide-out QWERTY keyboard and compact design. Comes with AT&T’s Navigator, AT&T’s turn-by-turn GPS service.
The next HTC entry to sport Google’s Android operating system. No US carriers have yet been confirmed for this model, but T-Mobile has been rumoured to be the carrier of record. Vodafone has exclusive rights to the phone in all markets that they service.
HTC Touch Diamond2
HTC made the LCD display screen as large as they could at 3.2″ for their next incarnation of the Diamond.
Samsung Propel Pro
The sliding QWERTY keyboard and slick design make this an attractive entry by Samsung.
Built for e-mail, the Rumor2 supports Lotus Notes where its predecessor didn’t.
This eco-friendly phone is the world’s first carbon-neutral cell phone. Made with recycled water bottles, cheap, and an abundance of features for the low price.
This phone launches June 6 in the US through Sprint. It will feature the ability to keep multiple apps open at once.
This phone will be available in June of 2009.
Omnia HD/Samsung i8910
This phone promises the first high-definition video recording when it is released July 1st of 2009.
Only Available in Japan
Here’s hoping that some of these sleek designs make it across the pond eventually to North America. For more Japanese tech goodness, check KDDI’s English page.
Hitachi WOOO Ketai H001 Phone
This phone promises a 3D display. Ubergizmo predicts that it will be a Japan-only handset.
3.1″ increased resolution screen, impressive design, global roaming capabilities and one-push open make this an object of desire.
Walkman Phone Premier3
This phone opens up to reveal a 3″ screen and a stylish keypad.
This sports model features a touch panel for interactive gaming and music.
S001 Sony Ericsson Cyber-Shot
This phone screams elegance. Oh, and it has the world’s first 3.3″ full OLED WVGA display and an 8.1 megapixel camera. Not that we’d want all that fancy stuff in North America.
Princesses and fashionistas everywhere will go gaga over this design. Advanced video functions and a 5.1 megapixel camera put a little spike in this phone’s heel.
Kyocera K001 Junior Phone
Those of you with children will know how hard it is to put parental restrictions on anything electronic. This phone gives you the ability to track your child with a GPS locator, lock out questionable website addresses, and more.
If you have half an hour to kill and really want to get into the evolution of the cell phone and its cultural impact, check this full-length documentary from CBC.
For a more detailed history of the cell phone, we recommend Cell Fanatic’s history page.
Feature photo by Shutterstock
Please leave us your memories of your cell phones of days gone by and your critiques of what is currently available in our comments section.