Okay, I’ll confess the truth after that click grabbing headline, my primary phone is an iPhone however for work, I ditched the BlackBerry for my old Nokia 3310 and don’t plan on going back!
There’s a number of reasons why I prefer it, such as its long battery life (a week) and the fact that I can properly lock its keypad so that I don’t keep pocket dialing my colleagues but I think one of the main reasons is nostalgia, nostalgia at the fact that the Nokia 3310 was easily one of the most important milestones in mobile phone evolution.
I remember when my dad bought the first mobile phone in our family, it’s funny to think that my daughter has never known a world in which people don’t have a smartphone, let alone a mobile. My dad’s Motorola was for emergencies after I’d had a particularly bad asthma attack. The device was large and heavy, not like the old bricks seen in 80s movies but pretty close. It was 2000 and mobile prices had plummeted, allowing a sudden surge in adoption where before such a thing was a luxury only afforded by the elite. The device cost around £30 on Pay As You Go from Orange. The idea of topping up rather than paying a monthly bill was relatively new too.
The device had customisable ringtones, you could select a British ring ring, or even a German or U.S.A. style ring, it was awfully clever! As an added treat, it also had a special ringtone called Music that would beep out a bit of Mozart.
A year later I turned 13 and like several in my school, I got a mobile phone for my birthday. In that short time they’d evolved a little bit. Manufacturers were desperately having to compete with each other like never before, all designing slightly different shapes of plastic with their spiked antennas on top, all trying desperately now to appeal not just to an elite business class but to a younger, more fashion minded audience too. I got a Phillips Savvy as my first phone. It had a clever feature where you could send smiley faces to other Phillips Savvy users and it had a plethora of funky musical ringtones. It was also blue, no more black and grey!
I remember the first time I saw a Nokia 3310. I remember wondering what it was. It looked a bit like a phone but it couldn’t have been, it must have been a new kind of Gameboy, after all, how could a phone work without an aerial? Of course it had an aerial but until then, the majority of phones had one that protruded out the top and stabbed you in the groin, unless you were one of those losers who strapped their phone to their belt, in which case it stabbed you in the belly instead.
It wasn’t just the lack of aerial that suggested toy to me either, it was colourful, not just colourful but covered in pictures! Nokia had realised something that Apple has recently rediscovered with its arrival on the smart watch scene. If you expect people to carry a device with them all day long, being seen with it where ever they go, you’ve got to allow them to make it there own. Nokia did this in several ways.
The device was brilliantly customisable, you could remove the outer casing and replace it with one of thousands being produced. It also introduced truly customisable ringtones, you could either buy or send them to others by SMS text message or you could create them yourself using the built in composer. To this day, I still have Coldplay’s Clocks beeping out of my phone, having punched in the button presses needed to recreate it in the composer after dialing up to a website that listed all the key combinations I could possibly want, much like cheat codes.
We also had screensavers, little pixel art images that would show up on the screen after a few seconds. You could even send these pictures in text messages, all it took was the cost of three messages. That was something else the phone gave the masses, the ability to send long text messages that were strung together. These days most people are oblivious to the fact that their text messages are limited to being not much longer than a tweet, any longer and you’re paying for multiple messages, Nokia’s 3310 brought that to the mainstream.
And if looks, sound and screensavers weren’t enough, you could even get customised operator logos, didn’t like the plain old Orange on your screen? No problem, replace it with whatever image you want. Before long we even got the Nokia 3330, an identical phone except it had WAP internet access. I remember my shock when someone showed me a WAP page about the second series of Big Brother on their phone. These days, the old mobile internet is long forgotten, replaced with the real thing.
The Nokia 3310 is often hailed for its long life and sturdiness but lots of phones had that. No the 3310, gave us something much more important, it gave us or personalisation, something that my work BlackBerry certainly doesn’t offer me but almost every other phone on the market does. We may have lost the fancy outer casings, though that hasn’t stopped people adding their own anyway, we may have phones that recognise the new names of the networks (my 3310, still tells me I’m connected to One and One) but the stuff that makes our phones ours? That started with this little phone over a decade ago.