When Phones Were Fun: The QWERTY Phones (2001-2008)

– The year is 2008. I've just graduated from
college in Virginia. And before I ship off to Boston, the bar I've hung out at for seven years, gives me this bowling
shirt as a graduation gift. Still fits. More importantly Reuters
reports that same year that Americans have just
crossed a milestone. For the first time, they're
sending more text messages than phone calls. Some are still laboriously, tapping them out on numeric keypads. The others are texting more easily, but more expensively on
blackberries and Palm trios and right in between
manufacturers see an opportunity.

What if they could cram a
full keyboard into a phone without packing in all the
complexity and cost of making a smart phone? I'm Michael Fisher. Join me for a look back at a
category that's a lot more fun than it sounds. Let's revisit, the messaging phones. (upbeat music) As my European friends are
no doubt already saying in the comments, yes.

We Americans were very
late to the texting boom. As far back as 2001,
Nokia had figured out how to cram a full keyboard into a dumb phone at the low low cost of
well being the subject of a Bubba Sparxx video. Yeah, the 5510 isn't like the phalanx of finished phones I featured
in my last Nokia video. Most of which looked like the product of a weekend eating fun fun guy. While this general design
would eventually evolve into useful and even beloved
weirdos like the 3300 and the N.GAGE, at this
stage it was just a bunch of tiny keys dumped onto either side of a monochrome LCD lifted
right from the Nokia 3310. But the durability that
made that phone legendary isn't anywhere to be found here. The creeks of this casing
are just as loud as the clacks from the
deeply unsatisfying keys. (phone clacking) And according to reviews at the time, the backplate was
notoriously easy to crack. Also the phone wasn't
just focused on messaging.

Check out the hard key
shortcuts to the FM radio and MP3 player down here. And you'll see it was also
one of the first music phones. Interactive CD ROM With 64 megabytes of onboard
storage for your MP3s. Given those features, maybe
this price tag of 500 Euro or nearly $800 adjusted
for inflation makes sense. I know my Samsung 3500 didn't
have these features in 2001, still coyote ugly, man. Let's move on. Now this is the kind of
communicator that gets you a commendation for original thinking. JerryRigEverything
called 2002's Nokia 6800, the coolest phone he ever owned. And it's easy to see why. Cell phone in the streets
text her in the sheets. By 2004, the concept had
matured into this Nokia 6820, an absolutely tiny phone
compared to its predecessor, but just like that forerunner, it crammed a full Qwerty
keyboard into that compact casing by hiding it with a hinge.

Now these keys are still kind of cramped by today's standards with poor travel and only moderate feedback, but they were a huge
improvement over the original. Also while the 6800's design
made me feel pretty smart because I could see the gold
contacts that would tell the software when the keyboard
was stowed or deployed. The 6820's approach of
building that switch into the hinge itself is much cleaner. Sure, the display was a postage stamp and the camera wasn't great
given the kind of phones that would hit the
scene just a year later, but with a concept this innovative
and execution this tight, I can't help but adore the 6820. Don't agree? Hey ya, it's my life. You can leave or get out. That enough period song references for ya? (hip hop beat) Okay, then. Let's slide on over to the
form factor that would come to define messaging
phones, at least in the US. So the LG Rumor is probably
the least interesting phone in this video. I probably wouldn't have even
included it if it weren't for the fact that I owned it.

And it's the reason I
made a Facebook account. So thanks for that, I guess. See, in 2007, even though
Facebook was the new social spot, my stubborn self was still
clinging to the carcass of Myspace talking to Tom
until I bought this phone and discovered that one
of the preloaded Java apps was Facebook. So I joined and you know, until everyone's racist,
old relatives showed up, it was a pretty cool place to be. But anyway, it wasn't the apps
that kept me on the LG Rumor, nor was it the durability
coz I broke it very easily. It was how competently it
executed its core function of making messaging easier. The numerics click, the slider
snaps, the QWERTY clacks. I've never used a dumb
phone before or since with a keyboard this satisfying.

That's a sentiment apparently
shared by the former owner of this phone Megan
who loves Harry Potter. Also, I hope you got that social studies homework done Emily. Mr. Feeney is a tough one. Yeah, I had to get this fun from eBay in this US cellular trend because my Sprint model is long gone. But thanks to its micro
SD slot, the photos from my old Rumor remain in my archive. As you can see by 2007 standards, this was a pretty okay
1.3 megapixel camera and it made up for its lack of flash with color filters of dubious usefulness. It was never my first choice
of shooter at the time, but I'm glad I had it
with me to snap this shot of my director Conrad, grinding this sword for a production of Rashomon. Actual real talk, we lost
Conrad earlier this year. So I'm happy I was able
to snap these at the time. The best camera is the one
you've got on you, after all. Now slider is all well and
good, but when you think about it, wouldn't two sliders be better? Enter the matrix.

No, not that one. No, not that one, either. This matrix is from Pantech. Oh, and this particular phone is on loan from Avi Greengart,
president and lead analyst at Techspotential who's also
been kind enough to lend me a lot of other artifacts for this series. Seriously, stay tuned anyway, Anyway, just like the
company's Helio Ocean and Pantech Duo, the
Matrix stacks two sliders, one atop the other. So your numeric keypad
pops out in portrait, and the Qwerty slides out in landscape.

Now this does make it a big
ice cream sandwich of a phone. While the Matrix was
faster than the Rumor, thanks to its 3G connection, the rumor was easier to use one handed because the num pad was
just always exposed. But the real bummer on the
Matrix was the lack of space for the keys to depress. Plus there's no room above
the top key rows here. Thumbs were always bumping
up against the bottom of the screen. And the whole thing suffers
from a combo common to the era. A glossy gel coat surface without hollow plastic void beneath. Not exactly a pocket full of sunshine. All right, I admit. I rushed through that one so we could get to our final device. My personal favorite
certainly but also one of the best sequels in mobile phone history. Samsung's Alias phones were kind of like the clam shell version
of the Pantech Matrix. Open the hinge one way and it's a phone, open it the other way and
it's a texting machine.

Now this is the Alias 2 of 2008. Yeah it brought some speck
bumps and it potted over some features from the first one. Alright, let's stop and talk about this. If you remember Microsoft
Bob, this is very similar where the idea is to make
software less intimidating, if it's presented in the
context of something familiar. So you get this dorm room home screen with all your menu items laid out in a kind of skew amorphism writ large.

It's not something I
could live with today, but back in 2008, if I
were a Verizon customer, I'd have a lapped up whatever
dumb UI they were dishing out in exchange for this ultimate
gadget of a keyboard. See, instead of just
painting a bunch of numbers and letters on the keys,
like the first Alias, the Alias 2 made each of these
rubber buttons transparent, and it's stuck a tiny yank
screen under each one.

That meant they wouldn't
just change function when you switched which
mode you were using, they'd also change appearance. So in messaging mode, you'd get a full QWERTY keyboard
complete with arrow keys and in phone mode, you had way
more buttons than you needed. So in addition to the
usual numerics and t-pads, Samsung gave you shortcuts to
messaging, camera, Bluetooth, the alarm clock, tons of stuff. E-Ink is the same display
tech that makes things like the Amazon Kindle possible.

It only uses power when it changes state. So it's just perfect for this application. Now the downside is it's
tricky to use because all the keys have to be the
same size and there's no way to feel out a difference between them. But the combination of the
comfy gummy finish reminiscent of the Palm Centro and the sheer geeky gadgety
goodness makes it impossible for me to really criticize. In fact, I coveted this phone
so much that back in the days when Blackberry press
events were still a thing, I used to hound Blackberry
executives to build a key three with an Alias style keypad
with Owlette instead of E-Ink, you know, so they could
change function or language on the fly, or even do
some rainbow back lighting like laser keyboards. That never happened of course. And the Alias 2 fell victim
to the same market forces that ultimately killed every
other interesting dumb phone, the rise of the unremarkable
slab smartphone. So even though the products
featured in this episode of when phones were fun,
had more than their share of shortfalls, and we wouldn't
really want to own any of them today, we can at least take a page from Fallout Boy and say, thanks for the memories, even
though they weren't so great.

Thanks again to my friend Avi Greengart, who's been covering tech
even before phones were fun. Check out his free research
reports on the mobile landscape at Techsponential in the description. Thanks also to friend
of the channel, Martin for providing the Nokia
devices seen in this video and my when Nokia went crazy episode. And if you're wondering
where the Motorola flip out and LG Voyager and other
messaging phones I teased in the last episode are well, be sure to subscribe to
the MrMobile on YouTube, because this is not the last
messaging phones episode, I will produce.

Until next time, thanks for watching. And if you can't stay home, then at least stay safe and wear a mask while you
stay mobile my friends..

As found on YouTube