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

When Phones Were Fun: LG Crystal (2009)

this video is sponsored by hellofresh america's number one meal kit the last time i brought you back to 2009 to show you a semi-transparent phone the label on the casing said sony and the clear part was the screen this time around the name on the box says lg and it's the keypad that's crystal clear all right before we get started a little psa for those of you who may have caught the vintage mobile phone bug from some of these episodes that's great but if you're buying an old gadget please confirm with the seller that it works first it sounds obvious i know but it's so easy to get caught up in the excitement and pull the trigger on a rare device auction before doing your due diligence that's what happened to the device that was supposed to be the star of this video the aol mobile communicator whose password its owner forgot sometime in the 20 years since he bought it and in a cruel twist the same thing happened to my first backup choice the oft requested samsung juke eventually i'll get other samples of these or figure out how to reset my way around the lockouts those videos will be done but just learn from my mistake verify functionality before you shell out all right on to the device of the day the lg gd900 better known by its code name lg crystal was widely requested in the comments of my xperia pureness video and now that i have one in my hands i understand why while the sony is flashier from a futurist perspective the lg is much more practical keep the phone shut and it easily blends in among its contemporaries echoing the lines of the lg voyager while recalling the company's chic prada line with this brushed metal effect on the function keys sadly the effect is just that as with almost every phone you could buy in 2009 the majority of this device was plastic that almost seemed to come out of the box already greasy but no other phone gave you a slide out touch pad quite like this it's glass and for good reason it's not just a keyboard but a capacitive trackpad that means you could control parts of the interface using gestures or move a mouse pointer on screen without obscuring the screen itself that sounds familiar maybe you were a blackberry fan many of that brand's devices starting with the passport and carrying right on through to the key2 offered a similar capacitive keyboard but i never knew when i first saw that feature in 2014 that lg had beaten blackberry by some five years and because it's glass on the crystal you're not dragging your thumb over physical keys to do it it is really identical in feel to using a touchscreen and honestly i think that's how lg achieved this it seems to be just the digitizer component of a touch panel built into glass with etched numerals and some led side lighting that never stays on long enough for me to get the shot but that's beside the point the crystal was forward thinking in other ways too in an era when front-facing cameras were still rare in the us this phone packed one of course its vga quality doesn't hold up to any of the modern marvels from 11 years later but the point is it was there the counterpart to this camera was an 8 megapixel primary shooter around back pretty high res for the day which you could activate with the dedicated shutter button and don't you dare even think about using the crop style digital zoom the old-fashioned way no no for that you trace the shape of a circle on the keypad to zoom in or out slowly and painfully while trying to make this work i couldn't help but think about some of lg's more recent experiments in user interface design i guess some things never really change powering the phone was a 1 000 milliamp hour battery it's about a third the average size of a modern smartphone which you could remove and replace but you didn't have to do so to get at the microsd card slot which was a somewhat rare convenience also audio files get your pearls ready for clutching this was one of the many devices of the period to omit a full-size headphone jack with lg instead bundling special earbuds that plugged into the micro usb port of course bluetooth was also available should you want to be one of those guys to my eye the crystal holds up quite nicely in 2021 seems like every time i look at it i find a new aspect to appreciate like the tasteful gradient that traverses the battery door from transparent through smoky grade piano black just before the word transparent appears to tell my brain what my eyes already know but you know while this series is called when phones were fun i got to tell you there are things i do not miss about this period in proto smartphone software design let me go cook up that list while i share with you some other stuff i've been cooking lately what if i told you the difference between this and this is less than an hour with no trip to the grocery store today's video is sponsored by hellofresh who sent over a calorie smart meal kit this month because with all this winter weather i haven't been able to get as many steps in as i'd like on top of that i haven't been cooking as much so my kitchen skills have gotten a little rusty as it turns out though hello fresh is so easy even i couldn't screw it up instead of undercooking the cranberry dijon pork tenderloin and overcooking the wasabi soy chicken like i expected each one came out perfectly and you know if i sound proud of that i am i never expected to be able to serve a meal that tastes delicious cuts calories and saves time just by following directions well hellofresh does all that with pre-portioned ingredients that give you everything you need and nothing you don't whether you go meat veggie pescetarian carb smart whatever you want to do plus it works with your schedule so you can add a meal or skip a week whenever you need go to hellofresh.com and use code 10 mr mobile to get 10 free meals including free shipping again go to hellofresh.com and use code 10 mr mobile to get 10 free meals including free shipping thanks to hellofresh for sponsoring this video okay so yeah in the wake of the iphone of 2007 and the first android phone of 2008 almost every manufacturer that wasn't using an existing smartphone platform was trying to push its own custom solution the lg crystals was called s-class and while it actually won an award at the time i'm forced to agree with flora graham who in a contemporaneous review for cnet wrote that s-class was low-class this is just the absolute perfect storm of all the overwrought design decisions that were happening at the time you've got a spinning 3d cube for a home screen widgets that are allowed to stack on top of one another for some reason every icon drips with the cloying skeomorphism that apple made popular with the first iphone but tragically the responsiveness of that iphone and android contemporaries like the motorola droid is nowhere to be found here in other words the crystal is slow but of course it was a product of its time and buried among all the lag and cuteness are some delightful totems of the turn of the decade for example accelerometers were still a fairly new addition to phones so lg loaded this thing up with gesture driven games that taught you how to use it with a virtual ping-pong paddle or a virtual fishing pole manufacturers were also opening up other phone sensors to developers for the first time too so you had apps like mellow candle with a flame that would react to how hard you blew on the microphone sure it's all stuff you can get for free in the app store today but at the time this was as groundbreaking as that lightsaber app for the nokia n95 or yeah the beer app for the iphone it was all about exposing you to sensors on the phone that you didn't necessarily know about and usage paradigms that you didn't necessarily consider and then there's the side benefit of reminding you that lg has always known how to build a powerful [Music] speakerphone [Music] eleven years after this phone hit the market for about 700 us dollars we're entering the biggest period of uncertainty that lg mobile has ever faced as such i'm currently working on a tour of some of the company's phones that i've found most interesting over the years but while i've never owned it myself this one in particular is special despite its software flaws which lg would effectively solve by sensibly shifting its focus to android soon after its release the crystal is a singular blend of everything i've long appreciated about lg an eye for beauty but an appreciation for restraint and a willingness to try something crazy if for no other reason then no one's ever done it before it's a totem from a time when twin touchscreens still felt like the future and phones were fun this episode was produced following an insanely rushed day with the gd 900 crystal purchased by mr mobile lg had no say in its production and provided no compensation for same quick shout out to os reviews on youtube for an in-depth walkthrough of this phone that taught me a few things if you haven't had enough of this phone i will link you to that video below check out earlier videos in this series at the mr mobile on youtube and please subscribe so you don't miss future features on old and new mobile tech alike until next time thanks for watching and until you get that jab in the arm remember to stay safe and mask up while you stay mobile my friends you

As found on YouTube