A love affair with 20 Nokia phones

A love affair with 20 Nokia phones

Somewhere out there on the endless river that is the Internet floats a giant graphic showing every single Nokia mobile phone ever made.

Okay, not every model ever made. Just those up to 2006, when Apple started to take over the market.

I fished it out this week in a fit of techie nostalgia when news broke that Finnish telecoms giant Nokia was throwing in the towel and selling its mobile phone business to Microsoft.

In a world dominated by giants such as Google, Samsung and Apple, everyone knows that Nokia's exit was a long time coming. But the news still made me sad.

The business journalist in me still hasn't gotten over how fast corporate fortunes can change.

A decade ago, Nokia and Microsoft ruled the tech world in their respective areas. Today, this is a mobile minnow-eat- minnow deal.

In fact, Nokia mobile phones are doing so badly that investors cheered the sale, sending the Finnish company's shares up more than 30 per cent.

But the geek in me mourned the end of an era - a magical time when all of us were just getting on the road to that world of instant communication that we have today; and it was Nokia that provided the bright, chiming vehicles that took us there.

I bought my first Nokia phone in 1996, the year I started work.

The 8110, affectionately known as the "banana phone", was horribly expensive - even with a mobile plan, it cost more than $800. But it was just the most beautiful thing at the time and I broke the bank to buy it.

I simply had no choice - the curvature of its black plastic frame perfectly hugged the face, the slider that encased the buttons adding to its minimal elegance. It was so cool it had a starring role in The Matrix.

It was only a matter of time, though, before the world and I tired of black plastic. I moved on to the 6110 a year later, a phone with iridescent blue panels, which I later took to a shop to have them changed to green.

Another year later, Nokia had caught on to the fickleness of consumers like me. I bought the 5110 and then the iconic antenna-less 3210, with colour front panel casings that we could change ourselves at home. I went crazy. In 1999, my drawers were full of eyeless zombie casings that looked slightly sinister until they were snapped onto the phone.

Then, at the turn of the millennium, Nokia decided that after conquering colour, the next frontier would be miniaturisation.

Like everyone else on the planet, I went crazy for the impossibly tiny and cute 8210. There came a point when if you didn't have an 8210, something was obviously wrong with you.

And still the relentless Nokia machinery marched on. I bought the 8250, which was the first phone with blue, not green, LED backlight (whoa!); and then the 8310 which had interchangeable front and back covers (double whoa!).

Not to be outdone, Chinese towkays and ah bengs across the island rushed to buy the 8850, a small heavy metallic slider in silver or gold.

I looked at it many times longingly, trying to reconcile my irrational desire for it with the person that I was and hoped to be. Sadly, I never bought it. By 2002, after I bought the 7210 for the bragging right of the first full colour phone screen, I had to pause for breath. The world seemed to have reached the nadir in mobile phone technology, so what would be next?

Nokia again had the answer, and released a quirky stream of what I would best call "talking point" phones.

I didn't fall for all of them, but I bought the 7200, with cloth fabric panels; the N-gage, a phone that doubled as a gaming device; and even the leaf-shaped 7600, which I was convinced would end up as a permanent exhibit in the world's best design museums one day.

All were extremely impractical, and I struggled for weeks with stains and strange keypad layouts before finally giving up.

(I never did try the famous lipstick- holder-shaped 7280, which tantalisingly did away with a keypad altogether. Even I couldn't go that far in the name of consumerism.)

My last Nokia phone was probably the N95. The year was 2006, and the company had produced phones that could be twisted to look like small video cameras.

It was heavy and clunky but I bought it nonetheless. Yet the excitement of a new Nokia was wearing thin, and there was a feeling in the air that the Nokia machinery was slowing down.

I dabbled with a few Sony Ericssons before buying my first Apple iPhone in 2008. Since then, mobile phones have become more about software advancements rather than hardware.

To me, the world of mobile phones has darkened to become a much less exciting place. I miss the days when the shape and design of a phone, the texture and colour of its panels and the size and placement of its keys would send your heart racing.

Today, phones have an almost uniform form factor - all boring slabs of metal and plastic with a smooth face and a single home button.

But what I will miss most about the Nokia years were the growing up experiences that came with each phone that I had.

Looking through the giant graphic of Nokia phones, I found that I have owned about 20 models in all. And each of the tiny pictures brought back a flood of memories.

The transition from the 6630 to the 7610, for example, was marked by heartbreak. I realised that someone I loved had strung me along and did not feel the same way about me.

I remember being unable to even look at the 6630 without thinking of all the times I waited for that message or phone call that never came. After I bought the 7610, my first SMS to this person through tear-filled eyes (on the amazing-looking but scrunched-up keypad) was: "New phone, new start."

But mostly, there are good memories - of wandering round shops in Toa Payoh Central checking out prices, talking about the latest models at dance clubs, at the gym, during dragonboat training and while travelling with friends to places such as Taipei, Hong Kong and Tokyo.

So this is my little send-off to Nokia. No more will those hands reach out each time someone switches on the phone.

By now, not many will miss them, but I will.

ignatius@sph.com.sg


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