So long and thanks for all the phones: 10 of Nokia's most interesting handsets

Once the world’s largest mobile phone vendor, Nokia’s devices and services business today becomes just another outpost of the Microsoft empire. Nokia will live on, focusing on its communications infrastructure business, NSN, as well as developing and licensing out its HERE mapping and location data platform.

But Nokia’s days as a maker of mobile phones are now over. As the company passes that torch on to Microsoft, we take a look back at some of the highlights from Nokia’s time as a handset manufacturer.

These aren’t necessarily Nokia’s highest-rated devices, or those that won the most awards, or even the most popular. But we think that these ten handsets are among its most significant, albeit for very different reasons. We’d love to hear of your thoughts and memories of Nokia’s best (and worst!) devices, so please be sure to share them with us in the comments below!

 

5110

By the very end of the twentieth century, Nokia had already been making mobile phones for almost two decades. But it was in the late 1990s that explosive growth in mobile telephony across the globe propelled Nokia to the top of its game, becoming the world’s largest handset vendor – a position that, remarkably, it held until 2012.

The 5110 contributed significantly to that growth. Launched in 1998, by the following year, it seemed like the 5110 was everywhere, and with good reason. Its colorful, swappable covers gave it widespread appeal, as did its robust build quality – the number of knocks, bumps and drops that that thing could handle was remarkable. A simple interface made the handset incredibly easy to use and, more importantly, to access Snake, which – as everyone knows – is the best mobile game of all time.

 

9000 Communicator

While the likes of the 5110 targeted consumers with features like its fun-and-friendly removable fascia, Nokia remained keenly aware of the need to target business users with models focused on their needs and requirements.

The Communicator series aimed to do just that with a form factor that attempted to masquerade as an ‘ordinary’ mobile phone on first glance, but which then opened up to become a mini-computer of sorts, including a QWERTY keyboard and a large secondary display. The 9000 Communicator, which launched in 1996, was truly a beast, weighing in at just under 400g, but subsequent models became thinner and lighter.

Many of the features seen in the Communicator series – such as email, web browsing and Smart Messaging for over-the-air upgrades – are among those featured in modern smartphones.

 

3310

The Communicator range was priced out of the reach of most, who had to make do with a far more basic feature set in those devices that they could afford. But that didn’t stop consumers across the world from lapping up Nokia’s more affordable devices in extraordinary numbers.

Like the 5110, the 3310 enjoyed such staggering popularity as to seem almost ubiquitous. After its launch at the end of 2000, the 3310 could be seen virtually everywhere, in the hands of young and old alike. Indeed, it went on to become one of the most successful handsets of all time, with almost 130 million units sold. The Nokia 1100 (which didn’t quite make into this list) was even more popular, with over 200 million handsets sold.

 

7280

A common complaint these days is that phone handsets are all starting to look the same. The colors may vary, and the materials may differ from one device to another, but as touchscreens become ever more prevalent, there is little variation in form factors. But rewind the clock just ten years and it seemed, for a short time, as if a mobile phone could look like anything.

Nokia experimented with some truly outlandish hardware design in the mid-noughties, which included the bizarre ‘teardrop’-shaped 7600, the asymmetrical 7610, the 3650 with its insane circular keypad, and the wonderfully silly 7280.

In the absence of a keypad, navigation and text-entry required the use of a ‘Navi-Spinner’ which allowed users to rotate a dial to highlight characters or commands. Usability was every bit as awkward as its sounds, and the form-factor was flat-out crazy, and earned it the nickname of the “lipstick phone”. It even had a reflective display that, when switched off, could be used as a mirror.

 

N95  

The N95 is widely regarded as something rather special. Released in 2007, it was one of the first handsets to support HSDPA (“3.5G”), and was absolutely packed full of features, including a 5MP camera with VGA video recording, front-facing camera for video calls, 3.5mm headphone jack for audio playback, integrated GPS, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and web browser with Flash support.

The form factor was intriguing too, and not just because of its lovely 2.6-inch 320x240px display. The N95 had a ‘dual-slider’ design: slide it up to reveal a standard T9 alphanumeric keypad; slide it down to access dedicated multimedia playback keys. The N95 was fantastic for enjoying audio and video, thanks to its microSD card support and – in some models – 8GB of onboard storage.

Unfortunately for Nokia, the N95’s release came just months before Apple launched its first iPhone.

 

N9

Nokia was painfully slow to react to the threat of the iPhone, and while devices like the N95 were very good in isolation, the ageing Symbian OS lacked the feature set and flexibility to convincingly compete with smartphones on rival platforms. But even as the Symbian platform was burning, Nokia was working on a new device to help it reassert its relevance in the smartphone world: the N9.

Running MeeGo 1.2, the N9 was widely praised upon its launch in late 2011 for its beautiful design, stunning user interface and powerful software stack. In fact, reviews across the world were broadly united in their praise for the device upon its release, with many choosing not to recommend it for purchase solely because Nokia had stated, months earlier, that it was consolidating its smartphone efforts around Windows Phone.

The N9 contributed to the Windows Phone legacy, of course, by lending its design to Nokia’s first WP handset, the Lumia 800.

 

808 PureView

Like the N9, the 808 PureView is significant for marking the end of a journey. The N9 was the first and last MeeGo device to be sold by Nokia; the 808 was the company’s last device to launch with its Symbian OS, back in February 2012.

But that was not the only thing that made this device remarkable. The 808 PureView featured a camera with an astonishing 41MP sensor. Building on Nokia’s proud legacy of superior mobile imaging, the 808 won numerous awards for the company. Sadly, the handset itself wasn’t quite so exciting, as the Symbian OS just didn’t have what it took to convincingly stand up to its far more established smartphone rivals.

 

105

Many of Nokia’s most significant and impressive devices have been its most affordable, and the 105 convincingly upholds that tradition.  

Launched at the Mobile World Congress in 2013, the tiny 105 may not look like much – it doesn’t have a web browser or a camera, but its big appeal can be seen in its price tag. Costing just €15, this is almost as basic as a mobile phone gets, but it does have a couple of nice features.

There’s a built-in torch, for example – an incredibly handy feature for those buying the device in emerging markets where night-time street lighting may be completely absent. The 800mAh battery is good for over a month of standby, a fantastic feature for those in parts of the world where electricity supplies are sporadic.

 

Lumia 520

Many handsets have emerged from Nokia’s ‘special relationship’ with Microsoft since the launch of its first Windows Phone in 2011, the Lumia 800. The tank-like 920 is a fan favorite, while the Lumia 1020, with its remarkable 41MP camera, has become something of a poster-child for the Windows Phone platform. But it is the cheapest Lumia – the 520 – that has made the greatest impact.

The device has sold in huge numbers across the globe, thanks in no small part to its plummeting price tag, which has seen the device sell for as little as $40. That price has put Windows Phones into plenty of hands, and helped propel market share to well over 10% in many parts of the world.  

 

3310 Windows Phone

The last device on this list is, of course, not a real one at all, but conveniently brings us full circle to the phone that we began with, the Nokia 3310.

Sadly, the 3310 Windows Phone is unlikely to ever be seen on store shelves, but this curious hybrid seems to encapsulate the unusual marriage between Nokia and Microsoft rather perfectly.

Once the world leader in mobile phone sales, Nokia’s devices business now transitions into the care of Microsoft, which has today become the world’s second largest mobile phone vendor. Five years ago, the idea of a Nokia Windows Phone was unimaginable, even after Nokia had launched a Windows netbook, the Booklet 3G.

But then a couple of years ago, the idea of a Microsoft Android phone was laughable too.

It’s funny how things change.

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55 Comments

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...How can you forget the "Matrix" cell-phone based on 7110 ... Best cellphones ever made ...by Nokia 3310, 7110, 6600, 3800XM.

I've had a few Nokia phones in my time - few I can remember are 5110, 3210, 3310, 3315. I know I had a few more, but I can't remember the model numbers.

I had one where you could print out a picture, then use a cutter tool to cut into the correct size to make it a back cover picture. Buttons were round if I remember. Can't remember the model number.

Edited by Jared-, Apr 29 2014, 6:46am :

I had one of those! I actually only remembered that I even owned one while I was collecting info for this article.

I believe it was a handset that I purchased from Orange on an 18-month contract, just a couple of weeks before the company changed its terms and conditions. There was some loophole in the way Orange changed the T&Cs that meant that I (and quite a few other people around the country) was able to abrogate the contract and keep the phone... which I then sold on eBay for enormous profit :D

Fairly sure I drank those profits away pretty quickly down the pub, but while I hardly got to know the phone, it paid for a few decent nights out! Well done for managing to keep yours in such good condition after all these years :)

Back when mobile phones were first viable for mass market consumption Nokia's were all the range. My first brand new phone was a 3210 and their mobile phones were simply so far ahead of the competition.

However when the smartphone craze hit they simply lost their way, and took too long to react to android and iOS, and that was when I personally lost interest in their devices. Their decision to go all out for windows phone pretty much ended my interest in their products, and with Microsoft taking charge its unlikely I will ever but another of their devices.

But their contribution to mobile phone innovation cannot be overlooked and they did wonders for the industry

i still have my old 7210 sitting in a drawer .. first color screen phone ever released and the keypad design was so unique i always got comments on it .. not only did it look cool but it was actually surprisingly easy to use .. i had it in black

The 7210 remains on my top-10 list of devices that I've owned. Such a beautiful handset, and that colour screen managed to turn heads everywhere it went :D The black model looked pretty smart; mine was in that lovely deep cyan/sea blue sort of colour.

Man, I loved that thing!

I have owned the 3310 and the N95. Currently using a 105 for my primary number as the battery life is absolutely incredible! Secondary number is on a Nexus 4 as I hardly call anyone (excluding VOIP) using that.

The 3310 was a bloody rock! Nothing could affect it! :D

You're forgetting the 8800 Sirocco and Arte Duo (or the 8800 in general). I can't believe I spent a grand for one of those back then.

I still have my Nokia 3395... the crazy thing is that it works just fine as the first day I got it, about 12 years ago. The call quality actually sounds better than my current fone.

Your point about the 7280 - Nokia actually did the experiments somewhere between 2002 and 2006, not the mid-90s.

And ironically it was these phones that made me turn away from Nokia -- they were too ugly and impractical to use. I was on the Sony Ericsson highway for a while, basking in Walkman glory, until I went back to Nokia's 6210 Navigator and 5800 phones (mainly because, well, they were cheap).

Anyway, you guys left out Nokia's first touchscreen phone...

And, the original iPhone probably didn't pose any threat to the N95. At that point in time, I'd gladly pick the N95 over the iPhone. Remember, the OG iPhone couldn't even take videos or have 3G.

You're absolutely right about the 7280, of course - alas, some slightly over-zealous editing before the article was published changed "mid-noughties" to "mid-nineties". (In fact, these phones were supposed to be listed chronologically!)

This has now been corrected, and the editor in question has been repeatedly beaten with both a big stick and an equally large fish. Thanks for pointing this out, trenzterra!

Very true also that the original iPhone wasn't the immediate undoing of the N95 and Nokia's smartphone ambitions, but it set the stage for its downfall, given that Nokia failed to counter the attack of the iPhone for years after the original iPhone d├ębuted.

Sadly, many significant devices were left off the list. Given that Nokia launched around 300 handsets over the years, there were always going to be devices that some felt were more significant than others.

We selected our top-10 knowing that the list would never completely satisfy everyone, but it's genuinely wonderful to read suggestions for other significant devices in Nokia's history! :-D

I do hope the author of this article realizes that the last one on the list - the Nokia 3310 with PureView - was an April's Fools gimmick just a few weeks ago. ;)

pratnala said,
I loved the N95 and the N97. At that time, they were better than the early iPhones imo

N97 was a total pile of shite
SK[ said,]I had a N95, it really doesn't touch the iPhone...
Actually the N95 could do far far more than the iPhone could (it could do 3G data for a start). The iPhone 3G was better but was still lacking in features. The 3GS was the phone that really came with features comparable to other phones and with the slick interface pretty much crushed all.

The 3650 was awesome! Truly a smartphone ahead of its time. I still remember that I had a program installed on it called "MiniGPS" that you could program to do things based on what cell tower you were connected to. So I set it up to change the wallpaper to my company's logo when I was at work, automatically set the phone to vibrate when I was at the movie theater, etc. It was pretty cool and very powerful.

The only thing that was annoying about the round keypad was that when you had it in your pocket, it would occasionally press the 9, then rock to the other side and press 1-1, thus automatically calling the 911 emergency number, even if the keyboard was locked. I made many accidental calls to 911. :(
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nokia_3600/3650

My favourite ever was the 8310 which is still my back up phone when it works! The pure white LED's where just stunning at the time, and the size of the thing.

I am sorry such list cannot be completed without adding any "E" series . E73 was once dominated in a space where you see Blackberry and now iPhone. I myself had E90 but that was hybrid between communicator and E series but E71-73 or E54 etc were true business oriented sets.

I've still got mine, and yes, it still works just fine. I had to use it when my primary phone at the time wasn't working. Ah Snake, how I missed thee.

Easily one of the best phones Nokia made. The magic key worked so well, and the phone was an absolute pleasure to use.

Wasn't Nokia one of the first with full color displays as well?
I remember everyone having the two color displays and the first ones with more then a few colors where Nokia's.

I had the nokia 8801 phone for a month. it was basically a phone incased in metal.

hated the phone. it was heavy.

dropped it from a 2 story building stairs and only thing that happened was the screen has a little crack in the corner.

that N95 looks awesome. even now I want it. could do some much with it. connect it to your tv and browse the web on the tv. use a nokia keyboard to type messages. run windows 3.1

Edited by dsbig, Apr 25 2014, 1:11pm :

I loved my N95 8GB. It was an amazing phone for it's time, and arguably better than the original iPhone in terms of features.

I know it's an unpopular opinion round here, but I also wish that the N9 had not been treated with such distain within Nokia after Elop took over. The phone itself was great, and given the right amount of support, could have been a good product to help turn Nokia's fortunes around alongside the Lumia range. Meego was a good OS, but it's been sidelined and will likely never return without any large scale backing. Shame :(

Majesticmerc said,
I loved my N95 8GB. It was an amazing phone for it's time, and arguably better than the original iPhone in terms of features.
Anything was better than the original iPhone really. It was all hype and marketing but as a device it was terrible and way behind the times. IMO it wasn't until the iPhone 4 that Apple got things right but somehow they decided that that was enough and have not really moved on since. The N95 was miles and miles ahead of both iPhone 1 and 2 really.