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My Cell Phones through the Years

Tuesday, March 13, 2012, 23:25 EDT Leave a comment Go to comments

For the last few days, I’ve been on and off with Sprint tech support regarding a problem with my BlackBerry. It’s proving a tough problem to resolve, and as I’ve waited for tech support to “research the issue” or for my phone to reboot, I’ve done other things on my computer so the time won’t be totally wasted. Then I realized that I will qualify for a phone upgrade discount in 2½ months, which got me looking at new phones online while I was on hold.

Motorola bag phoneThe first time I ever used a cellular phone was about 20 years ago, when my employer bought what everyone still called car phones because even the ones that weren’t built into a car were primarily used in people’s cars because both the battery life and size made them difficult to carry around. We affectionately referred to it as the suitcase phone, and it was a tremendous convenience when I went on the road because it freed me from having to stop at phone booths to call clients if I was running late. Not that I used it very often—making a call cost a small fortune.

Several years later, after they got much smaller and much cheaper, I bought my first personal cell phone. That was at least 12 or 13 years ago, maybe longer. I used TracFone prepaid service because the phones were cheap, they didn’t require a contract, and I could buy as little as $10 of air time a month. It was ideal when I still had a land line and only wanted a cell phone for emergency purposes.

That first phone was prehistoric by today’s standards. It was a Nokia, black and rectangular and ugly, with the little antenna that you pulled up about 3 inches when you made or received a call. And it was a phone, nothing more. It is such an anachronism that I can’t even find a picture of it online. One of the Den Son’s old girlfriends referred to it as a “ghetto phone,” which made me very glad that I have never especially cared what other people think.

As I mentioned, TracFones were inexpensive, so I didn’t hesitate to get a new one every year or so (or more often if necessary, like after the Labor Day weekend in 2004 when my boyfriend took me canoeing on Lake Quinsigamond and we capsized in the wake of a ski boat and my phone, which had been in my pocket, met an untimely demise). Thus, what followed was a series of phones that got steadily smaller and/or more sophisticated (and I use that term loosely). They are shown here, in the approximate order in which I owned them, pictures not necessarily to scale:

Nokia 5180 Nokia 3210 Nokia 1100 Motorola C139 LG 225

They all served me well and gave me more than my money’s worth. With the later phones came the capability for text messaging and access to TracFone’s proprietary data service, a very poor imitation of what smartphone users were then getting. But the extras seemed luxurious to me because my cell phone was still essentially an emergency device.

Then in early 2009, I started thinking about ditching my land line. I lived alone and really didn’t see the point of having two phone numbers for one person. I realized that without a $45 monthly phone bill (plus whatever long-distance calls I made), I could certainly afford a regular cell service plan. And once the cell became my primary phone, it would be worth paying for something better with more features.

I knew very little about smartphones, beyond knowing that you could keep a calendar on them, email from them, and use them to access the internet. All I knew about the BlackBerry brand specifically was that the Den Son had one and that an old friend of mine from college had gotten rich working for the company that made them. But in the summer of 2009, a friend suggested that I get one and pointed out a really cool BlackBerry-to-BlackBerry messaging feature that bypassed the service provider’s network. That was good for me because my friend was outside the U.S. and that feature would allow us to text each other for free. I was sold.

BlackBerry Pearl 8130Since by that time I had become accustomed to a very compact phone, I got the smallest BlackBerry model available, the Pearl 8130. With the exception of the trackball, which tended to collect dust and needed occasional cleaning, it gave me no problems (unless you count the time I dropped it into a sink full of water and had to dry it out for four days before it worked normally again). It really was a great phone and it was more than I needed—until I figured out everything a smartphone could do. The Pearl couldn’t quite do it all. So after a year, when I had the opportunity to upgrade at a discount, I did.

BlackBerry Bold 9650My next device was the BlackBerry Bold 9650, which I have used since August of 2010. I’ve replaced the battery once, and the micro-USB jack is a little loose, but it’s been going strong and, with the help of a micro SD card, can do everything I’ve wanted and needed, plus more. Until these last few days, that is. Ironically, the problem I’ve been having is that I suddenly can’t compose PIN messages, those BlackBerry-to-BlackBerry messages that were the reason I chose the brand in the first place. Tomorrow, I’ll take it to a Sprint Store and give their repair techs a crack at it. If they can’t fix it, then I’ll go PIN-less until June 1, at which time I will once again be eligible for an upgrade discount.

BlackBerry Bold 9930I’ve already selected the phone: the BlackBerry Bold 9930. It’s a lot like the 9650, but thinner and lighter, with more memory and a slightly bigger display that, I believe, also has touch-screen capability. It might even have a few other features that I don’t yet realize I need…

In light of all the troubles that Research In Motion, the company that developed and still manufactures BlackBerry devices, has had over the last couple of years, you might wonder why I’m sticking with a BlackBerry phone. They have certainly lost customers recently, including at least a half-dozen of my family members and close friends who have abandoned ship in favor of Android devices or the evil iPhone. But I have developed some loyalty to the BlackBerry brand. I’ve had good luck with the product, like the design and functionality, and appreciate the fact that it isn’t merely a glorified Game Boy. I think of BlackBerry as the grown-up’s smartphone. Besides, I still like the Blackberry-to-Blackberry messaging feature, even if I use it only occasionally now. I’m willing to stick with the company through at least one more device, after which I’ll see how things have gone.

When I think back over the last 20 years, I realize how remarkably the wireless phone has progressed. The old kludgy “suitcase phones” now seem as primitive as black-and-white televisions and cathode ray tube computer monitors. More significantly, cell phones are now ubiquitous, in a way that few other gadgets have become. They aren’t just functional toys. They are devices that have literally changed the way people communicate. It’s been fun to experience their evolution.

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