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AC readers recall their first cell phones

Can you believe what used to pass for a cell phone in the beginning? Or how much we used to spend just to make a phone call? And do you remember how excited we used to get over a carrier-provided app store on our phones, merely so that we could download color games?

Interestingly, roughly only 17 percent of you mentioned wielding a Nokia mobile device as your first. That's still a fair number, but it's far fewer than what we had initially imagined. In fact, about 25 percent of you actually started your mobile lives with a Motorola brick of sorts. (For those who are wondering, these numbers are based on a quick count of the comments at the original time of publishing, and some simple math.)

Dynatact

The Motorola DPC-550. (Via.)

TheNexxuvas:

Motorola Micro Tac Elite II analog with a whopping 10-speed dial memory and a lithium-ion slim line and regular size battery back when NiCad was the norm. The phone was touted as a business unit, and came with a dual slot desktop battery dock charger, too.

eahinrichsen:

My first cell phone was a Motorola StarTAC on Verizon. That thing was awesome. Remember charging your phone every third day?

ottchris:

The first cell phone I used at work was a Motorola DynaTAC. Hard to be inconspicuous using one of those!

Quite a few of you had also started your mobile lives in a decidedly not-so-mobile manner. The Motorola Bag Phone was a thing in the early Nineties, and they were particularly popular with truckers, boaters, and people in rural areas. The actual Bag Phone handset wasn't as high-tech as some of the other cell phones offered at the time, but they were considered reliable out in the field.

trekmario:

I had a Motorola bag phone. Man, I never lost a call on that one even in the woods lol.

NokiaBeast:

My first phone was a Motorola bag phone, too. It rode on the transmission hump of my truck. Man, it was huge.

zr2s10:

My first one, at 17, was a BAG PHONE that had to be plugged into the cigarette lighter (that thing you kids plug your USB chargers into) to run, because it had no battery. No presets, no voicemail, etc. Just enough display digits for 1-555-555-5555, and they were green. You know — like original Game Boy screens.

The QCP 860. (Via.)

The QCP 860. (Via.)

There was also a surprising number of you who started out with a decidedly plain Qualcomm cell phone. Phones like the QCP 2700 still seem to be making the rounds on eBay (opens in new tab), and some Amazon listings (opens in new tab) even list it as a co-production with Kyocera.

colorado_al:

1999 Qualcomm QCP-2760 on Sprint. It was awesome! SMS was 10 cents per message. It replaced my Motorola Gold pager. So nice to be able to call on the go!

aaronwe:

Qualcomm 860! Insanely thin at the time.

Some of you even took the opportunity reminisce about the pains of living life without cell phones back in the day, including lamenting about how frantic it felt to call into a radio station in hopes of winning concert tickets. Those were the days!

cwcheese:

Remember how hard it was to dial the local radio station to try and win the contests for albums and concert tickets? I can still feel the pain on the side of my index finger from dragging the dial around to get set for the next number. That must be why the radio stations always had so many 7, 8, 9, and 0 digits in their call-in line. ;-)

It appears that while a majority of you are certainly enjoying the era of the smartphone we're living through right now, you're also definitely thankful for your humble beginnings. Thanks to everyone who took a second to reminisce with us about your first cell phone.

Florence Ion was formerly an editor and columnist at Android Central. She writes about Android-powered devices of all types and explores their usefulness in her everyday life. You can follow her on Twitter or watch her Tuesday nights on All About Android.

41 Comments
  • I don't remember the model, but my first cell phone in 1994 was made by Mitsubishi. It was very sleek and slim and had a design ahead of its time. Cost $900 (in 1994!) And Cellular One was my carrier. 30 min of airtime for $55/month overages and long distance was something like $3.75/min.
  • It's hard to believe that long distance used to be a thing.
  • It was bordering on extortion, 8 cents a minute to call from Hollywood to the Valley. Those dirty rat bastards!
  • Gotdamn, and here I thought I had it bad with 30min/$30month. Free minutes after 9pm to 6am, hard to beat that! It was on sprint.
    The phone was the first to have the game "worm" on it, that's all I remember. If I had to guess it was a Nokia. My father actually has the phone number to this day, he took over the line because I was young and didnt pay the bill. It was under his name. Yeah not too proud to say that part.
    Oh, and it had sms on it but it wasn't available as it was a feature coming soon lol
  • I had the QCP 860 as well. Re the rotary phone, I do remember the slowness of trying to get the rotary to dial. And as a resident of the Tri-state/downstate New York, not only did we have different rates for calling different states, but we had different rates for calling between NYC and the suburbs right next door. Talk about the power of a monopoly! And let's not forget the days of when you had to forfeit your phone number if you switched carriers.
  • "Interestingly, roughly only 17 percent of you mentioned wielding a Nokia mobile device as your first. That's still a fair number, but it's far fewer than what we had initially imagined. In fact, about 25 percent of you actually started your mobile lives with a Motorola brick of sorts." I don't know what countries the majority of your readers are located in, but if it is USA, this statistic is not surprising. In the mid to late 90s, Motorola had a big presence here. I don't recall Nokia really making a big show here until about 2000 and later.
  • My first phone was a Nokia. I forget the exact one, but it was a brick and it was approximately in 1992 or 1993.
  • My first was a nokia 3210. Man what a phone that was.the sleek looks and all, and obviously snake. I was only 14 at the time and that game was addictive!
  • Mine was the DPC-550 just like the one pictured above in 1993. The reason so many people loved the bag phone is because it put out a full 3-watts. You'd get analog range with that phone that we could only dream of with our modern, low-power digital phones.
  • Same phone, same year. Got it after college because I had a fairly long commute and an unreliable car. I believe it was 30 minutes of talk time a month with Bell Atlantic. Still have a recollection of the coverage map in Jersey, everything was still broken out into regions within the state with no coverage on the Northwest part of the state by the Delaware water gap.
  • You mean they didn't stick it to you with roaming charges? You got off easy. :)
  • This was such a fun post to participate in. It's cool way to learn when users entered the game. Flo, you should make a thread in the forums so everyone can post images and share stories.
  • Same Moto DPC brick pictured, but through Tracfone. I had it so I could reply when my numeric only beeper went off. Two dollars a minute, reload on prepaid cards from 7-11.
  • Dam...... Back in 2003 I got my first flip phone. I thought I was the coolest dude on the planet. Just to be able to make a phone call from anywhere was amazing to me. Back then I couldn't even imagine what we would have now. These days we are all carrying super computers in our pockets. I actually feel weird calling my phone a phone.
  • I had a Samsung N400 with a square color lcd. What made this phone different was there was a tiny thumbstick below the display which could be used if the display was open or closed. The earpiece was connected at the middle of the phone.
  • Remembered that one. Had a speakerphone and a hollow flip..Flip down to cover keys but display was still visible. Sold quite a bit..
  • Panasonic Transportable 1991. Cost $2500-3000 CND Monthly bills started at $350 and reached $600 when busy usage. Amazed I didn't go bankrupt back then with that.
    The phone base mounted in the trunk with an external antennae cable you plugged in. The handset plugged into the holder in the car. When wanting to use out of car, you unplugged the handset then open the trunk and disconnect the antennae, pop the base off it's mount plug a short rubber antennae in, plug the handset in and "voila" a portable phone! It was awesome, fast dialing, great sounding phone. Very small for that time.
    Once the Motoroloa Microtac became available here I sold the Panasonic for $1500 and used the money towards the Microtac. Think that was around $2,000. Hard to imagine but I did pay $1200 for my flagship Sony S-VHS machine back then too! If only I had put that money into Microsoft stock back then!
  • 1990, bag phone. $25 per month for 30 minutes of voice!
  • A Samsung with a flip cover to protect the keys; May of 2000. Prior to that was a Motorola clamshell for my daughter's 'emergency' use in '94(?)! This was in the era when AOL was charging by the hour. Remember those days? I have every device, some thirty or more, dating to my first association with Sprint; the overages were so onerous as to keep me in-line. I, foolishly, believed that I wasn't being billed on incoming calls way back when. My favorite phone remains the Palm Treo 650 which still functions with the original 1 gig memory card (cost: $100) purchased with the Treo still installed. The phone was a lifeline between me as I had recently transferred to the Atlanta, Georgia, metro area and home in the suburban Philadelphia, Pennsylvania area. I bought an identical Treo and memory card for my girlfriend up north too. We used our Treos extensively and these early smartphones remain sentimental favorites.
  • I had a Treo 600, 650 and 700w running windows. I sold my 650 to a real estate agent when hers took a dump. Of the three, the 650 was beyond a doubt the better one and I still miss it. I still have my Treo 700w plugged into the wall for when I feel nostalgic and want to mess with old tech.
  • My first cellphone was a car mounted Ericsson HotLine in the delivery car I drove att work back in 1989. Man, it was fun to impress my friends by making calls from the road! ... Until the boss in not so low voice informed me what the cost per minute was :-)
  • I don't remember the model but it was a Motorola (a Startac, I think) brick. I got it during a promotion in July of 1996 - $.02 for the phone because it was the 2nd. My brother bought one the next day for .03. The plan was something like $12 a month but everything outside of my local area was roaming - which meant a $1.00 charge plus like $.08 a minute. So I always used it judiciously when I was away from home. I later upgraded to a much nicer model. The carrier was originally GTE but we got switched to Alltel during the Verizon Merger (which was ironic, of course, because later Verizon bought Alltel) and kept it for years until I got a Palm Treo 300 and switched to Sprint. My Father actually took over the account and kept the phone number until we cancelled the account when he passed away.
  • My first cell phone was by Seimens. It was basically their version of the immortal Nokia phone lol.
  • My first cell phone was the Panasonic GD35. I still remember the ringtone even. hahaha
  • The Motorola DPC-550 was my first phone, that baby brings back memories. Good memories of being able to have a phone in your pocket especially with the slim battery. That phone had amazing call quality, people couldn't tell you where on a mobile phone. Then there was the bad, $60 for 60 included minutes of calling per month, ouch!! I believe it was airtouch. My how far we have come.
  • Motorola StarTac was my first, and I still have the same phone number! I used to love the satisfying way it snapped shut. Ironically, my current phone, if I used it just for talking, would last longer than the StarTac did.
  • But the nice thing about the StarTac was, when it "died", you had a few seconds to replace the battery before it really died. Hell, you had time to throw the phone across the room, pick it back up and replace the battery before it actually died. I also recall having the charging base that you sat the phone in front to charge the battery in the phone, and placed a spare battery in a slot at the rear to charge simultaneously. My parents and I had one each. It came with the NiMH batteries, and we each bough a Li-ion extended life battery as spares. My dad lost his phone and my mom upgraded so I ended up with three NiMH and two Li-ion batteries. That lasted me a while.
  • What about pre AMPS "cellular" radio phones? I still have the Glenayre 2021 head unit in a display at my office. The irony is that there are still local radio telephone companies around with working towers that could bring it back to life. Interesting to note that the these units worked well with a range of about 25-30 miles from the tower and had a modem jack on the base. (I think it was on the base). 110 baud was very reliable; 300 worked decently but 1200 baud only worked in ideal weather and signal conditions. Ahhh, BBS'ing on the go at 50 cents per minute pumping 3 ASCII characters per second. Those were the days!
  • I just took a quick photo of it if anyone is curious. http://www.thecomputerarchive.com/thearchive/Phones/Glenayre2.jpg Note the use of a "Send" button in a pre-AMPS, pre-cellular device. Also bear in mind this is just the head unit. The transmitter looked like a large subwoofer amplifier and was mounted in the trunk with (in my case) an antenna mounted in middle of the roof. The display is HP-style bubble LED display. (One can easily search for image examples of these displays.)
  • 300 baud is 30 characters per second, not 3. I'll bet you can type faster than 3 chars/s.
  • Mobira Cityman 900 for the win /s
  • Siemens C-45 was the first overall. First color phone was a Nokia 7210 (the only phone I've ever lost).
  • I remember my dad first phone was the Motorola Star tac, he still has the box, sadly the phone is not inside and he doesn't remember the last place he stored it for good, man I remember I was excited to see one of those phones, it was kind of cool haha Ohh and my first phone was the Samsung flip phone with a 180° camera, one of the first selfies phones
  • The StarTac was cool because at that point in time, it was the smallest affordable phone. I know Sony had one - if memory serves me correctly - that was about three inches tall, two inches wide and about an inch thick with an extendable antenna and swing-down boom mic. I don't recall the price, but it was way more than the StarTac was worth.
  • Sony CM-RX100 — I had one, it was my first, with AT&T service. Still have it.
  • For the price of it, I wouldn't toss it, either!
  • My first cell phone was a Nokia with Tracfone, $2 a minute for calls or $0.50 to send or receive a text. I lived in the middle of nowhere but always had cell service, just had to be careful that I didn't start roaming because I lived 30 miles from the Canadian border and sometimes I could pick up a signal from their cell towers. It was a solid phone but I couldn't use it anymore when the carriers all made the switch to digital. Never have gotten nearly as good of cell service as I did with analog, but it makes me wonder if I'll get brain cancer being exposed to all that power...
  • Motorola C350 for me, followed by the LG F2400, followed by the Sony Ericsson K800i, followed by the Samsung S8000 Jet. After that I entered into the era of smartphones.
  • Mine was a Sprint Samsung SPH-N400
  • My 1st cell was a Novatel Transportable phone I carried in a Camera bag (it was several pounds) it was really for emergencies because Air time was over a dollar per minute (Early 1990s) Sorry I don't have a picture but think something like a modern office desk phone with an antenna and cords for charging. Cheers,
    BR
  • I wish I could remember more about the phone itself. It was in the late 1980s, cost $2,500; for the monthly fee you got 10 minutes a month for free and then it was .75/minute. I believe it was a Motorola unit? It was hard-wired into my car. Verizon didn't exist yet so it was imprinted with either NET (New England Telephone) or AT&T. The phone had a multitude of features: with it you could make phone calls and.... well, I guess that's all it did.