The 23 best phones ever
Mobiles have been around even longer than Stuff – plenty of time for a host of models to earn ‘classic’ status. Here are the handsets that make us come over all wistful…
Neck some nostalgia with retro mobiles
23 VERTU SIGNATURE TOUCH
Vertu made a name for itself crafting absurdly exclusive and expensive phones for the ultra-rich. Problem was, beneath the unicorn-tongue and spider-silk finishes were plain old feature phones, no more exclusive than what you’d find in the bargain bin at Phones 4 U.
The Signature Touch was different. Its titanium chassis held a 5.2in Full HD screen, an octa-core Snapdragon 810 processor and a 21MP, 4K-capable camera. Finally, a Vertu had the mouth to match its diamond-laden trousers. It could also encrypt messages and came with access to Vertu’s famous concierge service – a 24/7 helpline for all your modern oligarch needs.
Alas, Vertu went bankrupt last year, so if you pick up one of its phones now, you’ll have to book those flights to your private tropical island yourself.
22 SONY XPERIA PLAY
With smartphones launching a war against handheld gaming gadgets following the success of Angry Birds, Sony’s long-awaited ‘Playstation phone’ tried to marry the two. An Android phone with 4in touchscreen, 5MP camera and slide-out gaming controls, it didn’t exactly live up to expectations. But its huge library of Playstation classics made it a must-have for Crash Bandicoot addicts.
21 GOOGLE PIXEL
Google’s first attempt to dislodge Samsung as king of the Androids didn’t exactly knock the Galaxy’s crown off, but it certainly kept everyone on their toes. A pure, unfiltered version of the OS, a top-notch screen and one of the best cameras ever seen on a phone made the Pixel one to watch.
20 NOKIA LUMIA 1020
A 41MP camera on a phone sounds like overkill now, let alone five years ago, but it was almost worth using a Windows Phone for the pictures the Lumia 1020 was capable of taking. As a complete package it wasn’t the best, but some phones are only just catching up with its camera today.
19 MOTOROLA MOTO G
Until the Moto G came along, if you wanted a phone with a big screen, decent build quality and a processor that didn’t wheeze to a halt under the slightest strain, you had to shell out for one of the expensive flagships. Everything else felt a little half-baked and underpowered. But with its 4.5in 720p screen, hardy build, unspoiled version of Android and Qualcomm’s 1.2GHZ quad-core Snapdragon 400 chip, the first Moto G made the rest of the mid-range up its game.
Since then we’ve seen the launch of Oneplus, Honor and Wileyfox (RIP), all putting out affordable smartphones that could pass for pricier models. OK, so the Moto G’s 5MP camera was underwhelming, so a small compromise still existed in there somewhere, but considering how good the rest of it was – and at such a bargain price – it was impossible not to be impressed.
Motorola might have made its name by developing a string of iconic designs, but in a world where it can no longer keep up on that front, the Moto G has been no less of a game-changer. Five generations later and it’s still a go-to budget blower.
18 SONY ERICSSON W880i
When Apple removed the headphone port from the iphone 7 in 2016, it caused an internet uproar. Admittedly that’s not hard to do these days, but it’s easy to forget that a 3.5mm hole hasn’t always been the norm on a mobile phone.
Way back in 2007, just before Steve Jobs unveiled the first iphone with its bafflingly recessed port, Sony Ericsson released the W880i: a Walkman-branded phone without a headphone socket at all. You had to use the bundled proprietary in-ears or a Bluetooth pair – which, back in 2007, were all rubbish. But even that couldn’t stop the W880i being an absolute stonker. It might have looked a bit like a nu-rave calculator, but its metal chassis was pleasingly thin, with a slick interface that made using it an absolute dream, even if syncing songs to it did take an age. In the days when you had to carry around a separate phone and mp3 player, combining the two in one was made possible by the W880i, even with its headphone issues.
When the iphone was revealed a few months later the W880i suddenly looked a little old-fashioned, but hey, at least it had 3G…
17 BLACKBERRY 6230
The 6230 wasn’t the first Blackberry handset, but it was the first that could make calls without having to plug in a hands-free kit. It just goes to show how dedicated Blackberry was to email.
It’s easy to forget how difficult it used to be to get your emails on a phone without paying a monthly fee or making a blood sacrifice to Clippy, the Microsoft Office paperclip. Until the 6230 came along, Blackberry emailers looked more like handheld PCS, putting off all but the hardcore; but the 6000 series began the move to more civvy-friendly designs. Before long they were everywhere.
That grab for the mainstream might have been what led to the brand’s downfall, but for a while it looked as though it might conquer the world, one attachment at a time.
16 HTC HERO
For a long time nobody could come close to the iphone’s combo of good looks and even better brains. The smartphone world needed a hero – and HTC provided one. Its chin might’ve been an acquired taste, but the Hero marked the point when Android began to challenge Apple’s dominance.
15 SAMSUNG GALAXY NOTE
When Samsung released the Note in 2011, its 5.3in screen seemed preposterously big. It even came with a stylus, for goodness’ sake! But those who gave the newfangled ‘phablet’ a go were soon won over by its big-screen charms and suddenly found other phones restrictive. Nowadays 5.3in is a perfectly ordinary size for a phone screen, proving the Galaxy Note was truly ahead of its time.
14 NOKIA 8110
A phone most famous for a feature it didn’t actually have, the spring-loaded answering mechanism seen on the 8110 in The Matrix wasn’t available on the real thing… but that didn’t stop everybody wanting one. Nokia resurrected it this year – but you still have to slide that panel down yourself.
13 PALM PRE
Like Edgar Allan Poe, Nick Drake or Emily Dickinson, the Palm Pre’s impact was felt posthumously. When it arrived in the UK – almost a year after it was first revealed – the rest of the smartphone world had already moved on.
Mind you, some of its neatest tricks are still being used today. That swipey method you use to manage apps on the iphone X now the home button has gone? The Palm Pre did that nearly a decade ago. Wireless charging? The Pre was the first phone to get that. It also handled multitasking in exactly the same way IOS does now, showing smaller versions of the apps currently running rather than just lifeless icons.
So while the hardware didn’t quite match the Pre’s futuristic webos, it was still very much the Vincent van Gogh of the phone world.
12 ONEPLUS ONE
In a world dominated by Apple, Samsung, HTC et al, Oneplus well and truly put the moggy among the pigeons when it released a phone with flagship specs for a fraction of the usual price. It didn’t play nice on all 4G networks and the camera was underwhelming, but on every other front it stood up to the big boys. Even the fact that you had to be invited to buy one didn’t put people off.
11 SONY ERICSSON P800
Back when smartphones looked like you needed a PHD to operate them, the Sony Ericsson P800 had a touchscreen, fold-out keypad, camera and media player, meaning it combined the best bits of a standalone PDA and a more user-friendly feature phone.
10 APPLE IPHONE 4
Considered by many to be the pinnacle of iphone design so far, the 4 did have one flaw: you were holding it wrong. Touching the antenna band could cause it to drop signal, but that didn’t stop it being an absolutely gorgeous slab of mobile that introduced the world to the hi-res Retina display.
09 MOTOROLA RAZR V3
Phone design hasn’t always been about slight variations on a black rectangle with a screen on the front. At the start of the millennium there were candy bars, sliders, and clamshells like the Motorola RAZR V3. This wasn’t the first mobile to fold in half but it was the thinnest flip-phone the world had seen.
With form taking priority over function, phones were starting to be seen as fashion accessories rather than just tools, and the V3’s skinny metal chassis and lightweight build made it massively desirable. It even caused queues to form outside phone shops long before the iphone was even a twinkle in Steve Jobs’ eye. Over 130 million were sold in four years, and while that’s nothing compared to current iphone numbers, mobile phones were nowhere near as ubiquitous in 2004. In fact, it’s still one of the best-selling phones of all time.
The RAZR wasn’t just a pretty face either – it had colour screens inside and out, so you could check who was calling before deciding whether to flip it open or not. And while the V3 had many iterations and successors, none were as influential as the original.
08 LG NEXUS 4
Plain on the outside but a proper powerhouse on the inside, Google’s Nexus phones were well-specified, affordable, and came with an untouched version of the OS that made them popular with Android purists. The Nexus 4 was their high point before things took a turn for the pricey.
07 MOTOROLA DYNATAC 8000X
As the first commercially available mobile phone, how could the DYNATAC 8000X not make the list? Big and unwieldy, not to mention stupidly expensive, the DYNATAC came to symbolise the yuppie excesses of the ’80s, but was essential if you wanted to look important.
06 SAMSUNG GALAXY S6 EDGE
With its big, beautiful 5.1in screen that curved away at the sides, the S6 Edge charted a course for future phone design that we’re still travelling on now. The uses for those curved flanks might have faded away, but the aesthetic definitely remains.
The S6 Edge offered rip-snorting power, a bright Super AMOLED screen that made the iphone’s Retina display look like a dirty old window, and a metal/glass build that made you feel like you were holding something premium. The price confirmed that; but while it did seem very expensive at the time, since then the iphone X has made the S6 Edge look positively affordable. This also marked the point where Samsung began using its own processors rather than buying in Qualcomm’s. Throw in an incredible camera with a fast-aperture lens and this was a phone that really had no genuine weaknesses.
Since the S6 Edge and its flatter brother the S6 were released Samsung has gone from strength to strength, delivering annual updates to the template that keep it just ahead of the curve. Pun intended.
Back in 2011 when I was but a pup, I wanted an on-the-go gaming device to keep me entertained in college. The 3DS was too big to avoid the glare of my tutors, but the Xperia Play was small enough to hide. Maybe I should get one for work…
Ryan Jones, Staff Writer
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