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…

Stuff (UK) - - CONTENTS -

Neck some nos­tal­gia with retro mo­biles


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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…


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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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