There are probably thousands of mobile phones launched since the dawn of mobile phone industry. Mobile Phone industry is prone to saturation. Standing out is a constant struggle in the mobile phone industry. Sometimes manufacturers develop new features and functions to lure us off our cash. Sometimes in the rush of innovation and desire to differentiate, they go a bit out of the way and develop something distinctly strange.
We will list some of the most unusual mobile phones. All these are real products that made their way to the stores.
Samsung Matrix Phone (2003)
As Neo, Trinity and Morpheus battle to save Zion in the Matrix, you must have noticed the new addition to their gadget arsenal. It was a communication device with moveable parts which made the viewers drool over its design. The limited-edition Samsung SPH-n270 was a replica of the mobile phone used in the movie with some extra perks and features.
At first glance, the black plastic body with Matrix-code style numbers made it look more like a toy than a mobile phone. The most entertaining aspect of the phone was its sliding mechanism. Press the two side buttons, and the top portion of the phone slides up with a definite Matrix-like sound emanating from the speaker. Fortunately, the user could turn off this sound-effect.
The phone rocked a 128×128 pixels, 65,000 colours, TFT colour screen which displayed eight lines of texts. The phone lacked many high-end features when compared with the phones of its time. The features like games, web browsing or camera on this 1xRTT voice-only mobile, were missing. However, it was e911 loaded for when you find yourself in Neo-like jam, you can use two-way sim.
The pre-installed 15 polyphonic and voice tones were the niftiest features. One of our favourites was Cypher asking the infamous question, “Why, why did I take the blue pill?”
Like most of the limited-feature stuff the n270 was only available online, at Samsung’s website for a hefty amount of $500. That was a high price to pay for a phone that looks and feels more like a toy than a reliable communications device. But then again, since money is a mere facet of our mechanical overlords’ carefully constructed alternate reality, it might not matter to people back then.
Nokia 7600 (2003)
In the early 2000s, Nokia was the giant dominating the phone market. Nokia was known to be experimental with the form-factor. In 2003, Nokia came up with an unusually designed camera phone. The 7600 was the second 3G handset by Nokia.
The phone had a teardrop design with interchangeable cover, aiming for the ‘fashion market’. The phone used a 65,000 TFT display. The big screen (on metrics based on the time), was surrounded by the buttons. The camera was a 640×480 VGA camera which was a trend-setter for its time. The camera app provided features like portrait, night and self-timer to take snaps.
It had polyphonic ringtone support. The built-in MP3/AAC music player allowed transferring 29 MB of songs through Bluetooth, Infrared or through USB using is Pop-port.
The 7600 was seen by some as weird to use. Texting or using the menu requires both hands. It also suffered as a result of having lower specifications than the mobile phones of its generation.
Nokia N-Gage (2003)
Back in 2003, when phones were not gaming devices, Snake was probably the most famous game on phones. So, launching a gaming-hybrid mobile phone wasn’t a mainstream idea. But Nokia, the best manufacturer back then could afford to take such a huge risk.
N-Gage was no ordinary mobile phone as can be seen by its design. The phone had a 2.1 inches screen, flanked by a D-pad, some several quick keys in the left and numeric keys in the right. If not for the numeric keys you would have easily mistaken it for a hand-held gaming console.
Yet, the Nokia N-Gage was a complete phone and also offered key-features like Bluetooth and WAP browser. One awkward thing was to make/receive calls on it. Because of the location of the speaker on the side, when talking on the phone, you had to keep it sideways. Well, I am not sure if I am eager to talk on this phone!
However, despite the $200 price tag and popular titles, the N-Gage couldn’t earn itself enough sales. Another reason could have been its design and usability issues. I mean, you had to switch off the phone and remove the battery every single time to replace the gaming cartridge.
No wonder PC Mag described the N-Gage in these words — “a poorly implemented great idea.”
Despite the criticisms it received, the concept of a gaming phone, as we know it today, was established by the N-Gage. So when you see flagship smartphones like the ASUS ROG, Nubia Red Magic, or even the Xiaomi Blackshark, do remember the legendary Nokia N-Gage which conceptualized this idea!
Nokia 7280 (2004)
If you think flip phones were cool? Then you must have missed ‘Lipstick Phone’. This bizarre phone was from none other than mighty Nokia.
The lipstick phone is one of the coolest designs we have seen till date. This phone soon became a fashion statement. Imagine the display when turned off acted as a mirror! Isn’t it better than a secondary display?
The phone had a mix of plastic, metal, leather and even a piece of fabric. Acknowledging the compact design of the device, Nokia placed its logo on a fabric swaying from the phone like the tag on T-shirts. The main shortcoming of the compact design was the absence of a physical keyboard. Instead, you get a scroll button to use the on-screen keyboard.
The Nokia 7280 had a camera too! And you had to slide up the phone to reveal the VGA camera. Sliding the phone, open or close also serves as answering and rejecting calls respectively.
Despite its flashy profile, the phone was not slouchy when it came to key features. The phone came out with GPRS and Bluetooth, which was a big deal back then. An in-built music player was a win-win addition for everyone.
The 7280 was a phone that came out with a substantial price tag of $600. Despite its staggering price, the phone became very popular.
Even, Fortune Magazine listed it as one of the best products of 2004.
Nokia N90 (2005)
We’re revisiting N90, Nokia’s First entry in its high-end N series. This well-endowed flip-and-flop 2 MP camphone flaunted its features. The muscular body was a direct reflection of its main selling point- its high-quality camera set-up.
And it was one of these rather tasty Zeiss lenses which was attached to the N90, just on top of the clamshell hinge. It did nothing to help it fit in your pocket, but everything to make it the best camera on a phone then.
The superior feature of N90, its 262,000 colour screen could be rotated 120 degrees to record a video or take stills. That fancy Carl Zeiss lens meanwhile could be rotated through about 330 degrees. There was a 20x digital zoom too, which was handy for getting in close, though the picture quality was unreliable at full magnification, prone to fuzziness with loss of a lot of details. For 3G video calling, it was the work of a moment to flip the camera lens either towards you or away from you, and it slips into position with a satisfying clunk.
For quick snaps, you didn’t even need to open the phone. Just turn the lens and it automatically goes to still camera mode, using the 65,000-colour outer screen as a viewfinder and allowing you to control functions with the side-mounted joystick and the shutter button.
The $340 Nokia N90 was one of a range of devices that proved that phones could have impressive cameras without compromising in other areas.
Motorola Aura (2008)
The Aura looked nothing less than a jewellery. Every time we looked at it, we heard a chorus of ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’.
The bulky etched stainless steel body and rotating body with exposed gear mechanism is what gives Aura a part of its charm. But most of its charm is down to the screen, which is clear and amazingly vibrant, thanks to its 16 million colours, 300 dpi resolution and a 62-carat sapphire glass.
But a round display has its limitations. It was very difficult to click snaps with 2 MP camera of Aura as the corners were cut-off due to the shape of the display, surfing the internet was also not a satisfactory experience as the web is designed for rectangle webpages and the UI of AURA was also not optimized for a round display which was a pain to navigate through pages.
The camera system lacked a flash, but still was able to pull satisfactory snaps. On the contrary, the video quality of Aura were dark and dingy when used inside. So, having a great screen with a not-so-good camera was a shame.
The Aura’s media player supports several formats, including AAC, MP3, WAV and WMA. Aura had a 2GB onboard storage for storing songs.
It was not good for much besides making calls, but its stunning screen, stainless-steel body and rotating cover were certainly glamorous. So, it was appreciated by people with deep pockets and who are not worried about advanced features like surfing the Web.
Motorola Backflip (2010)
The Motorola Backflip made its grand debut at CES 2010. Backflip surprised everyone with its unique design, which included a rear-facing QWERTY keyboard and a trackpad behind the display. When closed the keyboard rests behind the screen, so when you swing it open, the keyboard sits beneath the display.
Backflip had a 3.1-inch HVGA (320×480) capacitative touch screen which displayed 256,000 colours but lacked the vibrancy and sharpness of some Android phone of its generation like, Motorola Droid or Nexus One. The screen size was relatively small, so it was straining for eyes to read text on the display.
The phone came out with an accelerometer to switch the screen between portrait and landscape mode. However, the transition was a bit laggy and made it apparent that the phone lacks in the performance sector. Additionally, scrolling through the webpages was also accompanied with occasional stutter which ruins the fun a bit more.
One interesting feature was the presence of a trackpad (officially termed as, Backtrack Navigation Pad) on the other side of the screen. The idea behind this addition was to provide an unobstructed view of the screen keeping the fingers away from the screen. The trackpad worked as advertised in providing a smooth scrolling function. However, it didn’t add much value to the phone.
A 5 MP sensor was present on the backflip along with a flash. Unfortunately, the camera performance was not at all good by the standards of its time.
The Backflip was equipped with a 528 MHz Qualcomm MSM7201A processor and it just didn’t have the stamina to keep up. The smartphone lagged and struggled at times with even the simplest tasks, such as switching screen orientation or merely pulling up an e-mail.
Owing to all these faults the phone was not a recommendable phone at £150.
Motorola Flipout (2010)
Motorola Flipout was a slider device, but rather than using an up and down slider, it had a rotational slider to reveal its keyboard. The design makes the phone very square which helped in concealing a large-enough usable keyboard.
Flipout came with a 2.8 inches square display, which made it easy to carry in a pocket. Fortunately, the Flipout has a solid, sturdy feel, and the swivel mechanism wasn’t too loose.
At just 2.8 inches, the Flipout’s square screen was much too cramped for a touch-screen handset. Tapping and scrolling through the menus was a rather tedious affair, even if the touch interface is responsive and the Android 2.1 interface is familiar and intuitive. The display supported 16 million colours, but the pixel resolution (320×280) was just average. Some graphics and photos looked rather fuzzy.
Given the Flipout’s size, the physical keyboard is surprisingly spacious and comfortable. With four rows of buttons, numbers and letters don’t have to double up.
As you’d expect, the Flipout could sync with not only Google Calendar, but also other work and personal calendars. Deeper down, it had voice search, speaker-independent voice dialling, Microsoft Quickoffice, Wi-Fi, stereo Bluetooth, and all the usual Google apps like Google Talk, YouTube, and Google Maps with GPS navigation.
The 3.1 MP took average pictures, colours were a bit dim, and there was an excessive amount of image noise. Getting photos and videos off the Flipout was easy using Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, a USB cable, or a memory card. The Flipout had 512MB of internal memory and came with a 2GB microSD card in the box.
On paper, Flipout was an average device when it came to performance. Overall, it smacked off a concept taken too far. However, Motorola had done the best it could with the idea, producing a phone that’s very well made, had a great keyboard and was wanted for little in the way of features.
Blackberry Passport (2014)
The BlackBerry Passport was a pure productivity machine, and emblematic of the company’s professional, business-focused mindset. It was packed with powerful hardware, a slew of clever features, and a great foundation in BlackBerry OS 10.3, which was poised to give iOS and Android a run for their money — if it had enough apps.
It had a silver finish with rounded corners, a reinforced stainless steel frame and a diamond-patterned back that offered improved grip. Also, the typing experience is the best experience we had on a phone.
The Blackberry Passport was about the same size as a US passport. That squat, distinctive square shape certainly grabbed everyone’s attention while tapping out missives or holding it up against your face.
The square 4.5-inches display pushed out 1,440×1,440 resolution, with a pixel density of 453 PPI. Besides having a gorgeous display, the width was the key as the Passport could display 60 characters in each line.
Surfing websites was an enjoyable experience on Passport. The text was crisp and the screen could comfortably fit a lot of it without flipping over to a wider landscape mode or zooming in on a site. Images and videos looked great too, with colours that were reproduced faithfully and didn’t shift no matter how you hold the display.
The keyboard is where the passport shined. A three-rowed physical keyboard was so accurate and fast that it was hard to believe its versatility. On the top, the keyboard was also touch-enabled to work as a trackpad.
The lack of Android Playstore was one of the factors behind the demise of a really capable device. The Amazon Appstore did well in providing a lot of favourite apps like Spotify but the trade-off with Google apps was so difficult to ignore.
The BlackBerry Passport gets a taste of Siri, Google Now, and Cortana with BlackBerry Assistant.
BlackBerry did not skimp on the Passport’s hardware. It was running on a 2.2GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 CPU coupled with 3GB of RAM, and flies through most operations.
The BlackBerry Passport was a fantastic phone, and we were pleasantly surprised by how much we liked it. The superior finish made us feel more professional, and the physical keyboard excelled at text-heavy tasks. It would have been a very successful series with proper app support and Google Playstore.
LG G5 (2016)
The LG G5 was constructed with an aluminium chassis body. A rectangular protrusion housed the camera components, and the bottom had a USB-C connector. The fancy feature of the device, its lower “chin” could be detached to replace the battery unit, as well as to attach add-on modules for added functionality, such as a camera grip or a high-fidelity audio module with DAC.
The G5 used a Snapdragon Qualcomm 820, accompanied by LPDDR4 RAM and had a 32 GB of internal storage expandable via a micro SD card. The G5 included a 5.3-inch 1440p IPS display. The G5 featured two rear-facing cameras; a 16-megapixel primary camera, as well as an 8-megapixel 135-degree wide-angle camera. As with the G4, the rear camera also provided colour spectrum sensor and infrared autofocus features.
The LG G5 came out bundled with Android 6.0 “Marshmallow”. The LG G5 was one of the earliest phones to come out with an always-on display.
The “Quick cover” accessory unveiled way before the launch of the device, was a semi-translucent case for the phone with a glass cut-out to show off the always-on display feature of the phone. Touch inputs could be made through the cover and semi-translucent screen for actions such as accepting calls.
A line of accessories branded as “friends”, included a head-mount display called LG 360 VR (and attaches using the USB-C port of the phone), the LG 360 cam VR camera, and the LG Rollin Bot. All these accessories could be controlled via the Friends Manager app. Not only this, these devices could be paired to work with each other as a unit too.
“LG Cam Plus” accessory aimed at adding a grip to the rear of the device that incorporated physical camera controls, a jog wheel for zoom, as well as a supplemental battery. The “LG Hi-Fi Plus” accessory, a collaboration with Bang & Olufsen adds a DAC, an amplifier, Direct Stream Digital audio support and upsampling, and is bundled with B&O Play H3 earbuds.
G5 priced at $700, despite being a futuristic device couldn’t get enough interest from buyers as the modules seemed too big a complication to buyers.
Don’t Panic! We know that we have missed out many other unusual mobile phones in this list. So, stay tuned for the next article of the series.
Liked this article? Also read: 10 Biggest Smartphone Fails of the 2000s.