When I arrived at OR Tambo airport this week for the 2014 Mercedes-Benz C-Class launch, the company representative was particularly relieved to see me. Nothing personal, of course. “I haven’t been able to reach you on your cellphone,” he said in a mildly accusing tone. That wasn’t surprising. He had been using a number that I left behind at least a decade ago.
That was before the days of number porting, of course. The number he’d been trying was on my first cellphone, a red Nokia 5110. If you’re of a certain vintage, you must remember it. Practically everyone had one, and practically everyone disparagingly referred to it as a brick. My own one was a hand-me-down from my wife (yes, she was the first in the family to get a cellphone and seldom fails to remind me of my lack of early-adopter interest). It made calls, received calls and… well, it didn’t have to do more, really. Twitter, Facebook, even the Internet for mobile phones were all still somebody’s fantasy.
All of this is by way of introduction to a story on News24 this week that old-school cellphones are making a comeback. Their popularity has resulted in an astonishing demand that has led to some, well, astonishing pricing. Try 1 000 Euros, though it seems you can get a Nokia 8210 for around 60 Euros. Again, no surprises there.
Five years ago, while manning the PM stand at the Johannesburg Motor Show, I was between phones and rediscovered an old friend. It was a Nokia 6210, which to my mind is the best phone Nokia made. Not only did it have the conveniences of more modern – and smarter – phones (Bluetooth, for instance) it also had astonishingly long battery life of several days. At the time you could get one on British eBay for 150 pounds. A hundred and fifty pounds! Of course it didn’t have the nice big screen and colour display of the competition. But that’s not much use when all you need a phone for is as a Bluetooth modem and to make the occasional call.
The retro movement certainly moves in mysterious ways. What’s the point? Today’s smartphones are mini-computers in our pockets (although that may not be the safest place to carry them, health-wise, says a recent report). They make calls and can do lots more besides. Still, many users – particularly older ones, I have to say – yearn for something a lot simpler. Something with nice big buttons, hardware ones, not itty-bitty virtual ones on a screen. An easy-to-read display. The ability to make calls. That’s it. We’re often tempted to go with the latest and greatest gadgetry because it’s there. Not because it does something particularly useful for us.