Back in 2004, Android and iOS didn’t exist, Nokia was at the pinnacle of its stranglehold on the industry and the 3G network revolution had only just begun.
In the past ten years we’ve witnessed the birth of the truly modern smartphone, with features that seemed like flights of fancy at the time. But today, every phone worth its salt can play videos and photos, has an advanced array of communication technologies (such as Wi-Fi, 4G LTE, Bluetooth, GPS) and really is more like a powerful little computer in the palm of your hand.
The next generation of smartphones will bring similarly advanced technologies and capabilities – higher network speeds, even greater resolution displays and curved screens, besides new applications and software that we can only dream of.
Besides the new technologies, we’ve also seen new players in the industry come to the fore such as Apple, and a few slip into near-irrelevance (Motorola, Siemens, NEC…).
With 2015 nearly upon us, we take a quick look at some of the smartphones which defined the last decade. These aren’t necessarily the best mobiles, but ones that made an impact in one way or another.
In no particular order, here’s our rundown of some of the phones which made their mark during the last decade.
Smartphones that made the shortlist
BlackBerry: an amazing keyboard
It’s fashionable to criticise BlackBerry. But the Canadian company once known as Research in Motion (RIM), was once a trendy alternative with millions of loyal fans who loved the powerful email capabilities and the brilliant, physical QWERTY keyboard. It seems rather outdated today in a world dominated by iOS and Android, but BlackBerry is making bold attempts to make a comeback with unique devices such as the square Passport and the new BlackBerry Classic.
At the peak of its popularity in the mid-2000’s, BlackBerries were the device of choice among business users which also helped smartphones gain a foothold in the enterprise. It’s difficult to single out any particular model, but the 7730, 7750 and 7780 are widely regarded as some of the best models of that era.
Motorola Razr: thinner than thin
In the early 2000’s the trend was for phones to become ever slimmer, lighter and smaller. This principle was taken to its limit (at least in terms of thinness) with the Motorola Razr, which was the thinnest clamshell-style phone of its time. The Razr not only looked good but was also a great device for voice calling and text. The popularity of the Razr meant that Motorola released several updated versions with external touch-sensitive displays, a 3G version which debuted on Three in the UK, and even a shocking pink model.
The Razr really was an iconic design, but unfortunately the phone eventually fell from grace as consumers opted for rival models with more features. Motorola even resurrected the brand in 2011 for its new Android-based Droid phones, some of which have found success but ultimately haven’t led the company to its former glory.
Apple iPhone: redefining the smartphone
There’s not much that can be said about the original iPhone that hasn’t been said before. There were rumours that Apple was working on a phone for several years before its release, spurred on by the tremendous success of the iPod.
Despite what many might say, the iPhone really did revolutionise the smartphone market, and deservedly became an almost immediate hit. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the device was it’s large (for 2007) 3.5-inch multitouch screen, which highlighted just how bad other phones were for using the Internet, sending text messages (and almost everything else).
At launch, there was no App Store for the iPhone but it’s release in 2008 really opened the floodgates for all kinds of developers to create their own software, leading to the app culture that is still going strong today.
The iPhone managed to get so many things right that it spawned a thousand imitators, and even though it has long been surpassed by Android in terms of unit sales, the iPhone remains one of the most influential smartphones of the past decade.
Samsung Galaxy S3: the first great Android phone
When Apple released the iPhone, it is claimed that Android (which was already in development) was taken back to the drawing board by Andy Rubin, it’s main proponent and driving force.
But since then Android has found its way onto thousands of different devices. One of the best and most loved was Samsung’s Galaxy S3. There weren’t many Android phones that could match the iPhone in terms of usability and elegance until the S3 came along in 2012, but it even managed to beat the iPhone in many areas of design and hardware capabilities. For example, it’s 4.8-inch HD screen dwarfed that of the iPhone 4S (which had a 3.5″ display), and it also boasted 4G LTE cellular connectivity which the iPhone lacked. There were also a few genuine (though perhaps gimmicky) innovations such as S Beam for wirelessly sharing files.
The S3 has been one of Samsung’s most successful smartphones, and helped the South Korean company to become Apple’s main rival in the global smartphone war.
Motorola A1000: a powerful smartphone with 3G
In 2004 when 3G networks were just beginning to be rolled out, the A1000 was one of the first smartphones with 3G (along with several terrible phones like the NEC e606 on Three UK’s network).
It ran Symbian and had a 2.9-inch touch screen and a whopping (for the time) 1.2 MP camera. In essence, the A1000 was really more of a PDA that could connect to a 3G network, which seems insignificant now but at the time it was one of the most feature-rich and powerful devices available.
Nokia N95: everyone’s favourite Nokia
For many people the N95 is one of the best smartphones Nokia has ever made, with almost unheard of capabilities for a mobile device. Released in March 2007 more than 6 months before the iPhone, Nokia managed to sell more than a million in the UK. After the first year, they’d sold more than 7 million worldwide and the handset’s enduring appeal ensured that it stuck around for another 3 years.
For a few months at least the N95 was hailed as the best smartphone on the market, and the device that really did have it all. Mobile hardware becomes redundant quickly but somehow the N95 managed to hang on for some time before the competition finally caught up. It had a 2.6-inch LCD screen (320 x 240 pixels) and a 5 MP camera with Carl Zeiss optics, plus the ability to record 30 frames per second video at 640 x 480 pixels. It was also one of the first phones that came with built-in GPS and decent mapping software, something that we take for granted today.
A traditional dial pad was revealed by sliding the screen up, but slide the other way and there were dedicated controls for listening to music and watching videos. The second version of the N95 increased the storage space to 8GB, making it become even more useful for video buffs.
The N95 has also been called “the new benchmark for anyone attempting an all-round mobile phone” and demonstrated that Nokia’s hardware was superior to anything its competition could come up with. Unfortunately, Nokia was already on a slippery slope and soon learnt that simply packing in more hardware features wasn’t enough to maintain sales in the face of newer multi-touch smartphones.
Sony P910: the mobile office powerhouse
It might seem unremarkable today, but the brick of a smartphone known as the P910 was considered a cool device when it launched in 2004. The successor to the P900, the P910 could do pretty much everything you’d need and had an incredibly battery life. A sort of cross between a PDA and a phone, the 910 wasn’t cheap (more than $700) but was packed so full of features that it really didn’t matter.
One of the best phones for road-warriors, aside from the great display the most notable feature was the flip-down QWERTY keyboard – when the flip was up the back became a standard numerical keypad. The P910 also ran Symbian OS (which was exceptionally easy to use after you’d grown accustomed to it) with lots of memory and a Memory Stick Duo slot.
The 910 was basically the complete mobile office – a compact and stylish phone and camera, and an impressive business tool with a keyboard and huge touchscreen for optimal productivity. They don’t make them quite like this anymore…
Nokia Lumia 1020: an incredible camera
Stunning photos make the Lumia 1020 one of the best cameraphones ever made. When the Windows Phone-based device was released in 2013 it’s enormous 41 MP camera sensor was unanimously hailed as the best camera on any phone, which still holds true today.
As the first phone to properly replace a compact camera, people found they could genuinely use it for all their photography needs. But the 1020 didn’t just excel at taking photos, it ran the rather slick Windows Phone in a typical Nokia unibody case with the same 4.5-inch, 1,280 x 720 AMOLED screen as the Lumia 925 and the same dual-core 1.5 GHz processor.
HTC Dream: the first Android smartphone
Also known as the T-Mobile G1 in the U.S., the Dream was the first commercially available device running Android and therefore represents an important milestone in the last decade.
Released in 2008, the Dream received a largely positive reception especially in terms of the hardware and the keyboard. However, it was criticised for lacking software availability – at the time Android was still an immature platform that didn’t have the kind of apps you’d consider essential today.
The Dream however manage to make a splash in the crowded pool of smartphones available at the time, with a long list of features such as GPS, Wi-Fi, 3G, a 3.2 MP camera and a 3.2-inch touch screen. It’s amazing to think that in 2008 it was actually considered quite cutting edge.
Smartphones have come an incredibly long way in just ten years with technical advances in just about every aspect of hardware, software and general usability. As smartphones continue to become more powerful with faster processors and better networking capabilities, we are starting to witness more intelligent devices.
Improvements in battery technologies and the ability for devices to anticipate your needs, coupled with the advent of wearables which work seamlessly with smartphones, means there should be plenty more innovation to come in the next ten years.
Let us know in the comments which smartphones you consider are the best or most important from the last decade, and also what technical advances we might expect in the future…