These five retro phones should join the Nokia 3310 in making a comeback

Retro is the new new, or something...

If we’d asked 100 people at Mobile World Congress 2016 to predict what they thought the biggest story of this year’s convention would be, you know what no one would have said? The launch of the Nokia 3310

Yet here we are a year on, with the resurrection of Nokia’s all-time most 'memeable' phone dominating the headlines on tech and mainstream publications alike. It’s the most talked-about phone in years. 

Inevitably, every phone brand from Acer to ZTE will be asking their PR agency to 'do a Nokia' as a result. But which ones actually should? 

Here are the five phones we want to see re-emerge onto the phone scene like specced-up tech zombies, simultaneously reminding us how far we’ve come, and how much simpler life was when you had to press 7 four times for an S.

1. Motorola Razr V3 (2004)

No surprises here: after the 3310, it’s surely the most beloved phone of all time. In fact, our own Ben Stinson argued in 2015 that it was the best phone of all time, but the jury’s very much out on that one. Especially as Stinson himself did an about-turn two weeks ago and awarded the same accolade to the 3310.

The Razr represents the real glory days of Motorola, a brand that’s been on the front lines of the mobile phone scene far longer than Apple, with varying degrees of success. 

The Razr sold more than 50 million units, and represented the must-have super-thin flip phone that was the trendiest tech imaginable in 2005. 

Motorola wasn't slow to capitalise on that success: it released the V3 in a rainbow of colours, added new features like 3G and a 2MP camera, and basically milked that money cow for all it was worth.

Now, in 2017, we’re expecting foldable touchscreen phones any day now – could Moto combine the two and bring back the Razr brand for an ultra-thin, fold-up phone for the modern age? If you could snap it angrily at the end of a call, we’d buy ten.

2. Nokia 8110 (1996)

Huh? 8110? How is that iconic on the same level as the indestructible 3110 or Paris Hilton’s pink Razr? Well, the 8110 may not be a household name by its official designation, but you almost certainly know it as… *drumroll*... the Matrix phone.

That’s right, this slidey Nokia was the one that featured prominently in The Matrix, representing a particularly unimaginative view of future smartphones, especially given that the phone had already been out for three years at the time of the film’s release. 

However, the film's creators sexed the phone up by making the slidey bit spring-loaded for an impressively badass flick-opening action. 

Nokia’s got its hands full right now, so maybe the IP could be passed to BlackBerry for a reboot – imagine that hand-flick revealing a Priv-like keyboard. 

Although it's hard to imagine Neo running down the street, flicking open his phone and typing an email to 'getmeoutofhere@mrwizardman.com' to find an exit.

3. LG Chocolate BL40 (2009)

LG’s Chocolate product line is fondly remembered, and not just because you kind of wanted to eat it. The phones had a candy bar form factor (see what they did there?) and often included sliders, as was the style at the time. The BL40, though, known as the ‘New Chocolate,’ was a reinvention of the popular phone in a truly strange and quite compelling format.

The New Chocolate was a long, thin phone with a cinematic (21:9) screen – is this ringing any bells? That’s right, the BL40 paved the way for the just-released LG G6 with its ‘PureVision’ display, this time with an aspect ratio of 18:9, or 2:1 for people who can count.

Realistically, though, the G6 isn’t in any sense a reboot of the New Chocolate: the original phone was a symphony of metal and glass, topped and tailed with flashes of red to pay off the ‘Black Label’ designation (LG thought fashionistas might like it). It had a dedicated hardware music key, and genuinely did look very stylish for 2009. Then again, so did harem pants.

It’s good to see the cinematic display back in the G6, although this time a little wider so it doesn’t look quite so much like a vending machine with the app menu up. That music key could do with a comeback though: we’d kill for a Spotify button.

4. T-Mobile Sidekick (2002)

OK, so the Sidekick brand has had a few reboots already, but we can’t help thinking that if people are still making keyboard phones then the Sidekick should be among them. 

The original Sidekick, branded by T-Mobile, was actually made by the awesomely-named Danger Inc. They called the phone the Hiptop, explaining instantly why T-Mob renamed it, but they did have some good ideas, including one of the earliest app marketplaces.

Unlike LG, T-Mobile succeeded in making the Sidekick a hit with celebrities, and the phone was seen in the hands of such illustrious talents as Lindsay Lohan, Kim Kardashian and both Nicky and Paris Hilton (how is she such a phone guru?). 

Its clever design also made it popular with consumers: the hardware Back, Menu and Jump buttons could be accessed even when the phone was closed.

Of course, Danger Inc won’t be bringing the phone back themselves, since they were bought by Microsoft for a reported $500m in 2008. 

However, Danger co-founder Andy Rubin went on to start a little thing called Android, and is now working on a mysterious startup with a bunch of famous phone folks. You heard it here first: he’s totally bringing back the Sidekick.

5. Sony Ericsson W800i (2005)

Another phone that won’t instantly spring to mind until we add the vital word Walkman. Yep, the W800 was the first Walkman-branded phone, a valiant attempt by Sony Ericsson to keep the obsolete brand in the limelight.

Our review at the time – which rather embarrassingly began with the line “Have camera phones already had their day?” – praised the “large 1.8-inch LCD” and “generous 512MB card included,” but noted that the “tiny joystick is a bit fiddly.” 

Nonetheless, its radiant orange and white colour scheme is not easily forgotten, and at the time its 2MP camera was one of the best around.

In the intervening years, Sony (who broke up with Ericsson) has kept the focus on phone cameras, but less so on music phones. 

Could this be the year we see a new Sony Walkman phone, complete with prominent FU-Apple 3.5mm headphone jack, massive over-ear headphones and a general hipster vibe? 

If people can still make a living selling vinyl records in 2017, it could totally happen - although some out there (TechRadar's UK phones editor John McCann among them) think the Cybershot-powered K750i should have been included on this list instead, such was the love for that phone.

Seriously, though...

The resurgence of the Nokia 3310 and its gleeful reception this weekend tells us something important about the consumer mindset right now. Despite clearly, demonstrably having moved on to something better, there’s a large subset of people hankering for the ‘good old days,’ who apparently believe they miss tiny monochrome screens and taking two hours to write a 160-character sext by T9. Apple has already noticed this affection for old tech, and responded with the iPhone SE.

Although, with the tenth anniversary of the iPhone coming up, it seems like Apple should have focused on re-releasing the first iteration of its handset, such seems to be the love of retro in the phone world.

It’s easy for us hyper-connected geeks in our tech-savvy filter bubbles to believe that everyone understands smartphone specs and cares about them as much as we do. 

After the Nokia news from MWC, other Android manufacturers must be kicking themselves: all this time, they assumed people craved bigger screens, better cameras, more power – but it turns out all we wanted is a bombproof exterior and a vague feeling of nostalgic joy.

  • MWC (Mobile World Congress) is the world's largest exhibition for the mobile industry, stuffed full of the newest phones, tablets, wearables and more. TechRadar is reporting live from Barcelona all week to bring you the very latest from the show floor. Head to our dedicated MWC 2017 hub to see all the new releases, along with TechRadar's world-class analysis and buying advice about your next phone.