OPINION: Sometimes I miss my dumbphone

For reasons which confuse even me, I still have my old Motorola RAZR v3. The RAZR was a miracle of engineering and artistry in the mid-2000s and I’ll be honest, it was a fabulous phone. Machined out of aluminum in the days when most phones were plastic, it sported a screen that seemed huge at the time plus contact management, speed dial, even custom ringtones. It even had Bluetooth, long before most people knew what that was. And it was tiny when folded up. If you haven’t handled one lately you’ll be amazed how small it is. Even opened up it’s not as big as a 5.5″ smartphone. It was slim, too – the first really “pocketable” phone.

It’s back there somewhere

I don’t use the RAZR anymore; it just sits in a drawer. I suppose I could find a replacement battery for it and buy a SIM card and it would probably still work. I mean, the battery has to be pretty useless at this point. Of course unlike today’s phones the battery is easy to replace, hidden behind a slideoff cover. There’s also a port where I can put an external antenna should I decide to do that, something today’s phones don’t have.

So I took it out of the drawer the other day and all of a sudden I felt all 2005-cool again. I mean, it’s a very slick piece of engineering and good looking too. Back before Steve Jobs taught us that all phones should be big chunks of glass with as little ornamentation as possible, the RAZR made a statement. For the generation who grew up on the original Star Trek it was the embodiment of a dream… the flip open pocket communicator. Sure there had been other flip phones before but none this small or sleek. This phone looked like science fiction made real.

Big, tactile buttons

And another thing, it had big tactile buttons that you could really push and you could almost dial without looking. I gotta admit I still miss that sometimes. Smartphones are great, and you can voice dial, speed dial, all that stuff, but most of the time you have to look at them to use them. In that way, we’ve taken a step backward.

Another way we’ve taken a step backward is charging. The RAZR charges over USB (yeah, it’s the obsolete MiniUSB but still) and works with any charging cable anywhere. Although the best part of charging it was actually not charging it. The thing would last four or five days on a charge. Seriously. That seems like science fiction now. If you were in the habit of plugging it into the car while you were driving for a quick topoff you hardly ever had to charge it overnight. I miss that.

The bigger they come

Of course, we all know that the RAZR represented the very last success story for Motorola, the company that invented the car radio and represented the best in US-made communications equipment for generations. After evolving the RAZR into a version cheap enough to qualify as a “free phone” from most carriers, they never again had a phone as universally successful. Their ROKR phone was the first phone to use iTunes, but it was a buggy mess. Their “Q” phone competed with Blackberry on Blackberry’s turf and lost. The company kept shrinking until it was bought and sold over again, now broken up and sold to overseas concerns. Motorola Mobility, now owned by Lenovo, still makes and sells phones, but honestly there aren’t a lot of people really geeked out about them.

How about you? What was your favorite phone? Which one do you miss most?

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 8,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.