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The history of cell phones: From bricks, flips and Sidekicks to the touch screens of today

By Josh Levesque

Originally published February 29, 2024


Last Updated February 29, 2024

The History of Cell Phones: From bricks, flips and Sidekicks to the touch screens of today

Few things have had as significant of an impact on the lives of humans as the invention of the cell phone. Since their debut in the ‘70s, the evolution of the cell phone has been truly fascinating. It wasn’t long ago that the idea of video calls was something reserved for sci-fi movies, but now even that’s old news. Originally intended to just be a handheld communication device, the cell phone has evolved into a mini computer that people use to do pretty much everything except call each other (although they still have that function). How did we get from T-9 texting on a low-res flip phone to watching high-def movies (or reading super interesting blogs) on a pocket-sized touchscreen? Keep reading as we take a deep dive into the history of cell phones.

In this article

When did cell phones come out?

Cell phones debuted in the 1970s and went through rapid changes over the next few decades until they hit their “maturation state” in the last few years. Now the changes we see from one model to the next are pretty minimal, but getting to this point took big swings and some revolutionary technological advancements.

The first cell phone

The “brick phone” makes its first call

The first cell phone call ever made was by Martin Cooper of Motorola in 1973, but the DynaTAC 8000X wouldn’t become commercially available for another 10 years. Often referred to as the “brick phone” due to its large, block-like appearance, the DynaTAC 8000X took approximately 10 hours to get a full charge, offered just 30 minutes of talk time (sorry Mom) and cost about $4,000 — which would equal over $11,000 today when adjusted for inflation.

The first smartphone and updates through the 1990s

A lot of us may remember smartphones as a millennial thing, but IBM actually debuted the first iteration of a smartphone in 1992 with the SPC (Simon Personal Communicator). At around $1,100, the SPC cost less than the DynaTAC 8000X when it was commercially available. Along with the SPC came the very first smartphone apps: calculator, email, address book and notepad. However, the first celebrity screenshot notepad apology wouldn’t come for another several years.

Further 1990s cell phone developments

A major breakthrough that came in the late ‘90s was cell phones gaining internet access for the first time. This was also when Nokia introduced the 9000 Communicator, which sounds like something you’d see in your favorite TV show about space travel, and for users at the time, it kinda felt like it too. The Nokia 9000 Communicator was essentially the first cell phone as we would come to know it: durable, affordable and small enough to fit in a pocket or purse.

Japan gives us the first camera phone

In the year 2000, Japan introduced the first mass market cell phone with a built-in camera. It had an extremely low resolution compared to today’s phones at approximately 100,000 pixels, but was remarkable for its time. The US would later adopt the Sanyo SCP-5300, which was released to the public in November of 2002.

Other 2000s innovations

2002 gave us the T-Mobile Sidekick with its iconic swiveling screen and full QWERTY keyboard for a generation of users who text first. Shortly after came the era of sleek & stylish with 2004’s arrival of the Motorola RAZR, arguably one of the most recognizable flip phones of all time.

The modern smartphone era

The first smartphones as we know them today

The modern smartphone era was kicked off with the introduction of the iPhone and Android OS, giving us modernized features like touchscreens, mobile web browsers, apps, cameras and more. 

The first iPhone arrives

As cell phones were transitioning to the modern smartphones we know today, Apple changed everything when it introduced the first iPhone in 2007. With the first iPhone came groundbreaking new features like a high-resolution screen with full touchscreen interface, a virtual keyboard with multi-touch gestures and the app store — a digital marketplace for downloading applications that help users make the most of their iPhone. This disruptive new technology competed directly with Blackberry, the top selling device at the time. 

The first Android phone follows

Following closely behind the first iPhone, the HTC Dream AKA the T-Mobile G1 arrived on the market in 2008. The first ever Android phone featured a 3.2” touchscreen that would slide out to reveal a full keyboard. It also introduced the Android market, now known as the Google Play store. 

Entering the 5G era

Today’s smartphones have more memory, better resolution and higher processing power than home computers from the 1990s. We’re currently in the 5G era and our cell phones are faster and more powerful than ever before. Our pocket-sized personal computers are used for photography, email, web browsing, social media, video chatting and more. They’ve reached a level where technological changes are going to be minimal…for now. But we already have foldable touchscreens, so who knows what the future holds. 
Making the most of what today’s phones have to offer is especially easy when you have great coverage on the nation’s largest 5G network. Whether you want to bring your own phone or get a new one from us, Mint Mobile has awesome deals on the latest & greatest smartphones. Check out our page all about why Mint Mobile is the way to go for wireless. And when a liquid-glass smartphone that rolls up into a tube debuts in the near future, we’ll have a great deal on that too. 

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