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Mobile phone memory lane: What was your first device?

We asked our team of contributors to share memories of their first mobile devices. Here's what they remember most, and what they're using today.
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By ZDNet Editors on
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1 of 18 ZDNet Editors/ZDNet

What was your first mobile phone?

Remember your first cellphone? Remember that heady feeling of freedom mixed with futuristic dreams come true? We asked our team of contributors -- from baby boomers to millennials -- to share memories of their first mobile devices. Long before the iPhone was a glimmer in Steve Jobs' eye, our senior editors were discovering the mobile life with an assortment of form factors, from bricks and flips to sliders and candybars. Here's what they remember most.

Also: The best 10 smartphones available

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Matt Miller, The Mobile Gadgeteer

First cellphone: Kyocera QCP-2035 running on the Quest Wireless network in 2000.

What he remembers: While I started using PDAs in 1997, this was my first mobile phone that I purchased primarily as a safety device for my wife and three daughters. I quickly discovered a cable that connected to the bottom of the phone that could then connect to my Palm PDA. I connected the phone, dialed my ISP phone number, heard the familiar modem connection confirmed, and then downloaded AvantGo content to read on my Palm PDA.

Also: Best iPhone: Which model is right for you?

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Charlie Osborne, Security reporter

First cellphone: Nokia 8210 around 2001.

What she remembers: My dad gave it to me when I attended secondary school. I was addicted to Snake and the phone, as one of the lightest and thinnest on the market at that time, was small enough to pass the notice of teachers, as cell phones were banned at the time. I had the red one!

Also: Best Android phone: Our top picks

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Jason Cipriani, Mobile tech and gagdet reporter

First cellphone: Ericsson T19 in 1997.

What he remembers: I was 15, and a freshman in high school. I had this phone for about a year, and quickly learned that Europe already had this thing called SMS and no matter how many times I would try to send a message -- even to myself -- on VoiceStream, it never worked. I dreamed of the day of being able to send a message instead of having to talk to someone.

Also: Best cheap phones: Flagship features on a budget

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Adrian Kingsley-Hughes, Tech reporter

First cellphone: Motorola MR30 in 1994.

What he remembers: I loved the backlit, chunky keypad, and I thought that the pull-out antenna was awesome. I used to pull it out with my mouth until one day it broke and I got a slight burn from it! But there's one thing that I remember clearly about this handset. My daughter was in the car with me, and she'd picked up a balloon somewhere. Then, simultaneously as the phone rang her balloon popped, an event that made her scared of balloons to this day! I have no idea if the radiation from the handset set off the balloon, or whether it was a coincidence, but the balloon went off exactly at the same time the call came in.

Also: Best 5G phones

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Corinne Reichert, Deputy Editor, Australia

First cellphone: Ericsson T28 in 2001.

What she remembers: My first phone was a blue Ericsson T28, which was a hand-me-down from my dad when I was 13. I was one of the first people in school to have a phone, but all it did was text -- the screen was too small for even Snake. I got really fast at old-school texting where you had to press the buttons three times to get some letters. It also had a gigantic antenna so it didn't even fit in my pocket.

Also: Best cheap 5G phone

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David Grober, Managing Editor

First cellphone: Nokia 5165 in 2000.

What he remembers: I arrived late to the mobile phone party. Signed up for AT&T Wireless in 2000, and started with the Nokia 5165: 30 ringtones, three games, and a phone book that held up to 100 entries. I remember having to charge the handset no more than once a week. Flash forward to 2003: The Nokia finally died and my son, who claimed he was the only poor, deprived kid at his middle school without a cell phone, asked us if he could take the lifeless 5165 to school so at least his friends would *think* he had a phone. It's pictured here with assorted successors to the 5165.

Also: Best foldable phone

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Ed Bott, Microsoft guru

His first cellphone: That is literally too long ago for me to remember.

What he remembers: I do recall having a phone mounted in my car when I was editor of PC Computing. I had a one-hour commute each way and used that phone for my regular conference calls with my editors on the east coast. I have no idea what the make/model was. But it was a big, ugly handset on a stick, with a microphone mounted above the windshield. My cell bill was about $750 a month. Thanks, Bill Ziff.

Also: Best place to sell or trade your phone: Ditch old tech

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Asha Barbaschow, Tech reporter Australia

First cellphone: Motorola V2288 around 2002.

What she remembers: It was either my first or second year of high school and I was given it for safety travelling via train and bus to and from school by myself. I remember being obsessed with the three colourful rubber sleeve covers that I would change daily. It was all fun and games until my friends started getting mobile phones and I racked up a $150 bill -- it was a $5 p/month staff plan thanks to mum working for a very large telco at the time. ...my parents took away my phone privileges for 3 months as a result.

Also: Supply chain delays? Where to buy used laptops and other tech gear

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Jason Perlow, Senior Technology Editor

His first cellphone: MicroTAC with a text pager around 1992.

What he remembers: Although I had already been carrying a text pager for a few years, finally buying my first cell phone made me feel like I had joined the major leagues. It was a highly elitist product purchase at the time and not something your average person could afford. I felt like Captain Kirk carrying that MicroTAC around

Also: Best cheap tablets

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Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols, resident Linux expert

First cellphone: Motorola International 3200 in 1992.

What he remembers: I didn't own it -- it was a review unit -- but I used a Motorola International 3200 in 1992 for a couple of months in 1992. On a good day, its reception in the Washington DC area was dreadful and I got less than an hour of talk time out of it. That was followed by about an eight-hour recharge. This was one of the last of the brick phones -- good riddance!

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Larry Dignan, Editor-in-Chief

First cellphone: Nokia 232 around 1994.

What he remembers: The thing I remember most about the Nokia 232 was its durability and rubber antenna. That thing could take a beating. I didn't appreciate it at first until I destroyed an Ericsson with my second phone. Nokia just felt better in the hand.

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Angelica Mari, Tech reporter Brazil

First cellphone: Gradiente Strike in the late 90s.

What she remembers: This was my first device, manufactured in Brazil under a joint venture between local firm Gradiente, and Nokia in the late 1990s. It used the TDMA standard, so a precursor to GSM. I loved that friendly interface and the fact that the front could be easily changed by a personalized one. My two years with my first mobile phone had a sad ending though: someone stole it off my waist as I was walking down the road in Rio -- yes, it was common at the time to walk around with a cell phone hanging from our waist!

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Steve Ranger, UK editor-in-chief

First cellphone: Nokia 3210 on the Orange network around 2001.

What he remembers: Classic handset, great piece of industrial design -- smooth and polished like a pebble. And 11 days battery life -- I've had handsets that didn't last that long!

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Jonathan Chadwick, Editor Australia

First cellphone: Nokia 3310 in 2002.

What he remembers: In terms of battery life and durability, those early 2000s Nokia models were really part of a golden age.

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Danny Palmer, Security reporter

First cellphone: Ericsson GA310 or Ericsson GA 318 in 2002.

What he remembers: It didn't have much in the way of custom ringtones and I had to go on the internet to find how to (poorly) compose new ringtones note by note. I put the Highwind theme from Final Fantasy VII as the ringtone. It always hit the wrong note in the middle. It was some sort of very, very, very basic Ericsson that still had the properties of a brick, I know that much.

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Zack Whittaker, Security reporter

First cellphone: Sagem mw3020 around 2002.

What he remembers: I got my first phone, a Sagem MW3020 as a young teenager. The phone was small and compact, and had a bright blue backlit display and had killer ringtones, rubberized buttons, and a curvy candybar design. In hindsight, it was one of the ugliest phones I've ever had -- but it was my first, and I'll always treasure it.

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David Gewirtz, CBSi Distinguished Lecturer

First cellphone: I had a giant phone (it was about the size of an ammo case) in 1988.

What he remembers: I had it because I was out of reach of work (the company I founded) for one meeting at Apple and the whole place melted down, so I ponied up for this monstrosity to make sure we didn't lose another client because I was in traffic on the 101 in the Bay Area. Flew that bad boy out to Boston for a Macworld. That was before real terrorism, so the pre-TSA folks just looked at me with pity for carrying the thing, not fear. I have no idea who made it.

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