(Pocket-lint) – We’ve had plenty of weird, wonderful and forward-thinking phone designs over the years. You might be forgiven for thinking that all smartphones are the same, but they certainly aren’t.
Sure, some were just plain old weird, while others were as ugly as the residue from an offal truck. Even the big boys like Samsung were responsible for many of those as well, to be honest, although Nokia has to hold its hand up too.
However, at least they tried something different, with varying degrees of success. So join us as we celebrate some of the weirdest, wackiest and, we admit, ugliest phones we’ve seen over the last couple of decades.
The Samsung P300 was a titchy phone that resembled a calculator. It was an odd design choice from a company that had crafted some pretty good looking phones before it, but certainly stood out from the crowd.
Bang & Olufsen Serenata
In 2007, Bang & Olufsen and Samsung joined forces to create the Serenata. A phone with a heavy focus on being a music player with a slider out speaker. It was fairly bonkers looking and came with a hefty $2,000 price tag too.
Bang & Olufsen Serene
Before the Serenata, Bang & Olufsen and Samsung had the Serene. It was specifically designed to compete with high-end phones on the market. It had a snazzy design that included a power-assisted hinge to assist opening, an iPod-style scroll wheel and an LCD display but lacked decent specs. It also had a few flaws that made things like taking photos difficult and thus didn’t prove terribly popular.
C91 Golden-Buddha Phone
In 2009, the C91 Golden-Buddha phone appeared. This clamshell-style phone had a luxury gold design with Buddhist stylings centred around a swastika as a symbol of divinity and spirituality.
Despite its weird looks, the phone actually wasn’t too bad on paper. It had a 2-inch screen, 1.3-megapixel camera, dual sim support and more.
The Haier P7 was an extravagant looking candy bar styled phone that released in 2004. It had a tiny and slim screen that was only capable of displaying 64 x 128 pixels, a 0.3-megapixel camera and a quirky design. It was able to last as much as six days on a single charge though, so there’s that.
LG G Flex
We actually had a lot of good things to say about the LG G Flex back in the day. It was an interesting phone with a shape that was designed to make it stand out from the crowd. At the time we thought people might have found it too large, too expensive and too weirdly shaped to be popular, but it was still something special.
Virgin Mobile Lobster
Back in 2006, the Virgin Mobile Lobster was a television phone i.e. a phone you could watch TV on. At the time, it might have been a bit of a marvel, but that’s so common now it’s almost archaic. The Lobster had a DAB digital tuner and the ability to watch terrestrial television on the go. Alas, getting signal was a faff and this lobster was undercooked.
The Microsoft Kin was a bit of a flop. Its launch was delayed due to issues with the operating system, had problems with pricing and also seemingly was put on the backburner due to the upcoming release of the Windows Phone 7.
The Motorola Flipout was a dinky little phone with a square design and a flip-out screen, hence the name. A proper QWERTY keyboard and a satisfying swivel action were almost certainly highlights of this phone. It was a cheap phone and it showed, but we still liked it.
Motorola StarTac Rainbow
One of the oldest phones on our list is a product of the 1990s. A colourful little flip phone device from Motorola that was released as part of the company’s StarTAC range. It was certainly loud, proud and anything but subtle compared to today’s smartphones.
There was something undeniably charming about the Nokia 7280. At a glance, it looked like a futuristic bit of kit that belonged in Star Trek or Dr Who rather than in your pocket. The Nokia 7280 was designed to be a style-focused device and a bit of a fashion icon. It had a screen that also worked as a mirror, some fabric accents and even a numberless dial pad. It was much more of a fashion statement than a useful and convenient device, but certainly a looker.
The Nokia 7600 was the company’s first venture into 3G phones. It sported an unusual jewel-shaped design, a large screen (for the time) and a keypad that was spread out around the edges of the screen. We thought the Nokia 7600 to be a little unusual when we first clapped eyes on it, but it certainly grew on us.
The Nokia 7700 was an interesting device that never was. It was intended to be a media-centric device with a large 3.5-inch colour touch-screen with a resolution of 640 × 320 pixels. It certainly would have been a weird-looking device that would have stood out from the crowd.
This phone was also set to include a full suite of applications including a word processor, spreadsheets and more. It was unfortunately cancelled in 2004, likely due to the company refocusing on standard mobile phones due to decreasing market share.
For 2005, the Nokia 7710 was a monster of a phone – a hefty device with a wide touchscreen and PDA styling. It was brilliant for gaming and a great bit of kit for productivity too. It was unfortunately held back by a lack of speed and no 3G but otherwise a great phone to use.
In 2006, Nokia launched the Nokia N93. This device was focussed on video capture first and foremost. It had a 2.4-inch 262k colour QVGA display, a 3.2-megapixel camera with Carl Zeiss optics and the ability to capture footage at 30 frames per second as well. The N93 might have a taste of things to come as future devices would have better and better video and photo capture capabilities.
The Nokia N-Gage was one of the first gaming phones on the market and was an attempt to draw in GameBoy fans. Gaming snobs weren’t terribly impressed at the design and preferred dedicated devices, but there was something special about having one device that could do both.
2011’s Pantech Pocket was an oddly shaped device with a 4-inch 4:3 display capable of displaying 600 x 800 pixels. It was interesting but not particularly memorable.
Samsung Galaxy Round
The Samsung Galaxy Round appeared to be Samsung’s answer to the LG G Flex. It sported a curved display designed to result in a good feel in the hand as well as some impressive specs. It did feel like an unnecessary design extra though and the Galaxy S4 proved more popular and the curved screen fad soon died out.
The Samsung Juke was another phone that doubled as a dedicated music player. When closed it was used for music playback, when swivelled open it became a mobile phone. It was a compact, well-made and easy-to-use phone that we thought highly of. However, it wasn’t nearly as functional as other phones of the day and some felt it was lacking.
The Samsung Matrix (the SPH-N270) was made in 2003 as a limited run to coincide with the film trilogy. It was designed to look like a phone used in The Matrix Reloaded and was intended to be a collector’s item rather than an everyday smartphone. As such it wasn’t terribly feature-rich. It had no MP3 capabilities, couldn’t play video and it didn’t even have a web browser. Not terribly futuristic, but nonetheless, it would probably fetch a bomb on eBay these days.
In 2004, Seimens’ released the Xelibri range of phones. Devices that were intended to be fashion-focussed. So much so they were released in “collections”. They were marketed as fashion accessories and were sold with a high price tag. They were, unfortunately, very much style over substance. They might have been eye-catching devices for the time, but the hardware underneath was essentially low-end tech with very basic features.
Telson TWC 1150
Oh boy, the Telson TWC 1150 was something special. A phone that you could wear on your wrist. Probably way ahead of its time and certainly not as snazzy as modern smartwatches, but something unique for sure.
Toshiba is not normally a name you’d associate with a mobile phone manufacturer. The G450 was one of the company’s forays into the space though. It was a weird one too, a device that we thought looked like a bloated USB stick with an odd design that included three round sections for the dialpad and screen. It was an interesting concept, but lacked many of the things you’d expect from a mobile phone including a camera, decent screen and more.
YotaPhone was an unusual device that launched back in 2013 and promised the best of both worlds with the combination of a standard smartphone screen on one side and an eBook style one on the other. Quirky, quaint and ever-so-slightly bonkers. We actually thought it was pretty nifty. A year later the YotaPhone 2 followed, so it must have been semi-popular.
Nokia 9 PureView
In the last couple of years, smartphone makers have been cramming more and more cameras into devices to give us better snappers in our pockets. But the Nokia 9 PureView might be the most memorable. It’s a weird and wonderful phone with five cameras designed to give you a very unique camera solution. It’s actually a really interesting device, but certainly weird looking.
The Motorola V70 sported an instantly recognisable design and was another phone that was thought of as more of a fashion phone than a standard phone back in its day. It sported a swivelling circular monochrome panel with a neon backlight keypad and interchangeable frames aside from looks it also had a WAP browser, GPRS capabilities, a vibrating mode and voice dialling too.
The Motorola V100 was all buttons and one heck of a message-centric device. It was seen as the phone that started (or at least supported) the two-way messaging craze back in the day.
In early 2019, TCL tried to capitalise on the Palm brand with a new device in the form of the Palm phone. We thought this tiny phone to be cute and eye-catching, but found it a little bit odd. What’s the point in a small companion phone for another phone that’s already in your pocket?
Meizu Pro 7
The Meizu Pro 7 was the first smartphone with a small screen on the rear. This phone had a 1.9-inch screen that could be used for setting up selfies and it was certainly unusual. We found it had a few niggles that let the design down, but generally, it was a great little device.
Motorola’s new Moto G9 Plus is a stunner of a phone – find out why, right here
Sprint Kyocera Echo
In 2011, the Kyocera Echo tried to combine two screens to combine the usefulness of a tablet with the convenience of a smartphone. It was a decent phone, but certainly looks ancient and outdated compared to the modern foldable devices that are popping up.
Writing by Rik Henderson and Adrian Willings.