Time machine

The Mobile Phone Museum is a monument to the earliest and weirdest phones ever

The online curation covers everything from the suitcase-sized phones that started it all to the smartphones we know and love today. And it’s all viewable online for free.

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Mobile Phone Museum

Few things give me more pleasure than looking at a weird phone, like the Balmuda. It might be because, for the most part, design has standardized into the comfortable black rectangular shape millions of people have in their pockets and bags right now. That wasn’t always the case, though, and the new, virtual Mobile Phone Museum is a testament to the way things were, however chunky, colorful, or bizarre.

Co-founded by tech industry analyst Ben Wood, collector Matt Chatterley, and a team of specialists, the Mobile Phone Museum (and its accompanying nonprofit foundation) is a virtual gallery and real-life collection of some of the most important and most “interesting” phones that have been released since walking around with a telephone became a possibility.

The museum says its collected 2,000 individual phone models from over 200 brands and is open to more donations now. A massive amount of content with plenty more to be collected and documented if the museum’s unfinished entries are any indication. It’s not quite at the scope and reach of the Video Game History Foundation but it has the same potential to be an essential part of preserving what’s become a critical part of tech history.

The full catalog is searchable and filterable by type, brand, and year, but the collections are the museum’s most interesting bit of curation. Interested in looking at a list of every smartphone that’s been featured in a James Bond movie? The Mobile Phone Museum has you covered, from the powder blue Sony Ericcson P800 with a flip-off keypad to the Sony Ericcson W707, a flip phone/Walkman hybrid that was apparently in Quantum of Solace.

How could you see this and think it’s ugly?Photo / Mobile Phone Musuem

I do, unfortunately, disagree with some of the museum’s editorializing. Is the colorful Nokia 3650 really the “Ugliest?” Absolutely not! (Though trying to evoke a rotary dial was definitely A Choice.) Should no one be caught dead holding a Nokia 7600? I’d love for you to be able to pluck that leaf-shaped train wreck off my corpse!

This phone was apparently hard to use and type on, but that shape! So fun!Photo / Mobile Phone Museum

The Mobile Phone Museum has also taken care to offer write-ups and short blurbs digging into the history of each handset for when you’re done gawking at photos. In general, there’s real attention to detail throughout the whole project. It feels like it’ll not only be useful to have a growing database of phones to search, but hopefully, someday, a bleary-eyed designer is going to see this website, leave the cave of black rectangles, and step into the colorful, empanada-shaped light. Either way, it's great someone’s preserving this slice of history.