Dig out that Nokia 3310: What's old is new again as vintage mobile phones take off

The durability, basic functionality and unique design make 'obsolete' mobiles a modern hit

PUBLISHED : Monday, 26 May, 2014, 6:03am
UPDATED : Monday, 26 May, 2014, 4:58pm


They fit in a pocket, have batteries that last all week and are almost indestructible: old-school Nokias, Ericssons and Motorolas are making a comeback as consumers tired of fragile and overly wired smartphones go retro.

Forget apps, video calls and smiley faces, handsets such as the Nokia 3310 or the Motorola StarTac 130 allow just basic text messaging and phone calls.

But demand for them is growing and some second-hand models are fetching prices as high as €1,000 (HK$10,500) each.

"Some people don't blink at the prices; we have models at more than €1,000. The high prices are due to the difficulty in finding those models, which were limited editions in their time," said Djassem Haddad, who started the site in 2009.

Haddad had been eyeing a niche market, but sales have taken off since last year, he said.

Over the past two to three years, he has sold some 10,000 handsets, "with a real acceleration from the beginning of 2013", Haddad said.

"The ageing population is looking for simpler phones, while other consumers want a second cheap phone."

Among the top sellers on the website is the Nokia 8210, with a tiny monochrome screen and plastic buttons, at €59.99.

Ironically, the trend is just starting as the telecommunications industry consigns such handsets to the recycling bins, hailing smartphones as the way ahead.

Finnish giant Nokia, which was undisputedly the biggest mobile phone company before the advent of Apple's iPhone or Samsung's Galaxy, offloaded its handset division to Microsoft this year after failing to catch the smartphone wave.

But it was probably also the supposedly irreversible switch towards smartphones that has given the old-school phone an unexpected boost.

For Damien Douani, an expert on new technologies at FaDa agency, it is simply trendy now to be using the retro phone.

There is "a great sensation of finding an object that we knew during another era - a little like paying for vintage sneakers that we couldn't afford when we were teenagers", Douani said.

There is also "a logic of counter-culture in reaction to the over-connectedness of today's society, with disconnection being the current trend".

"That includes the need to return to what is essential and a basic telephone that is used only for making phone calls and sending SMS," he added.

It is also about "being different. Today, everyone has a smartphone that looks just like another, while ten years ago, brands were much more creative".

It is a mostly high-end clientele that is shopping at French online shop Lekki, which sells "a range of vintage, revamped mobile phones".

A Motorola StarTac 130, a model launched in 1998 and repainted bright orange, was recently offered for €180; an Ericsson A2628 with gold coloured keys went for €80.