Chapter 2 – My First Flip

My second-ever mobile phone — and the first that I actually enjoyed using — was the Motorola StarTAC. This small and svelte device, dwarfed in every dimension by the ginormous Nokia before it, marked a lot of firsts. It was, for example, my first subsidized handset. Remember that I was still in the midst of my first contract with Bell Mobility, and when I happened upon a store to get out of it I was offered a StarTAC as a hardware upgrade instead. A clever ploy, and it worked.

The StarTAC was also my first flip phone. According to Wikipedia it was technically the world’s first “full” flip — the MicroTAC that preceded it only qualified as a semi because of its exposed earpiece. The point is, back then this was a design revelation. You didn’t need a case for the StarTAC because the phone protected itself when closed — that is, the screen and keypad folded up against each other, safe from harm’s way. An additional benefit of this design was that you could answer a call by flipping the handset open, though prying it apart like a clamshell would make the hinge last much longer. Note that this was in the days before cell phones had call display, so you couldn’t screen calls even if you wanted to. And thanks to the whip antenna you could pull another slick move. Remember in the movie Pulp Fiction when John Travolta, with a comatose Uma Thurman in the back seat of his car, yanked out the antenna of his cell phone with his teeth before dialling a number? Yeah, that move. Badass.

My hardware upgrade could have gone a different way — Bell also carried the Nokia 282 at the time. But the StarTAC had yet another trick up its sleeve: it was my first handset with a vibrate function. No big deal today, but back then you were seen as a person of means if your phone politely buzzed rather than beeped.

Speaking of snob appeal, the StarTAC was the first cell phone with available accessories that were actually worth paying for. At the high end was the prohibitively expensive lithium-ion battery; for those on a budget there was a more modestly priced clamp-on battery extender, making the diminutive Moto look a lot more like the bulky MicroTAC that preceded it. I stuck with the standard battery but got myself a car charger. Too bad I didn’t have a car to plug it in to.

As time passed ever more models of StarTAC and StarTAC accessories came to market. I can remember two or three other people I knew who also had one; we’d chat about battery life, accessories and such. In other words, this marked the first time that I experienced a sense of community around a mobile device. Prescient stuff, this…