These were the best phones... before the iPhone

At the 10-year anniversary of the launch of Apple's original iPhone, we take a walk down memory lane to see the best phones that people could buy right before the iPhone came... and changed the landscape completely. 

From the devices with a full QWERTY keyboard to the best Nokias and the devices coming from the fruitful partnership between Sony and Ericsson, these phones seemed in one or other way superior to the iPhone, at least on paper. Some had a 3G connection, others claimed to be better for work, yet others shipped with superior cameras. And while the first iPhone lacked many of those features: it did not have things like GPS, video recording, and it could not even connect to a 3G network, it was nonetheless a revolution. It changed the smartphone paradigm as a whole, with a brand new touch-based interface that was nothing like what existed before, a keyboard that made it possible to type without clicking and a large-screen look and a new design. 

To better understand how much of a change it brought, here are the best phones available right before the original iPhone:

BlackBerry Curve 8300

BlackBerry really got in the spotlight after the launch of the Quark in 2003, a phone that combined email, web, and BBM in one device with a full QWERTY keyboard. 

Then, it improved on this winning formula with the BlackBerry Pearl, a more compact phone and also its first with a camera, as well as a new trackpad for navigation, but its last major device before the iPhone was actually the Curve. 

The BlackBerry Curve was more powerful and featured a higher resolution, but its flaws truly became obvious with the arrival of the iPhone, which had a vastly superior and more comfortable user interface.

Nokia N95

Nokia was not quite as addictive as 'CrackBerries' at the time, but it was the world's biggest phone maker with no competitor in sight and its N95 was a powerhouse. The Finnish phone maker made all sorts of phones in various shapes, sizes and prices, and the N95 featured a truly amazing camera and it supported a fast 3G connection. Unfortunately that was it: everything else on the N95 was ages behind the innovative iPhone. The experience was much inferior, with no proper way to render web pages and a keyboard that was much slower for those who wanted to actually do things on their phone.

Palm Treo 650

Palm made the second-best productivity phones after BlackBerries at the time and it shipped with a similar, 'communicator' experience and even an included stylus. The Treo 600 quickly cemented itself as a standard in smartphones, and the Palm Treo 650 was its even more refined successor. 

Sure, it was not a pretty thing (especially with that stick out antenna), and it was definitely on the chubby side, but it had the advantage of a physical keyboard on board and a cool D-pad for navigation. 

The phone ran on the custom Palm OS which was its bread and butter. The system featured a calendar, an email client, calculator, world clock and other features, and it was so advanced that some reviewers advised consumers to 'throw that cell phone away, better yet throw away your PDA and MP3 player, too'. 

Samsung BlackJack

The thin for the times and alluring Samsung BlackJack was one of many Samsungs, but it was notable mostly for its slim design and powerful hardware. 

The iPhone, however, was even thinner and that was particularly impressive to early reviewers. Among its key highlights were support for Bluetooth 2.0 and push e-mail, but like many other phones of that time it lacked Wi-Fi connectivity.

The BlackJack ran Windows Mobile 5.0, and even got updated to Windows Mobile 6, but this only sounded good pre-iPhone. Shortly after the iPhone launch, the BlackJack seemed terribly obsolete and clunky.

Sony Ericsson K800i

Sony Ericsson was known to make phones with great cameras. The Sony Ericsson K800i was both elegant for the times and it features a 3-megapixel camera with a powerful Xenon flash that delivered industry-leading results. The K800i was the first device branded as a 'Cyber-shot' camera phone, and also the first ones with a powerful new graphics engine that would make possible to have full 3D Java games.

Motorola RAZR

Launched a few years before the iPhone, the RAZR craze was already fading by the time the iPhone launched, but many people still carried a RAZR. The Moto RAZR V3 was the most popular model, selling over 130 million units over its lifetime. 

It could brag about its sleek flip-out design that seemed every bit as futuristic as tech gadgets went. Similarly to the iPhone, the original silver RAZR V3 launched on Cingular (later to become AT&T) only for a similarly pricey $500. 

At just half an inch thick and with a body weighing an airy 3.3 ounces, it was distinctly different than other phones of the time. Interestingly, the V3 was a rather average phone in terms of specs: it only had a VGA camera that could not record video in the beginning. Which reminds us of...

...Apple's iPhone

"iPhone combines three products — a revolutionary mobile phone, a widescreen iPod with touch controls, and a breakthrough Internet communications device with a desktop-class email, web browsing, maps, and searching — into one small and lightweight handheld device."

The original iPhone was the thing that started it all for modern smartphones: while there were smartphones before it, they were nothing like Apple's iPhone that trumped them with its radically bigger screen, mind-boggling multi-touch interface, and the first on-screen keyboard that actually worked well.

The list of break-through innovations in the original iPhone is long and involves so many stories that new books only now start to shed light on some of its details. Here is a short summary of what made the iPhone so special:

  • iOS, a revolutionary new multi-touch interface controlled entirely with your fingers
  • Gigantic for the times 3.5-inch display with a resolution of 320 x 480 pixels
  • Completely new on-screen keyboard
  • Internet Connectivity (Wi-Fi, but only 2G cellular) with native email client and web browser
  • 2-megapixel photo camera (but with no video recording capabilities)
  • Ambient light sensor, proximity sensor
  • 4GB / 8GB / 16GB storage models
  • YouTube and Google Maps applications, Google Search
  • iPod music / video player with support for iTunes

Related phones

  • Display 3.5" 320 x 480 pixels
  • Camera 2 MP
  • Storage 16 GB
  • Battery 1400 mAh(8.00h talk time)



1. TechGirl90 unregistered

The LG Prada was also a very great phone in it's time before the iPhone, where is that device at on this list?

3. Acdc1a

Posts: 473; Member since: Jan 21, 2016

There are a lot of good devices that aren't on the list. I don't think it was designed to be an all inclusive can't mention great phone without mentioning the Sidekick either...

4. TechGirl90 unregistered

Can't argue with that, the Sidekick was definitely a great phone, still in my drawer. Sucks that Samsung discontinued it though, I loved using that keyboard and how tactile it was!

7. Bankz

Posts: 2531; Member since: Apr 08, 2016

Nothing beats the Nokia N9, N900 and the N95 imo. True classics.

11. surethom

Posts: 1661; Member since: Mar 04, 2009

Loved the Nokia N82 also has a Xenon flash, the best camera phone until around 2012

26. Bankz

Posts: 2531; Member since: Apr 08, 2016

True. Its probably my best camera experience till today.

40. danny_a2005

Posts: 358; Member since: Oct 06, 2011

It was the best camera, but that laggy os didn't help at all, it was a pain in the ass to use it, I rather the k800, more friendly user experience.

41. Bfrenz

Posts: 285; Member since: Aug 26, 2012

Wow, you had the N82? man I miss that so much.

42. trojan_horse

Posts: 5868; Member since: May 06, 2016

Good old nostagic days. Them days when Motorola and Nokia handsets were so badass.

19. TypicalGeek

Posts: 211; Member since: Feb 19, 2015

I had N90, N91, N93, N95i. N97. Wasn't that good old day?

36. domfonusr

Posts: 1083; Member since: Jan 17, 2014

I certainly remember a couple of years of lusting after the Nokia N95… I had bought the Nokia 9300 previously, which was a prior favorite of mine, and so the N95 was my next clear target, but it was so expensive. I ended up getting the Nokia E62 and the N75 a little after that, but I still had to wipe up the drool every time I looked at the N95, at least for a couple of years. Later I bought the Nokia E75, and an N800 (question for PhoneArena: if Apple’s iPod Touch gets listed with the iPhones, why not list Nokia’s fine old internet tablets, the 770, N800, N810, N810 WiMAX edition, and so on?), but that was after the iPhone had already come out – I had to sell my E75 and N75 after my divorce, when I went bankrupt, and I got lousy little pitiful amounts of money for them compared to what I had spent to get them (though I had them each for three or four years apiece, but they were still in prime condition when I sold them; I took good care of my smartphones). I still have my 9300 and E62, as I gave them to my parents for a couple of years before they got modern smartphones, and they gave them back to me when they got new phones and left AT&T a few years ago, and so now I keep them in storage. I pull them out every once in a while and stick the batteries in them to reminisce for a couple of days every few months. I sure do miss the old days of smartphones something fierce sometimes.

29. phonearenarocks

Posts: 606; Member since: Mar 26, 2015

This is a s**tty list, there are many phones appears none of the PA authors even knew about phones of those times, the golden era.

45. deewinc

Posts: 455; Member since: Feb 21, 2013

The LG Viewty

58. SmartPhoneMobiles

Posts: 176; Member since: Oct 16, 2016

no it wasn't not many ppl bought it

2. Acdc1a

Posts: 473; Member since: Jan 21, 2016

I loved my Palm Treo. Unfortunately it didn't love me back. Had a bad habit of just freezing for no good reason no matter how many replacements I went through.

5. Kil4thril

Posts: 80; Member since: Oct 05, 2016

I loved my HTC Hero. Wish someone would bring back the trackball

6. SupermanayrB

Posts: 1188; Member since: Mar 20, 2012

Another day, another reason to kiss Apples' @$$. What's the point of this article? Especially when there're other ones like it. We get it, you love the iPhone. Here's a good one for you: how about you do a "These are the best phones... after the iPhone" post, because there are phones that are or have been the best phone since the iPhone. I'll start: 2009 - Motorola DROID

9. jellmoo

Posts: 2562; Member since: Oct 31, 2011

The reason why is literally the first sentence of the article.

20. SupermanayrB

Posts: 1188; Member since: Mar 20, 2012

But it's redundant because they've done it before & quite a few times.

30. jellmoo

Posts: 2562; Member since: Oct 31, 2011

It's the 10 year anniversary of a device that, whether you're a fan or not, changed the mobile landscape. It's a fluff article, that's all.

27. Leo_MC

Posts: 7190; Member since: Dec 02, 2011

Why are you so mad? If you don't like to read this article about iPhones on this site you have the power to... not reading them; just stop entering on this articles or on this site.

34. SupermanayrB

Posts: 1188; Member since: Mar 20, 2012

Not mad. Just stating the obvious.

47. Leo_MC

Posts: 7190; Member since: Dec 02, 2011

You realize that people who follow this site want to read this kind of stuff and they don't care what you're saying?

56. SupermanayrB

Posts: 1188; Member since: Mar 20, 2012

You realize that people who follow this site read my comments & +1'd them and they don't care what YOU'RE saying?

57. Leo_MC

Posts: 7190; Member since: Dec 02, 2011

Whatever, dude.

8. Plasticsh1t

Posts: 3097; Member since: Sep 01, 2014

These brought tears to my eyes. Oh the nostalgia.

10. surethom

Posts: 1661; Member since: Mar 04, 2009

Loved My K800i with Xenon flash but the camera phone that beat it & should be in the list is the Nokia N82 (2007) That was the best camera phone around & had a xenon flash, in fact that beat every other camera phone/smartphone until around 2012.

39. danny_a2005

Posts: 358; Member since: Oct 06, 2011

It was the best camera, but that laggy os didn't help at all, it was a pain in the ass to use it, I rather the k800, more friendly user experience.

48. domfonusr

Posts: 1083; Member since: Jan 17, 2014

But all the OS's back then (except some simple Java phones) were laggy... Windows Mobile was worse than Symbian S60 3rd edition as far as lag went, and BlackBerry was only marginally better depending on what you were doing with it. Even the OG iPhone would be considered laggy by today’s standards, although I must admit it was a distinct improvement at the time, and that was when the Apple iPhone and the HTC TyTN II both used 400MHz single-core processors and 128MB of RAM. So, back in the day, people were somewhat used to lag being a part of their smartphone experience. In modern times, the “lag” in most smartphones, even entry-level ones, is almost immeasurable in comparison to those old phones.

12. cnour

Posts: 2305; Member since: Sep 11, 2014

iPhone destroyed them all.

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