My week of vintage technology 1. The Nokia 6100

November 24, 2009

As some readers will know, particularly the minority who didn’t get here by googling “The Neverending Story” (and now, those that did) my bag was snatched last week and I’ve been without various things since. One of the more unexpected effects of the jacking was a newfound respect for retro technology. Because losing an iPhone means losing an MP3 player, games, maps, mobile internet, email, instant twitter capabilities, the option of playing the under-rated G-Force game for iPhone, information about the stockmarket I have no interest in and no ability to delete off my desktop, er… and a telephone of course. I should point out I’m not an iPhone devotee. I am both aware and completely supportive of the stigma associated with the smug devices. Almost everything about the interface irritates me, I find the keyboard almost unusable. But I was given one, and of course, for someone as umbilically attached to the internet as I am, it has its uses. The frantic quest to plug this new pre-industrial silence in my life has sent me on a voyage of vintage Nokia, battery-powered chargers and hand-held computing devices, and the greatest of these is the vintage Nokia.

It’s odd how quickly things go from modern to vintage these days. But that’s what’s happened with phones. They’re modern, but only when they’re CURRENT. They have a short sharp presentness that might even be unique among gadgets. Your upgrade is nearly always a wholesale replacement; you’re not updating an object, you’re updating the template for the object, the right to communicate in the most new way. You’re cashing in your right to modernness.

Anyway, in 2002, astonishingly, this meant treating yourself to the Nokia 6100 . It’s lighter than an iPhone, no bigger, and far easier to type on. And as long as it’s plugged into a charger, it works a treat. I didn’t have this model back then, but it’s very of-its-time, and all phones were similar then, so I feel like remember it. I remember the greyscaley RISC OS-style graphics that makes you feel like you’re navigating a funsize Acorn Archimedes, and I’ll never forget the tantalisingly uninformative menu titles (what can you be, Profiles, Settings, Extras and Services?)… I also remember the occasional clowncar style randomness these phones drop into, the unprompted shuffling of text messages and address book names so you quickly learn that chronology and alphabetised orders are but primitive human preconceptions to be laughed at by this machine’s mighty, unfathomable mind. The sense there are dark, mysterious forces at work. I miss the dark mysterious forces. The iPhone is all glossy round-edged confidence; it has none of the rough built-in madness of these early mobiles. They had a slight trauma about them, a sense the cracks were showing. But the iPhone is neatly sealed up and polished over. And that certainly counts against it.

It’s amazing how quickly I have adapted to this phone. Particularly amazing because so much of it makes so little sense. Or maybe that’s why – like when you’re trying to remember something and they say you should think of the weirdest most illogical story. This phone is a weird illogical story.

There are a number of menus, each with a different graphic on its splash screen, and very few of which I can ever imagine needing to pay a visit to in the course of my average day. Each screen leads you down a path often completely unconnected to the title of the menu. “Gallery” looks promising but takes you to a choice of grainy 8-bit pictures composed from about four colours, that you can use for backgrounds (and other things, I guess, though I can’t imagine what). Interestingly, none are light coloured enough to read the start-up menu options through.

But clearly audio and visual data is all the same to this advanced robot brain, because Gallery is also where this phone keeps its ringtones, many of which are a tinny take on classical symphonies, and all of which incorporate a violent rhythmic vibrate on certain notes, presumably to enhance the experience of listening to Mozart on a mobile phone.

I should stress the battery is so weak I’m doing this from memory now.

There’s a sort of WAP option with the usual inspiring clip art of satellites and planet Earth, but I was too scared to go near that. There’s a ‘Games’ page with two games, one branded Garfield, but in reality the provenance is uncertain. And in addition to the expected calendar, stopwatch, clock (NB. the clock isn’t on the screen all the time, and only appears as a bouncing screen saver if you accidentally leave the phone on long enough. Actually this might be what’s been draining the battery so fast) – there’s a sort of ‘apps’ menu. Obviously I delightedly tried the Red Dwarf app but didn’t get past the incredibly slow scroll delivering some tedious backstory about rogue simulants before the battery died. I assume it was fully endorsed by Grant Naylor.

Text messaging, in a funny way, is much simpler on this phone. It’s almost optimised for it in fact, in a way the iPhone isn’t. There’s no cocking about with finding the right picture to – ooh ooh press with your finger, isn’t that exciting – you can get it right up easy-peasy straightaway by pressing an ACTUAL BUTTON. How I miss buttons. The Nokia 6100 seems to have a decent memory for texts (unlike other old phones I’ve had which can only store ten at a time) and of course, you can delete individual texts without deleting the entire thread which the all-knowing vengeful old testament god of iPhone forbids.

I could go on, but I think we’ve all suffered enough. To sum up, the best and worst thing about this phone is that no one wants to nick it.

Next post: Pacman on The Gameboy Advance.

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One Response to “My week of vintage technology 1. The Nokia 6100”

  1. Joseph Says:

    I’ve started using a Nokia 6100 again. It’s superb for what a basic user would want, calling, SMSing and the odd MMS if you want to send to email addresses, or if you want to add loads of text, MMS for long texts is often cheaper than SMS!

    Regarding your battery problem: The original BL-4C was 760mAh. Obviously after a few years they do lose their capacity.

    I found out that the newer Nokia 6300 uses a BL-4C too, but they’ve managed to get 860mAh into the same small package.

    So, in conclusion, I’m still using this phone for business eight years later, and the battery life is longer than it ever was. I dare say having firmware version 5.16 or above is also one of the reasons it seems to go on forever.

    Don’t give up on your 6100, it’s just the correct balance between retro and ‘new’ to make it actually very usable 😀


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