25-year retrospective of Nokia's Communicator, the first pocket computer phone that worked

Originally published at: 25-year retrospective of Nokia's Communicator, the first pocket computer phone that worked | Boing Boing


Man, I miss phones like this. I know there’s that enormous, expensive thing on kickstarter, but I just wish more manufacturers did something like it.


The link seems broken I think it is supposed to be: The Gadget We Miss: The Nokia 9000 Communicator | by Richard Baguley | People & Gadgets | Medium though interestingly enough it seems to have been stolen by a few sources, and I can’t be assured that this is the original.




Or a more recent example, the Danger Hiptop (also known as the Sidekick in some versions). These were around up to about a decade ago before being killed off in the wake of touch screen smartphones (the IPhone and its competitors).


I miss my HTC Desire Z so very, very much.


It is not crazy expensive. Especially compared to the original pricing of Communicator phones.

I funded the planet computer’s Astro Slide for less than I bought a used Nokia E90 for back in the day.

Honestly the E90 is the gold standard for such a pocket phone for me. It was a beautiful thing, and modernized with a bigger internal screen, android and modern hardware I would buy nothing but that phone.


I had one of these! It wasn’t really as small as a normal phone (like the Nokia I had right before), it was in the ballpark width and height, but it was definitely thicker.

I also wouldn’t say it really worked. It kind of worked, sort of. It also crashed a lot (the computer, the phone part still worked!). Sometimes it would reboot itself, other times you had to power cycle the whole phone to get the computer part to reboot. When that was the case it also ate battery super fast. Sometimes it would crash while closed inside your pocket. If it did that and didn’t reboot it would still drain the battery, BUT (saving grace here!) normally before it drained it flat you would notice your leg was on fire (figuratively) and could salvage a bit of the battery.

On the plus side it gave me an excuse to write a SSHv1 GEOS client. Not that I ever did. I just had the excuse. (I ended up writing a Java SSHv1 client, but never deployed it to that phone)

I bought a Palm Pilot 5000 the day they debuted in 1996. Had it arrived with a cellular capable phone option it would’ve owned the mobile computing space for decades. Sadly, no.

I also briefly owned a Nokia 770 internet tablet, a very promising bit of tech well ahead of the iPad - but Christ was it a half-baked hot mess of big promises, under-delivered.


Makes me miss my Compaq Concerto! Compaq Concerto - Wikipedia

I owned so many permutations of pda-phone hybrids before the iPhone changed everything - treos, ipaqs, palm tungstens, htc thingies, Nokia e70, blackberries - but I never owned one of these and I always wanted to. But they were so BIG and the screen seemed like it was a weird ratio; and the software was that weird Nokia ‘jump through hoops to convert docs’ proprietary stuff that I never quite managed to commit. The format was cool though.

I also always kind of wanted a psion 7.


Wasn’t that right around the same time HP released the OmniGo 700LX Communicator Plus? It was introduced in early 1996 in Europe first. Of course it was also a collaboration with Nokia. Yes, this is bigger than just the phone on its own, but HP’s built-in Lotus 123 and other mature applications together with a much nicer keyboard layout seems better-rounded.


If you miss Nokia, blame microsoft, they killed it.

@beschizza By the way, your link to the actual article is broken. Maybe you meant this? Nokia′s smartphone: 25 years since it changed the world | Business | Economy and finance news from a German perspective | DW | 13.08.2021

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While that didn’t help, the reason MSFT bought it was because it was already half-dead.

They bought it because they killed it. They loaded the board with ms supporters who then hired elop to run the show into the ground. ms does this kind of thing a lot. check here for more info

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I stumbled across the existence of the 700LX searching the web for some info on the 200LX I carried daily from around 1998 to around 2005.

I had thought it was simply a 200LX with a cellphone built it, until seeing this picture, now I can’t stop thinking about Bret’s cameraphone from Flight of the Conchords.


How cute. It looks like an off-brand 2120 with a broken antenna when shut.

I had a Sidekick and I loved it. One of the best smartphones I ever owned before the iPhone came out. It’s biggest failing was that it was saddled with T-Mobile which was pretty awful at the time.

Interestingly many of the principals that worked at Danger went on to start Android before being acquired by Google. Microsoft acquired Danger which led to the ill fated Kin phones.

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I started my career out of college in 2005 by working for a small company that made apps for Microsoft Pocket PC and PalmOS (along with Windows desktops). The company actually started with PalmOS and Microsoft Handheld PC, the predecessor to Pocket PC, which was basically comparable to the form factor of the Communicator except that it wasn’t a phone - it was just Windows CE running on MIPS or ARM.

I stayed at the job until 2012, when the company was inexorably sliding downhill due to missing the boat on the iPhone (or really, missing the boat on being one of the first old-school apps in the iPhone app store, which was nothing controllable by us.)

I used several different proto-smartphones at the time. An Audiovox SMT5600 running Windows Mobile Smartphone, which was literally a regular T9 keypad phone running Windows CE. A PPC6700 running Windows Mobile. A Palm Treo 650 running PalmOS. All of these devices performed the same general functionality as an iPhone, for example, as well as blackberry/nokia/symbian devices. Apps, messaging, music playing, web browsing, camera.

There is a reason you are using an iPhone or an equivalent Android device and not one of these style of devices, and it isn’t because Apple is an evil company from outer space sent to trap humans in a walled garden and scan photos of their children.

An iPhone or Android device with its simple slate form factor and multi-touch capacitive touch screen and walled-garden OS serves most people extremely well. They serve specific niche purposes to varying poor degrees - if you want to be able to muck around in the filesystem, run a compiler on your phone or interface with entirely arbitrary hardware, you either have a tough time, need to hack it, or simply can’t. Don’t mistake your specific needs with something that’s super convenient and useful in a general sense to a lot of people.

Disclaimer: I am a geeky person who builds his own computers, tinkers with RC cars, and technically knows how to program in several languages. I just use my phone to interact with all of the communication needs anywhere I go and the simplest form factor for that is what wins out.

When the iPhone came out, I bought one. Even when it was just a web browser with a phone and mp3 player attached, it blew me out of the water. You could go to webpages. You could just go to webpages! And they worked! The desktop versions worked! You could click on a tiny link on the screen WITH YOUR HUGE HUMAN SAUSAGE FINGER! The worst thing that usually happened was you went to a webpage and it tried to give you a mobile page, not understanding that you were using a full-capability web browser. Correct, it did not have ‘apps’ initially, and Steve Jobs lied to everyone by telling them that it didn’t need them just because they weren’t ready - he was a ‘visionary tech sales person’, sales people lie by definition, they’re paid to lie.


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