Easier-to-use retro cellphones making a comeback


They fit into the smallest pocket, their batteries last all week, and their screens don’t shatter when you drop them: old-school Nokias, Ericssons and Motorolas are making a comeback as consumers tired of overly complicated smartphones go retro.

Handsets like the Nokia 3310 or the Motorola StarTec 130 offer only basic text messaging and phone calls. Yet as demand grows, some secondhand models are fetching prices as high as €1,000 ($1,360).

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

Haddad says old-phone sales used to be a niche market, but in the past two or three years he has sold around 10,000 handsets, “with a real acceleration from the beginning of 2013.”

“The older population wants simpler phones, while other consumers want a second cheap phone,” he said.

Among the website’s top sellers is the Nokia 8210, with a tiny monochrome screen and old-school plastic buttons, at €59.99.

The trend comes as the phone industry is increasingly consigning simple handsets to the recycling bins, hailing smartphones as the way ahead.

Finnish giant Nokia, the world’s largest manufacturer until Internet-enabled devices such as Apple’s iPhone and Samsung’s Galaxy began to seize market share, offloaded its handset division to Microsoft this year after failing to ride the smartphone wave.

But it was this supposedly irreversible switch toward smartphones that has made old phones cool.

For Damien Douani, an expert on new technologies at FaDa agency, it is de rigueur now to be seen using a 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 counterculture in reaction to the overconnectedness 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 SMSes.”

It is also about “being different. Today, everyone has a smartphone that looks just like any other, while 10 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.”

“Too many online social networks and an excess of email and applications have made us slaves to technology in our everyday life,” its website said. “Lekki provides a solution, allowing a return to basic features and entertainments.”