They fit in a pocket, have batteries that last all week and are almost indestructible: old-school Nokias, Ericssons and Motorolas are making a comeback as consumers tired of fragile and over wired smartphones go retro.
Forget apps, video calls and emoji, handsets like the Nokia 3310 or the Motorola StarTec 130 allow just basic text messaging and phone calls.
However, demand for them is growing and some of these second-hand models are fetching prices as high as 1,000 euros (US$1,360) each.
“Some people don’t blink at the prices; we have models at more than 1,000 euros. The high prices are due to the difficulty in finding those models, which were limited editions in their time,” said Djassem Haddad, who started the site vintagemobile.fr in 2009.
Haddad had been eyeing a niche market, but since last year, sales have taken off, he said.
Over the past two to three years, he has sold about 10,000 handsets, “with a real acceleration from the beginning of last year.”
“The aging population is looking for simpler phones, while other consumers want a cheap second phone,” he said.
Ironically, the trend is just starting as the telecommunications industry consigns such handsets to recycling bins.
Finnish giant Nokia Oyj, which was undisputedly the biggest mobile phone company before the advent of Apple Inc’s iPhone or Samsung Electronics Co’s Galaxy, offloaded its handset division to Microsoft Corp’s this year.
For Damien Douani, a cofounder and expert on new technologies at FaDa social agency, it is simply trendy now to be using the 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,” he added.
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 e-mail and applications have made us slaves to technology in our everyday life. But Lekki provides a solution, allowing a return to basic features and entertainments,” it said on its Web site.
“We have two types of profiles: the 25 to 35-year-olds attracted by the retro and offbeat side of a telephone that is a little different, and those who are nostalgic for the phone that they used when they were younger,” said Maxime Chanson, who founded Lekki in 2010.
“Some use it to complement their smartphone, but others are going for the vintage, tired of the technology race between the phonemakers.”