Retro: Motorola StarTAC
20th October 2008
About 10 years ago, the Motorola
StarTAC was probably the coolest mobile phone on
the market. In terms of size and weight, the StarTAC
closely matches modern clamshell phones, and you could
consider the StarTAC as perhaps being the first
truly modern mobile phone.
At the time of its launch, the StarTAC
made a huge impact. At roughly half the weight of most
competing handsets, and in a much more compact size,
the StarTAC made headlines, especially in the business
press (for example BusinessWeek
Magazine). Nobody had ever seen a mobile phone
like this before, and it was the first phone that you
could easily put in your pocket or clip to a belt and
not really notice it.
There were several different models
of StarTAC handset, covering both analogue and digital
phone networks, including CDMA and GSM versions. Original
StarTAC models had a small LED display, although this
was later changed to a monochrome LCD panel.
The original StarTAC phone was fearsomely
expensive - shortly after launch the full retail price
of the StarTAC (without a contract) was somewhere in
the region of $1500 to $2000. For a device weighing
just 88 grams or 3.1 ounces, the StarTAC was more expensive
to buy (by weight) than pure gold.
StarTAC pictured here is a single-band GSM 900 model,
the StarTAC 130 (model MG2-4D11) dating from around
1999. The front of the phone has a quite prominent clip
which is the battery cover. Inside, one immediately
noticeable feature is that the screen and keypad are
all on the lower side of the phone, and the upper half
only has the speaker. Compare this with a typical recent
clamshell device, and you can immediately see that the
StarTAC had a very cramped layout. (Pictured left is
the Nokia 6131 alongside the StarTAC).
Despite the stylish black design and
diminutive size, the StarTAC was not really very advanced.
The StarTAC 130 could handle SMS messaging, it had a
small number of mono ringtones to choose from and a
basic address book. The user interface was truly
horrible to use, a problem that dogged Motorola for
many years afterwards. There's also an extendable antenna,
which is something you never see these days.. unfortunately,
this was quite prone to damage.
Over the five years or so that the various
StarTAC models were in production, very little changed
in the way of looks, and Motorola didn't produce anything
with this much "wow factor" until the RAZR
came out several years later. In 2006, PC World magazine
named it the number
6 "greatest gadget" in the past 50 years..
there are even companies such as Retrobrick
that sell the StarTAC to collectors today.
We have some more pictures of the StarTAC
in our gallery.