Home Phone Reviews When Phones Were Fun: MrMobile’s First Cameraphone (2003)

When Phones Were Fun: MrMobile’s First Cameraphone (2003)

When Phones Were Fun: MrMobile’s First Cameraphone (2003)

it wasn’t the world’s first camera phone or sprints or even samsung’s but it was the first to make the act of taking a picture with the phone almost as natural as it was with a point-and-shoot by using cutting-edge design that still makes sense 17 years later the year is 2003 and to the samsung a600 i look like this because this is my first camera phone from the days when phones were fun as i unbox this device i want to give a big thanks to mike in canada who found it for me in reasonably good condition when ebay failed me now this particular a600 was sold by bell so while the box branding and probably software aren’t an exact match for my college era sprint variant at least the hardware is identical just to say uglier than i remember than i thought it would be oh this is not a looker see by 2003 samsung had established a reputation for distinctive and appealing design on its flagship cdma phones culminating in the tiny and utterly angle-free a-500 from the previous year well the a600 basically threw all that out taking the a series back to its boxy brutalist beginnings while also adding this hilarious frankenstein bolt at the hinge now i don’t like to speculate about designer’s intent but this has all the hallmarks of a company saying look we can’t make it any smaller than this so don’t try to hide it build it how it needs to be built and then let’s just own it with this big samsung billboard hey as kate winslet would say about gq photoshopping her cover image that year this is me like it or lump it wherever that can’t be right can it like it or lump it is what it says all right i guess it’s a british thing here we go like it or lump it we’ll get into why the hinge looked like this but first this poor old phone is bleeding on my hands can’t touch it without my fingers getting feeling like chewing gum yeah reversion strikes again that tendency of synthetic rubber to devulcanize over time and start behaving more like latex so the headphone jack cover is basically a puddle of ooze and the stoppers that kept the screen from scratching on the keys they’ve melted into puddles too fortunately it turns out that removing the stuff is pretty easy a quick rub down with isopropyl alcohol at the old dining room table workbench and while that headphone jack is never gonna work again after about 10 minutes the phone as a whole is looking a lot better yeah i even ran head first into a memory while dusting off the camera lens i think i remember doing this with my first a600 doing a little q-tip on the on the lens thing yeah i do i do remember doing that ah that’s fun so back to that big bolt it was oversized like this so samsung could make the phone feel more like a camera instead of following manufacturers like sanyo and cramming a camera into the flip above the hinge the a600 mounted its camera within the hinge on a rotating turret that meant you could take both standard shots and even though the term wouldn’t catch fire for another decade selfies with the same camera fun fact i thought this phone was broken at first because the camera didn’t invert the viewfinder when i spun it around but i was imposing modern expectations on a vintage product there is no sensor to tell the camera which way it’s pointing it has no way of knowing that you have to invert the preview yourself by using the volume rocker there’s no such thing as a free lunch back in my day etc etc now the a600 did not have a monopoly on the rotating camera it was also seen on its contemporary the v205 as well as the sony client personal organizers of the day speaking of the a600 also shared its second standout feature with those sonys with a flick of the thumb you could spin the entire screen around and fold it back down on itself giving you a full size display so you could hold the phone more like a point-and-shoot now this combination was deceptive the phone felt like a camera down to the dedicated shutter button and though it looks a bit grainy today back in 2003 you couldn’t find a screen that was brighter or more vibrant than this so when you shot with it you could easily have thought hey maybe this is good enough to replace that olympus or minolta digital camera that i’m trucking around well it only takes one look at my own a600 photos from the time to see how far phones still had to go at 0.

3 megapixels and the fields still very much in its infancy only the best lighting could salvage these photos and my being a theater student at the time hanging out between dark backstages and late after parties only exacerbated its shortfalls but as samsung would continue to do over the next decade and a half it painted over those flaws with features years before snapchat and instagram you could frame your photos in flowers make yourself the star of your own home theater system lowercase age capital t okay or you could get macho buffed up or you could get a little eyes wide shut and between the white balance and custom color modes you could make your snaps artsy or retro but if you thought any of that was going to help your fridge magnet poetry friends well i’ve got some bad news oh emo me of course dwelling on the quality or the features is missing the point grainy as they are my having these memories at all is entirely thanks to the existence of camera phones like this which could be carried when bulky cameras couldn’t and while it was pricey for the time it wasn’t out of reach of regular folks at 350 retail now importantly samsung didn’t focus on the halo features at the expense of the fundamentals the a600 was a really great phone other interfaces were poorly designed or laggy but samsung phones flew with big comfortable keys and menus with shortcuts at every tier so if you’ve used it long enough you could skip the d-pad and just hit like 7-5-1 to set your alarm for the morning kids that’s called a floppy disk those of us who spent too much time on howard forums knew there were hidden menu items too pressing zero on this phone’s display menu and entering a passcode provided by a helpful hofo friend led to a field service menu that could help you prove to your skeptical friend once and for all that yes extending the antenna really does help with reception and another reason i still think about the a600 today is because it gave me an early preview of the skepticism new technology always faces people asked the same questions about the a600 and 2003 as they do about the galaxy z flip in 2020 is it gonna be too awkward to use one-handed are the moving parts gonna wear out well my a600 didn’t though i did develop a few scratches on the display from having it constantly exposed screen protectors were not yet a thing and for those more cautious who wanted to keep it a conventional clam shell well the a600 sported one of the most hypnotically retro futuristic leds i’ve ever seen it’s a great companion to these most excellent polyphonic ring tones oh hey sleigh ride i remember when this used to get stuck in my head for months and months and well hey if you’re gonna have an ear worm it may as well be as banging as this one but i guess i’ll admit that my favorite thing about the a600 was that really no one else had it i don’t have sales numbers but despite a variant called the a610 coming out from verizon and a gsm model called the p400 exciting i didn’t see another a600 in the wild until my friend’s girlfriend took inspiration from mine bought one for him of course by then i’d already moved on to the sanyo 5500 for its video camera the first in a long line of upgrades that would take me further from truly unique experiments in the feature phone space and further from a time when phones were fun if you want to hear more nostalgic musings from an old tech guy listen to the latest android central podcast we have a long discussion about that thanks for having me guys and let me know what your first camera phone was or let me know if you had an a600 too please share any memories you have down in the comments next up on when phones were fun could be a messaging phone roundup it could be a nextel retrospective it could be a video about transparent phones subscribe to the mr mobile on youtube so you don’t miss it whatever it is thanks once more to mike up in canada for snagging this device and as always no manufacturer paid for this video or got to see or approve it before publication it’s just a fun throwback and i hope you enjoyed it till next time stay safe at home for now if you can but in spirit stay mobile my friends


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