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Home / Features / This was the UK’s first mobile phone – and it weighed more than a baby

This was the UK’s first mobile phone – and it weighed more than a baby

If you thought your old Nokia was big and tough, think again

One of the toughest phones that ever graced out pockets was the Nokia 1620.

It pre-dated the iconic 3210, and it was essentially a house brick with buttons and the ability to make phone calls.

Its removable aerial fell off in the middle of a road one day, and a black cab ran it over before we had a chance to pick it up. The aerial was cracked, but a dollop of chewing gum and a bit of pressure had it working again almost instantly. Modern smartphones that crack and shatter at the mere sound of an ant sneezing are embarrassing in comparison.

Go back even further than Nokia’s effort however, and you’ll arrive at 1985 – three years before this writer was born.

It was a year which saw Live Aid raise more than £50 million, the debut of WrestleMania at Madison Square Garden, and the introduction of the Vodafone VT1 transportable – the UK’s first truly portable mobile phone.

If Arnie were a phone

The Transportable made the Nokia 1620 looks like as sleek as a toothpick. At nearly 5KG, it outweighed new-born babies, and had to be carried around using a handle.

It provided a whopping 30 minutes of talk time, and took a mere 10 hours to charge. And the price for this pinnacle of portable communication technology?

£1650. Or around £4632 in today’s money.

Michael Harrison and comedian Ernie Wise were the first two people to use the Transporter in the UK on Vodafone’s pioneering network, 30 years ago, ushering in a new era of on-the-go messaging. An era which would eventually fling us into a world in which our watches buzz to inform us that new levels have been unlocked in Sweet Crush Saga 3: The Quest for More Money.

We were fortunate enough to get our hands on an original Transporter at Vodafone’s experience store in Oxford Street, and, well, we can confirm that it’s Big.

The miniature Sony Xperia Z3 Compact shows us just how far we’ve come, and we’re grateful for the fact that dropping a modern smartphone our feet won’t necessitate a trip to A&E.

The even bulkier VM1 technically beat the Transporter to the market, but it was purely a car phone, with a heavy base unit bolted inside the boot, while the phone lived on the dashboard. An aerial had to be drilled into the roof too, and while it was limited to to in-car use, paved the way for its transportable brother.

In the same year, the iconic Motorola 8000 X was also released, making a splash on the silver screen in the hands of Michael Douglas in Wall Street.

It hit wallets up for a hefty £2000 back then, which is around £8500 today. While the ten hour charge time remained, it could squeeze out a whole 60 minutes of talk time, in a much smaller, (almost) pocketable form factor.

In twenty years’ time, we’ll be looking back at the comical plumpness of the iPhone 6, laughing at its metal body as we receive interplanetary messages on our holographic neural implants.

And Half Life 3 still won’t be out. Sigh.