Nokia 6110 mobile phone handset

Classic Project: Nokia 6110 mobile phone

The Nokia 6110 mobile phone was launched 20 years ago, in December 1997. At that time, a mobile phone that offered (slightly) more than just voice calls was seen as a breakthrough.

If you ever wanted proof of how fast technology evolves, cast your mind back to the most popular mobile phone of 20 years ago. Back in December 1997, when Nokia launched its classic 6110 – the 6110 Navigator was a decade later – mobile phones were neither the portable computers that they are today, nor were they ubiquitous. Yet they were approaching the norm, finding their way into the hands of the business community at which the 6110 handset was originally targeted. With its five hours talk-time, one-touch voicemail button and preloaded ‘Snake’ game, it was perfectly pitched at the turn-of-the-millennium market.

According to Nokia’s TV advertisement for the 6110, it was a device with “everything you want from a mobile phone, plus a few extras you might not expect”. These extras were proudly announced as a calculator and a calendar, three games and ability to connect it to a laptop PC or printer using the inbuilt infrared link (the first phone to integrate such technology).

Betraying something of the advertising conventions of the era, the narrator gushes that the phone is “the perfect gentleman”, explaining that it can ring quietly or loudly, or alert you silently. As children run along a sunny beach to incidental Spanish classical guitar, the narrator tells us the most convenient place to keep your mobile is in its desktop stand and charger. For business travellers, there is an optional ‘extended battery’ with a standby time of 450 hours. The advert finishes with the famous Nokia mission statement: ‘connecting people’.

Today it’s difficult to comprehend that this was the smallest Nokia phone to date, making it the “perfect size for your hand and your pocket”. This might sound like a modest piece of PR spin, but until now mobile phones had been notoriously big and heavy, a point laboured by comedian Dom Joly in his recurring sketch ‘big phone guy’ in the TV show ‘Trigger Happy TV’.

As tedious and unfunny as the routine was, it did reinforce that mobile phones weren’t very mobile, so for the 6110 to weigh in at 137g was something of a design revolution. Its large five-line mono full-contrast graphics LCD display was a game-​changer too, with dynamic fonts, signal and battery status indicators. Best-seller of the day, it was also the first GSM phone to use an ARM processor, as well as the first to use the type menu icons that were to become the industry standard.

By the time the 6110 entered the market, there was a distinct change in the way we viewed the function and form factor of the mobile phone. Back in the early 1980s, when the first commercial unit was released – Motorola’s Dynatac, which came in at a whopping $3,995 – mobile comms was seen as a cultural marker of wealth and futurism. Because of their size, shape and weight, they were called bricks.

However, by the mid-1990s the brick had made way for the ‘candybar’, where the display and controls were on one small flat face with rounded corners and a nod towards aesthetics that produced models held in dewy-eyed nostalgia. The fact the 6110 was produced in a diaphanous two-tone blue and green finish became a USP for millennial yuppies seeking status through conspicuous ownership of electronic devices.

Nokia saw the market and loaded the 6110 with features unrelated to audio two-way communication as the earliest seeds of the smartphone were sown. When not scrolling through their 35 ringtone samples, the earliest business users were most likely to be plugged into the preloaded classic videogame Snake.


Date: Introduced December 1997

Designer: Nokia Corporation

Unit cost: £99.99

First phone to have the classic game ‘Snake’ pre-installed

Featured calculator, clock and calendar

Stored 50 numbers

Time-stamped call record of 10 calls made, 10 calls received and 10 missed calls

Alternative clip-on fascias available

On market for 11 years

Could send and receive SMS (text) messages of up to 160 characters

35 selectable ringtones

Numeric keypad (illuminated)

Weight: 137g (slim battery)

Dimensions: 130 x 47 x 28mm

Monochrome 5-line dynamic font display

Infrared port

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