Cell phones look a lot different now than they did back in the day. As a case in point, Martin Cooper and Rudy Krolopp of Motorola collaborated to create what was, for the time, cutting-edge technology: the prototype of the world’s first truly mobile phone. The result, unveiled in 1973, was a two-and-a-half pound, nine-inch-tall Motorola DynaTAC. As well as the phone being bulky, it took 10 hours to charge its batteries, and it only had enough juice for 35 minutes of talking.
Although it took another decade to produce a commercial version, there was seemingly no going back. Nowadays, cell phones are of course commonplace, with mobile technology and design continuing to push new limits. Giant tech companies aren’t the only ones doing the pushing, however; many individuals are putting their creative genius to work to come up with some seriously cool cell phone modifications. Take a look at our top 10 picks.
10. LEGO Robot
This modification may not be especially useful on a day-to-day basis, but it gets full approval from us for the entertainment factor alone. The robot you see was built by the folks at BattleBricks.com using a LEGO NXT Robotics Kit and an iPhone. After the LEGO part of the robot was constructed, it was programmed using LeJOS NXJ robot code. Next, some web app code was written so that the robot could be remotely controlled. Driving the iPhone is a simple matter of using another iPhone, or a web browser, to remotely change the contrasting colors of the phone’s screen. The changing colors are picked up by the LEGO robot’s light sensor and translated into corresponding movements.
9. Steampunk Phone
This amazing steampunk phone was designed by Polish inventor J. Redmer. Fans of the retro-futuristic will love the design, and we must admit, it is pretty cool. The device was once a Sagem X-5M cell phone, but Redmer housed the old electronics in a custom wooden case complete with what appear to be brass buttons. It may not be the latest smart phone, but it’s functional and one-of-a-kind. You might be wondering why people go to the effort of changing the look or function of their phone, and while sometimes it could just be for fun, a 2011 study by Recon Analytics may provide another explanation.
Recon gathered data from 14 different countries and discovered that Americans, Koreans and people in the UK replaced their phones the most often, roughly every two years or less. This could be because these countries offer two-year plans, after which people might choose to go with something new. Perhaps surprisingly, though, many Americans ditched their phone three months before their contract ended. The desire to get the latest and greatest models could arguably be the reason for these figures – and having an older, discarded handset to play with offers a good opportunity to experiment with modifications. Well, it’s better than leaving it in a drawer, right?
8. Transformer Phone
According to a 2013 study, 61 percent of men think that the first thing others notice about them is what cell phone they’re using. So what better way to make an impression than by answering calls on this incredible transformer phone? Someone with remarkable technological skill made it out of a Motorola E6 handset, and it apparently took six weeks to build. The wings pivot up and back, revealing the arms beneath, while the legs can fold away to make it more compact. This set-up isn’t nearly as expensive as the $134,000 Nokia 8800 Arte – which is outfitted with hundreds of pink and white diamonds – but in our view a robot is way better than lots of bling.
7. Fallout 3 Pip-Boy 3000
An iPhone powers this Pip-Boy 3000. Keen gamers will be aware that the Pip (which stands for “personal information processor”) device comes from the world of Fallout 3, the third installment of the critically acclaimed video game series. It might be hard to believe, but this mod is made from papier-mâché and cardboard. Yes, really. A hobbyist from the UK who goes by the handle Chanced1 created the superb piece. And yes, he’s a Fallout 3 fan, so it isn’t too hard to figure out why he chose to make this particular masterpiece.
6. Nintendo Game & Watch Phone
This modded Toshiba cell phone combines both the old and new, making good use of an 1981 Octopus Nintendo Game & Watch handheld game that has probably spent a lot of time gathering dust somewhere. Putting the pair together breathes new life into the game and may bring back treasured childhood memories. According to Jose Fermoso, of Wired magazine’s Gadget Lab, this “ultimate geek accessory” was created by a gaming fanatic from Japan. Fermoso’s only complaint is that it didn’t use Game & Watch’s Bomb Sweeper version, which could have made it that little bit cooler.
5. NES Controller Phone
With a lot of work – including cutting holes in the back of the controller for the screen and buttons – this old NES controller became the new housing for a Nokia 3200. The mod was created by Sam Garfield because, as he puts it, “a Nintendo controller would make the ultimate handset.” If you agree with the high proportion of men who think others see their cell phone before anything else, then a mod like this could well help shape people’s impression of you.
4. Army Radio Phone
For those who want to stand out and look all military to boot, this modded army radio would fit the bill perfectly. Andrew McAllister took apart his Korean War-era army radio in order to fit his phone inside, and the job sounds as though it was pretty intensive, considering the fact that he had to remove most of the radio’s guts and change out the speaker and microphone. He also needed to somehow make the radio’s “push to talk” button both answer incoming calls and finish them. Although the piece may look heavy, McAllister says that once a lot of the original innards were removed, it became “manageable”. And the finished product is pretty darn impressive.
3. Cigarette Packet Phone
There’s nothing cool about lung cancer, but we have to admit that this creation is both clever and snazzy. And while, strictly speaking, it’s not a mod, as it was designed to look this way, the Wang XYW 3838 is apparently only available in Taiwan – and we think it displays enough customizing creativity to force its way into this list. Not only does the phone masquerade as a cigarette box, but it can also carry half a pack in the back cover: simply pop it off, and there they are. As Eran Abramson of Walyou.com points out, it means you don’t have to worry about having enough room for your cell and your pack of smokes in one pocket. Now all that’s needed is a cell phone that can carry a healthier alternative: perhaps mints, or raisins, or even cranberry juice.
Aside from the allure of making or owning something totally unique, perhaps people choose to modify their phones to compensate for the arguably more impersonal world of mass-produced electronics. The iRetrofone is visually delightful and captures all the romantic lines of old-fashioned telephones. This iPhone dock works with 3G, 3GS and 4G models, and it can sync and charge by way of a USB connection. The functioning handset even works for answering calls. Artist Scott Freeland made this super-cool mod out of cast urethane resin, which he then modeled and painted by hand. Freeland sells his creations (which also come in “classic” styles) on Etsy.
1. Phone Laid Bare
A skeleton of its former self, the rather forlorn looking device above is a stripped-down Nokia. Despite appearances, though, this cell phone actually still works. The mod is the work of Mehmet Erkök of Istanbul’s Teknik Üniversitesi, and as well as offering us a peek beneath the skin of an old phone, he’s also added beads and bits of plastic.
Particularly in its present stage, this piece is clearly pretty far from being state of the art, yet we might ponder an interesting question: what will the cell phones of the future be like? A range of critics, authors, entrepreneurs and experts hypothesize that technology will soon become so woven into our environment – and even our bodies – that it’s suggested by one that the word “mobile” itself will mean nothing.
Mobile strategist Rudy De Waele thinks that the world may reach such a degree of technological saturation that people will spend cash to get away from it all in “no airwaves” sectors. If these mods are any indication, though, many folks still appreciate things that are unique, tactile, and hark back to bygone days; and perhaps people always will, no matter what the future holds.