Indestructible but not indispensable: a brief history of the Nokia 3310

Niche model useful as travel back-up or for the mud and muck of music festivals

Back from the dead: the 3310 became a meme about surviving the apocalypse. Photograph: Bloomberg

Back from the dead: the 3310 became a meme about surviving the apocalypse. Photograph: Bloomberg

 

It was a cockroach of a phone. You could drop it from a plane. You could run over it. You could crush it in a hydraulic press, if that was the kind of thing you were into.

Now, the phone that became a meme about surviving the apocalypse is coming back from the dead, one last time.

The Nokia 3310 was discontinued by its makers in 2005, but it has lived long in our collective memory – which is something the company would now like to exploit.

Styled as a “homage”, and coming in at €59, it is a steal compared with the original (€140 in 2000).

It is a strange, circuitous journey for Nokia, which began in rural Finland in the 1870s as a paper mill. In 2013, after two years of heavy losses, the handsets division was sold off to Microsoft, which rebranded the smartphones as Microsoft Lumia.

But by mid-2016, facing its own mounting losses, the brand name Nokia had been sold back to a Finnish conglomerate and, by late 2016, Microsoft had announced it was discontinuing the Lumia range altogether.

The company’s rebirth illustrates an often ignored fact, that while the West is obsessed with its Apple AirPods, most mobile phone consumers are a million miles from Gizmodo hype cycles, living in developing nations where regular access to electricity and €150 for tiny cordless earphones are hard to come by.

Recognising this, Nokia has already had success with the 215, a basic colour-screen smartphone with a 29-day battery life, which costs an astoundingly reasonable $29 (€27.40). Lately, the company has been making inroads into the Chinese market with a downmarket smartphone, the Nokia 6.

Even in the developed world, increasingly, the “burner” is growing its niche. In a world where Uber now passive-aggressively allows you to choose only between “always” and “never”, in terms of when it tracks your location, some are finding that the best way to reduce the data footprint isn’t to invest in a pricey VPN (virtual private network). Rather, it is to get back on a platform that only tells the world about you in kilobytes rather than megs.

Others find these phones a useful back-up for trips to hostile parts of the world, or for the mud and muck of festivals, where data network overcrowding often means older tech generations work better.

A major splash entry into that market could jump-start the trend. Or we could all discover that nostalgia is a dish best served in the past. Either way, so long as Nokia’s classic game Snake II is brought back as an ultra-violent 3D massive-multiplayer online world, retro will be something to get behind.

– Guardian service