Why I Love My Teeny-Tiny Knockoff Nokia
When was the last time a cell phone actually made you happy? For me, it was in March, when I spotted my son in a market in Hong Kong, lying in a glass display case between two infants its same size. Right away, I knew I must adopt it. The Baby Phone is roughly the length of three pennies stacked vertically, slightly longer and more svelte than an Apple Airpods case. Baby is easy to overestimate; several colleagues were astonished by how tiny it was when they first met it in person.
A fraudulent Nokia logo is stamped below the phone’s minuscule screen, but the device is more than just a counterfeit: Baby is a shrunken homage to the genuine Nokia 3310. The phone is officially called the BM10 Mini Phone, or 3310 Mini, and is manufactured by L8star. I paid about $25 for it, though you can find cheaper versions on Amazon. One site sells it for only $12.
When I brought Baby back to New York and turned it on, it made a retro chirp, like beating a level in Super Mario Bros. WELCOME flashed across the screen as the jingle played. The effect was cute, adorable even—the antithesis of today’s harsh, masculine smartphone aesthetic. Baby Phone charmed me more than any other electronic has in years.
It quickly became clear that although Baby has several surprisingly advanced features, it can’t justifiably be called a smartphone. But I’m not here to tell you about the meditative benefits of getting a simpler device. Nor would I try to replace my iPhone with Baby—he always served as a second option. The goal wasn’t to learn to live with a dumb phone. Baby is my fun phone.
Last week, I went to the cell phone store across the street from my apartment in Brooklyn to purchase a SIM card for Baby, after one from AT&T failed to work with the device. I asked the associate for help as I scooted the phone across the sales counter. He was so enamored that he immediately asked to take a picture of Baby. I grinned and stood with the phone in my palm, posing like an influencer for her Instagram husband.
For $32, Baby was up and running with an unlimited call and text plan. If I wanted, I could have bought two separate phone lines for it, since unlike my iPhone 7, it has dual SIM card slots. There’s also a MicroSD reader, as well as Bluetooth capability. I quickly started texting friends from my new number in all caps, both for emphasis and because I couldn’t figure out how to switch to lowercase. “IM BABY” my first message read. Adding the word “PHONE,” seemed too cumbersome. “What?” my friend replied. I felt Baby and I were off to a great start.
The phone immediately lost all trace of a wireless connection when I got to work in Manhattan, likely because Ultra, my new carrier, uses several frequencies that aren’t compatible with Baby. I thought that was just fine. Like beautiful but uncomfortable shoes, Baby is here to serve an artful purpose, not a utilitarian one. The cell phone is my favorite fashion accessory, and often accompanies me along with my iPhone. It’s also maybe the trendiest thing I’ve ever bought.
Baby’s nostalgic aesthetic feels appropriate, just right for a time when pleasantly ugly 2000s trends like bucket hats and bike shorts are coming back. Like fanny packs, the phone is a little silly. It reminds me of a Tamagotchi, another object of exaggerated nostalgia. It’s an infantilized version of the actual device I’m reliant on like a toddler on her mother. Really, we’re all baby.
But the phone isn’t totally a stunt. Texting on Baby’s tiny keys takes some getting used to, but with petite fingers, it’s not much harder than it would be on any old flip phone. The sound quality is shockingly good, though it’s hard not to feel like an idiot holding the device up to your ear. When my boyfriend first called, I asked over and over again in disbelief whether he could in fact hear me, startled the connection wasn’t any worse than it normally is in our home.
In a backward way, it’s even kind of practical. The phone is optimal for slipping into a petite Jacquemus Le Chiquito Clutch or any number of the other teeny handbags that are in this season. One Vogue writer wondered in March what celebrities like Rihanna and Emily Ratajkowski keep in their fashionable micro purses, guessing a handful of thimbles or tiny food for dolls. Me? I store a miniature working cell phone.
One day I thought I left Baby on the subway. In reality, it was tucked in the front pocket of my jeans, only slightly more detectable than a quarter. In that moment, I realized how attached I felt to Baby, at least in an easy, amused way. It was funny to have it around. Losing the phone would be a bummer, but not enough to send me into the kind of existential panic I experience when my iPhone dies and I’m too far from an outlet.
Perhaps the most striking thing about Baby is the reaction it elicits in other people. When I take out my iPhone, those around me are at best anxious, fighting the urge to pick up their ugly bricks as well, and at worst annoyed, rightfully believing I’ve chosen something or someone else over their company. But when I bring out Baby, they are delighted. What smartphone can do that?
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Read more: https://www.wired.com/story/baby-phone/