How flip phones have evolved, from Y2K to 2023

With flip phones having a nostalgia-driven renaissance, we’re looking back at how the classic Y2K-era design has changed over the years.

Teenagers are wearing baggy jeans, Hollywood stars are appearing in romcoms and pop punk is on the radio. Nope, we’re not describing the turn of the millennium – we’re talking about 2023. Thanks to a wave of nostalgia for the early 2000s, plenty of trends we thought we’d left behind are making a comeback.

Those of us who remember the early 2000s generally don’t miss the period’s clunky technology. One thing we have always felt nostalgic for, though, is the feeling of snapping our flip phone shut at the end of a call. So we love that a new generation of flip phones – one that started with Samsung’s groundbreaking Galaxy Flip and Fold models – is bringing that satisfying snap into the present day.

Below, we take a tour through the history of the flip phone, from the first model in the late 1990s to 2023.

Motorola StarTAC

1996: Motorola StarTAC

One of the first ever flip phones, 1996’s StarTAC was immensely popular, with more than 60 million units sold worldwide. That’s despite it closely resembling the communicator used by Captain Kirk and co in Star Trek, only being able to receive (and not send) text messages, and costing $1,000 on release. But hey, it was used by the cast of Clueless – which definitely made it worth the money.

Samsung SPH-M100

2000: Samsung SPH-M100

Also known as the Samsung Uproar, this nifty silver flip phone certainly caused one when it launched in the millennium year. The world’s first mobile phone with a built-in MP3 player meant people no longer had to carry bulky CD or cassette players to listen to music while out and about. OK, it could only store up to 10 songs, but this was a whole new world.

Motorola V3 RAZR

2004: Motorola V3 RAZR

Another Motorola device, but we couldn’t look at the history of flip phones without mentioning one of the most iconic. The RAZR series was named as a nod to razor clams (because flip phones were also known as “clamshell” mobiles – get it?), and the V3 was its most covetable model. With the thinnest profile on a clamshell set at the time, it also came in an array of stylish colours (Metallic pink! Gold! Petrol blue!), cementing the mobile phone’s status as a fashion accessory like the modern-day smartwatch.

Sony Ericsson W508

2009: Sony Ericsson W508

Thanks to the release of the first Apple iPhone in 2007, flip phones felt dated by the end of the 2000s. But that didn’t stop Sony Ericsson from giving it a good go with the W508, one of its last ever clamshell models. It featured a multitude of capabilities, including voice-guided GPS, a 3.2 megapixel camera, Facebook app and music player. But next to the new touch-screen smartphones, it couldn’t help looking rather old-fashioned.

Samsung Galaxy Z Flip4

2022: Samsung Galaxy Z Flip4

More than two decades after flip phones were first a must-have accessory, they’re making a definite comeback. One of the latest models is the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip4, available in four distinctive colours (including the new Bora Purple). With a discreet hinge and an unfolded display offering 6.7 inches of dazzling FHD+ resolution, the pocket-sized device is the most compact full-sized smartphone. And thanks to its FlexCam, you can experiment with new angles, hands-free selfies and epic group pics. You can now get the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip4 from just £44.92 a month (2GB, unlimited minutes and texts) on a 36-month contract with O2 and £30 upfront cost here

Published: 11 Apr 2023