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What is a Brick Phone?

Tricia Christensen
By
Updated May 16, 2024
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Back in the 1980s, Motorola® introduced the first cell phones to public. They were very large compared to most phones of today. Given the heavy weight of the early phones, which was about 2 pounds (0.91 kg), their considerable size, and rectangular aesthetics, they earned the amusing name “brick phone.”

It’s interesting to reflect on these early cell phones and their importance to people. It is the progenitor, of course, of all the sleek phones people can slip into pockets now and barely feel. Its importance in the 1980s was certainly evidenced by pricing, and when the first phones were released, they cost almost $4,000 US Dollars (USD).

The brick phone was a major status symbol corresponding to the tendency toward conspicuous consumption that marked the decade. Unfortunately, it was nowhere near as convenient as present cell phone models. For the money people paid, they got 30 minutes of talking time before recharging the phone was necessary, and hauling around a heavy phone that was 8 inches (20.32 cm) long and about 2 inches wide (5.08 cm) was no picnic for some early users.

While some view the old fashioned cell phone as a clunky nouveau riche and unfortunate parent of the modern and streamlined cell phone, others regard it with affection. A nice, big phone that is easy to find, unlike the very small modern cell that is often easy to lose, may be regarded as a useful alternative. This sentiment has led some companies to reinvent the brick phone.

For far less than the original price, those who want to indulge in '80s nostalgia, or who might like a larger phone in the home when they switch from land to cell lines, can now find copies of the brick phone for sale. These copies boast many of the modern developments that have been made in cell phone technology, but they may specifically lack some features. People may need to decide if nostalgia outweighs necessity.

One advantage with a modern brick cell is it may hold a much longer charge than the standard cell since it accommodates a larger and more powerful battery. As mentioned, some are particularly interested in this style because they want a good-sized home phone after they’ve abandoned a landline, which is becoming common practice. A longer charge might make a phone more attractive for home use.

The chances that brick phones will remain mostly a novelty purchase because most people prefer the convenience of much smaller phones are very high. Nevertheless, the sight of a brick in use today, even if a copy, is still likely to provoke comment or memories. Whether these memories are mostly fond or rather snide, it can certainly be said that this phone was an icon and part of the reason why so many people carry cell phones today.

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Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen , Writer
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a EasyTechJunkie contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.

Discussion Comments

By cloudel — On Nov 20, 2012

@seag47 – A brick phone is a bit heavy to carry around with me in my purse, but I actually feel safer with it than with a regular cell phone. If I get stranded somewhere, the battery lasts long enough for me to call for help. Also, it is heavy enough to be used as a weapon if desperate times call for desperate measures!

By healthy4life — On Nov 20, 2012

I recently took my nephew to an antique store, and he was fascinated by the retro brick mobile phone for sale in one of the booths. He wasn't even entirely sure what it was at first!

He picked it up and asked me if people actually talked on those things. I found this amusing, because the only type of phone he has ever used is his mother's small cell phone. He never even had the experience of using a landline!

Now that I'm used to the phones of today, I have to say that the brick phone did look like something prehistoric. It's like showing someone a dinosaur when the only reptile they have ever seen is an alligator.

The color of the phone was really ugly! That old off-white leans toward gray and cream at the same time, and it is not attractive at all. I wonder if there was a technical reason they made them this color?

By seag47 — On Nov 20, 2012

I didn't know that new brick phones were being manufactured. That would be cool to have a phone in my house that looked like my old cordless phone I used to have before I got rid of my landline.

If I did get one of these for the house, I would still keep my little cell phone for using when I went anywhere else. There's no way I would carry around something that big!

By OeKc05 — On Nov 19, 2012

I think people used these brick mobile phones in the early nineties, too. I recall seeing a repeat of the first episode of one of my favorite programs that began airing back in the early nineties, and I was astonished at the astronomically sized cell phone that one of the main characters was talking on.

I actually laughed out loud. I do not remember seeing anyone with this type of phone back then, but then again, no one I knew could have afforded one. $4,000 for a phone is ridiculous! Even the best cell phones today don't cost that much, and they offer way more advanced technology!

By chicada — On Oct 17, 2010

My grandfather actually had one of those 80's brick phones. He was an artist in Los Angeles, and he was one of the coolest old guys you would ever meet. I can still remember being a kid in the early 80's and thinking that the wireless phone he had was the coolest thing around. For the times, the gray case, and black walkie-talkie antenna were almost a status symbol. I even remember around that time he had a car phone in his Jaguar. It was a phone in a black nylon bag that had to be plugged into an antenna that was mounted to the rear windshield. How the times have changed.

By PelesTears — On Oct 17, 2010

Brick is also used to refer to the a malfunctioning cell phone. If you install a new OS there is a chance that you can brick a cell phone. This can happen when you jailbreak an iPhone, Switch a Window's Mobile phone over to an operating system like Android, or when you unlock a phone.

Tricia Christensen

Tricia Christensen

Writer

With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a EasyTechJunkie contributor, Tricia...
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