This week I stepped back into the land of reviewing to test the Samsung Chrono 2 for U.S. Cellular. And, wow, what a trip it was.
With its basic calling features and retro design, the Chrono 2 took me back to a cell phone era that greeted me when I first joined CNET almost nine years ago. Before Android and the iPhone democratized the smartphone, most of us used a handset like the Chrono 2. You may have had a camera or Bluetooth, and you probably toyed with a wireless browser, but mostly we used the handsets for making calls and sending the occasional text.
Now I know you're asking why CNET bothers reviewing a phone like the Chrono 2 at all. Well, I've said it before, but CNET's mission has always been to review every cell phone offered by the major U.S. wireless carriers. There remain plenty of people who just want a phone, and we're there to help them find one.
But, I digress. As I wrote in the review, it was a strange experience using the Chrono 2 on the streets of San Francisco. I haven't carried a flip phone for years, but the surprise came more from adjusting to a device that did so little. I couldn't play a game, I couldn't download an app, and I didn't have instant access to information. Texting also was confounding as I quickly discovered that using T9 predictive text is not like riding a bicycle. One you stop doing it, you do forget how.
So, no, I couldn't do one-tenth of the things that most phones now do. And as a result, I didn't know what to do with myself when I was waiting in line to buy lunch (the agony!). Yet, I could do two things wonderfully familiar and comfortable: open the phone and close it again.
Call it ridiculous, but for me the experience was whimsical, nostalgic, and even a little fun. Watching the Chrono 2 spring open and hearing the clacking sound when it closed reminded me of how it felt to open a new phone for the first time. For me, that would have started with the second handset I owned (my first was the Nokia 5110), a Samsung something-or-other that I bought a decade ago. It was my phone, it was new and exciting, and it just did what a phone was supposed to do.
For many of us that gesture was an integral part of using a cell phone for many years and it was a reminder that we were opening the door to a whole new world of gadgets (and for me, my CNET career). What's more, hanging up a call by slamming the phone closed was much more satisfying. Slider and swivel phones couldn't match it, and it's something that we'll never quite get from today's slablike handsets, either.
Instead, now we just pull out our phones and start tapping away. There's no sense of anticipation beyond a lock screen and it's not quite as fun when so many devices look alike. I'm not suggesting for a moment that we devolve to those simpler times, but it's nice to remember how something so simple was so exciting. Because as flip phones continue to die off, it won't be too long before we forget about them completely.