A Motorola retrospective (photos)

Throughout its history, Motorola has remained a prime driver of cell phone innovation. Here are some of its handset highlights.

Kent German
Kent was a senior managing editor at CNET News. A veteran of CNET since 2003, he reviewed the first iPhone and worked in both the London and San Francisco offices. When not working, he's planning his next vacation, walking his dog or watching planes land at the airport (yes, really).
Kent German
1 of 19 Sarah Tew/CNET

Google confirmed today that it is selling Motorola Mobility to Chinese PC maker Lenovo for $2.91 billion. Though the deal comes less than two years after Google completed its own acquisition of the storied telecommunications firm (which was spun off from Motorola Inc. in 2011), Moto had already been a drag on Google's profits. Yet despite its recent troubles, Motorola always will have a special place in the heart of any cell phone geek. After all, it built the cell phone as we know it, which is why Google will retain control of most of the valuable patents that it originally purchased in August, 2011. So, as Lenovo says, "Hello, Moto," join me for a look back at some of Motorola's most iconic cell phones.

Editor's note: This gallery originally posted in 2011 and had been updated frequently.

2 of 19 CNET

Motorola Dynatac 8000x

Born: 1983

Technology: AMPS

For the best example of Motorola's pioneering role in creating the modern cell phone, look no further than the Dynatac 8000x (seen here with inventor Martin Cooper). The world's first commercially available cell phone, the Dynatac, aka the "brick phone," was barely portable. It weighed 2.5 pounds, and it was hugely expensive. After you shelled out $3,995 for the handset and paid a $50 per month service fee, voice calls cost 40 cents a minute at peak hours and 24 cents a minute at off-peak times. The Dynatac received FCC approval in 1983 and went on sale in 1984.

3 of 19 CNET

Motorola StarTac

Born: 1996

Technology: AMPS, TDMA, GSM, CDMA

Moto continued to be an innovation leader after the Dynatac, but the StarTac was its first real consumer hit. The original "it phone," the StarTac revolutionized handset design by making the flip phone mainstream. Sure, the first MicroTac preceded the StarTac by seven years, but the StarTac got all the glory. Indeed, it was smaller than almost every handset before it (just 3.1 ounces), it offered a vibrate mode, and you could attach a second battery for more juice.

CNET review bottom line: The StarTac ST7867W is small, light, and stacks up well against other feature-rich phones.

4 of 19 CNET

Motorola V60 and V120

Born: 2000 (V120)
Born: 2001 (V60)

Technology: TDMA, GDM, CDMA (V120 and V60)

By 2000, Nokia had emerged as a powerful rival with the immensely popular Nokia 5110. Moto then countered with its own candy-bar model, the V120 (right). It offered text messaging and an early wireless browser and it worked on both CDMA and TDMA networks. Carriers included Verizon Wireless, Sprint, and the original AT&T Wireless.

The next year, the V60 (left) shrunk the cell phone even further by offering a compact design with tapered ends and a metal skin. In many ways, flip phones haven't changed much since. The V60, which introduced voice-activated dialing, quickly became a best seller when variations landed at every major U.S. carrier.

5 of 19 CNET

Motorola V70

Born: 2002

Technology: GSM

Another design achievement, the V70 offered Cingular customers an early glimpse at a swivel phone. Closed it looked like a magnifying glass; you rotated the front face 180 degrees to reveal the "Moto Glo" keyboard. You still didn't get a camera, but features included compatibility with the fledgling 2.5G GPRS networks, text messaging, and a WAP 1.2 browser.

CNET review bottom line: This former "it" phone now has a more inclusive price tag.

6 of 19 CNET

Motorola V600

Born: 2004

Technology: GSM

A chunky flip phone and one of the last handsets with an external antenna, the Motorola V600 arrived at AT&T Wireless. It was a powerful device for its time with quad-band support for world roaming, GPRS, a VGA camera, Bluetooth, USB syncing, and MP3 ringtones. And it all came in a sturdy, metal-clad design. It was even fashionable enough to be included in the swag bag given to 2004 Oscar nominees.

CNET review bottom line: The Motorola V600 has enough business-centric features and style options to satisfy the needs of most pros on the road.

7 of 19 CNET

Motorola A845

Born: 2004

Technology: GSM, UMTS

It reminded us of the Dynatac in size, but the Motorola A845 helped bring 3G to America. It was the first device to be compatible with AT&T Wireless's UMTS network and it offered video calling long before we had ever heard of FaceTime. Sure, the 3G network covered only six cities, and it went into hiatus with the Cingular merger, but the A845 will never lose its "first" status. Verizon had beat AT&T to 3G, but its first EV-DO handset, the LG VX8000, didn't go on sale until 2005.

CNET review bottom line: Though it's beyond bulky, the Motorola A845 comes packed with features and marks a new step in cell phone evolution.

8 of 19 CNET

Motorola Razr V3

Born: 2004

Technology: GSM, CDMA

The phone that launched a thousand imitators, the trend-setting Razr V3 introduced the world to the concept of the thin phone. And very quickly, it began to inspire lines of eager buyers at Cingular stores. No, it wasn't big on features, but the Razr's trim profile was more than enough to ensure its wild success. The original Razr V3 was a Cingular exclusive, but it eventually arrived at T-Mobile, Sprint, Verizon Wireless, and countless other carriers. Many, many color variations (including four shades of pink) followed.

CNET review bottom line: The original thin phone, the Motorola Razr V3 has a sexy design and useful features, but its performance isn't always up to par.

9 of 19 CNET

Motorola i530

Born: 2004

Technology: iDEN

Of course, you can't talk about Motorola without mentioning its line of iDEN phones for Nextel. Though hardly the first, the i530 was a classic Nextel device. Push-to-talk was its primary feature and the rugged, rubberized design protected it from just about everything.

CNET review bottom line: A hardy phone for anyone who works in electronics-unfriendly environments.

10 of 19 CNET

Motorola Rokr E1

Born: 2005

Technology: GSM

Two years before Apple's iPhone, there was this "iTunes" phone. Also proceeded by months of rabid speculation, and unveiled at a showcase Apple event at San Francisco's Moscone Center, the Rokr E1 was the first cell phone to support iTunes. Unfortunately for Moto, the handset was a disaster. It was unbearably slow, you could store only 100 songs on the handset at a time, and you had to use a wired connection for song downloads. Of course, it's clear now that Apple was just using the Rokr E1 as a way to test the wireless waters. It emerged from the experiment almost unscathed while Cingular and Motorola took the heat.

CNET review bottom line: The Motorola Rokr E1 takes a step toward integrating a usable audio jukebox into a functional cell phone, but the 100-song limit and the slow processor performance will disappoint iPod users looking to carry a single do-it-all device.

11 of 19 CNET

Motorola Slvr L7

Born: 2005

Technology: CDMA, GSM

The Slvr L7 did more than demonstrate Moto's dislike of vowels, it also highlighted the company's obsession with being thin. Essentially a Razr that had been hammered flat, the Slvr L7 offered similar features and made its first appearance with Cingular (a CDMA version came later). Curiously, Moto kept the iTunes support from the Rokr E1, stuck with the same limitations.

CNET review bottom line: Motorola's Slvr L7 puts a prettier face on the iTunes phone, but its low-resolution camera, its sluggish music player performance, and the limitations on the iTunes usability are big distractions.

12 of 19 CNET

Motorola Q

Born: 2005

Technology: CDMA, EV-DO

Thin was still in when the Motorola Q came to Verizon Wireless almost a year after its 2005 unveiling. Billed as the "thinnest QWERTY device in the world," the Q managed to hold onto that title for a couple of years (now it changes almost every week). Features were respectable even if they didn't quite match the trendy design. You got Windows Mobile 5 Smartphone Edition, a 1.3-megapixel camera, 3G, Bluetooth, a memory card slot, and a media player.

CNET review bottom line: The Motorola Q lives up to much of the hype by offering good call quality, an excellent multimedia experience, and the essential productivity tools, all wrapped up in a sexy little package.

13 of 19 CNET

Motorola Rizr Z3

Born: 2006

Technology: GSM

Called the Rizr because it "rises up," the Rizr V3 was yet another Razr reincarnation. The feature set showed no surprises, but the slider design won high marks. T-mobile grabbed it first and Verizon landed the CDMA Rizr V8 a short while later. Moto also introduced the Krzr K1m about the same time. Though a flip phone, it had the Rizr's basic shape.

CNET review bottom line: Motorola does a slim slider phone well with the attractive and well-performing GSM Rizr Z3.

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Motorola Ming A1200

Born: 2007

Technology: GSM

Not your average smartphone, the Ming A1200 had a unique touch-screen design that resembled a "Star Trek" communicator. Though it ran a bit short in the feature department--there was no 3G or Wi-Fi--the Linux-based handset stood out in a crowd.

CNET review bottom line: Though it lacks some key data features, the Motorola Ming A1200 is a unique and user-friendly smartphone that delivers on call quality.

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Motorola Droid

Born: 2009

Technology: CDMA, EV-DO

The first in a very successful series, the Droid gave some much-needed power to the young Android family (the Cliq was the company's first Android phone. Its solid design, satisfying performance, and loaded feature set quickly won over fans. Since then we've seen many successors.

CNET review bottom line: Despite some design issues and a couple of missing features, the Motorola Droid is the most powerful and fastest Google Android device to date. It fully embraces the openness of the Android platform and offers Verizon customers a smartphone that certainly rivals the other touch-screen devices on the market.

16 of 19 CNET

Motorola Atrix 4G

Born: 2011

Technology: GSM, HSPA+

The Atrix 4G had more than just slick features and a sweet display. Moto also designed a laptop dock and software for the Atrix that allowed you to access the contents of your smartphone in a more PC-like experience.

CNET review bottom line: The laptop dock is a decidedly cool (and pricey) feature, but the dual-core Motorola Atrix 4G has plenty to offer on its own. The smartphone packs speed and high-end features into a sleek package and earns its place at the top of AT&T's Android lineup.

17 of 19 James Martin/CNET

Motorola Droid Razr Maxx

Born: 2012

Technology: CDMA, LTE

While the Droid Razr impressed with its angular edges and slick, kevlar backing, it was the Motorola Droid Razr Maxx that took our breath away. Its massive 3,300mAh battery kept going and going for 19 hours of continuous video playback. The improved Motorola Droid Razr Maxx HD arrived a few months later.

CNET review bottom line: The Motorola Droid Razr Maxx proves that a powerful Android superphone can remain thin yet still promise marathon-worthy battery life.

18 of 19 Sarah Tew/CNET

Motorola Moto X

Born: 2013

Technology: GSM, CDMA, LTE

The story of the Motorola X isn't its features, which include Google Now and an excellent camera, but its highly-customizable design. Through the Moto Maker online studio you can choose between 2 front colors, 18 back colors, and 7 accents. And it's made in the USA.

CNET review bottom line: While in screen quality and storage capacity it lags behind rival superphones, the Moto X's superbly compact and comfortable design, whiz-bang voice controls, and long battery life make it a worthy Android contender.

19 of 19 Sarah Tew/CNET

Motorola Droid Maxx

Born: 2013

Technology: CDMA, LTE

Another Droid Maxx (if you haven't noticed, Moto sticks with naming conventions that work), it's the company's most advanced handset to date. It boasts the biggest battery available in a handset, a full 32GB of internal storage, and a build quality that's light-years superior to the thinner Motorola Droid Ultra.

CNET review bottom line: If you can get past its steep price, the massive-screened Motorola Droid Maxx is currently Verizon’s best Android smartphone.

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