In the almost seven years I've been at CNET, I've cradled a fair number of cell phones. If I wasn't reviewing them myself or using them to test mobile apps, I was sneaking over to other reviewers' desks for a look and a joy ride.
This list is purely nostalgic, and covers my favorite handsets, for whichever reason, through 2011. For another trip down memory lane, check out CNET editor Brian Bennett's list of standouts.
Ah, my first phone. A total mobile n00b, even I knew it wasn't the most glamorous thing with its bad SoCal spray tan and blocky shape. Yet the little shimmery gold Kyocera-that-could was my ticket into real communications freedom. It wasn't the sexiest phone I could have bought -- in fact, I chose it because it came free on contract -- but it was liberating nonetheless.
Care to guess the thickness of this phone? Nine-tenths of an inch. Yes, really. Before the iPhone came in and changed everything, smartphones were shrunken computers, and the Treo family was one of the first I really got to use day-to-day.
I mean, those buttons! That stylus! A 1.3-megapixel camera! Luckily, I had first become fluent in Graffiti on my dad's corporate Handspring PDA, before Palm snapped them up.
Sleek, glossy, and the color of passion, I loved my little red Sony Ericsson TM506. For those times, it had a large, gorgeously saturated screen and bright accents that, in red and green, made the phone look ultracool.
My needs at the time were pretty lean -- just some calls and a few texts -- and I was grateful to find something other than the extremely popular, overhyped Razr, even if the TM506's similarly flat keyboard drove me bonkers.
Whoosh! Watch that T-Mobile Sidekick flip and slide. I never owned one of these, but I was secretly jealous of my friends that did. That simple, easy texting! That youthful urban status!
Even for the phone's faults, I credit T-Mobile with the energy and confidence to co-design the Sidekick line. Not only did T-Mobile devise the sub-brand, it contracted with multiple vendors to create subsequent versions of the popular, youthful handset.
The first time I saw the Palm Pre, I thought, "Dang. This is a brand-new Palm." The first to feature Palm's very intriguing WebOS platform, it also possessed a slick design and real multitasking.
The HTC Droid Incredible was an awesome expression of Android, and it came with high-end features like a big 3.7-inch screen, an 8-megapixel camera, fast speeds, and the HTC Sense overlay. HTC also stood out with the Incredible's highly stylized, terraced back plate, a design that even extended beneath the back cover.
The original iPhone was nothing short of revolutionary, but for me, the iPhone 4 is when Apple's smartphone really matured. iOS 4 gave it an enormous boost, the camera took a giant leap forward, and Apple pushed the boundary with its high-performance Retina Display resolution. Despite the criticized antenna placement, the iPhone 4 still has some of Apple's most premium industrial design craftsmanship.
The HTC-made Nexus One still remains one of my favorite "pure" Android efforts. No custom skins, no bloatware, just a clean, simple Android as its designers intended.
Thoughtful, beautiful hardware design erased HTC's sins with the bulbous T-Mobile G1. Even years later, I'll still pull it out of the drawer and think, "What a great little phone.
Smooth and premium in look and in feel, the BlackBerry Bold 9900 was a welcome change in direction. It retained the signature physical keyboard, a high level of device security, a faster processor, and excellent image quality. Too bad it was priced rather high.
It wasn't easy to use, and Symbian had some insurmountable flaws, but Nokia's N8 possessed one of the best smartphone cameras around (12 megapixels!) in a super stylish design.
I had the pleasure of reviewing the unlocked version of the Samsung Galaxy S II, and what can I say? I was smitten. Everything came together in this device, from software to specs, to the speed and the physical home screen button that the U.S. version sadly lacked. It was an all-around excellent smartphone.