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Legendary Motorola StarTAC: Revisiting the world's first flip phone

A closer look at the clamshell phone that changed the world, through the most colorful variant you've ever seen.

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Jessica Dolcourt
Jessica Dolcourt is a passionate content strategist and veteran leader of CNET coverage. As Senior Director of Commerce & Content Operations, she leads a number of teams, including Commerce, How-To and Performance Optimization. Her CNET career began in 2006, testing desktop and mobile software for Download.com and CNET, including the first iPhone and Android apps and operating systems. She continued to review, report on and write a wide range of commentary and analysis on all things phones, with an emphasis on iPhone and Samsung. Jessica was one of the first people in the world to test, review and report on foldable phones and 5G wireless speeds. Jessica began leading CNET's How-To section for tips and FAQs in 2019, guiding coverage of topics ranging from personal finance to phones and home. She holds an MA with Distinction from the University of Warwick (UK).
Jessica Dolcourt
Motorola StarTAC first flip phone
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This rainbow version of the legendary Motorola StarTAC may look like a child's toy, but it represents one of the most famous phones of its day.

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On Jan. 3, 1996, Motorola introduced the StarTAC, which was made of black plastic (this colorful version came a couple years later). It was the world's first flip phone and it cost $1,000.

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The StarTAC changed everything. It was light. It was ultraportable.

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Motorola even called the StarTAC a "wearable" phone. "It can be worn fashionably as an accessory," the press release said.

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This Rainbow version differs from the original, 1996 model, but the nuts and bolts are about the same.

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Including the small screen and the pull-out antenna.

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Yep, this is what phone chargers used to look like, and each brand more often than not used a proprietary connector.

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The StarTAC held 100 phone numbers and had several large buttons on the keypad and spines.

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The StarTAC was one of the first phones to use a vibration motor so you could silently accept calls.

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Pull-out antennas were common in the mid- to late 1990s, and even persisted into the early 2000s.

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Motorola was exceedingly proud of the StarTAC's height. When closed, it measured 8cm (3.1 inches) from the bottom to the top, not including the pushed-in antenna. It's closer to 4 inches when you include that essential part.

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This rainbow version keeps its battery on the top like a camel's hump.

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This slider pops out the SIM card...

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...which is about the same size as a credit card.

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The SIM card is inactive, so the phone doesn't work without it, but you can see the screen quality.

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One of these buttons helped operate the phone one-handed.

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The keypad has physical buttons that bounce back after your press them.

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A closer look at that stubby antenna.

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Keep scrolling for plenty more photos of this amazing retro phone, and brush up on what cell phones were like 25 years ago in 1995, before the StarTAC changed everything.

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