CNET logo Why You Can Trust CNET

Our expert, award-winning staff selects the products we cover and rigorously researches and tests our top picks. If you buy through our links, we may get a commission. Reviews ethics statement

13 phones that changed the world

Of the thousands of mobile phones that have roamed the Earth, CNET shows you 13 handsets that changed mobile phone technology forever.

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 14 Josh Miller/CNET

Today's fancy phones: They all came from somewhere

Every mobile phone we use today, from basic handsets to the most advanced computer-in-your-pocket, wasn't created in a vacuum. Instead, they were built using the parts of many groundbreaking phones that came before them. Even if they don't look like much now, those pioneer devices set the stage for all the mobile development to come.

What follows are 13 handsets that changed the planet forever, either by introducing a new feature we now take for granted, or by making phones accessible to more people. By no means is this meant to be a completely comprehensive list, but each of the phones listed here was a "first" in a very important way. So, next time you're checking Facebook on a phone, or even (gasp) making a call, remember the phones that made it possible.

Editors' note:This gallery was originally published on May 15, 2014, and updated on May 21, 2015.

Motorola Startac
2 of 14 Motorola

The flip phone: Motorola Startac

When? 1996

The company that created the cell phone as we know it, Motorola, broke ground on many fronts. In 1983, the company introduced the first commercially available cell phone, the Dynatac 8000x. Yet it wasn't until the early 1990s when phones become cheap enough, and small enough (the Dynatac weighed 2.5 pounds/1.13 kilograms and cost $3,995), to make them anything more than a luxury item.

Enter the StarTac. The original "It phone," it revolutionized handset design by giving us the flip phone. Sure, the MicroTac preceded the StarTac by seven years, but it had just a flip-down mouthpiece rather than truly folding in half. The StarTac was smaller than any previous handset (just 3.1 ounces) with features like a 99-contact phone book and four hours of battery life.

3 of 14 Nokia 9000

The keyboard phone: Nokia 9000

When? 1996

The other early phone innovator, Nokia hit its stride as the 20th century ended. The 9000 was the first in the company's Communicator series and the earliest "smartphone" (if the word even existed back then).

Though it deserves a lot of credit for putting email and Web browsing in a phone, the 9000 also gave us the first full keyboard for typing. And that was before BlackBerry made its first handset. With keyboards a standard feature now, it makes you wonder how we ever texted without them. As I've discovered, T9 predictive text is not like riding a bicycle. You can forget.

Nokia 5110
4 of 14 Nokia

The "everyone had one" phone: Nokia 5110

When? 1998

Nokia's 5110 (also called the 5190) used to be everywhere. It was my first phone, and Roger Cheng also wore one proudly. It remains a classic Nokia device: almost indestructible, deadly simple to use, and the battery lasted forever.

Yet, it's not on this list because of an innovative feature (as cool as Snake was). Rather, it's here because it exemplifies the concept of a cheap, mass-produced widely-available phone. If you didn't have the Nokia 3210 (a Luke Westaway favorite), then you had a 5110 (or so it seemed at the time).

Sharp J-SH04
5 of 14 Sharp

The camera phone: Sharp J-SH04

When? 2000

Selfies owe their existence to this unassuming Japan-only phone. It took 0.1-megapixel photos and you could share them with a friend electronically. New cameras weren't far behind, and shooter resolution quickly multiplied with the first megapixel camera phones coming just three years later.

Still, it's important to note that though the camera-equipped Sanyo SCH-V200 was born before the J-SH04, it wasn't a camera phone as we think of today. The V200 had a camera, but you couldn't do anything with the photos except download them to a computer. So, essentially the V200 was just a phone with a camera attached.

BlackBerry 6210
6 of 14 BlackBerry

The smartphone: BlackBerry 6210

When? 2002

BlackBerry (or RIM, as it was known back then) was not the first to release a phone with email or a keyboard, but it was the first to package them in a way that was irresistible, especially to business users -- remember the term "crackberry?" Soon, BlackBerry phones were in offices everywhere, including the West Wing, thanks to its airtight security measures.

Of the early BlackBerry models, the 6210 (aka the "Quark") is particularly notable because it had an integrated microphone and speaker (you had to attach a headset to make calls on the earlier 5810), and it delivered coveted features such as email and BlackBerry Messenger. It also had a scroll wheel, as well as the first modern hardware design that persisted until the SureType keyboard.

Motorola Razr V3
7 of 14 Motorola

The thin phone: Motorola Razr V3

When? 2004

Years before people camped in line to buy the iPhone, they camped in line to buy this. It launched a thousand imitators, and Moto brought thin to a huge family of handsets, from the Slvr to the Rizr to the the Q. Admittedly, I completely underestimated the appeal of the Razr when Moto first announced it. And how wrong I was.

It wasn't big on features, but the Razr's trim profile was more than enough to ensure its wild success. Many, many color variations (including four shades of pink and a Dolce & Gabbana version) followed. The thin phone trend didn't die out until the iPhone. But in a way, it never really died out at all.

Palm Treo 650
8 of 14 CNET

The non-BlackBerry smartphone: Palm Treo 650

When? 2004

By the time Palm sold its Treo 650, BlackBerry had already cornered the corporate market. It took other devices, though, to put the smartphone in the hands of everyday consumers. The Treo 650 is one of the best examples.

First developed by Handspring, which Palm later acquired, the Treo line had email and all of the work-focused features, but also a decent Web browser, a camera, and a music and video player. Naturally, it ran on the Palm OS, but later models had Windows Mobile.

9 of 14 CNET

The touchscreen phone: LG KE850 Prada

When? 2006

The Prada bit was just a posh touch; LG KE850 is notable for being the first phone with a capacitive touchscreen. Yes, many other touchscreen phones preceded it, but capacitive display technology meant that we didn't use a stylus (something that amazed us in our review).

Capacitive touchscreens also are brighter than resistive screens and they support multi-touch gestures. Though the iPhone would later popularize the latter concept, LG's handset did sneak onto the market first.

Apple iPhone
10 of 14 Apple

The everyday smartphone: Apple iPhone

When? 2007

It wasn't the first smartphone, the first glass rectangle, or the first handset to deliver most of its hyped features, but the original iPhone packaged all of those points in a new way. Though rather dull and even ugly by today's standards, that first model did more than any other earlier phone to make the smartphone mainstream. And that was true even for the few months it existed in only one country (finally, the US got a phone first) and on only one carrier.

It wasn't what the iPhone did, but how it did them. Lines formed and new models steadily arrived in annual intervals. And while Apple continued to follow behind its rivals in introducing basic features like photo messaging and 3G, the iPhone family's ginormous appeal and innovation in other areas (like the App Store) were more than enough to make those rivals scramble.

T-Mobile G1
11 of 14 CNET

The Android phone: T-Mobile G1

When? 2008

When you look back, it's hard to believe that the T-Mobile G1 (aka the HTC Dream) was the first Android phone. With that boxy design and limited feature set, it wasn't the most auspicious debut for Google's OS. But after some time, Android was charging ahead leaving the G1 as barely a blip. And so, the two-OS horse race that rules us today was born.

Scores of devices followed, giving Android as equal an important role as Apple in making the smartphone an affordable and everyday device. And considering that Android devices were available on more carriers in more countries, it probably did more. Much Android-inspired innovation came as well, much more than I have room for here.

Samsung SCH-R900
12 of 14 Samsung

The LTE phone: Samsung SCH-R900

When? 2010

You probably haven't heard of her, but the Samsung SCH-R900 holds the honor of being the first phone with LTE. Sure, other 4G-like technologies such as Sprint's WiMax existed at the time, but LTE is the high-speed standard now spreading around the world.

Sales of the SCH-R900 never took off (in the US it was available only with regional carrier MetroPCS), it wasn't a smartphone and the processor was achingly slow. That said, a first is a first.

13 of 14 James Martin/CNET

The big phone: Samsung Galaxy Note

When? 2011

The handset that kicked off the big phone wave, the Samsung Galaxy Note shocked many when it first appeared. It was huge (5.3 inches), of course, and it had a stylus that took us back to the previous decade. The phone-tablet mashup also gave us a new word, "phablet" (to the consternation of many).

Like so many other phones on the list, the Note quickly went from outlier to normal. Many king-sized handset soon followed, including (and most recently) the iPhone 6 Plus.

Samsung Galaxy S3
14 of 14 Josh Miller/CNET

The other everyday smartphone: Samsung Galaxy S3

When? 2012

Though it wasn't the first model in Samsung's Galaxy series, the Galaxy S3 earns a place on this list for a few reasons. A powerful phone crammed with every feature available, it (and the later GS4GS5 and GS6) became the iPhone's strongest foe and it remains a prime (though maybe not the best) example of Android's potential. Also, its widespread availability, global launch, and Samsung's marketing muscle introduced even more people to their first smartphone.

But just as important, it sparked the long legal battle between Apple and Samsung that really went to court.

More Galleries

My Favorite Shots From the Galaxy S24 Ultra's Camera
A houseplant

My Favorite Shots From the Galaxy S24 Ultra's Camera

20 Photos
Honor's Magic V2 Foldable Is Lighter Than Samsung's Galaxy S24 Ultra

Honor's Magic V2 Foldable Is Lighter Than Samsung's Galaxy S24 Ultra

10 Photos
The Samsung Galaxy S24 and S24 Plus Looks Sweet in Aluminum
Samsung Galaxy S24

The Samsung Galaxy S24 and S24 Plus Looks Sweet in Aluminum

23 Photos
Samsung's Galaxy S24 Ultra Now Has a Titanium Design
The Galaxy S24 Ultra in multiple colors

Samsung's Galaxy S24 Ultra Now Has a Titanium Design

23 Photos
I Took 600+ Photos With the iPhone 15 Pro and Pro Max. Look at My Favorites

I Took 600+ Photos With the iPhone 15 Pro and Pro Max. Look at My Favorites

34 Photos
17 Hidden iOS 17 Features You Should Definitely Know About
Invitation for the Apple September iPhone 15 event

17 Hidden iOS 17 Features You Should Definitely Know About

18 Photos
AI or Not AI: Can You Spot the Real Photos?

AI or Not AI: Can You Spot the Real Photos?

17 Photos