I just rescued a Nokia 3310 from a back-street black market

A search for tech treasure at Barcelona's stolen goods market turns up an original version of the reinvented phone everyone's talking about.

Katie Collins Senior European Correspondent
Katie a UK-based news reporter and features writer. Officially, she is CNET's European correspondent, covering tech policy and Big Tech in the EU and UK. Unofficially, she serves as CNET's Taylor Swift correspondent. You can also find her writing about tech for good, ethics and human rights, the climate crisis, robots, travel and digital culture. She was once described a "living synth" by London's Evening Standard for having a microchip injected into her hand.
Katie Collins
4 min read

A new generation of the classic Nokia 3310 debuted in Barcelona on Sunday evening, and immediately became the talk of the town.

Earlier that same day, I bought an original version of the phone on the back streets of Barcelona's Gothic quarter for just two euros at the city's weekly stolen goods market.

Barcelona is known for many things -- Gaudi, the beach, tapas and cerveza -- but it is also No. 1 on TripAdvisor's list of the world's worst cities for pickpockets. Petty crime is rife, and many people I know who have visited the city, especially during Mobile World Congress , the world's largest phone show, have stories about being relieved of their belongings.

This year's show had a heavy undercurrent of nostalgia. It wasn't just Nokia's new owners looking for buzz with a throwback (the original 3310 debuted around the turn of the millennium). The BlackBerry and Motorola brands, similarly well removed from their glory days, have also been reanimated for another go at relevance.

But I wanted to see what happens to tech that gets stolen -- the stuff that doesn't get immediately shipped abroad, at least. So after reading a blog post written by former Barcelona resident Chris Watt describing the illegal market, I went about it tracking down.

As per Chris' instructions to me, I made my way to the Placa Reial at 8:30 a.m. "When the police come they usually run to Carrer de la Boqueria," he told me.

I arrived at Placa Reial at 8:15 a.m. and was dismayed to find the police already milling about and the only people selling anything to be legitimate antiques stall holders quietly setting up shop for the day and poring over each others' collections of rare coins. Undeterred, I headed north into the maze of alleyways that make up the Barri Gothic and did a cursory loop around to Carrer de la Boqueria.

When I arrived back at Placa Reial, a small group of men with bags slung over their shoulders had gathered under the portico watching from the shadows as the Guardia Urbana cops milled about. The sun was peeking into the square and I decided to wait it out with a coffee, hoping to see the action unfold. Ten minutes passed and I could see more men lurking in the shadows under the colonnades. I paid up and went to investigate.

One street over, in the Carrer d'Escudellers Blancs I hit the jackpot. The narrow alleyway was lined each side with blankets, sheets and tablecloths covered in bric-a-brac. To my surprise, the goods were not, as I had expected them to be, well-loved and expensive treasured possessions. Instead it was mostly tat -- the kind of stuff you'd chuck in the dumpster during a house move.


One man's trash...

Katie Collins/CNET

But jumbled in among the broken toys and beat-up trainers, I found what I had come for: the tech. Again, nothing could exactly be described as a diamond in the rough. There were controllers for defunct games consoles, bulky laptops with aspect ratios not seen since the 1990s and dozens of scuffed-up feature phones.

Among them, I found my 3310.

"How much?" I pointed at the phone.

"Dos euros." The man picked up the phone and turned it on to show me that it worked, but I'd already made up my mind to buy.

Exploring Barcelona's illegal market for long-lost tech treasure

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Not everything was such an easy sale. I watched a man haggle over an iPod Mini and get it down to five euros before thinking better of it.

As I neared the end of the alley, I heard a dog bark and the men scrambled to pack their belongings into wheelie cases or Ikea bags and filed past me. The police, ambling at a snail's pace, appeared as the last man was still trying to secure a sale for an empty bird cage. After they too passed, I tacked on to the end of the ragtag parade and followed it round back into the square.

Enlarge Image

The traders getting moved along.

Katie Collins/CNET

The men dispersed down alleyways, and having completed their perfunctory moving on of the ne'er-do-wells, the police moved off. Taking their chance, the men flooded back into the square, laying out their goods once more.

This was my chance to talk to them, but my nonexistent Spanish and their non-existent English proved stumbling blocks. I needed to take pictures of their tech without annoying them, so instead I ingratiated myself the best way I knew how -- by petting their very friendly, if slightly mangy dogs.

By 9:30 a.m., the square was flooded with sunlight and I'd given up looking for anything else vaguely valuable -- a cracked iPhone 5C and a Sony Xperia Z3 were the closest I came. Instead, I left the coin sellers and stolen goods brokers to peddle their wares in peace, pocketed my 3310 and made a move.

It turned out to be a good buy. Later that day and throughout the show, other journalists looked on in envy as I photographed the 3310s new and old, side by side. It may be the 2017 version of the iconic phone that most people are interested in right now, but old faithful's still got it.

Watch this: New Nokia 3310 versus old Nokia 3310

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