id=”article-body” class=”row” section=”article-body”>
This special-edition Motorola StarTAC “Rainbow” version is about as vintage as you can get.
This story is part of , celebrating a quarter century of industry tech and our role in telling you its story.
In 2020, it’s almost hard to remember a time before cellphones were at the center of daily life. But I recently purchased a retro relic that made me appreciate the mobile revolution in a brand-new way: the Motorola StarTAC, the flip phone that changed everything.
Unabashedly plastic, flaunting its roughly 1.75-inch screen like some kind of cellular royalty, the StarTAC was easily as iconic in 1996 as the iPhone is now.
The rare StarTAC 70 “Rainbow” edition I snagged on eBay looks like a child’s plastic plaything, a stack of terraced ridges that starts with a bump the color of earwax before cascading down to blue, green, that camel yellow again and finally to brick red on the back and sides. It has a SIM card the size of your Visa, 222053084 a pull-out antenna wobbling on a slender stalk and a hinge that lets you fold it in half to slide the handset into your pocket.
It’s adorable, ridiculous, and above all, irresistible.
The Rainbow StarTAC version is from 1998, but Motorola — already legendary for — had applied for the StarTAC trademark three years before. In fact, that was 25 years ago, in 1995. A quarter of a century.
It wasn’t until Jan. 6, 1996, that the black plastic phone officially debuted, but when it did, the result was momentous.
The original StarTAC was so small by the standards of the day — most phones were 5 to 7 inches tall — that Motorola called it a “wearable cellular telephone.” Just add a hip holster. (Scroll to the end for the full specs compared to the $1,000 and .)
StarTAC almost immediately achieved the pinnacle of celebrity, pressed up to the faces of movie stars on the silver screen before snapping shut into an ultraportable device. It represented a mobile future now easily taken for granted.
And it cost a small fortune. $1,000 in 1996 dollars, the equivalent of $1,682 in today’s money.
Back then, few would have predicted that this toy of a cell phone resting on my knee would almost single-handedly change the world.
But in 1996, the StarTAC was like nothing anyone had seen before.