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My newest ancient phone - the Sony Mars Bar

A project log for Resurrecting a '1G' brick phone on the cheap

In which I attempt to install a GSM module in an old Sony 'Mars Bar' phone, to make it vaguely useful for the first time in 20+ years

James FosseyJames Fossey 08/12/2022 at 21:090 Comments

My Sony Mars Bar has arrived, so before I start chronicling my attempts to modernise it, I just thought I'd warble on about the phone's history a bit.

1992 was probably the year when mobile phones first came within the reach of the ordinary UK consumer for private use. Of course, mobile phones had been around since the mid-1980s for the obscenely rich, the business user and the obscenely rich business user (of whom there were quite a few in the late '80s). However, not many ordinary folk would have been in a position to buy one - they weren't yet 'high-street' items, the costs were astronomical and, with payphones far more commonplace than they are now, why would you have needed one anyway?

Then, in 1992/93, three things happened in quick succession:

(1) Cellnet (now O2) launched their (relatively!) affordable Lifetime tariff, which was aimed at low-frequency users. The marketing pushed the idea of an 'emergency' phone for peace-of-mind, probably spending most of its life tucked away in your car glovebox. (I think Vodafone launched something similar as well - LowCall?)

(2)  A new crop of easy-to-use mobiles aimed at the novice user went on sale. As wellas the Sony CM-H333, there was the cheaper (and famously screen-less) Motorola Personal Phone. The Nokia 100 followed soon after.

(3) Said phones started becoming readily available in High Street stores. The CM-H333 has the honour of being the first mobile phone to appear for sale in an Argos catalogue - £325 (on contract!!) in the Spring/Summer 1993 edition, on Cellnet Lifetime.

The phone itself is surprisingly small for its age - it's narrower than my 'real' phone (a Nokia 105) and very light. Feature-wise, you get 9 number memories, 3 extra speed dials, adjustable ringer/earpiece volume, a snazzy pop-up earpiece that can be used to answer calls (seven years before the Nokia 7110 made slidy bits fashionable) and a call timer. Oh, and a wrist strap. I wish all phones came with wrist straps - they're so sensible.

My particular handset is functioning, and would have been on the Vodafone network judging by the '0374' dialling code on the label on the back. Sadly, it isn't in great physical condition - but this doesn't bother me much, as it'll get knocked about a bit anyway over the course of the project, and I wouldn't want to ruin a museum piece with a stray soldering iron tip. If the project works, I might search out a more 'pristine' example and do a circuit-board swap. It'd be nice to get hold of the original battery charger as well.

Did I mention batteries? More on this very soon...(let's get the gloves ready).

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