They don’t make ’em like they used to: Top 4 phones that did it right, but the world said “no”
Although phones like the Galaxy Z Fold 4 and iPhone 14 Pro Max are very exciting, top of the heap, I sometimes find myself looking at smartphones from about five or six years back with fondness.
Now, five years might not sound like much, but it sure is, when it comes to technological progress. We’re doing it, baby! We’re progressing pretty rapidly and in many, many areas, including consumer tech.
Some smartphones now have gotten as powerful as some laptops (well, at least on benchmarks), and augmented reality is just around the corner.
So with all that going on, is it healthy to look at the past, instead of focus on the present and the future? Well, I believe if something was done better in the past, we should definitely take another look at it again, and think whether or not there’s room for it to make a return.
Not saying all the phones here necessarily “did things better,” but they certainly did a lot right. And, as you’ve seen from the title – they’re not for sale anymore, so a nostalgic me has a hard time finding second-hand units to buy and play around with, let alone new ones.
Let’s take a look at my top 4 smartphones that we can no longer buy, and what made them so special…
Xiaomi Mi Max 2
Phones these days are pretty big, but that comes with a huge asterisk. We measure smartphone displays diagonally, and phones nowadays are very tall, so a “big” phone won’t necessarily look or feel as big as “big” phones of the past.
The main reason I’m so fond of the Xiaomi Mi Max 2 is because it was a wide phone, not a tall one. It was big, and wide. They don’t make phones like this anymore. You can look at its specs, see a 6.44-inch display and think “Huh? That’s nothing compared to my 6.8-inch Galaxy S22 Ultra!”
But modern phones like the Ultra are tall, yet not very wide. The reason they make them like this nowadays is because tall phones are perfect for scrolling through social media feeds. But take a wide phone like the Mi Max 2, and play a movie or a video on it – the screen will feel so much bigger than a modern, tall, narrow screen does, even if the latter is technically more inches diagonally…
I really wish they made wide phones today, but it seems like that concept’s gone the way of the dodo. Even Xiaomi itself followed up the Mi Max 2 with a narrower, taller Mi Max 3.
Which is why the Mi Max 2 remains one of my favorite, most nostalgic phones ever, that’s no longer on the market. My dad still uses mine! Still works fine five years later!
The way it looks is part of why I miss it too, though. The white-bezel Mi Max 2 I got looked like an iPad mini 4, and was wide like it too…
This phone was the perfect blend between smartphone and a small tablet in my opinion.
Now you might be thinking “Why would you want an old, outdated-looking phone like this, when the Galaxy Z Fold 4 exists?”
True, the Z Fold 4 is literally a phone and a tablet – and I love it. In my Galaxy Z Fold 4 review I was very positive about it, deservingly so. However, folding phones are still very thick, and not as pocketable as a big slab phone. Even a huge, normal slab phone feels smaller than a folding phone, because thinness plays a huge role in portability. That’s why slab phones became the standard. We put phones in our pockets, so ideally they have to remain thin, no matter how large the screen gets.
Maybe when rollable phones start “rolling” up next year, we’ll finally get thinner phablets, but for now, I’m pretty nostalgic for the Xiaomi Mi Max 2, and still consider it the perfect big phone.
iPhone SE (2016)
Small phones don’t sell well these days. The iPhone mini line-up was ended after just two generations, and the more recent iPhone SE models aren’t selling nearly as well as the other iPhones.
That’s pretty understandable, as we live in an age where we rely on our phones for everything – from entertainment, to work or study. Having a big display on your phone is now not only desirable, but mandatory for most people.
But I’m still occasionally rocking an iPhone mini, and the only reason I bought it was because I wanted a modern iPhone SE (2016). That small, beautiful flat-edge design, and its extreme portability are still very attractive to me.
If I see someone pulling out the original 2016 iPhone SE I just have to comment on it, and check it out – it truly has a timeless design. And the design is what makes it so beloved, and what puts it on this list.
In terms of practicality – indeed, I can’t recommend small phones these days. Not only can you not watch videos or movies and actually enjoy them, but even basic tasks like writing a message can be a hassle.
Not to mention the poor battery life you can expect from the obligatory smaller battery. At least in my experience, the iPhone 12 mini has very poor battery life. (And it degraded 5% in just a single year as a bonus, so now it’s even weaker!)
Microsoft Lumia 950 XL
This was a perfect smartphone for Nokia Lumia to go out on (even though it technically wasn’t the last Lumia).
Several things make the Nokia Lumia 950 XL special – not just its beautiful design, with that surprisingly modern camera module on the back, but also its Windows 10 Mobile operating system, which was a successor to Windows Phone 8.1…
Most notable, however, is Microsoft’s forward thinking in one key area – Windows Continuum. The Lumia 950 XL was one of the phones to have this feature, which was just like Samsung DeX is today – but arguably better, because it actually looked and felt like real Windows.
Connect the Lumia 950 XL to an external display, and it turns into a touchpad, while on the display you get a very competent Windows-looking desktop experience! Very impressive for the time!
Not only that, but recently Lumia lovers have been able to run the full Windows 11 operating system on this phone! Well, the ARM version, that is, so maybe it still won’t run most of your favorite apps, but wow – was that phone full of potential.
Just from the fact that it offered both a smartphone experience, and a very, very convincing Windows desktop experience – this is a very cool phone in my eyes. And as an already huge lover of the unfortunately-unsuccessful Windows Phone operating system, I can’t not talk about it.
A phone that’s also your PC? That’s the dream!
Like LG, you may have noticed that HTC is absent from the smartphone market these days, and that’s pretty sad, because some of its phones, like the HTC One, were amazing.
First off, its industrial design is as timeless as the iPhone SE – just gorgeous, with sleek black bezels, a notably curved back plate, and not one, but dual front-firing speakers!
Remember when phone manufacturers didn’t just focus on display quality, but also wanted to give you a great audio experience? Good times. Nowadays only certain niche phones have front-firing speakers, and “dual speaker” sneakily references just a single bottom-firing speaker, paired with a weaker earpiece.
But the HTC One was serious business. It even came with headphones, stickers, and (hold on to your chairs) a charger! Just a true sentiment of a brand doing its best in both the design department, and in delivering a great user experience from all angles.
What are your favorite phones that we can’t buy anymore?
Share your favorite phones that are no longer on the market with us! Perhaps your first smartphone ever, or one that you’ve gotten in the past five or six years that’s still kickin’, and remains special to you for one reason or another.
Any cool, underappreciated smartphones of the past you believe deserve to be on this list?