The Matrix completes twenty years of existence this year. And well, it certainly changed the way we all perceived computers and technology (and made “Smith” a very unpopular surname for a while). The film was swimming in tech, from amazing networks that let you transport yourself over a phone line to connections that let evil agents infiltrate anybody. Its vision of the future (one in which machines control humans) was disturbing at many levels, but one area where the film kind of let tech fans down was in…well, cellphones.
Yes, when The Matrix was released in 1999, smartphones were not quite the rage, although PDAs were making their presence felt (hey, Apple had one, remember!). But The Matrix trilogy used mobile phones pretty much the way it used sunglasses – to look cool as hell (yes, we know that sounds weird) rather than as super futuristic devices. Of course, the first film in the series used the Nokia 8810, first seen when it was delivered to Mr “Neo” Anderson, letting Morpheus warn him about the agents in the building (see video below). It is now known as the banana phone because of its availability in a yellow shade, but it looked quite slick in black in the film – and hey, having a cover slide back to reveal a keyboard was pretty much the height of hi-tech in phones in 1999. The Nokia 8810, incidentally was a real phone from the real world and was released in 1998.
That certainly was not the case with the phone used in the second Matrix film in 2003, The Matrix Reloaded. Now, that phone was made exclusively for the film, had not been released in the market before and as per claims was actually developed in collaboration with the design crew of the film. And by some remarkable quirk of fate, it was manufactured by the brand that would take over Nokia’s place as numero uno in the phone market (something that seemed unthinkable at that time) – Samsung.
That phone would go down in history as The Matrix Phone. And if the first Matrix film had a cover that slid back to show the keyboard of the phone, the second film had a cover that flipped up to become an earpiece and also show more of the phone’s which would be otherwise partially covered. Flipping up the cover involved hitting a button on the side of the phone and well, it did look very high-tech in the film. The phone itself definitely looked nothing like anything we had seen in phoneland – it was tall when the earpiece opened, a bit on the wide side and had very edgy sides that seemed to jag in at places. It was as if a lightsaber from Star Wars had fallen in love with a Walkie Talkie and had a technologically legitimate child!
Its name was the Samsung SPH-N270 (yes, phones used to have names like HP PC models in those days). It was hyped as The Matrix phone, had its own ad campaign alongside other Samsung products used in the film and was expected to be released right alongside the film. It had a 128 x 160 TFT display and people could not stop raving about its massive 1000 mAh battery!
Oh, one more thing:
It never really made it to the market in its film-y avatar!
For, when the Samsung SPH-N270 was released, in spite of a number of Matrix-like touches (the Digital Rain of green code falling against a black background was used in many menus, and there were the usual mix of themes and ringtones), fans were quick to point out that it looked rather different from the handset they had seen in the film. It was soon revealed that the phone used in the film actually was a prop and thus, non-functional, although the earpiece did pop out rather amazingly in it. Fans were also surprised to see that the phone was not really as high-tech as the film it was represented – it had not Bluetooth, no infrared port, no MP3 support and did not even have a camera, which was a bit of a let down because camera phones were just becoming a thing in the present – and hey, this was a film about the future, right?
We left the best for last – it could not access the Web. Yes, the phone that was about the Matrix, the ultimate digital network of them all, and it could not access the Internet itself.
It did not exactly set the market on fire. And perhaps it was not intended to – it was priced at USD 500 and as per some sources, only ten thousand units were ever manufactured (they have rarity value now and are available on eBay). There were no reissues, and even though those who had one got a buzz out of flipping out that earpiece, there was almost always someone around to remark:
“They did not use THAT phone in the film, you know!”
Indeed, they did not. Samsung made the official phone for the The Matrix Reloaded. But the phone used in the film itself was in all probability, just a prop!