Flashback: 20 years ago, Nokia 7650, the first camera phone was launched

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the launch of a device that has completely changed the mobile phone industry and determined the direction of further smartphone development.

Back in 2002, Nokia, then the world’s largest manufacturer, launched a model called the Nokia 7650, the first one with a built-in camera. I know, could be nitpicking with some marginal manufacturers such as Kyocera or Sharp, who, truth be told, were really the first to launch phones with a built-in camera, but everyone knows that these were experiments that never come to life, nor has anyone ever taken them seriously.

Nokia was at the peak of its power at the time, so it was the first to launch a camera device that would go into mass production and be available worldwide.


The first such commercial model was the mentioned Nokia 7650, which brought a VGA camera on the back, a screen that supported 4096 colors, but also a rather unconventional overall design for the time. The 7650 was a slider cell phone. The numeric keypad could be opened and closed with a simple mechanism.

Apart from the eye-catchy design, it brought support for the WAV audio format, so you could install your own ringtone as a song or put some interesting sound for an incoming text message.

Personally, I was one of the first owners of this device in the world. When I say this, I am not exaggerating, because, in 2002, the penetration of mobile telephony in the population was incomparably lower than today. Back then, the Nokia 3310 and Ericsson T10 were the most commonly seen models seen on the streets, in offices, and on cafe tables, while managers, and those who felt that way, were in possession of the Ericsson T68 or some other expensive phone.

The Nokia 7650 was eye-catching, both because of its unusual shape and rather a large color screen at the time. This 2.1-inch screen was visibly larger than the one on the Ericsson T68, and due to the 4096 supported colors, it also brought incomparably better display. So good that the photos on it looked real and the background images were stunning.

The camera had a VGA resolution senzor, which means that the photos taken with it were 640 x 480 pixels big. From today’s perspective, this seems rather backward, but at the time, it was pushing the boundaries. Since there were no social networks yet, the photos taken with this camera could normally be used on websites and forums, and the participants in the discussions would not have imagined that the photos were taken with a mobile phone. Truth be told, back then, digital cameras weren’t much better either, at least not for the purpose of using photos online.

The photo of my cat, taken with Nokia 7650 back in 2002

Unfortunately, this camera was not able to record video, but this was soon made possible by the hard work of developers who began developing applications for this device. In addition to being marked as the first commercial camera phone, the Nokia 7650 was also the founder of Symbian, an operating system that soon developed into a great ecosystem. There were no app stores like today, but various web services had specialized in selling mobile software on their sites.

Symbian may not have been the first mobile phone operating system to allow installing applications, but it was far more popular than any other that existed, such as Microsoft’s PocketPC, PalmOS, or BlackBerry.

Symbian as such succeeded and for many years represented a paradigm in the world of smartphones, until the advent of the iPhone and then Android. This era was also marked by its many excellent successors, such as the 6600, 7680 and the mega-popular N-series.

Anyway, the Nokia 7650 certainly deserves a place in the history of technology, engraved in golden letters, and we will remember it as the originator of cameras on mobile phones, without which we could not imagine today’s world.