Counterclockwise: phones that rotate

Peter, 30 June 2019

Phones have had rotating controls since the early days. In the 19th century, if you wanted to call someone, you had to crank a handle (it generated the electric pulse that rung the bell of the other phone). In the 20th century, there was the rotary dial.

Counterclockwise: phones with rotating components

While cell phones never had a rotary dial, the likes of the Sony CMD J7 had a Jog Dial - a wheel on the side of the phone that can be used to navigate menus. BlackBerry started with trackwheels too, but the iconic Pearl series introduced the trackball. The T-Mobile G1 had a trackball too. Of course, later models swapped out the physical ball for an optical trackpad.

Sony CMD J7 BlackBerry Pearl 8100 T-Mobile G1
Sony CMD J7 BlackBerry Pearl 8100 T-Mobile G1

Rotation isn't limited to just input. The Nokia 3250 featured a rotating bottom half (with the camera and keypad), the Nokia N90 had a rotating screen. Both designs tried to imitate a handheld camcorder - something that consumers were familiar with as at the time camera phones were still quite new.

Nokia 3250 Nokia N90
Nokia 3250 Nokia N90

Rotation had aesthetic value too, for example the Nokia 7370 and Motorola Aura offered an alternative to the flip design and both phones were advertised based on their looks.

Nokia 7370 Motorola Aura
Nokia 7370 Motorola Aura

The Siemens SK65 looked like a regular bar phone, until you rotated its hidden QWERTY keyboard 90, giving the phone an unusual cross shape. The Nokia 6800 had similar ideas, though we think that this is an unusual flip phone more than a rotating design.

Siemens SK65 Nokia 6800
Siemens SK65 Nokia 6800

Samsung had its fair share of rotating designs too. Some did it just for the looks (like the extra narrow Samsung X830), others used to to turn their screen in landscape orientation (e.g. Samsung P900). This made it more convenient to watch TV (the P900 had a built-in T-DMB TV receiver), but we're not quite sure if complicating the hardware was worth it over just holding the phone sideways.

Samsung X830 Samsung P900
Samsung X830 Samsung P900

Rotating cameras didn't die with those old Nokias, the Oppo N1 was advertised as the "world's first rotating camera smartphone". A motor could turn the main camera around - either to use as a selfie camera or to automatically sweep the landscape and capture a panorama. There's an alternative design - the Honor 7i.

Oppo N1 Honor 7i
Oppo N1 Honor 7i

Of course, the idea isn't entirely new. You can see it in this Motorola T720i from 2002, which had a camera accessory (no on-board camera) that could be rotated to point towards or away from you. 2004 brought us the Samsung i700 with a similar rotating camera (though this one was built-in). Sorry, Oppo.

Motorola T720i Samsung i700
Motorola T720i Samsung i700

This design was recently resurrected by the Asus Zenfone 6. The Samsung Galaxy A80 camera does two motions - slide and rotate. Those two were the main inspiration behind this article.

Asus Zenfone 6 ZS630KL Samsung Galaxy A80
Asus Zenfone 6 ZS630KL Samsung Galaxy A80

The Samsung Gear S2 packed a rotating bezel - a classic component of wristwatches re-imagined for the smartwatch era. This may be going away, however, the Galaxy Watch Active lacks the trademark bezel.

Samsung Gear S2
Samsung Gear S2

Modern phones have turned into solid pieces of glass and metal with as few moving parts as possible. It's a durable, easy to build design but it's a bit boring too. This quick recollection of phones with rotating bits reminded us of the variety in design that we used to have. And we're glad makers are still designing phones that can move, even if it's just the camera.


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Reader comments

  • Anonymous

Yes Sony was pretty much into manufacturing devices with somthing rolling in it. My J5 had jog wheel (before the above mentioned J7), just like my Sony Cliés, but the HTC Trinity also does has it. And the first rotating cam was built in a Sony...

Wow you missed my favourite rotating phone The Sony Ericsson S600 Had my 1st holiday without taking a camera and relying on my phone with this one

  • Carol

Probably because their is already a device presented that rotates this way, and makes no sense to show them all?