One of the more interesting technology trends for 2017 was the wave of nostalgia that passed over the industry. HMD Global's Nokia 3310 stole the limelight at Mobile World Congress this year, despite a raft of cutting-edge phones on display. The always-nostalgic Nintendo released an adorable re-imagining of the 1990s Super Nintendo, called the SNES mini.
Like many tech enthusiasts, I was immediately smitten with both devices, but barely used them once they were delivered. The SNES mini has been used just once, the night I unboxed it, and has been gathering dust beside the television ever since. The novelty of the Nokia 3310 wore off in about 12 minutes.
I tried out the SNES Classic, and found that Nintendo has made some small but meaningful improvements to it over the NES Classic. I have no idea why, since the thing would sell out in 30 seconds anyway even if it were covered in rusty needles. Instead, it has a few nice new features, including a pretty smart system to let you jump back in time when you screw up.
This year's 3310 brought little new to the table, beyond a colourful, reworked version of Snake. Ironically, that was the one thing I wish they hadn't changed. Give me the monochromatic, stupidly difficult Snake of 1997 and I would have been happy.
But there is something to the idea of the simpler, not-so-smart phone that's worth exploring, and that caught the world's attention. The problem with HMD's implementation of the 3310 is that all it did was resurrect the physical hardware, not what we liked about the device. It brought back the what, not the why.
When we look back fondly to the original 3310, it's not typing with a T9 hunt-and-peck keypad that makes us smile. It's more the fantastic battery life, and the ability to hit it with a hammer and still make a call. To be fair, both features are found in the new version, but what I really look back on is a time before social media and never-ending emails and the stress that comes with them.
That's the feeling I want a retro phone to capture, but I don't want to give up some of the features that I've grown to love over the past 10 years of smartphones.
I hope HMD tries again, perhaps with a re-imagining of the 8210 next year. I'd love to see a tiny handset with better syncing and support for music and podcasts, an excellent camera, great battery life, and none of the social media time sinks or stresses of a modern smartphone. I'd happily pay a few hundred dollars for an almost-smartphone like that, much more than the $89 HMD is asking for the 3310.
In the end, my brief time with the new Nokia 3310 prompted me to resurrect an old iPhone 5 as a Spotify and podcast player, with no social networking apps on board, and no email accounts set up, that I could use on the weekends as a distraction-free device.
This kind of device is what I hope the smartwatch eventually becomes. Something I can take with me for music and podcasts, with just enough ways to stay in touch, but without a screen I'll find myself staring at all day. The cellular Apple Watch is almost there, it just needs much better battery life to be the one device you can rely on all day for these tasks.
As for the SNES Mini, it's a wonderful thing but if you really want a nostalgia hit you're better off putting your money toward a Nintendo Switch.
The Switch brings back all the memories of the Super Nintendo, in a new and improved portable package with much better graphics and gameplay.
Nintendo knows a large part of the Switch's audience are grown-up nineties kids, and its marquee titles — Mario Kart, Mario Odyssey, and Zelda — are filled with nods and winks to those games of the past.
Nintendo has mined nostalgia for years, so it know it's the why, not the what, that is important.