Illustration by Dan Evans.
This post originally appeared on VICE UK.
Smartphones have their perks; without them, it would be impossible to take a photo of your junk and instantly share it with someone in Brazil. But they also have their downsides. Like constantly having your office in your pocket, or people ruining debates by googling the answer, or the fact that they're effectively just GPS ankle monitors that double up us pizza-ordering devices.
That last point is a salient one for people who spend a lot of their time doing stuff they don't want anyone to know about. People like drug dealers and other criminals, who—thanks to the nature of their jobs—are understandably paranoid that they're having their every movement monitored.
The best remedy for this problem is to switch from an Android or iPhone to a shitty old handset. And the shitty old handset of choice, according to every source I've spoken to, is the Nokia 8210.
The pocket-sized phone, released in 1999, has no Bluetooth, near-field connectivity or wifi—meaning nobody can snoop on your movements—but is equipped with infra-red technology, enabling quick transfers of information when dealers need to swap phones. It's also got a massive battery life, which is handy if you spend the majority of your time calling customers who can't work out which road you've parked on.
Unveiled at the 30th anniversary of the fashion brand Kenzo in Paris, it was the smallest and lightest phone Nokia had ever released. It's also become a popular phone in prisons, with visitors frequently smuggling them into inmates inside their anuses.
A dealer in Handsworth, Birmingham—who would only give his name as "K2"—told me: "I've got three Nokia 8210 phones and have been told they can be trusted, unlike these iPhones and new phones, which the police can easily [use to] find out where you've been.
"The feds can now use wifi and Bluetooth to get information from the phone, and seem to be able to listen to phones a lot easier now than ever before. Every dealer I know uses old phones, and the Nokia 8210 is the one everyone wants because of how small it is and how long the battery lasts. And it was the best phone when it came out. I couldn't afford one in Jamaica back in the day, but now I've got four."
He added: "Every TV program you watch seems to show feds listening to phones, and there are even apps now that record every phone call. At least I can trust an old Nokia. I need to use more than one phone for what I do; I've got the incoming line and ones I use to phone out, which I change the sims in regularly, so I've got different covers so I know which is which."
The Nokia 8210 commercial from 1999
Tony, a 32-year-old addict from Birmingham, told me that the 8210 has also become a good bargaining chip. "I was using an 8210 because my Samsung was bust, and two dealers offered to buy it," he said. "The third one who asked, I snapped their hand off and swapped it for half a six [of crack, with a street value of $50].
"After that, I asked everyone I knew if they had any old Nokias lying around, and managed to get four more, and did the same with them, too. Now I'm going to second hand shops and eBay to get Nokia 8210s. They're wicked phones, and after all, everyone likes a game of Snake. These dealers are the same as everyone—they want to have the best, even it is the best of the shit old phones."
A mobile phone shop owner on the Soho Road, Birmingham, who didn't want to named, confirmed what I'd heard, telling me: "We've had a few people asking for 8210s, and if we ever get one they sell straight away. I don't know what they want them for and don't ask."
So there you have it: if you've got an old 8210 lying around, don't bother with Envirophone—take it along with you the next time you're buying a bag of weed and you might end up wrangling an extra eighth out of it.