This is the Ericsson A1018s mobile phone, in Granite Grey with a bluish-grey faceplate. It was released in 1999 and aimed at the low end of the market. With an external antenna and no games, it couldn't really compete with that year's most popular mobile phone: the sleek Nokia 3210. But the A1018s was simple and sturdy, becoming a best-seller for Ericsson.
|Size||With Slim battery:|
130 x 49 x 29 mm (excluding antenna)
169 x 49 x 29 mm (including antenna)
|Weight||161 g (with Slim battery)|
|Display||LCD, monochrome, backlit|
101 x 33 pixels (71 PPI)
|Storage||1 MB flash|
If it were possible to take a screenshot on the A1018s, it would look like this:
The phone's display is large relative to its number of pixels, so the display is easier to read (but more pixellated) than the screenshot suggests. Also, the pixels on the display aren't square - they're slightly taller than wide.
The display and keypad have a green backlight.
The A1018s takes about 7 seconds to start up, and 1 second to shut down.
The interface is a simple menu system. The home screen displays the network signal strength and operator name, battery level and clock. Small icons are used to indicate features such as silent mode, call diversion and unread messages.
From the home screen, pressing the left or right key navigates through the top-level menu items. Looping means you end up back at the home screen after navigating far enough in either direction.
Pressing Yes on a menu item enters the relevant submenu, from which you can navigate left or right through the submenu items. Pressing No navigates 'up' a level (returning to the home screen if pressed at the top-level menu). Pressing Clear returns to the home screen from anywhere.
Experience the first couple of menu levels with this interactive demonstration:
Number and text entry is via the numeric keypad. The phone has no predictive ability, so when entering text each character requires at least one button press. To enter the letter 'A', the 2 key is pressed once. To enter 'B', 2 is pressed twice.
The * key is used to switch between upper case and lower case. The 1 and 0 keys are used for entering punctuation and symbols.
In 1999, Ericsson also released a snap-on QWERTY keyboard called the Chatboard, compatible with the A1018s. Being much thinner than the phone, even with the slimmest battery, it can't be used while the phone is lying down without dislodging it from the connector. And trying to hold the phone while typing is awkward.
The Chatboard also feels slow because typing a letter just sends the equivalent keypad presses. For example, typing "F" shows it cycling through D then E then F. This means it takes some time for the phone to catch up with your typing.
Fortunately the need for a QWERTY keyboard was lessened with later mobile phones as they incorporated T9 predictive text (and then inbuilt hardware or virtual keyboards).
Telstra U Pre-paid
I purchased the A1018s new in a Telstra 'U Pre-paid Mobile' pack for $129. This was at a time when Telstra's marketing team were seemingly bored or confused - a year earlier the service was called 'MobileNet Zip' and a year later it was 'communic8'.
The pack came with $25 of call credit, and you could select from two different call rates: $0.70/minute at all times, or $1/minute 7am-7pm Mon-Fri and $0.20/minute nights/weekends. It cost $1 to change between rates. These prices increased by 10% with the introduction of GST on 1 July 2000, and a $0.20 flagfall was later added.
Unlike today's phones, its menu system can't be easily (or fully) accessed without a valid SIM card. To access some menu options without a SIM, you can press **04*0000*0000*0000#, then press No while it shows "Wrong PIN". (This is actually the code you could use to set the SIM PIN to "0000" if there were a SIM inserted.)
Pre-paid phones like this are usually network-locked. I wanted to be able to access the full menu system so needed the right network's SIM card.
The phone's ID label says it's locked to Vodafone and its KRC variant number confirms it's associated with Vodafone Australia. I submitted an unlock request to Vodafone but they said the phone wasn't locked to them.
The phone wouldn't accept a Vodafone SIM or the other network SIMs I tried ("Insert correct card"), so I turned to 20-year-old web forums for a solution.
For some phones of this era, software was available to generate an unlock code based on information such as the IMEI and network operator. But for the Ericssons, unlocking was only possible using software in conjunction with a serial data cable.
The most used unlocking software for the A1018s appears to be Ericsson ATR Service by Daniel Henzulea a.k.a. Zulea. Early versions of the software required a hardware 'key box' to operate. But the most recent version, 5.3 from 2001, just needs the data cable - which I found on eBay after some creative searching.
The ATR Service software only works in Windows 95/98/ME. It might be possible to get things working on a modern PC using a virtual machine and serial-to-USB passthrough. But in the spirit of 1999, I used a laptop from that year - a serial-equipped Gateway running Windows 98 SE.
I couldn't find instructions on how to actually use ATR Service but this is what I did:
- With the phone off, connect it to the laptop with the serial cable.
- Open ATR Service.
- Click "Unlock".
- When prompted, briefly press the No button on the phone.
Within a few seconds, the progress bar completed and the phone was unlocked.
Nearly every aspect of mobile phones has changed since the A1018s' release. Physical keys, monochrome displays, removable batteries, protruding antennas, and proprietary charging/data ports are things of the past. Even SIM cards are now being replaced by eSIM in some mobile devices.
The only thing the A1018s has in common with current phones is the ability to make and receive calls and text messages - and it can only do that in the dwindling number of countries with 2G-supporting carriers.
Although irrelevant in today's world, the A1018s was practical in its day, and for millions of people was their first mobile phone experience.