Motorola StarTAC

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Motorola StarTAC
A StarTAC 8500 (AMPS model)
Compatible networksAMPS, cdmaOne, TDMA, GSM
First releasedJanuary 3, 1996; 25 years ago (1996-01-03)
PredecessorMotorola MicroTAC series
SuccessorMotorola RAZR[1]
Dimensions94 mm × 55 mm × 19 mm (130)
Mass88 g
DisplayDigital: LCD
AMPS (analog): Segment LED, Alphanumeric LED

The Motorola StarTAC, first released on 3 January 1996, is often assumed to be the first ever clamshell (flip) mobile phone.[2] Technically however, NEC had been releasing flip phones on NTT Docomo's PDC Mova network long before 1996, namely the TZ-804 and TZ-1501, both respectively launched in 1991 and late 1994. [3][4] The StarTAC is the successor of the MicroTAC, a semi-clamshell design first launched in 1989.[5] Whereas the MicroTAC's flip folded down from below the keypad, the StarTAC folded up from above the display. In 2005, PC World named the StarTAC as the 6th Greatest Gadget of the Past 50 Years (out of a list of fifty).[2] The StarTAC was among the first mobile phones to gain widespread consumer adoption; approximately 60 million StarTACs were sold.

The StarTAC brand was revived in 2004 and 2007 for a series of flip phones exclusive to some Asian markets, and again for a cordless phone model.


Motorola applied for the StarTAC trademark name in September 1995. The StarTAC was unveiled in North America on January 3, 1996.[6] Then the smallest cell phone available, this AMPS phone was an immediate success. Successor TDMA and cdmaOne StarTACs were equally popular. GSM models were available in North America through Powertel, VoiceStream and other early GSM carriers. The StarTAC, which closely resembles Star Trek's Communicator,[7] remained popular until the early 2000s, appearing in many Hollywood movies of the period such as 8mm starring Nicolas Cage. During its initial launch, magazine ads for the phone would include an actual size cardboard facsimile that could be pulled from the page to demonstrate the diminutive nature of the device.

The Motorola StarTAC mobile phone was introduced at the price of $1000.[8]

Key features included:

  • The ability to receive SMS text messages, although only the later digital models had the capability to send messages.
  • A weight of approximately 88 grams[9] (3.1 ounces[6])
  • An optional lithium-ion battery, at a time when most phones were restricted to lower capacity NiMH batteries
  • Vibrate alert (as an alternative to a ringtone)


In October 2010, the now defunct French company Lekki, which refurbished iconic vintage products from the 1990s, released a line of refurbished StarTACs in new colourful bodies for 220 each.[10][11]

Brand name revival[edit]

StarTAC 2004[edit]

The StarTAC name was revived in 2004 for a new model designed for the South Korean market. It had:

  • A 128×160 262,000 TFT Color LCD
  • 64-channel sound
  • A Mobile Banking feature supported by SK Telecom
  • A 2,800-entry contact book

In addition, a version with an 18K gold directional keypad and brightwork was released as StarTAC 2004 SE.

The regular edition was released without the Mobile Banking function as the Motorola V628 in China. The 18K gold edition remained Korea-only.

StarTAC III[edit]

Motorola once again revived the StarTAC brand with the StarTAC III, announced on February 27, 2007.[12]

  • 2-inch QVGA display
  • GPS
  • MP3 support
  • 128 MB built-in memory

Model list[edit]

Analogue phones[edit]

Most first generation analogue StarTACs feature LED displays as per Motorola tradition.

StarTAC 3000[edit]

The base model, which lacks the side volume controls, the smart button, and the contacts for an auxiliary battery. Also the only StarTAC model with a segmented LED display, as opposed to dot matrix LED displays found on other models.

StarTAC 6000e[edit]

Mid-tier StarTAC model, launched in 1996. Included one line LED display.

StarTAC 6000c[edit]

StarTAC 6000 updated in 1997 to include lower-cost one line LCD display.

StarTAC 6500[edit]

Identical to the 6000e, but included vibration. Released in 1996.

StarTAC 8500[edit]

The original StarTAC model, launched in 1996. Included two line LED display.

StarTAC 8600[edit]

Released in 1997, it included a built-in answering machine and a voice recorder with a recording capacity of 4 minutes.

GSM models[edit]

Almost all GSM StarTAC models were single-band operating on GSM900. Exceptions include the M6088 and some very rare prototype models, such as the tri-band 130. This operated on GSM 900, 1800 and 1900. Single-band models were made that operated on GSM 1800 and GSM 1900.

The StarTAC 7000g and 8000G were the only models that operated on GSM 1900. With CDMA and TDMA models no longer being able to be activated on a service plan, this makes them the last models that still operate in the US where GSM networks do not provide GSM 900 and 1800 do not operate.

StarTAC 70, 75, 75+, 80, 85, 90, Rainbow[edit]

The 70 and 80 series StarTACs are cosmetically identical, sharing the same housing and keypad layout. The 80 series models were released with higher resolution dot matrix displays, capable of displaying basic graphics like logos. The StarTac 70 series has only a two-line alphanumeric LCD.

The StarTAC 75 is the only single-band GSM 1800 model of the entire range excluding some carrier specific models. .[13]

The StarTAC 70 was also sold in a multi-coloured edition, popularly known as the StarTAC Rainbow.[14] The colourful casings could also be used to house the internal PCB and display from the 85, 7000g and 8000g. This would enable fans of the Rainbow series to have the features of the 85 such as the alphanumeric LCD display, or one which would operate on GSM 1900. These modified versions are often sold on the used market being touted as original.

StarTAC D[edit]

The StarTAC D was a GSM 900 model based on the 85 which allowed users to make mobile payments. The rear slot usually reserved for a full-sized (1FF) SIM card would instead take an EMV debit card or credit card. This was possible as both 1FF SIM cards and debit/credit cards met the same ISO/IEC 7810 specifications. The phone accepted a 2FF mini SIM card behind the battery for mobile network connectivity. The StarTAC D was the world's first dual-sim mobile phone.

The StarTAC D was released following a partnership between Barclaycard and Cellnet in the UK, and also France Telecom and Cartes Bancaires in France.

A user could reload their debit card by inserting it into the phone and entering the withdrawal amount followed by a PIN code to load cash onto their card. In France, goods and services could be purchased by inserting the card into the slot and contacting the retailer. The price then appears on the screen and a password is entered to complete the transaction. Motorola eventually partnered with Giesecke & Devrient in Germany to offer similar services with their Geldkarte product.

StarTAC 130[edit]

The StarTAC 130 was released as a GSM 900 phone, although similar models that operated on the ETACS network were also produced.[15] Along with the M6088, it was the only StarTAC to use a mini-SIM card (2FF). All other GSM models used a full-sized SIM card (1FF), the size of a standard debit/credit card meeting ISO/IEC 7810 specifications.

On the used market there are many 130 models that are sold as dual-band, operating on GSM 900 and 1800. These can be identified by the boot screen which will say "Motorola Dual Band". However, these are not genuine Motorola releases but are instead modified phones using a 130 housing, and the internals of a StarTAC M6088. The M6088 is an almost identical model to the 130. The phones differed slightly with the M6088 having a different silver housing, a fixed antenna and no rear contact points for accessories. However, both models use the same software and button layout. The internal PCB, keypad and LCD are interchangeable between the housings. With the exception of being dual-band and not working with rear-clip on accessories, the phones appear identical.

The 130 was popular with car manufacturers who were offering car phones and hands-free phones in their models. As such, models of the 130 can be found with automotive logos such as BMW, Mercedes and Jaguar. These would also often contain boot screens with their respective logos. These were otherwise identical in terms of hardware.

The cosmetically identical StarTAC X and Xe (it had a different TAC number) was sold in Asian markets.[16]

MR501, MR701[edit]

The UK network operator Orange released two StarTAC models; the MR501 and the MR701. It was common practice at the time for Orange to release variants of popular phones with different model names and occasionally hardware and software changes.

These models were branded with the Orange logo, replacing the internal StarTAC logo. The boot screen also displayed the message "Welcome to Orange" and both models were locked to the Orange network.

The MR501 was a rebranded version of the StarTAC 70 and was otherwise identical. [17]

The MR701 was a rebranded version of the StarTAC 85, although it had a unique keypad layout. [18]

These models operated on the GSM 1800 band as opposed to GSM 900 the 70 and 85 operated on.

TDMA/CDMA phones[edit]

  • ST7760 (AMPS/TDMA)
  • ST7762 (AMPS/TDMA)
  • ST7790 (AMPS/TDMA)
  • 80071WNBPA (FCC IHDT5VG1) AMPS/TDMA (832/2412 MHz)
  • ST7797 (Tri Mode/Dual Band 800/1900 MHz. TDMA/800 MHz. AMPS)
  • ST7860 (Dual Mode/Single Band 800 MHz. cdmaOne/AMPS)
  • ST7867w (Dual Mode/Dual Band 1900 MHz. cdmaOne/800 MHz. AMPS)
  • ST7868 (Tri Mode/Dual Band 800/1900 MHz. cdmaOne/800 MHz. AMPS)
  • ST7890 (Tri Mode TDMA?)
  • ST7897 (Dual Band TDMA)


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Matt Hickey (27 February 2007). "StarTAC III: Back on the Streets". TechCrunch. AOL.
  2. ^ a b Tynan, Dan (2005-12-24). "The 50 Greatest Gadgets of the Past 50 Years". PC World. p. 2. Retrieved 2006-09-10.
  3. ^ "NEC TZ-804 and TZ-1501". [Schwarzschild Cafe]. 2021-03-18. Retrieved 2021-03-19.
  4. ^ Legere, Christian (2021-03-18). "NEC TZ-1501". [The Flipside Story]. Retrieved 2021-03-19.
  5. ^ "Motorola introduces ultra lite 5.9 ounce cellular telephone - MicroTac Ultra Lite Telephone" (Press release). Mobile Phone News; PBI Media; Gale Group. 1992-02-10. Retrieved 2006-09-10.
  6. ^ a b "The smallest cell phone". Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. 1996-01-04. Archived from the original on 2007-03-22. Retrieved 2006-09-10.
  7. ^ Ha, Peter (October 25, 2010). "All-Time 100 Gadgets: Motorola StarTAC". Time Magazine. Retrieved August 1, 2016.
  8. ^ Baguley, Richard (May 31, 2013). "The Gadget We Miss: The Motorola StarTAC". Retrieved August 1, 2016.
  9. ^ "Motorola StarTAC Cellular Phone". Integrated Electronics Engineering Center. August 1996. Retrieved 2006-09-10.
  10. ^ Kat Hannaford. "The Motorola StarTAC is Back, in Yellow". Gizmodo. Gawker Media.
  11. ^ "Lekki - Vintage mobile phones and consoles". Lekki. Archived from the original on 2013-05-27.
  12. ^ Motorola throws back, unveils StarTac III MS900
  13. ^ "Motorola StarTAC 75".
  14. ^ StarTAC Rainbow
  15. ^ "Motorola StarTAC 130".
  16. ^ "Motorola Singapore products". Archived from the original on 1999-10-04. Retrieved 2018-12-01.
  17. ^
  18. ^