motorola microTAC 9800x design
The Motorola MicroTAC 9800X was the first of many MicroTAC models produced over nearly two decades ago

The Motorola MicroTAC series were the cellular phones first manufactured as an analog version in 1989.

The MicroTAC introduced an innovative new “flip” design, where the “mouthpiece” folded over the keypad, although on later production the “mouthpiece” was actually located in the base of the phone, along with the ringer. This set the standard and became the model for modern flip phones today. Its predecessor was the much larger Motorola DynaTAC and it was succeeded by the Motorola StarTAC in 1996. TAC was an abbreviation of “Total Area Coverage” in all three models. GSM-compatible and TDMA/Dual-Mode versions were introduced in 1994.

The MicroTac Series were the fascinating series and indeed a Game Changer of that era. It ruled the communication world from 1989 to1998.

Most of the models are listed below :-

Motorola MicroTAC 9800X

It was the first MicroTAC Series phone released by Motorola on April 25, 1989

It was the smallest and lightest phone available at the time. Upon its release, it made headlines across the world. The phone was released as the “MicroTAC Pocket Cellular Telephone“. The first MicroTACs were known as the Motorola 9800X, a continuation of the numerical name Motorola gave their phones in the 1980s. The MicroTAC was designed to fit into a shirt pocket.

These very rare phones featured a black plastic housing and a red 8-character dot-matrix LED display, which was able to show more information than the display of its predecessor, the Motorola DynaTAC 8000X. However, dot-matrix displays of the time were still quite limited by today’s standards. The inside of the flip piece had the “Motorola” logo on a diagonal, above thin blue diagonal lines. The badge on the front flip had a raised metallic Motorola logo, and “Micro T.A.C” in small blue letters above the display.

Retail Price :  $2,495 – $3,495 (USD)

Motorola MicroTAC 9800X : Specifications

motorola microTAC 9800x
The MicroTAC 9800x phone from 1989 was the ETACS standard.

The “micro” sized phone measured as long as over 9 inches (23 cm) long when open and weighed as 12.3 ounces (350 g) with the slim battery. The phone incorporated a built-in alpha-numeric phone book as one of the many standard features. A numerically organized menu allowed the user to select options for phone operations. Some of the many options included:

  • Security codes
  • Two phone number operations
  • A charge rate and currency calculator
  • Secretarial memory scratchpads
  • Hands-free operation,
  • Keypad tones
  • Memory protection
  • Phone number and name storage
  • Cellular system operation options

In addition to the standard 12-button keypad, the MicroTAC had buttons for Power, Function, Name/Menu, End, Send, Clear, Store, and Recall. The left side of the phone featured two buttons for adjusting the volume up and down. While in alpha mode, the volume buttons toggled between upper-case and lower-case text.

Several variants of the 9800X existed, most notably models that featured a 10-character alpha-numeric liquid crystal display (LCD), which had a green backlight. These uncommon variants were made for the Norwegian Storno and Italian SIP networks in the early 1990s. The original models can be distinguished by their elongated antenna base, white-translucent keys and gray keypad background.

Accessories for the phone included car, desktop and overnight travel chargers, installed hands-free car kits, leather cases, and a selection of batteries. The slimmest battery then available was the Slim and Slim Extended (Life), followed by the Standard, XT, and Talk-Pak XT batteries. The Talk-Pak XT and XT used Nickel Metal-Hydride while the others used Nickel Cadmium. A Lithium Ion battery was introduced in 1994.

Digital Personal Communicator

The Digital Personal Communicator (DPC) was introduced in 1989.

It a lower cost alternative to the MicroTAC 9800X. Soon, an “affordable” DPC 550 came to the market. Almost identical to the Digital Personal Communicator, the DPC 550 featured little with the most basic of operations.

Digital Personal Communicator: Specifications

motorola microTAC digital personal communicator design
MicroTAC Digital Personal Communicator was made to be less expensive than the 9800X.

The phone featured a green or orange 7-character segment LED display. It closely resembled the 9800x in terms of the keypad design and background and the main body. Early DPCs of the 9800X-era featured the elongated antenna base, round-top side grips, and white-on-gray keypad. Later versions (most likely after 1991) lost the 9800X-specific physical features, but kept the same basic form.

Bone white models were also available as special editions to cellular providers in the US. An upscale version of the DPC, known as the MicroTAC 950, or the MicroTAC Alpha in later years featured an 8-character green or orange dot-matrix LED display and the return of the alpha-numeric phonebook. The Alpha phones were “upscale” in that they had more user-programmable options. Also, Alpha phones featured the side grip arrow keys.

Motorola MicroTAC Lite

The MicroTAC Lite was released on August 6, 1991.

motorola microTAC ultra lite design
MicroTAC Ultra Lite.

It weighed around 7.7 ounces (220 g). The Lite was the lightest phone available, continuing the record of the 9800X. It was basically a slimmer version of the Alpha. Another model, the Lite XL, was released around this time. It had a single-line green LED display and three Memory Location keys added.

Motorola MicroTAC Ultra Lite

The MicroTAC Ultra Lite was introduced in 1992. This phone was lighter and had a longer battery life.

The Ultra-Lite weighed 5.9 ounces (170 g), again holding the new record for the lightest phone available. This was due to it being the first phone that utilized NiMH batteries, although replacement batteries were often NiCDs because NiMHs were very expensive. The Ultra Lite was also the first phone with a vibrating ringer.

Motorola MicroTAC Classic

The MicroTAC Classic which resembled the 1989 models was introduced in 1991, weighing in at 6.9 ounces (200 g).

Several changes were carried over from the MicroTAC Lite: the antenna base was shortened, the red LED display was dropped for a 10-character LCD display, and the keys were changed from white to black. The phone was available on the ETACS network. There was a single-band GSM model available in the UK that took credit-card sized SIM cards.

The Classic had the same “Motorola” over blue diagonal lines on the inside of the flip, but lost the metallic front badge and blue lettering.

motorola microTAC II design
A grey example of the MicroTAC II, as sold in Asia.

Motorola MicroTAC II

In 1991, the MicroTAC Lite was simultaneously released in some markets (including Asia) as the MicroTAC II.

Several models were produced in different versions for different networks, including AMPS, ETACS, NMT, and JTACS. Some of these models (presumably the newer ones) share volume buttons and a rubber side grip with the later Ultra Lite model.

The phones shipped with either a green backlit single-line LCD or a red dot matrix LED display.

Motorola MicroTAC Elite

MicroTAC Elite was introduced in 1994, which was then the smallest and light-weight model available at the time. Also the “International series” of MicroTAC was introduced at the same year.

It weighed in at a mere 3.9 ounces (110 g) with the slim battery. The Elite was a function of NAMPS technology from 1993. It was also produced in a rare MicroTAC Elite VIP, which had a black housing, gold lettering, and an orange LED display, over the ordinary Elite, which had a gray housing, a green LED display, and white lettering.

Retail Price :  $600 (USD)
motorola microTAC elite VIP design
MicroTAC Elite VIP, 14-character orange LED display and menu icons

The Elite series was a feature-packed phone. The phone included a first-ever two line display, for a total of 14 dot-matrix characters. There were also separate LED indicator meters for signal strength and battery, as well as a Menu Icon Display. The phone’s software offered advanced menu features, and each category, when accessed, was indicated with green icons at the bottom of the display.

Categories included:

  • Phone Book
  • Timers, Security
  • Tone Control
  • Phone Options
  • Answering Machine / Messaging

This was the first mobile phone to have a built-in, recordable answering machine. It was also the first mobile phone to use a Lithium-Ion battery.

motorola microTAC international series
                    1994 International 8700

Motorola MicroTAC International Series

A series of GSM models were produced in beginning of 1994, mostly in the UK, such as the International 5200, International 7500, and the International 8400, all running on the GSM 900 network. Many of these models are functionally identical but feature cosmetic differences or software upgrades.

The International 8700 was introduced in 1996. It was fitted as a removable handset in the earliest Jaguar XK8 and Jaguar XKR luxury sports coupes and convertibles, and selected BMW models up to the end of 1998.

motorola microTAC international 5200 design
MicroTAC International 5200

The dual-band International 8800 and 8900 (also known as the DB890) models were launched in 1997 and 1998 respectively. At the time of its launch, the International 8800 was the first mobile to work on both GSM 900 and 1800 bands. The International 8800 was rebadged for the Orange network as the Orange mr601 model.

The success of their analogue microTAC handset blinded Motorola to the implications of the emerging GSM standard. This allowed Nokia to secure a competitive advantage with the Nokia 1011 that was released in 1992, a full two years ahead of the GSM version of the MicroTAC. This left only their Motorola International 3200 “brick” in the GSM market to compete with the Nokia 1011. Many in the industry regard this as the turning point in an industrial cellular landscape that Motorola had historically controlled.

Motorola MicroTAC 650/650E

In 1996, the diminutive Motorola StarTAC was released, which provided fierce competition for MicroTAC.

microTAC 650E design
          MicroTAC 650E

The phone received a redesign in 1996, with a more rounded case and thinner flip-lid. Two Memory Location keys were added to the phone. Base models were known as the DPC 650, which kept the 550’s display. A more expensive model, the MicroTAC DPC 650E received the StarTAC 3000’s 10-character LED display with separate battery and signal meters. It weighed 7.8 ounces (220 g).

Like the StarTAC, the MicroTAC 650E (“E” for Enhanced Features) received some feature upgrades, such as selectable ringer styles, but lost the alpha-numeric phonebook. The 650E was available in gray or black. The 650E was one of the better selling models in the US, along with the Elite and DPC 550.

The MicroTAC was produced up until 1998, when sales declined with the increasing popularity of the StarTAC. The phone was still relatively commonplace into the early 2000s. However, due to its large size and weight, many owners of the phone upgraded to smaller models like the StarTAC.

cipherTAC design
                                A CipherTAC.

CipherTAC (Made for only Officials)

The CipherTAC was a spin-off of the MicroTAC series, running on the CDMA network. It offered unrecoverable, encrypted communication and was purpose-built in 1998 for the Secretary of State (then Madeleine Albright) and other officials.

It was not made available for mainstream use. The fate of these units is currently unknown; presumably most of them would have been destroyed for security reasons but at least one example survives as a museum exhibit.







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