The first time I saw a Native Union Pop Phone was inside my former boss’s car, where his driver kept it among other supplies — two sleeves of Ricola (one honey, one cherry), two sleeves of Halls (one honey, one cherry), sharpened Penguin No. 2 pencils, and sticky notes stamped with the title of the glossy magazine he edited — that were always at the ready. The gadget is nothing more than an old-school phone handset that connects to iPhones and other devices via a (now old-school) headphone jack, but that low-fi functionality is precisely its appeal. I got one soon after, but having neither a car nor a driver, would only break it out if I remembered ahead of a long call to catch up with an old friend, or the occasional work call taken from home.
Eight or so years later, that occasional work call has suddenly become all work calls now that I and countless others are working from home for the foreseeable future amid the coronavirus pandemic. And I’ve never been more grateful to my boss — or really, his driver — for introducing me to the Pop Phone way back when.
While mobile phones have all but rendered their ancestral landlines useless at home — why call when you can text (faster) or FaceTime (more intimate) — they have yet to fully push them out of the office. Though not for lack of trying: Late last year, when the Strategist and the rest of New York Media relocated to a new, modern, open-plan office, landline desk phones were not a given — you had to ask to get one. Those who declined got a taste of the reality we now all share: Using services like Zoom to make all work calls, whether voice or video. But even if alone in a room, there’s something very uncivilized about talking to a person through the screen in front of you. And things get even more chaotic if that screen is full of a Brady Bunch–style grid of faces. Yes, headphones with built-in mics can help mitigate the chaos, but I find I’m always distracted by where the mic is in relation to my mouth.
The Pop Phone, I’ve found, is one thing that makes this very abnormal moment feel tangibly less so: It tethers me to more professional environments and makes me feel like the CEO of my new office of one. You can’t actually dial with it — just listen and speak — but plugged into the headphone jack of my MacBook Air, it makes days of Zooming from home feel a little more like days on my phone at the office (especially because there is a curling cord I can twirl when someone yammers on for too long). It also works just as well paired with a mobile phone, though those with newer iPhones or devices that don’t have the standard headphone jack will need an adapter to make it compatible. For calls made from a mobile phone, the Pop Phone has a nifty little button on the handset that allows you to hang up just by pressing it (this functionality, alas, does not work on Zoom calls). And there is the small, but no less important fact that just looking at the Pop Phone can invoke happier times — like nightly calls with grandma from my family’s old kitchen phone, or even the day I first discovered the handset inside my boss’s car — that all of us are yearning for right now.
The one caveat: Like landline phones themselves, the Pop Phone is seemingly not long for our ever technologically advancing world. Native Union has not released a version compatible with newer devices lacking headphone jacks, and doesn’t even seem to be selling the model I have anymore. So the handful here seem to be your best bets.