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These Alexa-stuffed retro phones don’t listen until you take them off the hook

Between the official models built by Amazon, Google, and Apple, and the growing number of third-party devices, there is no shortage of smart speakers here in 2018. If you’re a company looking to dive into this crowded market, you better bring something fresh to the table. Or, if you’re the Los Angeles-based Grain Design, something retro.

Taking this message to heart, Grain has created a range of “Alexaphones,” kitting out vintage telephones from the early 20th century with Amazon’s A.I. assistant, Alexa. While they no longer function as telephones, it’s a great way of repurposing some beautiful designs from yesteryear.

“The Alexaphone is a fusion between the beautiful, architectural telephones of the past and the voice interfaces of the present,” Richard Whitney, CEO of Grain Design, told Digital Trends. “We love the style and craftsmanship of old telephones and wanted to give them new life, while simultaneously modifying modern tech to be more user-protective.”

Whitney said that the process involved in building an Alexaphone starts with sourcing antique telephones to modify. They look specifically for non-functioning vintage models in poor condition, so as to not rob the world of beautiful, working antiques.

“When we receive them there’s a tremendous amount of work sanding, polishing, repainting, and digging out cobwebs and dirt,” Whitney continued. “Another big task is figuring out how to fit the necessary electronics, while leaving as much of the original mechanics and electronics intact. So far, we’ve been able to repair the original switches, rotary dialers, and earpieces, so you’re feeling and hearing the phone the way it was when it was first made. The one external concession we’ve had to make is the 1/8-inch auxiliary jack, but we’re hiding that away as best we can.”

Aside from the visual vintage charm of the pieces, another welcome throwback involves taking users back to a more privacy-conscious world, before our every word was monitored by always-listening speakers. With that in mind, the Alexaphone microphones are physically disconnected until you’ve picked up the handset.

So far, Grain Design has built three models, including the 1950s-era Regent, the 1920s-era Metropolis, and the curvaceous Art Deco Avignon. All three sold for $1,500.

“We’ve [currently] sold out of the initial three Alexaphones, but if you’re interested you should place a reservation so you’ll be in line for the next telephones,” Whitney said. “These are unlikely to even be listed for sale on the site before they’re sold — and they’ll be delivered before the holidays. Otherwise, you [can] sign up to be notified via email or follow our Instagram, where I’ll be documenting future phones.”

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Luke Dormehl
I'm a UK-based tech writer covering Cool Tech at Digital Trends. I've also written for Fast Company, Wired, the Guardian…
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