I’ve posted several off-topic blog posts this year and this is another one. Perhaps it is more relevant than the others as I list the issues with KaiOS software and the software limitations of my feature phone.
I’ve been using an Alcatel Go Flip 2 as my only phone for about a year and a half now. I feel like leaving my smartphone behind was the right choice and feel like my life is better as a result. I’ve published two previous articles on my move from a high end smartphone to a cheap feature phone. In this blog post I review the hardware and software I now use on my feature phone.
Things I Like
Using a device that has physical buttons was something I knew I was going to like. I have never been a fan of touch screen keyboards and the keys on the Alcatel Go Flip 2 are cheap but work well and have a consistent feel. It is easy to adjust the volume on the side of the phone or unlock the phone with my pin without looking at the screen.
T9 Was Better Than Expected
One of the things I was dreading when moving back to a feature phone was typing SMS messages on the keypad. Having a qwerty keyboard for typing is really handy and unfortunately none of the feature phones I looked at had a full qwerty keyboard. T9 texting on the Alcatel Go Flip 2 wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be though. The messaging app provides good suggestions for words as I typed them out and it wasn’t hard to manually select word suggestions using the left and right buttons. The dictionary on the phone has most words and quite a few names it, including most US cities, counties, and states.
The calendar app works well for such a small screen. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to have a calendar app at all on such a basic feature phone but the calendar app works well and provides a usable calendar. It has the ability to drill into days and weeks for more details which is nice on the small screen. The calendar app provides notifications for upcoming events using KaiOS’s notification system. The app is also able to sync calendars from multiple CalDav servers. This is a great feature for me as it allowed me to sync my NextCloud calendar to the phone.
KaiOS UI is Terribly Sluggish
KaiOS is consistently sluggish and makes using the phone for anything a miserable experience. There isn’t a single interaction that feels fast on the device. The screen lags behind user input by about 1 second under normal circumstances, and it can easily get 5-10 seconds behind when typing quickly. Type one mistake and it’ll take several seconds for the mistake to appear onscreen, and by then you’ll have typed out another word or two, so it will take several seconds of hitting backspace to get back to the mistake.
Some operations take far longer than they should. Performing a search of my contacts (loading all 600 of them on the phone was a mistake) takes about a minute. It’s not clear to me why it’s so slow but the performance seems to be related to the number of contacts stored. I can’t think of any reason why search should take more than a few seconds on this hardware, so I believe it has to do with KaiOS’s implementation of the contacts app and the search logic. It seems that all of KaiOS was developed without regard to the hardware limitations of the devices it was being installed on and the performance penalty of building everything inside a web browser. KaiOS is a great idea but without some serious attention to performance it isn’t going to result in a phone that people will want to use. This is the single biggest issue with the Alcatel GO Flip 2.
No Support for CardDav
It would really be great if contacts synced with my NextCloud server automatically via CardDav but KaiOS only supports import and exporting contacts via SD card. There is also supposedly an option to import contacts over Bluetooth from an existing phone but I was never able to figure out how to get it to work.
Dated Messaging Interface
The messaging interface uses dated chat message bubbles that don’t make good use of the limited screen space. The chat bubbles prevent all messages from being displayed full width in the app and waste a lot of space. This results in more scrolling than would otherwise be needed. It would be better if the messaging app used a simpler line-by-line conversation style that older feature phones used to have.
No Podcast App
This is another nitpick, but I really like listening to podcast when I am in the car for long periods of time or when I am on a long hike or walk. There is a music app that works well enough for simple playback and shuffling of songs but it doesn’t have the features I’d need to play podcasts. For example, when pausing the audio the app may not store the time the track was stopped at, and upon resuming playback at some later time results in the track being started from the beginning. This is something that prevents me from listening to 1 hour podcasts on the phone.
While I’m happy to be using a feature phone for the sake of simplicity, the sluggishness of KaiOS on the phone ruins the experience. Maybe the performance of KaiOS will be fixed in the future, but from what I’ve seen there doesn’t appear to be any effort to improve things. There also don’t seem to be any good alternatives to KaiOS for feature phones. Perhaps one day Pine64 will create a feature phone.
Overall the phone hardware is great and I think it’s a decent phone for the price. It’s a shame there isn’t a better operating system out there for it.