Back in 2022, I took a look at a feature phone which replaced my smartphone, the Nokia 6300 4G, which, while it served me well for the duration of my usage, the software it ran (KaiOS 2.5) began to show its age-- even basic mobile sites began to load improperly, and, notably, the lack of LTE band 13 made it unusable on Verizon outside major cities. This year, I bought the TCL Flip Pro, a much cheaper model (retailing for around $30-$50, locked to Verizon Prepaid, more on that later) with the distinction of it running KaiOS 3.
KaiOS 2.x was initially released in July, 2017, while 2.5 was released in November, 2017 (with revisions until August, 2020 [KaiOS 2.5.4]). KaiOS 2.x uses the Gecko 48 rendering engine, which was used for Mozilla Firefox 48. For context of the age of Gecko 48, Mozilla was still supporting Windows XP and Vista at the time (version 58 was also two years old [released in 2016] at the time; XP and Vista were supported until version 52). 3.x, on the other hand, uses Gecko 84 as its rendering engine, and was released in September 2021 (at this point, version 84 was already around one year old).
KaiOS 3.x has no backwards compatibility with 2.x, which means that many applications developed for 2.x (including every application from major third parties, such as Facebook's Whatsapp and Facebook apps, and Google's Assistant app) have not been ported forward, leaving the platform barren of almost any 'true' support from major third-party software vendors (however, every KaiOS 3.x device I've seen does have the Google Maps PWA [Progressive Web App] built-in with full keypad support, indicating a potential future for Big Tech on KaiOS). The move to Gecko 84, at minimum does mean that many PWAs resume functioning on KaiOS, including Telegram (I tried Telegram WebK and WebA, both worked, albiet with issues displaying text on the low-resolution display) and the webclient for Twitter.
As I previously mentioned, I bought the TCL Flip 2, the Verizon variant (in this case, Verizon Prepaid) of the Alcatel Go Flip 4. The only notable difference between the two models is that the Flip Pro has LTE band 13, and lacks LTE band 71. After 60 days had passed since activation, Verizon automatically unlocked the phone, and I inserted a SIM card from a T-Mobile MVNO, and within a few minutes, the phone had provisioned itself for VoLTE and MMS on the T-Mobile network (your mileage may vary, you may need to manually configure APN settings); voice, SMS, and data worked fine on LTE; voice and SMS worked fine on EDGE. In general, I would recommend choosing the TCL Flip Pro over the Alcatel to ensure universal compatibility, unless you intend to use T-Mobile in buildings where LTE coverage is already subpar. I'm not entirely sure if AT&T will allow either model onto their network, but both should perform fine on AT&T, per the band listings.
Sources: TCL Alcatel
Since both devices have bands 3 and 5, they should function in places such as the European Union, Latin America, and East Asia. Both of them also have "quad band" GSM support (850/900/1800/1900MHz), while the Flip Pro has better HSPA/UMTS band compatibility (1/2/4/5/8 vs 2/4/5 on the Go Flip 4; band 1 appears to be important for coverage in Latin America).
Hardware wise, the TCL Flip Pro is a rather simple, yet well-built device. When folded shut, the device just about fits on the palm of my hand; the top of the device holds its outer display (1.44", full-color) and 2MP camera (and the TCL badge). The left side holds the USB-C port (which is not capable of OTG) and 3.55mm headset jack. The right side holds the volume rocker. The back merely holds the carrier branding and speaker; opening the device, I noticed that the hinge did not feel flimsy, unlike the alternative devices I've tried. The inside houses the earpiece, 2.8" display, and rubberized, backlit keypad.
Build-quality wise, the TCL has impressed me plenty compared the Nokia preceding it- the keypad doesn't feel 'hollow' when it is being pressed, although, the keypad does lack a programmable key, rather having two hotkeys between the numbers and navigational keys (one for favorite contacts, another for the text messaging application) which can't be reprogrammed. The hinge also doesn't feel flimsy, nor is it too stiff. The plastic chassis feels well-made, with no 'sprew' coming off it, or sharp edges. The device also weighs a fair bit with its battery inserted, supposedly ~4.7oz (per TCL's specsheet). The displays are also more than adequate for a feature phone, with the inner display being extremely clear for reading text and viewing images, with acceptable head-on viewing angles.
Call quality sounds excellent, both on speakerphone and when using the earpiece. Nobody I have called has complained about the quality of the microphone, either.
The TCL runs KaiOS 3.0, which runs relatively well for the low-spec of the device. Loading webpages (both over LTE and WLAN) is relatively efficient (although not a pleasant experience), switching between apps also doesn't seem to slow the device much. Its even possible to have the FM radio or MP3 player running in the background while you use other apps without either having a problem (doing this on the Nokia 6300 4G caused the music to skip). The install of KaiOS is relatively lightweight and bloat-free, save for the installed games from TCL (Gems [a Bejewled clone], Birdy [a clone of the mobile game Flappy Bird], 2048, Guardians [a generic 'shoot-em-up' game, which sort of reminds me of Galaxian], and Whack-a-Mole; all of these games have ads injected to them when playing with internet access on the device), Verizon Cloud (a paid backup service for Verizon customers), Google Maps (an actual PWA optimized for KaiOS), and shortcuts to Google and YouTube.
TCL did notably include KaiVA, KaiOS' in-house voice assistant on the Flip Pro, which while fairly rudimentary compared to Apple's Siri or Google's Assistant, it is helpful, allowing for voice-to-text transcription for messaging and voice command of the device, with some internet functions (all internet functions of KaiVA link back to Bing, regardless of your search engine settings; for example, a query for "weather in Seattle, Washington" would search Bing for the weather in Seattle, Washington). KaiVA can be activated by holding down the "OK" key on the homescreen, by accessing it via the applications menu, or, for voice transcription, selecting the text box and holding "OK."
Slightly annoyingly, though, the software does display a warning telling you that your SIM card is not from Verizon whenever you restart (if not using it on Verizon), fortunately, this message can be cleared; the battery also lasts for 5-14 days on a single charge, in my usage (the battery model number is TLi017D1, and appears to be easily purchasable online).
In my opinion, the TCL Flip 2 is one of the best, if not the best feature phone on the market in the USA, between the low-price, carrier compatibility, and build quality, it seems like a no-brainer for anyone seeking a universally compatible phone for use in the USA.
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