Best flip phone alternatives

Alex Kidman 29 December 2016 NEWS

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Once upon a time, flip phones dominated the mobile space, but in the smartphone age they’re largely a relic. Here’s what you can do if you’re a fan of the flip phone form factor.

Back in the days when mobile phone sales were dominated by companies such as Nokia, the flip phone was touted as the future of mobile phones, having shifted from the classic "candybar" form factor and the even older brick-style mobile phones that preceded them. Thin was in, and flip phones had the advantage of having their own effective screen and keypad protectors built in.

Few manufacturers made more of the flip phone format than Motorola with its iconic RAZR brand, even if the advertising was a little out there.

You may still be using a Motorola RAZR, but if you are you’re most likely facing problems relating to the imminent shutdown of the 2G network in Australia. Great, you might think, I’ll update and grab a fresh flip phone to replace my existing handset and retain continuity of my mobile phone services.

The only problem is that in terms of actual modern handsets, almost nobody is producing flip phones any more. The predominant phone form factor is that of the smartphone: a glass and either plastic or metal brick with a front-facing screen and no flip functionality to speak of. Blame Apple and the insane success of its iPhone lines if you must, but smartphones have all but killed the flip phone market.

But I love flip phones! What can I do?

You do have a couple of options if the flip phone is your favoured phone form factor. It is still feasible to find a few, mostly budget prepaid flip phones in convenience, post or mass market retailers if you’re lucky, although they are becoming thin on the ground. The most pressing matter here if you do find one is to check that it’s at least 3G capable, because otherwise you could be buying a phone that will only have a signal it can lock onto for a couple of months, if at all.

You may have more luck with a specific telco-branded flip phone. Again these are typically sold as low-cost outright prepaid phones with limited specifications for the asking price. One upside here if you're a fan of physical phone keyboards is that these are often button-based rather than touchscreen-based phones.

Be aware that the vast majority of prepaid phones sold this way tend to be locked to a single network carrier, which means if you intend to use one on a different network you may have to pay an unlocking fee on top of the purchase price.

You could also look at importing a phone from overseas, as flip phones are still more common in developing markets. If you do this, you’d want to be certain that the phone supports Australian mobile frequencies, and in some cases the language of your choice.

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Opting for an old-school flip phone might solve your problem in the short term, but in the longer term the phones that are most likely to be supported will be in the front-facing smartphone form factor. While there is some work being done on flexible glass that could one day see phones that could be bent in half, flip-style, that’s some years away and those would be seriously premium devices when they hit the market.

Luckily, there’s a solution that’ll give you the flip phone form factor (more or less) at a much less onerous cost: that’s to get a smartphone of your choice and track down a folio-style case for it. Not only will it offer a level of both protection and personalisation to your new smartphone, but the folio style is the one that will most closely mimic that of an old-school flip-style phone. You can opt to buy a phone outright and pair it with a prepaid plan, or instead spread the cost out by going onto a contract plan that includes a smartphone handset.

iPhone cases remain the easiest to get, so if you go for something more esoteric you may have to check carefully online to find a compatible folio-style case, although some manufacturers, such as Sony and HTC, have offered first-party folio cases that allow for call answering and simple functionality control even with the folio case closed. While the majority of folio cases fold out from the left, there is a small number that fold upwards in the classic flip phone style. That's a solution that should satisfy your flip phone urges and keep you happy in terms of having an up-to-date smartphone that can do so much more than your old flip phone ever could.

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