The Alcatel Go Flip 3 ($99 at Metro)—known by various names on various carriers, including the Alcatel Smartflip at AT&T and Cricket—is the first affordable flip phone to have just enough smartphone features that you won’t feel completely exiled from society. Although it looks a lot like previous Go Flip phones, it performs radically better. For starters, it now has decent battery life, solid call quality, and the kind of contact sync and messaging features it needs in 2019. That’s going to satisfy a lot of folks who don’t want a flat-screened slab, but also still want to be able to get their WhatsApp messages. And that makes the Go Flip 3 an Editor’s Choice voice phone on AT&T, Cricket, Metro, T-Mobile, and wherever else it pops up.
Design, Calling, and Battery
The Go Flip 3 is an unassuming, black plastic flip phone with a mass market price, not an artisanal small-batch luxury experience like the Light Phone II or Punkt MP02. It has a small 1.44-inch, 128-by-128 color screen on the outside, and a larger, somewhat grainy 2.8-inch, 320-by-240 LCD on the inside. The rubbery keys physically depress pleasantly. There’s a standard 3.5mm headphone jack and a micro USB charging port, as well as space for a microSD card (up to 32GB) under the removable battery. It comes with an integrated micro USB charger.
The phone measures 4.13 by 2.09 by 0.75 inches (HWD) and weighs 4.16 ounces. It isn’t super slim, but it’ll still fit in a pocket. It isn’t waterproof or rugged, but it’s also simple enough that it can probably take some drops without too much damage. There’s no exposed glass here, and the back can fly off without any real harm done. That said, the ultra-rugged Sonim XP3 will clearly take much more of a beating.
The Go Flip 3 connects to LTE and 2.4GHz Wi-Fi, with LTE bands 2/4/5/12/25/26/41/66/71. It also falls back to 3G and 2G. That will give it extended range on T-Mobile’s network, as well as Sprint’s when it inevitably comes out on that carrier. It doesn’t have AT&T’s new band 14, which also helps extend range and is needed for public safety use, but it has the basic nationwide band 5, so it will do just fine. Government employees should turn to the Sonim XP3 instead, which does have band 14.
Call quality is good. The phone supports HD calling (but not EVS, the second level of HD) and the earpiece is loud and clear. In a loud environment, the phone worked hard to cancel out noise, resulting in a few audio artifacts but generally comprehensible speech. The speakerphone is loud, and shows a little bit of clipping and distortion at top volume. Wi-Fi calling is the one real quality fail, but it often is; on a weak or cluttered 2.4GHz Wi-Fi signal, you’re going to get dropouts.
The phone works as a hotspot on T-Mobile but, oddly, not on AT&T. Don’t expect major hotspot speeds: The Qualcomm Snapdragon 210 processor here only supports relatively slow Category 4 LTE, so you’ll get 10-20Mbps LTE speeds rather than much higher.
It’s funny: The older Go Flip 2 also has a Snapdragon 210, but it doesn’t perform nearly as well as the new model does. Alcatel said that KaiOS 2.5 is much more efficient than the KaiOS 1.0 on the older phone, and it really shows.
The Bluetooth 4.2 connection paired easily with a Plantronics Bluetooth headset but there was some loss of voice quality over the connection. I don’t see that on $700 smartphones with Bluetooth 5.0 and AptX, but this phone is absolutely on par with other cheaper or older phones. You can also use a headset through the standard 3.5mm jack.
Battery life is fine. It isn’t eternal, but I got 7 hours, 48 minutes of talk time and at least three days of standby on the 1,350mAh battery. That’s much better than previous Alcatel flips and shoule be enough for most people.
Messaging and Apps
KaiOS, which is based on the same core that previously gave us Firefox OS, sits on the fence between a feature phone and a smartphone operating system. It’s really rendering a lot of HTML, and the apps are primarily HTML5 containers that run offline. The OS has become popular in India thanks to the low-cost Jio Phone, a device that has brought tens of millions of people online for the first time.
On the phone’s home screen, there are icons for Google Assistant, Google Maps, YouTube, and the KaiOS Store. The store has an odd little selection of apps, including a few health apps and a few games, but most notably it has WhatsApp, Facebook, and Twitter.
The phone makes major strides in messaging for a flip, and a lot of it comes down to Google Assistant. Anywhere there’s a text entry field, you can press a button and dictate text instead. This is a big deal. It really gets around the difficulty of entering text using a number pad. And thanks to KaiOS, you can enter your messages not only in SMS, but in Facebook, Twitter, and WhatsApp. The texting app and WhatsApp receive emoji and pictures and can send photos, but not emoji. Not all messages are equal, though. When you flip the phone open, a popdown will show new texts. But to see new messages in another app, you need to open the app.
You can also create groups, block numbers, and use your own music for ringtones, but I didn’t see an option to assign different ringtones to different callers.
Google Assistant is good for more than just messages; hold down the button and ask it a question, and it will respond with Google answers. I wish it could be triggered from the action button on a Bluetooth headset, though—you actually have to hold down the center button on the phone’s D-pad to make it work.
The email program handles Gmail and other POP/IMAP systems well, including rendering HTML emails. Things also sync on this phone in a way they don’t on other flips. You can sync your contact list with Google or Outlook, and you can sync your calendar with Google. It’s delightful to not have to put in your contacts by hand. Because this isn’t a full Android device, it can’t use Google’s Find My Phone feature, so KaiOS set up its own—if you set up a KaiOS account, it will help you find a lost phone.
The onboard music player, oddly, wouldn’t play music I had stored on an SD card—I had to transfer it into internal memory. Once I did that, though, it had excellent support for metadata and album art. The video player can play videos from the SD card, but they look small and grainy on the low-res screen. There’s also an FM radio, which sounds very clear.
I downloaded a few games. They’re basic, but they’re games, which is more than most flip phones have nowadays. I’m particularly amused by a Fruit Ninja ripoff that assigns numbers to each fruit and lets you slice them with the number pad. Other built in apps include a calculator, an alarm clock, and a voice recorder.
There’s one way in which KaiOS falls short: It has no parental controls. If you’re looking for a flip phone where you can forbid web access for kids, you can’t do that on The Go Flip 3. You also can’t use T-Mobile FamilyMode to lock down the phone, as it requires an Android or iOS app. That’s frustrating.
The less said about the phone’s single 2-megapixel camera, the better. Photos in even decent indoor light tend to be blurry and indistinct. Outdoors, everything looks slightly out of focus. Videos are washed-out 352-by-288 frames. There is also no front facing camera, so don’t expect to do video calling here.
A Flip Phone for 2019
There are millions of Americans who want a flip phone for simple calling, but who need access to the best possible coverage and may also want to use common over-the-top texting apps like Facebook and WhatsApp. The Go Flip 3 fits the bill: smart enough to make you part of modern society, but simple enough that you don’t have to be part of modern society if you don’t want to be.
The Alcatel Go Flip 3 replaces the Sonim XP3 as our Editors’ Choice. It’s a tough call, because while they’re both flips, and both good, they’re different kinds of phones. The Sonim is rugged, super-loud, and super-reliable. If all you need is voice calling, period, the Sonim is the superior choice. But so many people rely on things like texting, WhatsApp, and calendar sync in their lives that I think Alcatel’s approach has broader appeal. That makes it our Editors’ Choice on AT&T and anywhere else you find it.