T-Mobile Alcatel GO FLIP 3 hands-on: Google Assistant and Maps make this a capable, modern flip phone

Several years ago, flip phones were all the rage and it was tough to beat the feeling of flipping the lid closed to end a call. Alcatel's latest model brings modern software elements, including Google Assistant, and make this an excellent backup phone or one for those who don't want to mess around with a large glass display.

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Since I cover smartphones here on ZDNet, I tend to focus on the latest and greatest flagship devices. Occasionally, other interesting phones catch my eye and for the past few weeks I've been trying out the Alcatel GO FLIP 3 on T-Mobile. A few key software pieces, based on KaiOS, have been added that make it a modern flip phone that can actually serve as a very capable daily driver.

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My mother-in-law was excited to see me using the GO FLIP V on Verizon. She went out and set herself up with one as her older flip phone was dying and she refused to upgrade to a fragile glass smartphone that would also increase her monthly fees. Over the past few months, I've seen quite a few elderly people with flip phones and understand the appeal of a phone that focuses on easy dialing and voice calls. The new GO FLIP 3 improves upon that experience and I have to say I can see myself using one of these in retirement when I'm not chained to email for work.

See also Alcatel GO Flip V hands-on: Good call quality, average battery, and basic build

The Alacatel GO FLIP V is great for calls, texts, basic connectivity, and serving as a WiFi hotspot for an iPad. The Alcatel GO FLIP 3 takes the experience to the next level thanks to the power of KaiOS providing Google Assistant, Google Maps, and an app store for basic applications. Google Assistant goes a long way to making the GO FLIP 3 a more accessible device by adding the ability to make calls, send messages, check the weather, toggle Bluetooth, search for answers on the internet, and much more with just your voice. Google Assistant on this type of phone is a perfect use of Google's technology for the masses.

Hardware

The Alcatel GO FLIP 3 is available in black plastic with a matte finish on all sides. There is a small square color 1.44 inch LCD display on the front that shows the time, date, connection status, and basic notification data. The 2 megapixel camera is also centered up near the top of the front so when you flip up the front the camera faces to the back for capturing photos and video. An Alcatel logo is positioned below the front display.

After flipping up the front of the phone you will see the handset speaker with the 2.8 inch 320 x 240 pixels resolution color display below that. The display is controlled by the keypad buttons and directional pad. It's a great size display for the size of the phone and I never felt squeezed using it for various functions and apps.

There is a spring-loaded hinge that helps you flip open the top and close it securely. The hinge has a bit of play when closed so that the front tends to move just a bit from side-to-side. It's a bit more solid than the hinge on the GO FLIP V and I didn't feel any movement when it was flipped up in the open position.

The bottom piece is perfect with 12 large number and character buttons with a rubber textured matte finish and four large buttons surrounding the center button and a 4-way directional ring around the OK button in the center. There are two upper buttons for activating the left and right options shown at the bottom of the display and large green and red colored send and end buttons. The center OK button makes selections while also serving to activate the center option shown at the bottom of the display. This entire bottom design is excellent for a flip phone and my favorite feature of the phone. It was very easy to dial and even enter text using the text entry mode.

There is a 3.5mm headphone jack and a microUSB port on the left side. A long single volume button is found on the right side. The back panel can be removed to access the microSD card and SIM card slots while also removing and replacing the battery. The speaker is also found centered on the upper back with the Alcatel name on the lower portion. There is no T-Mobile branding on the phone.

Alcatel GO FLIP 3 specifications

  • Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 210
  • Internal display: 2.8 inches, 320 x 240 pixels resolution TFT
  • External display: 1.44 inches, 128 x 128 pixels resolution TFT
  • RAM: 512MB
  • Storage: 4GB internal with microSD card slot
  • Camera: 2 megapixel fixed focus
  • Connectivity: Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.2, FM radio
  • Battery: 1,350 mAh rated for 7.9 hours of continuous talk
  • Dimensions: 104.9 x 53 x 20mm and 118 grams

Software

Press and hold the red power button to turn on the GO FLIP 3 and you will see the home screen appear on the inside display. The time, date, battery status, and various connection status icons appear on the display. Options at the bottom of the home screen include notification, app launcher, and contacts.

The default home screen also has four icons on the left side that you can scroll through with the directional pad, one move left and then scroll up and down through these four icons. These include the app store, Google Assistant, Google Maps, and YouTube. You might think YouTube on this is ridiculous, but actually when you select to play a video it moves automatically into landscape orientation on the display and the rear speaker pumps out decent volume. It was a much better experience than I imagined and is fine for the occasional video session for news clips and such.

Press up on the directional pad to access a volume slider and six quick settings. These include toggles for cellular data, Bluetooth, WiFi, and airplane mode in addition to display brightness controls and an icon to launch the camera. Volume is surprisingly quite loud on the rear-firing speaker, which is important for the typical customer looking for a capable flip phone.

Press in once on the OK button to access the app launcher. Apps loaded by default include messages, call log, contacts, camera, Google Assistant, app store, web browser, image gallery, clock, music player, FM radio, calendar, calculator, video viewer, email, file manager, notes, voice recorder, and settings. I also tested out Twitter and a scientific calculator that I found in the app store. As you can see it is a very capable feature phone and you can customize the arrangement of the app icons in the launcher too.

There is a solid predictive text entry engine in the phone, but you can also simply press and hold to active Google Assistant voice to text entry. This was awesome and with my voice I was able to easily bang out long text messages and notes. As I said earlier, the use of Google Assistant on a feature phone like this is a perfect use of the technology.

In regards to the KaiOS app store, there are lots of games, social apps (Twitter, WhatsApp, and Facebook), utilities (EPUB and document readers, for example), news apps, health apps, and more. It's not a massive store, but there are a number of decent options and given the small display I can't imagine needing more than a few on this phone.

Given the form factor and design, the GO FLIP 3 is designed with accessibility in mind. For those who are speech or hearing impaired, the GO FLIP 3 offers the highest value of hearing aid compatibility with an M4/T4 rating. In addition, Real-Time-Text (RTT) allows your phone to transmit messages as they are being written and may be used with Text Telephone (TTY) devices.

Daily experiences

I was satisfied with the Alcatel GO FLIP V and could see some limited uses for that phone, but having Google Assistant and 3rd party app support on the GO FLIP 3 greatly increased its capability. The hardware is mostly the same on both of these phones, but using Google Assistant to perform many of the tasks and perform text entry makes the GO FLIP 3 a pretty awesome phone for $100.

VoLTE and WiFi Calling is supported so you get the best capabilities for connectivity and calls. I found the signal strength to be solid and was able to use the phone just about everywhere I tested it without any problems. Calls sounded great on the phone and people I was talking with said I sounded good too.

The camera is not very good on this phone so it's pretty limited to the occasional social shot or time when something extraordinary happens that you just have to capture. Pair it up with an iPad with WiFi hotspot connectivity for a solid mobile experience.

The T-Mobile GO FLIP 3 supports T-Mobile's 600 MHz frequency as well and is a great spare phone to have or one for your loved one who doesn't want a large glass smartphone. This is the best flip phone I've ever tried and I may have a hard time getting my SIM card back out of it.