What's it Like Using Android on a Flip Phone?

By Gizmodo Australia on at

Who else had a flip phone back in the early ’00s? Those were the golden days of the Motorola RAZR, a time when you actually talked on the phone to your friends, and answering and hanging up was the coolest thing ever. But how has the flip form factor evolved with the rise of Android?

For a couple of weeks in March, I used a Samsung Galaxy Golden as my daily phone. For those of you reading this in the West – this blinged out blower is currently only available in the Eastern markets. That means no Midas-touch clamshell for you right now. Still, read on – its an interesting piece of kit.

In short: it hasn’t evolved; you can count the number of flip-phone smartphones on the market today on one hand. The two don’t mix, as evidenced by the almost complete lack of Android flip phones available — a touchscreen-driven smartphone just makes more sense as a single, large, thin slate.

Samsung’s Galaxy Golden is unquestionably the coolest modern flip phone by a long way, and it wears its anachronism proudly — as a flip Android, it has two screens (one on the front, one on the inside front), as well as an old-school physical number pad and five-way navigation pad. It’s not the most powerful Android phone on the market around, but its 1.7GHz dual-core Snapdragon 400 and 1.5GB of RAM get the job done just fine for Web browsing and answering emails (and making calls).

The best part of having a cool flip phone like the RAZR was having a pair of LCD screens — one on the inside of the hinge for proper menu navigation, and one on the outside for viewing your notifications (back before they were even called notifications, by the way). The Galaxy Golden matches its flip ancestors, and beats them — two identical 800×480 pixel 3.7inch AMOLED touchscreens, with super-vibrant colour and excellent black levels. The screens are great, despite being relatively small and relatively low-resolution. Because hey, you get two.

The Galaxy Golden is reasonably thin when you flip it open — not RAZR-grade thin, but still pretty svelte. Sure, the Galaxy S5 is actually thinner overall, and the Golden gets twice as thick when you close it, but it’s not huge. OK, it’s pretty chunky. But it’s a flip phone! I’ll put up with a chunky phone if I get to flip it open whenever I want to make a call.

They also do exactly the same job — there’s nothing you can do on the main display that you can’t on the front screen as well. This is a convenient tip-of-the-hat to the always-on nature of Android; you don’t need to flip open the Galaxy Golden to actually use it most of the time. Having two screens may seem redundant — you certainly can’t use both at the same time even if you wanted to, since one switches off as the other switches on — but it’s necessary for the flip form factor to actually work.

Using Android on the Galaxy Golden is an interesting process, but you can’t say that it’s not fun. For the most part, the touchscreens do a perfectly adequate job — tapping away on the Samsung or Google onscreen keyboard is the simplest way to type an email or navigate around the net, but when it comes to making a phone call, there’s something inherently satisfying about flipping the phone open, pushing the call button (to launch the Phone app), and typing in a phone number.

Samsung’s Touchwiz interface doesn’t really get in the way — it’s not the cleanest design, but it’s tweaked to suit the screen size and default icons are organised towards the bottom of the display, where they’re easier to reach using the flipped-up inside screen. Android’s three menu buttons are on-screen on the outer display, but have physical counterparts on the inside.

Remember how you used to have to actually know your own phone number, and the numbers of your friends? Remember calling a phone number from memory? Using the Galaxy Golden actually makes you want to do this again — honestly, it’s a hell of a lot more fun than scrolling through your phone book. At the start of my tenure with this flip phone, I could recall maybe three; a fortnight later I’d trebled that figure.

If you’re so inclined, you can type letters and words using the physical number pad; it’s not nearly as quick as using Swiftkey or Swype, but it’s entirely possible, and harks back to a simpler time. For some people, probably the perfect target market of the Galaxy Golden and other flip phones, that’s the entire reason behind buying one — there’s a lot more tactility and satisfaction around using a proper keypad to type and flipping the phone open to make or take a call.

The Galaxy Golden is somewhat gaudy, there’s no denying that. It’s designed for the South Korean market, and it’s big on its super-shiny gold finish. But so was the Dolce & Gabbana RAZR v3i, and so is just about every Vertu — it’s a status symbol thing, and owning a flip phone today gives you a hell of a lot of status.

The Samsung Galaxy Golden is just about the pinnacle of flip phone development, but that’s not saying very much. The world has moved on. At the end of the day, it’s not a great Android handset, and Android doesn’t work perfectly on a flip phone… but if you want a smartphone that’s also a conversation starter, this is the one to get.

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