Motorola Motofone F3

Motorola F3

F3 Charger

The charger is quite tiny.

Motofone F3 disassembled

I dislike mobile phones. They usually seem to be a random collection of low quality ‘features’ which are designed so poorly that they don’t work properly but still manage to get into your way when trying to do something simple like making a phone call. I really didn’t want to spend any money on that kind of thinking. 

I don’t really need a mobile phone either. Proper phone lines and internet access are quite widespread where I live. And I’m not a janitor or someone who needs to be reachable all the time. Thus, I only need a phone a few times a year when I am travelling. 

As a consequence I wanted a phone that is cheap and not overloaded with ‘features’ which I wouldn’t use anyway. And Motorola’s Motofone F3 is just that phone. It has a truly minimalist feature set: You can make calls, you can send and receive text messages, you have a phone book, and  it has a clock and and alarm. That’s it, nothing more.

At the same time the phone uses modern technology like ‘digital paper’ which means its display is severely limited (six characters + six numbers + a few symbols at a time), which in turn means that even using text messages is a bit of a pain.

Because of these limitations the phone is far from perfect. It can only save ten text messages at a time, it doesn’t connect to a computer to copy your phone numbers over, it doesn’t charge via USB, and it doesn’t do that T9 stuff. But on the up-side, you get a really simple phone for as little a 15-30€. 

Even better, it doesn’t look too bad – everybody loves its looks on the first sight. And the screen, for example, is pretty good: very legible even in sunlight and scratch resistant. The buttons feel all right as well but if you are pressing them too quickly they – or the software they control – don’t register all the key presses which can be a nuisance.

Allegedly the phone was designed with developing countries in mind. The electronic paper can be read in bright sunshine without problems, it displays a clearly legible clock, and it is dead cheap. At least for the casual and at most occasional user of such a device, that’s just good enough. No complex menu system to learn, no fear to accidentally lose or destroy an excessively expensive devices. Generally, no worries.

The only things I found a bit odd are the following: First – as in many electronic devices today – the clock could be more precise. It's infuriating enough that a phone which is connected to a high tech communications network cannot set its clock automatically, and then injury is added to this insult if the clock goes off a minute or two per week. That seems excessive. 

Secondly, the easiest way to open the phone and remove the battery seems to be dropping it on the floor. While that can be handy if you want to remove the battery, it also means you’ll lose your network connection and the time stored in the phone if you accidentally drop it. Thirdly, and finally, the software has few minor quirks which can be quite irritating when using the phone or at least make it less than perfect. Well, it’s made by Motorla. It’s not supposed to have a good user interface I guess. And – having that in mind – it’s actually rather good, an impression that lasted a whole year.

I destroyed my Motofone F3 about a year after I got it by putting it in the washing machine. That sucked. I hoped that opening and drying the phone might revive it but that turned out to be overly optimistic. Instead some disassembly and forensics were done to get a better look at the phone’s magic innards.

Less than 20€ bought me a new one from eBay as people seem to be getting those F3s for free with their cheap contracts an are flogging them if they want a more sophisticated phone.

The replacement I got looks exactly like the first one did but its battery is much worse and tends to run empty after three days rather than seven. On the up-side, the battery lid sticks more tightly to the phone and doesn’t come off as easily as it did in the first one I had.