Crap cellphones

Sam Biddle rounds up the most appalling, terribly-made cellphones money can buy. Pictured right is the Pantech Jest (as in "surely you").

Why are these awful phones for sale—some for very much money!—when you can buy phones that aren't awful and cost zero dollars? Corporate apathy, manufacturing antipathy, a large populace of people who will literally walk into a store and buy anything, like molecules bouncing around in a void—all possible.

What's interesting is how these handsets live in a crappy "$50 hinterland" between smartphones and reliable, well-made $20 burners. With gadgets, mid-range is low-end.


    1. Well they don’t charge you less if ou buy an $80 shit phone. So it’s not so much free, but a required purchase, that ou can turn down.

      1. If you’re going to sign a two year contract, you should manage to get a non-smartphone (feature phone) for little to nothing. Never more than $30. Avoid Official Corporate Verizon stores, or those bloody in the middle of the mall stores and you’ll be fine.

  1. Also, this “article” is super pointless. Anyone can pick a random device and apply a witty caption with no research at all.

    1. Beginning to be the norm if you ask me, just pointless articles about gadgets with no decent comparison/research done whatsoever, nor any true insight.  Its like many just wake up the morning of their deadline and look around their room to find something to write about. 
      I only clicked in here to make the overtly obvious comment that “free phones” amount to overpriced phones that get split into your phone bill/service contract. 

  2. Interesting that the author can’t seem to understand why the two basic flipphones are even offered, as if absolutely everyone naturally wants a smartphone and data plans.

    I suspect most of the phones on this list are offered as “free” or low-cost upgrades or new-account incentives.

    1. I actually got a smart phone because the smallest smart phone on offer from my carrier was a better and cheaper ‘flip’ phone than any of their flip phones.

      I brought in my 2007-vintage flip phone, and wanted basically that – a basic phone that small or smaller,  for not too much money.  All their flip phones were bigger, fatter, and yet had tinier and more awkward keypads.  They did have a low-end Android phone that thin, so I got that.  Here I was thinking the advances in technology would mean a new flip phone would be better than a 5 year old one, and yet all they had on offer was consistently worse (by my standards)

  3. Yeah, that article really said NOTHING about the phones, and the actual UI or build quality factors that probably make them less pleasant than iPhones or Android devives. “Look at this crap cellphone. JUST LOOK AT IT!”

    1.  I went away from that post with the impression that Sam Biddle considered any phone that a) cost anything and b) wasn’t an Android or iPhone was crap, automatically.

  4. I see a lot of kids in their early teens using the Jest and Samsung Smiley. They seem to be the LGRumor/Side Kick of chicago tweens.

  5. I’m digging the love for the technology least able to defend itself, but those phones are crap.

    1. And all people are saying is that’d they’d REALLY like to know why, and no one is offering any explanation!

      I’d seriously pay 80 dollars, or more, for a decent flip phone no problem. Especially a horizontal DS-style one. So “It’s an 80 dollar flip phone” certainly leaves something lacking in the “its crap” argument he was supposed to be making.

  6. i could have really enjoyed reading some actual reviews of these pieces of crap, and all i got was a joke about blackberry

  7. I’m really not surprised to see so many Pantech products on this list. My boss just gave me a Pantech tablet to use for some field data collection and the thing literally crashed every single time I brought it into the field. Fortunately I was backing up the data via dropbox, an analog notebook, and internally on the field equipment. I had no faith in that POS from the beginning.

  8. As a cell phone repair tech and salesman, I have a few opinions.

    What I always tell customers buying a new phone is that if there’s some function you want to do, and it’s not one of the obvious choices displayed on the screen, you hit the menu button. That’s great, except for phones with no menu button – e. g., the Samsung Seek SPH-M350. It’s hard for me to figure out how to navigate a phone with no menu button. For people who don’t spend all day working with them, it’s a complete mystery. What were the phone designers thinking?

    The cheap phones are often underpowered for the uses people put them through. Yeah, you can get a data plan for your cheap phone, but if you want to do email and facebook, you had better get an Android or iPhone. Otherwise, it’s like trying to use a 10-year-old computer; there just aren’t enough CPU cycles.

    For your Android or iPhone, be really sure you understand how to back up your contacts. For example, on the Android, you can sync with Gmail. And then to be extra sure, in Gmail, you can export the contacts as a CSV file. Really, really do that. If you have a Blackberry, do a BlackBerry Desktop backup weekly – to two different computers. For an iPhone, do both the iTunes backup and the cloud backup, every week. It’s so easy for the phone to turn into a brick, and then you’ve lost everything.

    The article makes a big deal about the price of a phone, for example, the $80 Samsung Gusto. I disagree. Look at the cost of the calling plans between the different phone companies – you can get comparable service with a difference in price from $20 to $40, roughly, per month. Over the two-year contract, that’s hundreds of dollars. If you like the phone, and it does what you like, the initial cost is less important than that monthly bill. Of course, some of the minor companies have cheap plans, but crappy data service, so you have to research their reputations.

    Speaking of the bill, if you work for government or a large company, you can probably get 10% or 15% discount on your monthly bill. That really adds up. Look into it. My wife worked for a university seven years ago, got the discount, and it’s still there, even though that was two jobs ago.

    My personal phone is a $20 Virgin Mobile, with no data plan. I just don’t need more than that. It costs me about $80 / year. It’s an LG, but looks almost exactly like the Samsung Gusto derided in the article.

  9. I haven’t seen a decent cellphone since the term “smartphone” was invented.  Since that point, the focus has been on games, poor sounding music, and web-browsing.

  10. What about those of us who don’t have data plans and only want a phone for texting and making calls? My flip phone broke a few months ago and I was stuck upgrading to a samsung piece of garbage, which was free, but also was probably considered shit in 2005. The user interface is awful and there is a 1-2 second lag when hitting the menu buttons. People who don’t want data plans are forced to buy these crapgadgets and there is no redress until you suffer another 2 years to get a free upgrade. I’m sure the selection at that point will be the same party favors they are offering now. I’ve always wondered what it would be like if they opened these phones so the godawful UI could be replaced with something open source that made sense.

    1. Oh! You have my fone. It’s about 10 days and counting, and this time I will NOT buy the cheapest one on the rack.

      On the bright side, I dropped it in the toilet a month ago, and it still works . .  . .  uh . . . . as well as ever.

    2. I don’t have a data plan, and have been buying used iPhones and disabling cellular data for a few years now. Far better experience for making calls and texting, it’s a nice music and podcast player, and you can use it to do smartphone stuff when you have wifi.

    3. >What about those of us who don’t have data plans and only want a phone for texting and making calls?

       I’d been using a mid-2000s nokia phone for metroPCS that a friend kicked-down to me for many years that i liked because it had an LED flashlight on it.  When I smashed it last year, I found the same phone on ebay for $12 shipped.  actually, it was an upgraded model because of the color screen.

      what’s funny is the comments people make are either “you’re still using that?” -or-  “I used to have that phone!  I LOVED THAT PHONE!”

      personally, i love it.

      1. One of those was the first cell phone I had, and I liked it a lot and kept it well past the point when everyone else upgraded to Razrs and other crap like that. I went through a couple of other phones before finally getting a smartphone (a Nexus One).

        I needed a cell phone in Thailand – before I got the unlocked Nexus One (which I later used in Thailand as well) – and of course I bought one of those old Nokias (which are still sold new in Thailand), with the flashlight on top and everything. And it’s got Thai script on the buttons, which is cool, and on a whim later I bought a replacement plastic casing for it so I can make it green if I want (it was under $1).

        Unfortunately, while it is unlocked, it won’t work on AT&T’s network for some reason. I was hoping I’d be able to use it as a backup in case something happens to my N1.

  11. I’ve been sort of casually looking for a comprehensive list of “dumb phones” because frankly after two years with my HTC Incredible, I just don’t use $80US/mo worth of service.  I’m downgrading… and you know what?  After some very unscientific internet research, I think I’m not the only.  Remember how hipsters made PBR cool again for a while?  I predict the same for simple cell phones… how else are they going to stop stretching out the pockets on their skinny jeans?!  Yeah.

    1. That was my main criterion for buying my current phone – it had to be thin, so I’m not carrying around a great big brick.

      And I ended up with an HTC Wildfire, because it’s thinner than the big bulky flip phones on offer.  I would have thought 5 years of tech advancements would mean I could get something like an old Motorola Razor, but a bit skinnier, but not so.

      1. I was a smartphone holdout until a couple years ago, and I had a Sony w350, which was a “free” upgrade and was by far the smallest phone I’ve seen (smaller than the Razr, which is what I upgraded from) and even looks pretty cool.

        So the 5 years of tech advancements are there, but the carriers in the US won’t sell it to you anymore. They probably purposefully don’t give you that kind of option anymore – so you’re more likely to go for a smartphone.

    2. This is the most hipster of phonestoo hipster for most hipsters, probably. But it’s thin (won’t stretch out your skinny jeans) and the battery will last forever – it uses an e-ink screen (which makes it very nerd-hipster).

      It was designed for developing markets like rural India, though, and I think even there it didn’t do well – people generally want at least a few more features than that phone offered.

      I really wanted one a few years ago, but ultimately decided against it. It’s just too simple. They should have come out with a sequel that had a bit more to it, and it probably needs a small LCD as well (maybe top half e-ink, and you can disable the LCD screen to conserve battery) because one of its big problems is that its method of displaying and entering text messages is abysmal.

  12. Maybe they put these junk phones out there, so you feel you have no real choice, but to go with a smart phone and pay the connection fees.

  13. Sam Biddle along with the majority of the content generators at gizmodo are just terrible.  You should be ashamed for encouraging or promoting this/them.    I <3 you Rob and forgive you this once, but DONT PUSH IT!!!  :)

  14. One of the things the article completely missed is that these are the few phones that don’t require data plans. You get a cheap Android phone, and you have to get a data plan whether you plan to use it or not.

    At a minimum of $30/month for a data plan, that’s $3,600 per year. Yes, an Android phone that’s more functional can be had for free vs. $50 for one of these, but at the end of the year, you’re paying $3,550 more per year for that “free” Android phone. Is it really worth $3,550 per year just so you can tweet randomly on the street? (I was going to say “update your Facebook status that you’re in Starbucks”, but then you have a WiFi network, and you can use your iPod Touch to do that). There are still a lot of people that simply want a cellphone to make …get ready for this… phone calls.These phones are more expensive than the free Android phones because the phone companies are no longer subsidizing them. The price you pay is pretty much what the phone companies paid for them. The basic phone plans are loss leaders. Sort of like the $4.00 for two cans of Maxwell House coffee sales that the grocery stores do.

    People get these phones because the first question they ask when they walk into that Verizon Wireless Phone Store is “Do you have any phones that I can get where I don’t have to pay $30/month for a data plan?” Maybe the phone companies are secretly hoping that if they make the basic phones ugly enough, and expensive enough, people will be willing to pay that $7,200 for over the life of the contract data plan.

    1.  “At a minimum of $30/month for a data plan, that’s $3,600 per year.”

      I think the calculator on your phone is off by a power of 10.

  15.  $30 a month would be $360 a year, not $3,600!

    Incidentally, the pantech Jest looks a lot like a descendant of the Helio (pantech) Ocean I used to have. It was a pretty great feature phone, six years ago.

  16.  I know a few people who have a rejectionist mindset when it comes to buying decisions.  If they’ve heard of a product, they won’t buy it (provided there are alternatives they’ve never heard of).  That includes the times when they have no choice but to buy cell phones.  They won’t buy an iPhone or Samsung Galaxy S precisely because they’ve heard of it. The decision is usually paired with complaints about consumer culture and rejecting the sheeple around them.  Maybe Pantech knows about these people, and addresses their needs.  (I’d kind of like to see the marketing and product development for that.)

  17. The mobile phone market is the hardware equivalent of Microsoft’s OS release approach – let the market be the beta testers.

    Or, to be more charitable, like Proctor & Gamble’s brand strategy – generate loads of similar products and see how well they compete with each other.

    Or, a manifestation of “the CEO’s cousin thinks he is a cellphone designer, put him over there where he can’t do so much damage.”

  18. These phones are typically offered as an inexpensive way to get onto a pay-as-you-go plan, where you actually buy the cell phone, rather than getting a “free” phone (not) and getting locked into a two-year contract with a monthly bill.

    As noted above, the Gizmodo post says absolutely nothing about why the phones are crappy. You’d do better by googling for an actual review of each phone.

  19. I’m still using a Samsung U740 Alias feature phone I got in ’07.  I get signal EVERYWHERE, the charge lasts for days, it flips horizontal for texting and the screen is inside so it can rattle around in my pants pocket with keys and not get ruined.  And it’s small and light.
    You find what you like and use that.  I see no reason to hang out on the bleeding edge where all the depreciation and new-release fail is.  So what if I can’t post on Facebook from anywhere on the planet?  I don’t want to.
    There are a lot of different products because there are a lot of different needs.

    1. i personally am very happy with my smartphone with exception of the battery life. It’s an HTC Evo 4g and for buying on the bleeding edge i got i phone with terrible 4g coverage, great 3g and voice coverage, a solid build, a fast processor and a beautiful screen. sprint has very affordable data plans and truly unlimited data. 

      That said my device is rooted and has all the carrier locked features enabled, the ones sprint would normally charge for… an android device has the longevity of a standard computer if you can unlock the firm ware and update over time. 

      for android phones i recommend purchasing devices supported by the Cyanogenmod opensource project. 

      anyway i think in a few years when college makes me poor i may be downgrading to a regular phone, but i look forward to the long battery life. 

  20. Here’s what would make a cell phone crap to me:
    * poor battery life
    * poor signal reception
    * awkward ergo
    * bad reliability
    * inconvenient menus or interface
    * bad call sound quality
    * excessive bulk
    * fragility

  21. I’m in the industry, so I’ve a bit of bias.

    There is no such thing as a free phone. They cost to design, for parts, to license the patents, to manufacture, to ship, to display, and to support. You’re going to end up paying for all of that somehow, or whomever sold it to you would be out of business.

    You’re likely paying for it as part of your plan. In with the cost of providing everything else to the customer is some amount of handset subsidy. Just ’cause it isn’t on a line item doesn’t mean the rate-plan designers don’t have this all calculated to small fractions. They’ve got you on a treadmill and are well compensated for keeping you there.

    (There are alternatives – many prepaid plans don’t subsidize phones heavily, or for a national carrier T-Mobile USA has low-cost Value plans that let you bring-your-own/buy-on-installment)

    As to the hardware, you get what you pay for. I’m daily impressed by folks who buy the cheapest possible handset while complaining the last half dozen cheapest possible handsets they bought didn’t hold up. REALLY? So you’re doing it *again*?!

    Seriously, the cheapest carpet doesn’t wear well, the cheapest car doesn’t come with the good tires, and the ‘free’ phone isn’t any different. It’s good enough it _should_ last two years if you treat it well, and won’t generate too many calls to the carrier for support or complaints, but that is it.

    Want something better? Pay the extra money for mid-market. There the manufacturer is trying to appeal to the customer, not saving pennies for the carrier. Over two years the cost difference is trivial, especially for something as intimate and regularly used or even relied upon as a cellphone.

    Actually try out the phone in the store. Does it fit your hand well? Can you read the keypad and screen? Try going to the contact list. Creating a text message (if you’re a texter.) Make a call with it; does it sound clear?

    If you’re looking at a smartphone (and if I’m hauling something around with me for two years I expect it to do everything possible, your needs may be different) try some web browsing. Look at the apps available. Ask about the battery life.

    Consider doing some research on the handset, keeping in mind the *ahem* wide diversity of opinions one can find. Personally I’m a fan of PC Magazine’s surprisingly useful phone reviews. Also CNet is good for lesser-known models.

    Ask the clerk what they can say about a handset – does it get returned often? What do folks need help with on it? What do they recommend, and why? Are there any sales or promotions you could take advantage of?

    Lastly, treat this like a real purchase. Calculate your cellphone bill for the next two years, plus the cost of the phone, THAT is what you are paying for. For something you will likely be carrying every day for those next two years. Relying on for casual and critical communication.

    Lastly, please don’t drop your cellphone in the toilet then pretend you didn’t.

  22. I’m a fan of boingboing and have been for a while. I don’t understand how you can in good conscience link to a gawker media site when I think it is fairly clear for anyone paying attention that in amongst the cool and funny posts there are also ads disguised as posts, with no disclaimer. Call it product placement, or payola, or whatever. Why wouldn’t a site that seems to be so acutely attuned to the ‘conspiracies’ in society at large would not pick up on this obvious ruse and distance themselves? Or is boingboing the same? If facebook is like, evil, man – then why is boingboing on it?    

  23. My parents have a Samsung flip phone similar to the first one on there. It’s great! Battery lasts for days. You push buttons like on a regular phone to call someone. Flipping it open to answer is easier than hunting for a tiny button. I don’t have to teach them how to use it (though I do program the address book). I just wish it had a way of getting the pictures off the device (no card or usb connectivity) and they wish the screen was bigger so they could use it without their glasses.

  24. “Like every other phone listed here, it has a pitiful camera, no real web browser”
    LOL!!1!  Why would anyone want a telephone that can’t take photographs and browse the internet?  Why, all that phone is good for is making calls and texting.  Surely there’s nobody left on earth who just wants that.

    1.  What got me is that they then listed the blackberry 9860. It’s a current model blackberry with a decent 5mp camera and a webkit-based browser (That runs pretty smoothly on the 1.2ghz processor/768mb ram)

      I know it’s cool to hate blackberry right now, but it seems really out of place compared to everything else on the list.

  25. OK, I’ll come clean — I like paygo plans because I don’t use my cell phone that much, and I don’t want to shell out $80-$100 a month for a locked-in 2-year contract — even though my wife’s dual-core Droid 3 is just flat gorgeous.

    Anyway, I work in a building where cell phone reception inside the building is a problem. I’ve tried all 3 major carriers, and of T-Mobile, Sprint, and Verizon, only Verizon works. With the others, you have to go outside. Unfortunately, of the three, Verizon’s got the highest paygo prices and the worst selection of paygo cell phones. (The least expensive dealer I found was PlatinumTel, running on Sprint, who will sometimes sell you a free “crappy” refurb flip phone simply for the price of airtime, with paygo prices of $0.05/minute and $0.02/text message.)

    My experiments with inexpensive paygo phones means I own two of the “crappy phones” on this list. The Pantech Ease (AT&T) isn’t actually a crappy phone, although it is an odd device, with a “simple” mode apparently aimed at people who can’t deal with complexity or small fonts, and an “advanced” mode that mimics a smartphone. It’s got a nice slide-out keyboard and a nice large display. At $25 refurbished (also included: free 2-day shipping; $10 airtime), it was a good deal. Unfortunately, AT&T doesn’t get reception in my building and the phone is going down the road.

    The Samsung Gusto (Verizon) is a crap phone. It’s your basic flip phone with your basic VGA camera, but it’s like they tried to make it something it’s not by putting in a gazillion different user settings, so it’s just needlessly complex. CNet called it the “disGusto”. On the other hand, they just came out with the Gusto 2, so the disGustos are on sale (recently seen going for around $15 new at Frys with $10 airtime included). About the only other nice thing to say about it is that it’s got large keys. Oh, and the most important thing — it works inside my building.

    1. Reception and coverage are two issues that don’t show up on the spec sheet, yet they’re critical in actual use.  What good is 4G if you can only use it outdoors facing north?  I keep my 5 year old Samsung and Verizon contract because It. Always. Works.  At least half of my minutes are used up when I hand it over to someone else to make a simple phone call when their fancy bleeding edge smarty-phone can’t connect.  Not that all smart phones are connection-deficient, but people tend to overlook that when making a purchase.  My wife has a fine Android phone with all kinds of cool apps & stuff.  But she makes a lot of calls on my old Verizon Samsung because her Sprint coverage is crap and getting crappier.

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