What cell phone is the best... phone?
July 14, 2010 1:03 PM   Subscribe

What cell phone is the best... phone? Ignoring all the whiz-bang smartphone stuff, what cell phone (GSM, unlocked) is the best at actual phone functions? Sounds the best? Easy to use? Fits well in my pocket? Good reception?

I've long rejected the smart phone movement, but lately I'm having trouble understanding people on my cell phone... I don't know if it's their phone or mine, but somewhere between the tinny microphone on their phone and the tinny speaker on my phone, they sound, well, like they're talking into a tin can. Two tin cans attached with string may sound better. What cell phone out there is best at being a phone first and foremost? Bonus point if it doesn't include a camera or web browser.
posted by MesoFilter to Technology (13 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I'm pretty happy with my Motorola W233, which was the cheapest phone available when I signed up for T-Mobile. The nice thing about having a phone with almost no features is that the battery life is usually super-long as a result.
posted by luvcraft at 1:20 PM on July 14, 2010

The modern descendants of the (in)famous Nokia "brick" are still rock-solid. You can easily get one for $40, usually less. Both AT&T ant T-Mobile have one in their prepaid lineup, just buy it and pop in your current SIM.
posted by ConstantineXVI at 1:23 PM on July 14, 2010

The best phone phone that was ever made, and probably will be ever made, is the Nokia 6310i. They're not made anymore, but you can find one on eBay. They're surprisingly expensive compared to other phones from that era, but that's only because they're so valued.

Pick one up and buy a new battery for it - they're still available.
posted by Mwongozi at 1:31 PM on July 14, 2010

Seconding ConstantineXVI here. But honestly the older phones had a better voice quality.

I don't know why you ask for unlocked and GSM but if you travel a lot or want to be flexible with your contract, get a VOIP number routed on your phone, wherever you are, here:
posted by yoyo_nyc at 1:50 PM on July 14, 2010

Bonus points to anyone who suggested a phone with a black & white screen! I'm a bit wary buying electronics used, but it may be worth looking into.

The W233 looks interesting - but I can't find an unlocked version at my usual source.
posted by MesoFilter at 1:58 PM on July 14, 2010

The best phone phone that was ever made, and probably will be ever made, is the Nokia 6310i.

This is my phone. It's a hand-me-down, has survived a wash and dry cycle, and though it's held together somewhat with duct tape these days, it still works. The one downside to using it in North America is that it's 900/1800/1900 triband. If you're not planning on international travel, you're better off with one of the more modern descendants that does 850/1900 GSM and the Ultrabasic series, made for the developing world, does that job.

(Michael Arrington recently wrote about switching to a prepaid Net10 LG 100 as his "phone phone", using Google Voice for forwarding.)
posted by holgate at 2:05 PM on July 14, 2010

Samsung M300 is CRAP. In my experience all cheap Samsung phones are.
posted by Night_owl at 2:12 PM on July 14, 2010

http://www.cellhut.com/phonefinder.asp is a useful tool. I used to have a phone with FM radio, and really liked having it.
posted by theora55 at 2:38 PM on July 14, 2010

I like LG phones.
posted by KokuRyu at 2:52 PM on July 14, 2010

I have a smart phone for work and prefer to keep a plain 'ole dumb phone for personal use. Mrs. Randomkeystrike (who uses an iTouch for her pocket gizmo duties) and I have both had LG phones for the past few years - plain old flip phones that don't do much besides store contacts, dial, and talk. Really like them. Good battery life, cases, etc. seem solid, and voice quality is great.
posted by randomkeystrike at 2:55 PM on July 14, 2010

The reason it sounds like a tin can is because of the voice compression the networks use. It's not something that can be fixed with a new phone, unfortunately.

I sort of have the same problem, so if I really want to talk to someone and hear what they say, I use Skype over a decent Internet connection. Beautifully clear.

If you want the best GSM phone, though, take a look at the Nexus One. It's very nice.
posted by jrockway at 2:56 PM on July 14, 2010

jrockaway- I'm afraid you may be right. This phone has served me faithfully since my last phone suddenly stopped working, so it's odd that only just recently I can't hear what people are saying. It's really bad- I can barely make things out & am always tempted to to just get them to text me instead, since then at least I know what corner to meet them on.
posted by MesoFilter at 10:46 PM on July 14, 2010

Korean manufacturers (Samsung and LG) have very poor own-developed user interfaces which are complicated, inconsistent and generally pretty ugly. It's no surprise that they're finding better success with third party operating systems (eg. Android) in Europe and the USA.

I've never liked Sony Ericsson's UI or handsets and find them annoying and/or fiddly. However some people really like them.

Normally I'd recommend a cheap Nokia Series 40 phone - however Nokia's quality control has gone down the pan in recent years and the Series 40 line has bloated out to include other functionality which isn't really needed or works poorly on such a small screen or limited keyboard layout (eg. email).

My mother has a 6600 fold and whilst it's a nice phone and moderately simple, it'll lock up randomly when you type "666" during texting. 6 software versions later and Nokia still haven't fixed the bug.

So, in short, Nokia was the best but they are slowly getting as bad as the others. As much as it pains to say this, I'd just drop into your local store and pick up one of the cheaper Nokia's that you like the look and feel of and it'll do everything you need.

Since you're in the USA, this link should show you all the ones under $100. I'd personally go for the 2730, 2330 or 2330 - but that's a personal preference.
posted by mr_silver at 6:21 AM on July 15, 2010

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