Looking for a stupid 5G phone for AT&T
July 12, 2021 12:21 PM   Subscribe

I want to find a not-smartphone type phone (like an old-style flip-phone) that works on AT&T's 5G network that is *not* the AT&T Cingular Flip IV (which is the only 5G flip-phone they list for sale. (but the AT&T tech I talked to said I could buy an AT&T-compatible phone elsewhere (AMZ, Best-Buy, etc) that would work on their network.) Details inside.

So, I'm an AT&T customer. I have an old-school flip-phone that has served me well for years, but it's 3G only. This phone's entire job is to be my on-call phone for work. When I fire it up, I need it to wake me out of a sound sleep if an SMS message comes in from my monitoring systems. The current phone (Samsung Rugby) has the 'loud' sound profile SMS alert tone set to use an audio clip of a klaxon alarm, for instance.

But AT&T is shutting down their 3G service early next year, so they're trying to shoo 3G-only folks off 3G and on to their spiffy new 5G network. They've been sending folks low-end replacements for free - as a flip-phone user, they sent me a free Cingular Flip IV. Which looks like it should be fine except there is absolutely no way to change the alert tone for incoming SMS messages. I can change the ring tone, I can change the "notification" tone (which you'd think include "hey, new SMS alert!" but is actually just "hey, the battery is charged!"), but I cannot change the SMS alert tone. And that polite low-key little "blip" it has as a fixed alert tone is just not going to cut it. (I am baffled as to why someone would *remove* that functionality compared to phones that are older and less evolved.)

Can anyone recommend a flip-phone (like, stupid flip-phone, not something like the Galaxy Z that's a smart phone with a hinge in the middle) that will work on AT&T's 5G network and that will let me use an arbitrary sound clip as the SMS alert tone?

I'd rather not upgrade to a smartphone for something that, in function, is basically a glorified pager that I get a lot of SMS messages on, and occasionally take voice calls on. (I have a smart phone as my personal phone, but for various reasons I like having my work on-call alerting go to a different number, thus the other phone line.)
posted by rmd1023 to Technology (12 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: (Work gives me a monthly stipend that covers 'we're asking you to use your personal cellphone for work stuff' rather than directly supplying cellphones to staff.)
posted by rmd1023 at 12:22 PM on July 12, 2021

Unfortunately, being able to change the SMS tone is not usually a documented feature in the descriptions, esp. for a flip phone. But given your experience, I'd stay away from Alcatel, which I believe is the maker of the Flip IV.

FWIW, you can still use their 4G/LTE network, and that'd expand your choices quite significantly.

I would look into a senior phone (I know, hold on) which can usually be set to loud/flashing due to them being often hard of hearing but not needing hearing aids yet. You may also be able to kludge together a solution to "amplify" the sound if the device is Bluetooth compatible and you have a Bluetooth speaker. Haven't tried it, so not sure if it'll work.
posted by kschang at 1:07 PM on July 12, 2021 [1 favorite]

I am in your same situation: AT&T forcing me to abandon my beloved old 3G phone. In fact, I've just ordered their suggested replacement, a Samsung Express Prime 3. My cost is around $90. Their att.com/claimyourphone site offered me only that one choice. Since anything else I find appealing is over $300, I'm going to see if I can make this cheap option work. I use a pay-as-you-go plan, if that makes any difference.
posted by Rash at 1:09 PM on July 12, 2021

I don't know if this will help you, but the industry term for this is "feature phone" if that helps you search.
posted by radioamy at 1:13 PM on July 12, 2021 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: you can still use their 4G/LTE network

Interesting. I didn't realize they'd let you do that, which is why I was looking at 5G. 4G/LTE would definitely expand the options. Any specific recommendations in that class of phones?

I would look into a senior phone (I know, hold on)

Not that far a jump - I qualified for AARP membership years ago. :) I've looked at some of those while searching the Internet with abandon, but didn't want to go so far as to hunt down a model I could poke at somewhere, yet.

the industry term for this is feature phone"

Good to know. Thanks!
posted by rmd1023 at 1:20 PM on July 12, 2021

Consumer Cellular offer the Link II as a flip phone, and it runs on the AT&T 4G network I believe.
posted by nickggully at 1:49 PM on July 12, 2021 [1 favorite]

Roman numerals are my nemesis! The Flip IV is a clone of the Alcatel Smartflip, which is also branded on Cricket as Debut Flip, so avoid all those as well.
posted by zenon at 6:20 AM on July 13, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The Sonim XP3 is a flip phone, and their XP5s is a (gigantic) bar-type phone with a physical keypad. I believe both phones technically run a heavily-modified version of Android, but they behave like old feature phones. Running an Andriod variant means you can alter all the noises.

They are extremely durable, and so far all three of the secondhand XP5s's we've bought off ebay have been unlocked and compatible with basically any carrier. Not sure about 5G, but they definitely do 4G/LTE - that's why we started getting them. Also, Sonim has very nice customer support, in my experience.
posted by sibilatorix at 8:14 AM on July 13, 2021 [1 favorite]

I have a Cingular flip phone with ATT for emergency purposes and had to replace the phone last week because mine was damaged. I was amazed that the exact same phone was $69.99 at the ATT store and $29.99 at Target.
posted by silsurf at 12:38 PM on July 13, 2021

One thing to note is that 5G is NOT simply better than 4G/LTE, because it has extremely short range (but much faster speeds). I wouldn't expect 4G/LTE devices to be sunset any time soon; 5G range is so limited that it isn't really practical to have extensive coverage outside of relatively dense areas. So towns and cities, yes, but almost any stretch of road without much on it is going to not have 5G coverage any time soon, if ever.
posted by Tomorrowful at 2:29 PM on July 14, 2021 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I went with the Sonim - bought one on ebay, and just activated it earlier today. Setting it next to my old flip phone, it reminds me of the pictures you see of newer SUVs/trucks next to older smaller less intimidating models of the same vehicle. It's a bit big but definitely looks like I should be able to drop it in a cement mixer and let it churn for a while and still work.

Thanks to everyone who answered and had suggestions!
posted by rmd1023 at 12:09 PM on July 27, 2021

Side note: someone mentioned "heavily-modified version of Android". This may not be Android, but KaiOS which is a new OS designed specifically for "feature" phones or phones with lesser performance. It has some backing from Google, so some of the phones support _some_ Google apps; it also has an app store and apps from other companies like Facebook.

Here is a link to their page of devices which run the OS and which are 4G. This includes the Doro 7050 which I know is offered by Consumer Cellular as a "senior" phone so maybe it has the volume feature mentioned by someone else.
posted by TimHare at 10:39 PM on July 27, 2021

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