Initially, I began writing up this page because I wanted to make the switch to a KaiOS phone. However, due to various reasons that will soon be outlined, KaiOS did not live up to my standards.
What is a KaiOS phone?
In a nutshell, KaiOS phones are designed to be feature phones with modern capabilities. They attempt to run new apps while also functioning the same way as mobile phones did in the past (a more archaic user interface, no touch screen and a reliance on the number pad for navigation and input).
Personally, I was very excited to use a KaiOS phone and decided to do some research. First, I tried to narrow down the absolute essentials I needed out of a mobile phone in [the current year]. I will go through the process of reducing your reliance on smartphones in another article one day. For now, here is the list of essentials I came up with. Your list of essentials may be different, but these were the ones I settled on:
- I need to be able to make calls.
- I need to be able to message people either through SMS or Whatsapp.
- I need Google Maps in case of emergencies.
- I need a QR code function for self check in (often I sign in manually, but some places only use QR codes).
- I need a camera to take pictures as reference.
Eventually, I settled on the Nokia 2720 since this was what was available to me at the time.
My experience with using the Nokia 2720
Initially, I liked using KaiOS, I didn't find the t9 typing to be a big issue. Furthermore, you could set the keyboard to multiple languages (I set mine to English and Arabic) which is a huge plus. The t9 typing also has the advantage of preventing you from mindlessly browsing and consuming content on your phone. Since the Nokia 2720 is a flip phone, it was also nice to be able to use an old school flip phone in the modern world. However, there were various issues that had popped up.
Firstly,the KaiOS app store only has approved applications. While this is good in terms of not downloading privacy invading apps or having the app store flooded with malicious applications, if you need an unapproved application on your device, you will need to install the Banana Hackers storefront. I don’t intend to sideload anything onto my device so I won’t do this.Secondly,the camera is not high resolution compared to even the most basic smartphone. As a result the QR reader may not work.Thirdly, you cannot run .jar games or applications on this device. While these issues are inconvenient, they weren't a dealbreaker. However, I had a very bad experience with trying to set up Whatsapp on my device which soured the experience. If you want to use Whatsapp on KaiOS, there are 2 things to keep in mind, first-do not install system updates on the phone. For some unknown reason, Whatsapp does not function with the current KaiOS system updates. Furthermore, if you do use it on KaiOS, then you cannot use the desktop version of Whatsapp. This results in you having to keep a seperate smart device with a seperate sim card with the sole purpose of being able to use Whatsapp on your desktop computer. Such a tedious workaround defeats the entire point of why someone would want a KaiOS phone to begin with.In addition to this, there are no other alternative messaging apps available on the KaiOS store that I could use as a substitute. The phone only works for calling and texting.
What if I only need a phone that makes calls and texts?
I still cannot recommend using KaiOS. You would have a more enjoyable and reliable experience by looking for a second hand 4g feature phone from 10 years ago. Not only would they have an overall better build quality, but depending on the phone you buy you can have custom user interfaces. Many of them would also be compatible with .jar games and applications. I'd recommend looking into Japanese feature phones as those still manage to be quite modern in comparison to this.
However, if you're still interested in using a KaiOS phone, I can give you a few pieces of advice:
- Disable spellcheck and predictive text. Trust me, your t9 typing experience will be faster and less frustrating.
- While you're at it, use Google Voice Assistant to make your life easier.
- You can have an animated wallpaper on your phone as long as you convert it to 240x320 dimensions.
- If you do plan on using Banana Hackers or sideloading any apps, do not, and I repeat, DO NOT install system updates for KaiOS. You will not be able to access developer mode which is a cruicial element for sideloading.
Lastly, I will get into navigating yourself.
How to find your way around when you have a KaiOS phone and everyone else has a smartphone
Some people write about “the thrill of getting lost” when they recount their experiences with not using a smartphone for navigation. While this is all well and good for going off the beaten path and finding an interesting landmark tucked away, it’s not ideal if you’re stranded somewhere. So, here is some advice on how to deal with this (note that this guide is primarily for navigation within suburban and metropolitan areas).
- Write down the directions of the place you want to go to before leaving along with any alternative routes. Use Google Map’s Street view and take note of any significant landmarks if you’re going somewhere unfamiliar.
- If you’re driving and need real time navigation, buy a GPS instead of using a smartphone.
- Learn how to read a map. There are still large books of maps sold that you can take with you in your car for certain regions, cities or countries. Practice using these maps in areas you are very familiar with.
- Cities may often have large maps for you to read placed in areas such as train stations.
- Don’t be afraid to find a help desk, newsagency, petrol station, train station or brick and mortar store and ask someone there for help and directions.
- If you want text based directions for Google Maps, there are two services you can use:
- https://github.com/ouidevelop/text-message-directions Available to use in the USA and Canada, you pay 10 cents per message in order to receive an SMS with the directions from and to your desired location with your preferred method of transportation.
- https://gdir.telae.net/ A free online service which provides text based Google Maps directions. This one works internationally, allows multiple parameters and includes sub steps. However, it is browser based only so you can’t have the directions sent as an SMS.
- Practice using the KaiOS Google Maps application in areas you are very familiar with. This way, you will have some experience using it in case of an emergency. Want to know why this is saved for last? Have a look at this video- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S56tmSxbh1s&t=158s . It might help you get out of a jam, but it is better to be prepared beforehand.
Overall, while there is a lot of room for improvement for KaiOS, I will hold onto my device for now until things change or I find a better alternative. There is a lot of promise and I am hoping that it becomes more robust as time goes on. To close, I have compiled a variety of sources that have helped me or found useful:
- https://dumbphones.pory.app/ A website for finding the current feature phones.
- https://gitlab.com/suborg/project-kava A KaiOS app which allows you to run old java applications and games. It requires sideloading to run.
- https://github.com/cyan-2048/Discord-KaiOS-Unofficial An unofficial Discord client for KaiOS. Currently requires sideloading to run but the creator plans on submitting it to the KaiOS app store.
- https://www.mobilephonemuseum.com/ A collection which documents old feature phones.
- https://omoulo.com/blog/20220217_switchingphones.html Omolo's experience with switching to a feature phone.
- https://old.reddit.com/r/dumbphones/ A subreddit for people who use feature phones.
- https://disnovation.org/shanzhai.php An exhibition dedicated to strange and unconventional Chinese feature phones.