So... I bought a bananaphone

Is KaiOS pretty much all there is for Not-Android and Not-Apple 4g feature phones?

Seems to be about the option, yes.

Unfortunately, I’ve also verified that it won’t work on AT&T past about Feb 2022, because they’re dropping 3G, and not bothering with 4G voice - it’s VoLTE or nothing, if you want voice calls. So I may have to move to the flip phone this winter.

There’s also the whole “Linux phone” thing - PinePhone, Librem 5, etc. Those may be worth experimenting with at some point, but right now the state of them is Very Beta, and I just don’t need more kernel hacking in my free time.

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Alright… trying the flip phone version.

One of the general guidelines I set for this experiment is that I’m not going to extensively annoy other people with my whims and experiments. It was pointed out in the context of some group messaging for a game night that not only is group messaging broken for me, it’s entirely broken for other people. Someone asked the simple question, “How do I tell if a message from you is for me personally, or for the group?” The answer on the banana is, “You can’t.” Group messages go out as individual SMSes to each person.

So, may as well try the Flip IV that AT&T so kindly shipped me. It does have actual group MMS messaging support, and generally appears to behave on that front. That’s a critical enough feature for me that I’ll probably stay on the Flip for a while.

Also, playing with the Matrix client, I wasn’t able to log into my server - but I can log into my account (which… mumble mutter federation broken again, need to move the server). Looking through the code, I don’t think it handles a separate server properly - it’s trying to log in to the server, not to the server. So I may do a bit of hacking on that and see what I can do, submit a pull request.

Encryption isn’t going to happen, but a separate phone account that has a few things like Signal bridged to it might. I need to pull that string harder. My original interest in Marix was bridging, I just haven’t done much with it. This might be a case where it’s legitimately useful.

So… I think at this point, I’m comfortable calling the banana an “interesting but ultimately failed experiment.” It won’t run on AT&T past Feb, and group texting is entirely broken. Also, the predictive text system works, but doesn’t auto-capitalize. And the buttons are tiny and… if I’m honest, more than a bit hard to hit behind the slider.

HOWEVER! It did lead to me getting a free AT&T VoLTE compatible flip phone with big buttons. And that… while requiring a few more workarounds to get debug mode and stuff sideloaded, is looking pretty darn promising. Predictive text works sanely, the larger keypad buttons are easier to hit, and it still is a feature phone. It does have the old person phone look. But… man, those large buttons are way easier than fingertipping the banana keys.

The experiment continues.

The Matrix client… works, barely. I hacked it to let me log in properly, and after working out that it fails miserably if there are no rooms to load, it lets me log in, load rooms, and… see one line of text at a time, there are some issues with coloring. Doesn’t seem to have any concept of notifications, so probably not too useful, all told. However, I’m going to continue messing with it a bit, see if I can get it usable. There’s someone else hacking on it too, so perhaps the two of us can work something out.

Does it work on the Flip IV?

It does. There are some weird antics to get it into debug mode (go to a website and toggle it, this is apparently designed functionality of KaiOS), but I can run it on the flip phone too.

It just doesn’t support encryption yet. And Element only creates encrypted rooms now… at least for DMs.

re buttons; I’ve always wanted HP calculator buttons. They’re unfortunately too tall for size constrained applications.

Review… oh, a month or so in off smartphones?

“It’s Fine. No, Really, It’s Fine.”

I’m still working out details, but I can do just about everything I want to do, including group texting, on this flip phone. Turns out, I care about email an awful lot less than I thought I did. I have access to it on my phone, and it is, for lack of a better term, a “fiddle app” - something I pull up if I’m bored.

Matrix client state is still a mess, but… eh. Not a huge deal, and I can make one of the client options work if I’m really stubborn. I’m busy filing bugs!

Pro tip: Leave your data connection on. Otherwise MMS messages (which are what make up modern group texting) don’t get downloaded, and when you download them, group chats are entirely out of order and nonsensical.

Alright. Having done a long road trip with the Flip… I’m glad my wife had a smartphone. Hard to look up exits and restaurants and such on the Flip.

Also, group texting occasionally just… fails. Not sure why, perhaps related to going through a region without a data connection? It would silently fall back to “send a SMS to every member of the group” instead of the normal group MMS behavior. I apologized for it at one point and someone else in the group apparently thought, “… broken group texting? That’s basic smartphone, what’s he using, a flip phone?” Then thought through that, realized I probably was, and wasn’t surprised to see me pull it out when I got there.

Some features like “share my location” would have been awfully nice too for trying to find a group of people at a big race. There are, unfortunately, some things that just simply don’t work on KaiOS.

I kind of miss having an auto-syncing camera on me too, but I’ve been getting better about carrying an actual pocket camera.

Still trying to find a proper Signal root, though “Well, I guess I don’t care about conversation history” would gain me a lot, and signal-cli supposedly supports importing stuff from another device. Drone ops, however, are something I just can’t avoid using a smartphone type device for - at least with the DJI product I have.