A New Tracfrone

I don’t want a monthly phone plan. Pay-as-I-go makes more sense for me. For many years a Tracfone has satisfied my limited needs.

Some months ago I received a text message on my LG235C Tracfone. By the end of the year the phone no longer would be functional. The phone uses the CDMA protocol. For that protocol Tracfone piggy-backs on the Verizon network. The Verizon folks are moving solely to 4G devices after January 1 2020.

I do not want a smart phone. I tolerate a portable phone only for a few reasons.

Poking around the web indicated I had only two choices for flip phones. For $20 I purchased an Alcatel MyFlip A405DL.

The phone uses KaiOS for the operating system (OS). This OS is a fork of Firefox OS. Free/libre software, but vendors typically lock the device. Few apps are free/libre. This Tracfone is no exception, although unlocking is allowed after one year.

The phone has the same basic layout as previous Tracfone flip phones. The phone is physically larger than the LG235C and is somewhat uncomfortable in my pocket.

Unlike previous Tracfone phones I owned, activating the A405DL was possible only online. To nominally protect my privacy I activated from an IP address other than my home. I was surprised the activation succeeded without hiccup and during the process I could immediately transfer minutes from my LG235C phone. In about 15 minutes or so the A405DL was ready to use and the LG235C deactivated.

Although not a smart phone, there are similar features. All I want is a portable phone. I have no need or desire to use most of the features, but I was again surprised to find DuckDuckGo as a search engine option.

I wanted to transfer my contact list from the LG235C. There is no SIM card in the LG235C. Connecting the two devices through bluetooth was straightforward, but how to proceed thereafter was not obvious. The user guide offered no help and I found nothing online. Eventually I figured out I needed to send a VCF (virtual contact file) of each contact. Fortunately I could select all contacts and send the files in one shot. The files were transferred as messages to the A405DL. The files were not automatically moved to the contacts list. I had to manually select each VCF message and import to the contacts list. Cumbersome but the effort required only about 10 minutes.

Online reviews reveal dissatisfied users. Many are trying to use the flip phone as a smart phone with expected Internet features. The screen is not a touch screen. While this phone — and my previous two Tracfones — support web browsing, a flip phone will push a person’s patience trying to surf the web.

While DuckDuckgo is offered as a search engine, there is no configurable option to deleting browsing history and cookies when closing the browser. Deleting both is possible only from a manual option.

Texting on a flip phone is more doable than web surfing, but remains clumsy. Notably when wanting to toggle case, numbers, or symbols.

The phone is recognized by my Slackware 64 14.2 system just fine, although identified as an Android device.

Unlike the LG235C, with the A405DL I can transfer camera photos to other devices or my computer. The camera is not that great at 2 megapixels.

The menu layout is poorly organized. The Settings option is smack dab in the middle of the menu. The menu items are not numbered to provide quick one-button access.

I haven’t found a way to remove apps I don’t need, such as FM Radio or Music.

Another shortcoming is the shortcuts button. Missing from the shortcuts is a speed dial or contacts option. To be more useful, the shortcuts button should be a single shortcut to contacts.

Powering down requires two annoying steps rather than one. Probably a bug, but when the phone is configured to Power Save Mode, connecting a USB cable while the phone is on disables the setting. When the USB cable is removed the Power Save Mode is not restored.

The default ringtones are awful. Using the phone in daylight is futile without bumping the brightness to 100%. The user guide text size is too small, even for people with excellent eyesight. Downloading the PDF is the best remedy.

The phone supports over-the-air updates. I am undecided if I should attempt that. The phone is at version 2.5 and the next is 2.5.1.

Battery life seem poor despite some online claims.

When I use the phone, the number is identified as another person. This is odd as I had this number for several years. I will have to learn how to remedy that.

A significant usability issue with this phone is the display and menu provide no way to view minutes or service expiration due date. The phone itself provides no Prepaid menu to add minutes. This is extraordinary considering the entire idea of a Tracfone is a prepaid, no-contract phone. The user guide is void of any such instructions or details. This seems to be a full Tracfone shift and marketing ploy. The spider-and-fly parlor catch seems to be that users are “encouraged” to go online and create an account to learn such details.

There is a way to find this information with the phone. Tracfone has a 611611 text service. Sending a text message to that address with an appropriate keyword returns the desired results.

  • ADD: Add airtime
  • BALANCE: Current balance
  • BUY: Purchase service plans
  • DUE: Service expiration due date
  • FOUR: Last four digits of phone’s serial number
  • HELP: Help
  • PLAN: Plan information

Retrieving this information in this manner is a new concept for users who do not use smart phones or previously only used traditional GSM/CDMA flip phones. Using the 611611 service, I reconfirmed my transferred minutes and my service expiration due date. I have no idea if I will receive reminder messages when I approach the due date or low minutes.

After discovering these 611611 keywords, I am guessing I could have activated the A405DL from the phone.

Sad that the user guide fails to contain such vital information. That users are not informed of these details directly inside the phone raises cynical thoughts and classic WTF remarks. My guess is the Tracfone folks are focused on full-scale smart phones — data mining and tracking — and the flip phone is an after thought with respect to the OS layout. Nonetheless, this just an asinine design.

While similar to a smart phone, I don’t need or plan to use apps or online services. As far as I can tell, without using apps none of the FAANG players have access to the phone.

Overall the phone is good enough.

Posted: Category: Usability Tagged: General

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