FONE F3 (sometimes called the MOTOFONE) was announced
a year ago, but it has only very recently been available
in the UK (see the bottom of the page
for more information). It's an interesting phone for
a variety of reasons, not least the fact that it is
incredibly inexpensive (at around £25 / €40 SIM
free, cheaper with prepay) and very simple to use.
When we showed the MOTOFONE F3 to people
and asked them how much they thought it would cost SIM
free, most people came back with a price of around £200
/ €300. So how come this simple little mobile phone
is so impressive?
What's in the FONE F3's box?
If you're interested in the full unboxing
pictures of the FONE F3, click here. Else, you can see
from the picture below that the MOTOFONE is a quite
neat package in a small box which includes a charger,
battery (Motorola BD50), battery cover and a manual.
The manual itself folds out and covers the FONE F3's
fairly limited feature set very clearly.
Physical characteristics of the FONE
112 x 46 x 9mm and just 70 grams in weight, the
Motorola FONE F3 is substantially slimmer and lighter
than most phones on the market.
The front of the phone looks like a
typical Motorola design with a flat metal keypad and
large navigation pad. There's a monochrome display on
the top measuring approximately 1.9 inches. On the side
is a jack plug opening for the power charger and optional
The keypad looks like a typical RAZR-style
layout, but it's quite a bit easier to use as there
is a raised plastic border between each row of keys,
and this has bumps on it to make it easier to find the
correct key by touch. The 5 key also has a raised plastic
piece to identify it. The MOTOFONE's keypad is surprisingly
easy to use and it also has a backlight to help in low
Overall, the construction quality of
the FONE F3 seems to be very good. There are few openings
in the case and all the panels fit quite closely, which
indicates to us that the FONE F3 should be somewhat resistant
to dust and dampness too.
It is an unsually flat design, and when
combined with the MOTOFONE's unique display, it does
look rather more like a retail store dummy handset than
a real phone!
The MOTOFONE's unique display
Technically the most interesting part
of the Motorola FONE F3 is the panel. It's an electrophoretic
display (EPD), which is basically a type of electronic
paper (or digital ink) solution where each particle
flips over, a little like a reversi
piece. This is quite unlike the LCD displays found in
most phones, because an EPD display looks very much
like a piece of paper when you read it.
This technology means that the Motorola
FONE F3's screen is thinner and lighter than a conventional
LCD, and it also consumes less power. In theory, it
should also be cheaper when produced in sufficient volume.
One major advantage that the FONE F3
has over any almost other type of mobile device is that
it can always been seen clearly in full sunlight as
the picture below demonstrates.
From left to right the handsets pictured
are vintage BlackBerry 7230, a Nokia N73 and the
Motorola FONE F3. As you can see, the display on the
Nokia N73 is very difficult to read under the direct
glare of the sun. The BlackBerry comes with an unusual
transflective display that does rather better, but the
FONE F3 is clearly readable in these conditions.
Unlike any other mobile phone we can
thing of, the Motorola FONE F3 does not use a
matrix display. Instead, different symbols are predefined
- rather like the LCD display on a car or clock. Text
displays use a set of six fourteen segment characters,
and there's a secondary row of numeric characters (which
are useful for displaying the date).
This fairly limited layout can make
texting a bit of a pain. You can also see that the MOTOFONE
appears to mix upper and lower case, but in reality
the FONE F3 actually sends in lowercase only (so in
the picture below, the if that text message were sent
to a conventional handset it would read pack my box
with five dozen liquor jugs and not PACK
My boX WITH FIVE doZEN LIQUoR JUGS as it appears!
One unusual feature of the EPD display
is that artifacts tend to be persistent unless the screen
is refreshed (this typically happens when the screen
displays the clock which is light-on-black). You can
see below that the "ghost" of previous characters
builds up (on the screen on the right).
Although the EPD display in the MOTOFONE
scores well in direct sunlight, in the dark it is much
more difficult to read. This is because the FONE F3's
display is rather like a piece of paper that's dark
on one side and light on the other. If you put a light
behind it, then you'd always get a grey because
the light and dark elements of the display are always
in the way. To get round this, the FONE F3 lights the
display from the sides. As you can see, this isn't as
easy to read as the display on the Nokia N73 we say
earlier, but then the display on the FONE F3 (plus its
inbuilt voice prompting) means that the MOTOFONE is
One major advantage that the FONE F3's
display has over other devices is its lower power consumption
- in fact, the display requires no power at all in a
steady state. A simple way to demonstrate this is to
remove the battery - as you can see from the picture
below, the display is still in place!
The MOTOFONE's user interface is remarkably
simple. The Action key in the upper left corner
selects an item, the Navigation pad scrolls through
them and that's pretty much all there is to it. There's
a dedicated key for the SIM card address book, a call
and hang-up button plus a standard number pad and that's
The main menu options are:
View recent call list
Adjust date and time
When you turn the FONE F3 on, it asks
you if you want to use voice prompting. This is a pretty
advanced feature for such a simple phone.
You can also set nine quickdial numbers,
use a speakerphone while in the call and there's a keylock,
vibrate function plus a number of other functions, the
more advanced of which will require looking in the manual.
When texting you'll find that the FONE
F3 displays in mixed case, but actually only sends in
lowercase. The MOTOFONE lacks any predictive texting,
but then this would add to the cost.
The speakerphone and ringing tones are
quite loud and should be useful in most environments.
Remember that this is a very
simple phone - there's no web browser, Bluetooth, MP3
player or even a colour display. You can make calls,
deal with text messages, set an alarm and really that
would use the Motorola FONE F3?
Clearly any phone that costs around
£25 / €40 for a SIM free handset is likely to
appeal to those people who are looking for a really
But there's something more impressive
with the FONE F3 than with many other cheap phones.
When you pick the MOTOFONE up you can tell that's it's
well made, everything fits together properly, and the
handset is very well thought out despite its limitations.
We tried a little experiment using the
FONE F3 and the technically awesome Nokia
E90. Perhaps not the most scientifically valid experiment
ever, but we did show various people both the E90 and
the FONE F3 and the surprising thing was just how many
people were impressed with the FONE. Not in technological
terms, but because they saw the FONE as being very stylish,
slim and simple to use.. and everybody was very surprised
when they found out how little it cost.
Now, most Mobile Gazette readers
love their gadgets, but prefer them to be more.. well,
gadgetty than the FONE F3. But this is a great second
phone, especially if your main device is a bulky smartphone.
It also works well for anybody who spends a lot of time
outdoors, either for leisure pursuits or work. At 70
grams and 9 mm thick, the FONE F3 will squeeze into
pretty much any pocket or bag.. and if you work outdoors
then it's likely to withstand the odd bit of dust, and
even if you ruin the phone, you can get another one
The Motorola FONE F3 isn't without its
faults - texting is a bit of a pain, the backlighting
isn't that good and here's a phone that would really
benefit from Bluetooth for people who wanted a no-fuss
business phone. However, you can tell that a lot of
effort went into the MOTOFONE's design and it is incredibly
elegant and straightforward to use.. and a real bargain
too. We're definitely going to keep hold of the review
The FONE F3 is not
widely available at the moment, but Amazon does seem
to be a good place to pick one up: