4 min Read
‘Flip phones’ are trending again—but are they worth it?
February 14, 2023
4 min Read
February 14, 2023
Largely thanks to Gen Z TikTokkers, flip phones are making a comeback. Are they the answer to a less addictive, social media-free phone resource for kids—or just a passing fad?
Popularized in the late ’90s and early ’00s, clamshell (a.k.a., flip phones) were trendy for their compact design—a fraction of the size of chunky “brick” phones from a few years earlier—and offered a satisfying snap when you hung up a call.
But flip phones weren’t ideal for texting: you had to press a key up to three times to land on the letter you wanted, not to mention the super-small screens. And, if you were lucky enough to own a flip phone with a camera, photos were grainy or pixelated.
Feature-rich smartphones, like the iPhone and Android devices, quickly stole market share from flip phones and early smartphones (including BlackBerry) with their 2008 debut in Canada.
Fast forward to 2023—despite its limitations, retro-tech flip phones are a fascination among Gen Z.
Thanks to high-profile TikTok personalities talking about flip phones, the hashtag #bringbackflipphones has more than 25 million views on the social media platform, along with other related and trending hashtags, such as #y2kaesthetic.
The craze could be linked initially to Sammy Palazzolo (@skzzolno), who says flip phones aren’t just about retro kitsch, but the 18-year-old college student believes our reliance on smartphones could have a negative effect on young users. She suggests that trading smartphones for simpler flip phones when going out with friends leads to a better, less stressful night (i.e., no social media).
While sales data isn’t yet available, Google says searches for “flip phone” increased by more than 140 per cent in recent years.
Even young entertainers, such as 25-year-old Cuban-born Camila Cabello, posted this to her 13 million followers on Twitter: “I’m team flip phone revolution. Maybe I can write the theme song guys 💪💪💪💪”
“It started with Samsung’s flip phone and has been a big hit in South Korea,” says Tim Bajarin, a veteran technology analyst and Chairman of the San Jose, California-based market research firm Creative Strategies.
“Then it started showing up in TikTok videos, which got the attention of Gen Z, a demographic not familiar with the flip phones of the 1990s, and they began searching for those models.”
Bajarin says flip phones seem “like a fad for this generation at this moment,” however, social media’s interest in flip phones could eventually have an impact on new smartphone designs, “if it shows a real demand for them.”
Gen Z TikTokers have also posted about other retro tech, including film cameras (and instant print cameras), turntables, cassette players, and arcade machines.
There are a couple of options for buying a flip phone. Firstly, resist buying an old flip phone from places like eBay, Facebook Marketplace, or Kijiji. This vintage tech may not work for long as most Canadian carriers will shut down 3G service in 2025.
Like Sammy K, you can spend between $50 to $100 for a new flip phone, with some of the higher-end models featuring “modern” conveniences like Bluetooth connectivity and a better camera with flash. An example is the TCL Flip, sold at Rogers and TELUS, or the ZTE Cymbal 2 at Bell.
Alternatively, you can opt for a modern twist on the classic flip phone design, which will cost as much as a smartphone. Starting at $1339, the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip4 has an innovative OLED screen that folds in half. When closed, this 5G-enabled flip phone is small enough to slip into your jeans. With a 1.9-inch Cover Screen to view notifications and messages on the outside, there is also an integrated Samsung Pay to buy something at retail by waving the device over a contactless terminal.
When you want more real estate—perhaps to view a TikTok video, play a game, read an ebook, or browse the web – the Z Flip4 opens to reveal a 6.7-inch Full HD+ Dynamic AMOLED display, with a smooth 120Hz refresh rate. Or, fold it halfway for hands-free video calling, propped up in an “L” shape, to place on a table or desk. The waterproof Android-powered phone also features twin 12-megapixel cameras (plus 10-megapixel selfie camera), fast wireless charging, and several colours.
As with anything trending in tech, expect the winds to change in a few short years. However, we applaud the idea of social media-free phones for tweens, teens and young adults. If you’re old enough to remember the original flip phones, you’re old enough to remember how freeing it was to be a kid, make mistakes, and not have to worry about the world watching.