I recently upgraded my trusty flip phone for a…nother flip phone. I was excited, after a year and a half, to see what new technologies Samsung and Verizon had teamed up to bring flip phone users. Eighteen months is an eternity in the tech world, so the innovations were likely to be abundant. I anxiously awaited the new wonders my next gen flip phone contained. What I found is that, unambiguously, Verizon and Samsung are marketing their last remaining flip phone exclusively to elderly people.
Last week, I upgraded my Gusto I to the Gusto II. When I first upgraded to the Gusto I, it was just called the Gusto. There was no indication there would ever be a followup, although I was one of the louder voices in the chorus calling for a Gusto update—that phone was simply elegant. So when the time came to upgrade once more, I didn’t let the features and flash of the many smart phones stray me from my path. I once wrote an emotional love letter to my Gusto, so you can guess my Gusto-citement for its sequel. But times have changed—Verizon is now only offering one flip phone, down from several flip-choices the last time I upgraded two summers ago. It was OK, because that one phone was in the storied Gusto family, a well-trod tradition of excellence, so I knew I was in good hands. Or so I thought.
Cursory inspection of my Gusto II when it arrived a few days ago revealed a larger chassis, and a correspondingly large keyboard, with several new buttons. One such button is a prominent “ICE” button right next to the directional keypad. This is an “In Case of Emergency” button and not the much stupider alternative I initially thought. This handy new ICE button reduces the number of steps to call 911 from an arduous and unwieldy four to a speedy two. Clearly, this is in case granny falls down and suddenly becomes confused at basic phone operation, she can just press ICE (and then, of course, “send”). I’m sure the time saved from that shortcut will be just the duration before going into shock. While a bit of shock to me as well, I was able to chuckle past this button. But it got worse. The picture buttons kept on coming.
There is also a button with an envelope on it. This is the texting button. There is a button with the image of a person talking on it. This is the voicemail button. These are both new additions to the Gusto. In fact, the Gusto II is almost identical to the emergency phone for kids or old people that only have three buttons with police, fire, and a responsible adult programmed in in. I tried to reconfigure the voicemail button to instead auto-call my friend Daniel. This was unsuccessful.
The font size on the menus is laughably large, clearly for the myopic, aging population looking to master basic wireless communication. I can only look at four contacts on the screen at once. It was five on my old phone, and the screen was smaller. When my phone rings, if my contact name is longer than four characters, it will have to scroll across the front screen, whereas my old phone could comfortably display a first and last name. Who is calling? Michael? Or Michaela? There is no way to tell anymore, so I guess I can’t meet anyone named Michaela for the next 18 months. Michaelas, you’ve been warned.
The other clues are just too obvious to not draw this conclusion that Verizon has assumed their sole flip phone will only attract the likes of the 70+ crowd. Unlike its predecessor, this phone has no USB connectivity, so the pictures and contacts stored on the phone are trapped there forever, unless you want to painstakingly email each one to yourself. They actually downgraded a genuinely useful feature, because Verizon knows that seniors won’t know how to use it anyway, and when they lose their proprietary charger, they will be forced to buy another one from Verizon instead of using a USB cable. The Greatest Generation, and me, are now stuck with our low-res pictures on our arcane phones. And I didn’t even help save the world from Evil. I just have a flip phone.
At least I can wrap my head around the logic behind these blunt picture keys and garish font sizes, even if I don’t like them. But Samsung also made some insidious changes as well. As if to spite their flip phone base and jeer at them for not smartphoning, they have cleverly switched the button for text messages to the other side of the phone, leaving us loyal Gusto users reflexively opening the menu, or pressing ICE, every time we are trying to contact a friend. There is no other reason I can to do this other than dastardly head games to break the will of flip phone stalwarts. But they did more than that—they also broke our hearts.
If you want a free upgrade phone from Verizon, you have two main choices: the Gusto II or the iPhone 4. Verizon’s daring customers to make a choice: Buy the sleek, powerful, useful iPhone 4 (with, of course, a data plan, something Verizon salivates over), or buy your final cell phone before you wither up and die. And I use the term “free” upgrade very liberally because Verizon has recently enacted a laughable $30 upgrade fee. Can’t that fee only apply to phones actually with a retail value over $30? The funny thing is, I could have been easily and happily silenced with another Gusto I. That was a work of beauty. But this underwhelming Gusto II has soured me, Verizon—that is of course unless you make the Gusto III.
If you do, be kind and be gentle when you design it. Think not of forcing younger users into a smart phone or retribution for lost potential data plan revenue, but think of those who only want to live the next 12-18 months of their young lives in T9 serenity before 4G mayhem. If you can’t adhere to that simple plea, then so be it, but promise me if that’s the case that you won’t even try to make a Gusto III. I can’t take another disappointment of this magnitude.
Matt Powers lives in Brooklyn.