Thoughts on the CAT S22 Flip

Mon, 25 Jul 2022

Filed under: Personal

ATTENTION ALL FLIP PHONE ENTHUSIASTS WHO ACTUALLY WANT INFORMATION ON THE CAT S22 FLIP. I AM HERE TO DELIVER YOU FROM THE EVILS OF NOBODY ACTUALLY GIVING YOU ANY INFORMATION ON THE THINGS YOU WANNA KNOW.

A few years back after a Horrible Incident occured, I decided I did not want to have easy access to the internet and things that would upset me, so I bought a flip phone. Specifically, I bought an LG GD580 Lollipop. This was cool at the time, but impossible to really practically use. This is a Korean phone from the 2010s that I was using with T-Mobile, so the signal was profoundly shitty - the interface was extremely laggy - and the battery life was abysmal. But goddamn if it wasn’t cute as all hell.

Eventually I switched back to a Samsung Galaxy, until I realized I really just hate smartphones in general for some reason. I missed the tactility of typing on a T9 keyboard. So I did my research on something that wasn’t purely a grandpa phone, and I came across the CAT S22 Flip.

Let’s get the background out of the way, because if you’re really reading this you’re probably only here for my first impressions. This phone is developed by CAT, as in the construction equipment company, made to be used by people who just want a simple durable phone. They have smartphones as well, but I bought the flip phone. Keep this in mind, as it will really inform some of the decisions they made when creating it.

Physical Build

Let’s talk about the weight of this thing. This is actually kind of a heavy phone, and it is pretty bulky. It’s not unpleasant to hold at all, but it is decently noticeable if you’re used to a lightweight flat phone. It is portable, but would definitely leave a bulge in your pocket and it really stands out, especially to other people.

As for the durability, CAT definitely lives up to its word on this one. I’m not exactly sure what the thing is made of, but it’s got that sort of shock-reduction material that is smooth to the touch but very hard and solid. The screens on this thing are also impressive, I think they’re made of Gorilla Glass? It really does feel unbreakable. The internals are sealed up pretty tightly, and I don’t think you’d be able to easily seep liquids into this thing unless you keep it submerged for a long time. Supposedly, this thing can be submerged for a bit and not take damage… I haven’t tried this, but I will take it in the shower with me sometimes and it’s still staying strong.

Now for the different things on it. Let’s start with the front, while the phone is closed: You’ve got a camera and flashlight right above the external square screen. It displays your connections, battery percentage, the current time & date, and has a customizable background if you want that. When you open it up, you’ve got the main screen (with a small resolution, more on that later) + another camera. As for the bottom part, you’ve got a configurable button on the left side and volume buttons on the right. There’s also a USB-C port with a flip-open cover. There is no built-in AUX port, but the phone comes with a dongle (ugh) and an AUX cord. The back is closed with a screw, which you can easily screw open with a fingernail or coin or something that holds the battery, SIM, and a microSD slot.

I’ll go over the camera real quick - the photo quality isn’t spectacular. It gets the job done, but this is stereotypical Android quality if I’ve ever seen it. The camera app also lags a bit, so photos can easily turn out blurry. Make sure your hand is still. Also, you have to take a photo with the button on the touchscreen. Yeah, not ideal.

Keyboard and typing

This deserves its own section for how complicated it is. The keyboard is a regular flip phone keyboard, with an added three buttons as a home button, task switch button, and back button. A factory-new phone will have Gboard enabled by default, which is the software keyboard. It’s usable, but dumb to use. You can change it by opening the Settings menu and navigating to System > Languages & input > On-screen keyboard. The other installed option is the Kika 12-Key Keyboard, which I hate. I couldn’t tell you why, I just remember it being annoying and unintuitive.

Most people would recommend you download the Traditional T9 keyboard, which you can get here.

This keyboard makes things easier where you can switch between a dictionary input, regular cycling text input (uppercase and lowercase), and number input. It also shows predictive text on screen. To cycle through the predictive text you should use the up and down arrows and can select by pressing the space/zero button. In an app like Discord, you’ll send/submit text by pressing the select button, so be careful about that. Practice in a note application or something to get the hang of it.

As for how the actual hardware keyboard performs…. it’s fine. I don’t really like the feedback and my hands can honestly get a bit tired after spending too much time typing on the damn thing. I also ended up having an issue with it a few months in wherein my keyboard would register TOO MANY inputs upon one keypress. This has DRASTICALLY reduced my enjoyment of using this phone and it has not corrected itself, sadly. Not many report this, so it could just be a Tyoma-specific defect, but I figured I’d mention it.

Like I said before, the main screen on the CAT S22 is touchscreen, so you can navigate using regular smartphone gestures or use the hardware arrow + select buttons. However, you’ll likely end up using touchscreen most of the time because it’s just EASIER and QUICKER. This can make it a little less intuitive to use, since you’ll sometimes end up holding the lighter, top half of the phone or have both hands active using this thing.

One thing that people don’t mention is that sometimes, apps won’t let you select certain things on the screen with the arrows. I have a big issue with this in Discord especially. To get around this, other than using touch controls, you can use the speakerphone button to select clickable elements on the screen. Oftentimes this will select the thing you want, but occasionally (and infrequently) it won’t select it! Overall, I’m a bit disappointed with the keypad navigation.

Phone calls & audio quality

The call quality on this thing is pretty good. I doubt it has anything to do with my service provider, but I find that I can hear people clearer on this than I did on a high-end Samsung device. The microphone is pretty good and people can hear me pretty clearly as well, both on and off speaker phone. There is also support for Bluetooth devices so you can use an external headset or headphones with integrated microphone to communicate.

Since the thing is built for construction workers, the speakers can get decently loud. Sometimes I use this thing to play music in the shower and I can even hear it pretty well without a bluetooth speaker. Obviously the audio quality at high volumes isn’t like, GOD TIER or anything but it’s fine. If audio codecs are a thing you care about, the best Bluetooth codec you can get is SBC, which is the default. A good pair of headphones still sounds amazing, but no aptX or LDAC here, audiophiles.

Some fun little things. If someone is calling and your phone is closed, you can automatically answer just by flipping it open. You can also close it to end the call, just like in the old days. The person’s phone number/contact name will be displayed on the external screen as well so you know who is calling.

Software & compatibility

This phone runs on Android GO, which is just a stripped down version of the regular Android operating system. I couldn’t tell you the differences other than it definitely FEELS stripped down, but it still comes with the usual Google bloatware that you would expect, as well as some T-Mobile apps. Since it runs on a version of Android, you can still download .apk apps through the Play Store or F-Droid or whatever other app store you use. It won’t necessarily run EVERY app in the world, but it can run alot of stuff… sort of.

See, since the screen is such an unusally small resolution, most apps aren’t built to natively support it. Now, most apps are still pretty usable! They can feel a little cramped, but they work. I can use Discord, Spotify, Whatsapp and Lyft with very minimal issues. Some apps have certain graphics or text cut off to where I can’t scroll to read it, or a graphic might be postioned weirdly to obscure a text or some buttons. However, it’s not too big a deal.

If you’re a mobile gamer, you’re out of luck as far as this review is concerned because I haven’t really tested a whole bunch. HOWEVER, I downloaded Mahjong Soul out of pure desperation and it actually runs perfectly fine. The only problem is that you have to hold the phone sideways, and since the screen is so small you won’t be able to read particularly small text, but it works. With a game like this, you have to be very particular about how you select the mahjong tiles since they are MINISCULE, so if you don’t hit the right tile you’re probably going to discard the wrong one on accident since it’s nearly impossible to put it back in the right spot. Luckily I’ve got small hands so this wasn’t too big of a downside, but don’t expect to have much fun gaming on this thing.

Finally, everyone’s biggest worry, speed. Personally, I didn’t find that the OS itself really ran that slowly. Your phone will take a little while to start up and has its own little… I guess, cutscene(?) play, which is annoying. I don’t experience significant lag navigating the thing on its own, though. The real problem starts with the apps. Google GO in particular is a nightmare to use, with the voice search taking a long time to start and ending too soon if you take even a little pause. While the Google apps and very minimal-load apps will load in quickly, something like Discord can take over 10 seconds just to start up. Since I really only use my phone while I’m doing something else, it’s not a big deal, but it can get annoying if it’s an urgent matter or something.

Common phone features

Final thoughts

The CAT S22 Flip is a pretty good choice for anyone looking to cut down on their mobile phone usage but still have access to their favorite apps. The thing is actually pretty annoying to use to where you’ll primarily use it for regular phone communication, playing music, banking, and any other essentials you might need. While it may not fit the criteria to be a true dumbphone, it essentially ends up being one by keeping you from wanting to use it. However, even the essentials can be a pain to use to where I can only wish there were a decent alternative, spec-wise.

While it’s still usable, this thing lacks enough features that most other cell phones have to be honestly a bit disappointing. The battery life is real killer for me, and it is poor from the very beginning. I can only imagine how bad it’ll get a couple years from now. I definitely wouldn’t recommend this to anyone who’s bad with tech, since you have to do a bit of tweaking to get this phone working well. I’d recommend anyone who gets this phone to download the Traditional T9 keyboard and maybe install Niagara Launcher. It’s a bit nicer to look at than the default launcher, that’s for sure.

You can get this for $234 exclusively through T-Mobile, and occasionally you’ll see a listing on r/Dumbphones for an unlocked phone.