T-Mobile To Offer A Cheap 5G Phone – REVVL 5G

T-Mobile just announced that it will soon offer the REVVL 5G for a regular price of $400. Eligible customers can get the phone for a discounted price of $200.

I believe the REVVL 5G will be the cheapest 5G phone available in the U.S. when it launches on September 4. T-Mobile and T-Mobile’s flanker brand, Metro, will both stock the device.

REVVL 5G details

The REVVL 5G is essentially a rebranded and slightly altered version of the TCL 10 5G, a phone that received some solid reviews.1 The REVVL 5G will have a Snapdragon 765 processor and compatibility with the following bands:

LTE:

  • B2
  • B4
  • B25
  • B26
  • B41
  • B66

5G:

  • n2
  • n25
  • n66
  • n71

Notably, the REVVL 5G will not be compatible with the frequencies used for millimeter wave 5G.

Promotion eligibility

While the regular price of the REVVL 5G is $400 (or $16.67 per month for 24 months), eligible customers can effectively get the device for $200. Here’s an excerpt from today’s press release:

New and existing T-Mobile customers — including T-Mobile for Business customers up to 12 lines — can get REVVL 4 and REVVL 4+ for FREE or the REVVL 5G for just $200 after 24 bill credits when they switch or add a line.

My take

I’m glad to see a cheaper 5G phone hitting the market. I don’t think consumers need to rush out and buy the device in mass, though. We’ll see more budget-friendly devices arriving on the market over the next few years. Hopefully, it won’t be long before we see a low-price device compatible with both sub-6 5G and millimeter wave 5G.

Confusing Names For LG’s New Budget Phone

LG recently launched a budget-friendly phone that several carriers are offering.

Aristo 5

The picture above comes from LG’s web page for the Aristo 5. However, LG is offering phones with nearly identical aesthetics and specs under at least six different names. The name varies depending on the carrier offering the phone.

I’ve seen similar phones launched under multiple brand names before, but I think LG’s new device sets a record for the number of names.

Samsung Galaxy S20 5G UW’s Mislisted & Different Specs

Verizon just released the Samsung Galaxy S20 5G UW. While other carriers had already released versions of the S20 5G, Verizon’s UW (ultra-wide band) model of the phone is the first version compatible with Verizon’s millimeter wave 5G service.

I pre-ordered the phone. The device I received does not have the specs Samsung advertised. Here’s an archived Samsung web page with the specs as of June 2. Here’s the page as of today, June 9.

No SD Card Slot

Unlike other models of the S20, Verizon’s UW model doesn’t have an SD card slot. Those who pre-ordered the phone couldn’t have figured that out from the information on Samsung’s website.

The June 2 specs page shows an SD slot:

Mention of the SD slot is dropped in the newer, corrected version of the page:

The listing for the phone on Verizon’s website is getting a lot of one-star reviews from pre-order customers annoyed about the missing SD slot.

Missing network bands

I like it when phones have extensive cross-network compatibility. I was pleasantly surprised when I saw Verizon’s S20 5G would be compatible with band 71 (a low-frequency band T-Mobile uses extensively). Here’s a screengrab from Samsung’s early specs page:

Originally listed bands for S20 5G UW

It turns out the phone doesn’t support band 71 (or bands 1, 29, and 30). Here’s the updated specs page:

Less RAM than other carriers’ models

Verizon’s version of the S20 5G comes with 8GB of RAM. Samsung listed this correctly on the early specs page. Other carriers’ versions of the S20 5G come with 12GB of RAM. For most users, I expect the reduced amount of RAM in Verizon’s model won’t cause performance issues.

Visible’s Swap Program Now Offering Better Phones

I previously raved about Visible’s swap program. New customers used to be able to trade in almost any Android phone to get a free ZTE R2. In my case, I was able to trade in an old phone that was several years old for a much better device.

Visible recently made the swap program much better. The ZTE R2 has been dropped from the program, and customers now get to choose between the ZTE Blade A7 Prime and the Motorola Moto e6. I haven’t got my hands on either device yet, but from what I’ve read, both look like solid entry-level phones.

If you have an Android phone that powers on and isn’t already compatible with Visible, it should be eligible for the swap program. You can verify whether a device is compatible by entering its IMEI on Visible’s website. If you get a message that your device is incompatible, hit the “Next” button to continue with the swap program.

Xfinity Mobile’s BYOD Program – Phone List

Xfinity Mobile has a bring your own device (BYOD) program, but only a limited set of phones are eligible. You can check a specific device’s eligibility with Xfinity’s compatibility tool.

BYOD-eligible Apple iPhone devices

The iPhone 6 and more recent Apple devices are likely to be BYOD-eligible if they’re unlocked. However, iPhone models sold in some regions of the world or by certain carriers may be ineligible. I strongly suggest double checking iPhone compatibility with Xfinity’s online tool.

BYOD-eligible Android devices

Only a handful of Android phones are officially compatible with Xfinity Mobile.

  • Most Google Pixel devices
  • Samsung Galaxy S8
  • Samsung Galaxy S8+
  • Samsung Galaxy S9
  • Samsung Galaxy S9+
  • Samsung Galaxy S10
  • Samsung Galaxy S10+
  • Samsung Galaxy S10e
  • Samsung Galaxy Note8
  • Samsung Galaxy Note9

Most models of these devices will be compatible with Xfinity Mobile if they’re unlocked and were sold in the United States, but there are a few exceptions. You can confirm compatibility on Xfinity’s website.

Possibly compatible Android phones

I expect most Samsung S20+ and S20 Ultra devices are eligible for Xfinity Mobile’s BYOD program. Here’s an excerpt from a support agent’s post on an Xfinity forum:

Samsung Galaxy S20+ 5G and S20 Ultra 5G open-market devices purchased unlocked directly from Samsung.com, or from major retailers like Best Buy, Amazon, Walmart and Costco, will be supported for BYOD beginning on March 6, 2020.

Samsung Galaxy S20+ 5G and Galaxy S20 Ultra 5G devices brought over from other carriers, like AT&T or T-Mobile, will not be available for BYOD until approximately three to six months after the March 6, 2020 launch.

I’m suspicious that Xfinity Mobile may have also added support for the Galaxy S20 5G UW and the Galaxy Note20 line, but I have not confirmed.

History & future of the Android BYOD program

Official details about devices Xfinity Mobile permits are shared in the carrier’s FAQ. Xfinity Mobile has expressed an intention to expand the number of devices on its Android BYOD list in the future:1

Right now, not all Android devices are compatible with Xfinity Mobile, but we’re working behind the scenes on making this possible in the near future.

I hope Xfinity Mobile aggressively opens up its Android BYOD program soon, but I’m not sure it will happen. Progress has been slow so far. Here’s an excerpt from a complaint posted by a Reddit user in early 2019:

[Xfinity Mobile] promised that it [Android BYOD] was coming over and over and here we are over a year later and still nothing… We did finally get iPhone byop but not a peep about android. I feel a little lied to.

Xfinity finally started to offer limited Android BYOD support in July 2019. Since the beginning of the BYOD program, Xfinity has expanded its initial list of supported devices to include the S10, S10+, S10e, Pixels, and some phones in the S20 line.2

Apple Watches

Xfinity Mobile allows customers to bring their own cellular-connected Apple Watches to the service as long as the watches have the latest version of watchOS. Xfinity Mobile is one of only eight U.S. carriers that supports cellular-connected Apple Watches.


Page last updated on 6/2/2021

Unihertz Atom Review – A Postmortem

If you happen to stumble upon a tiny phone on the bottom of the San Marcos river, please let me know. It’s mine.

Towards the end of last year, I supported the Indiegogo campaign for the Unihertz Atom. The Atom is a tiny, ultra-durable phone. I have a habit of putting my personal phones through hell, and I hate how large most of today’s mainstream phones are. I thought the Atom might be just what I needed.

I used the Atom for something like nine months before losing it this weekend. The form factor of the phone is probably the most interesting thing about it:1

The phone is thick but otherwise tiny. Before buying the phone, I didn’t realize how much of a conversation piece it would become. If you buy one, prepare yourself for endless questions along the lines of “Is that a [pause] phone?” and “How do you text on that?”

Performance

I’m not going to dive into details about the phone’s hardware specs. Plenty of other reviewers have already done that. At a high-level, the phone has decent hardware given its small size and low price (about $250). I never had any trouble with sluggish performance. After all, given the phone’s small size, it’s not too tempting to multitask aggressively or use intensely demanding apps in the same way you might on a conventional phone.

Size constraints

Most apps were surprisingly good at accommodating the Atom’s small screen. Texting and emailing weren’t as pleasant as they would be on a larger device, but neither activity involved a lot of struggling. Android’s auto-correct features were pretty useful for keeping the typing experience fluid despite occasionally hitting the wrong letters on the keyboard. That said, I have small fingers and good eyes. Other people might find typing more painful than I did.

Despite the phone’s size, it still has basically everything I expect a normal phone to have. The Atom has a flashlight. There’s a rear camera and a front-facing camera. Both cameras are lousy, but they work.

Overall, I think most aspects of the phone can be described as: passable but not great. That’s sort of the point of the Atom. You can use the Atom to waste time on social media, but it’s not as pleasant as the same time wasting would be on another phone.

While using the Atom, I found myself being less responsive to messages than I usually am. Reduced responsiveness could be a good thing if you’re frustrated with how attached you are to your phone. In my case, I think reduced responsiveness was a bad thing.

Durability

Unihertz claims the Atom is IP68 rated, meaning that it is both dust-proof and waterproof. Neither the headphone jack or the charging port are sealed, so I was initially afraid to put the phone to the test. Once I got over the fear, my Atom survived plenty of time underwater.

I’m not sure how it happened, but I did manage to put a decent scratch into the Atom’s screen at some point. I don’t think the screen is especially fragile, but it’s less scratch-resistant than sapphire screens seen on some rugged phones.

Other issues

  • Call quality often seemed bad. I don’t think this was so much about the phone being unable to offer good call quality as it was about me struggling to position the phone so that my ear was by the speaker while the microphone was well-placed.
  • The Atom’s vibrate function is weak. I wouldn’t always feel it in my pocket. I see this as a substantial negative. I don’t like putting my phone on ring.
  • Unihertz’s communication between the time when I supported the Indiegogo campaign and the time when I received the device was not very good. The phone also shipped slowly. I would have got my device sooner if I had just purchased an Atom via Amazon after the release date.

Other positives

  • Unihertz has some accessories (an armband, a bike mount, a clip mount) built specifically for the Atom. Rather than charging a premium for these accessories since normal accessories won’t fit the Atom, Unihertz sells them for entirely reasonable prices in the $10-$20 range.
  • The Atom works with AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile. However, it doesn’t qualify as what I call a nearly universal unlocked phone since it lacks whitelisting from Sprint and does not have complete support for all the important LTE bands used in the U.S.
  • The Atom has a dual SIM tray. You can attach multiple lines of service to a single device.
  • The Atom’s battery life is excellent. This may be more about the Atom being unappealing for frequent use than the battery capacity being especially good.

Closing thoughts

Would I recommend the Atom? I’m not sure. It was a fun experiment using it for most of a year. If you’re weird in the same sorts of ways I am, you’ll enjoy a lot of things about the Atom. It’s certainly durable, it doesn’t take up a lot of room in pockets, and it’s great for bringing along on bike rides. That said, the Atom was sometimes a pain to use as a primary phone. When I lost the phone while tubing down a river last week, I may have been more relieved than upset.

Evolution of cell phones

Phones & Keeping Up With The Joneses

People buy a lot of shit they don’t need to impress other people. The phrase “keeping up with the Joneses” often has a negative connotation. I’m not sure that’s entirely fair.

People care a lot about their social status. Status is helpful for everything from getting jobs to finding romantic partners. Like it or not, buying fancy things can improve people’s social status.

Products do a better job signaling social status when they are conspicuous. Product designers and marketers know this. You don’t see sports cars with fancy engines and subtle, Honda Civic-like exteriors. Sports cars are flashy.

Electric cars tend to look like vehicles Martians might drive. There’s no engineering reason why electric cars need to look goofy. However, carmakers know that electric car owners want other people to know which cars are electric. Unique aesthetics send signals.


Recently, there’s been indications that high-end phones aren’t selling as well as they used to. I’ve seen a lot of plausible explanations: innovations have been limited, cheap phones are awfully good these days, and carriers don’t subsidize devices the way they used to. I want to throw out another possibility: fancy phones are way less conspicuous than they used to be.

The first time one of my friends got a cell phone, I was in fifth grade. At that time, just having a cell phone was cool. But my friend didn’t just have a phone. You see, his phone could flip.

Flip phone photo

Even from a distance, you could tell my buddy’s phone wasn’t just any old phone. It was a flip phone.

When flip phones advanced, the fancier ones tended to look cooler. Remember the Razr?

For the next several years, top-tier phones continued to have unique aesthetics. In 2007, the first iPhone was released. At the time, you knew an iPhone when you saw one. Only the iPhone had a screen almost as large as the phone itself.1

A few iPhone generations later, Apple managed to keep its iPhone 4 conspicuous with a sleeker appearance than earlier models.

In the last few years, companies have run out of ways to keep fancy phones conspicuous. It seems like the goal has been to develop phones that (a) are thin and (b) have as much of the body devoted to screen space as possible. Almost every phone these days is rectangular, sleek, and almost all screen. The Motorola G6 Play is a budget phone. It’s still thin, sleek, and mostly covered by a screen:

g6 play

It used to be relatively easy to tell what phone someone was using just by glancing at it. Now that most phones look similar, that’s much harder.

Fancy Phones: Now An Even Worse Deal

About twelve years ago, Apple released the first iPhone.1 It was an expensive device, but the original iPhone had all sorts of features that the competition lacked.

In 2012, the year the iPhone 5 was released, there were still significant differences between the latest, high-end phones and phones that were sold at lower price points.2

Today, things are different. Hardware has continued to improve, but it’s not clear that hardware improvements have had much to offer to the typical consumer. Today, you can get an unlocked Motorola G6 or G6 Play without any carrier subsidy for less than $200.3

The G6 performs well for the sorts of things typical consumers use their phones for. The phone’s cameras are pretty good. It has a fingerprint reader. Hell, the phone even does pretty well in terms of aesthetics. I’m struggling to come up with meaningful limitations it has compared to higher-end phones. It’s not waterproof?

Perhaps the high-quality of low-end phones these days explains why the latest iPhone models haven’t sold well. I don’t mean to suggest that higher-end phones don’t have some advantages. They do. Having a top-of-the-line phone these days may matter if you’re an Instagram star, you want to play intense mobile video games with top-notch performance, or you want to make your friends jealous. If you don’t care about those use cases, you can save a lot of money without forgoing many useful features.