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The mystery of the power bank phone taking over Ghana (qz.com)
326 points by donohoe on May 26, 2015 | hide | past | web | favorite | 122 comments

This is likely a truly unbranded OEM feature phone based on a Mediatek or Spreadtrum reference platform. Resellers then add their own branding to it.

I couldn't find that exact one but a bit of searching turns up similar models:




It is a bit surprising at first to see such enormous feature phones still in mass production, but it makes sense that the conditions in developing countries would favour more rugged designs and versatile physical features; in that environment a thin touchscreen smartphone made of mostly glass and metal would be an overly fragile piece of kit with little advantage.

The main reason to use feature phones in my developing country is that they are not worth stealing.

There's also the reality that repairs and replacement can be very difficult or impossible. Similarly, my iPhone fundamentally expects me to have access to a highish-speed, lowish-cost internet connection for tons of its functionality, and that still isn't necessarily available in much of Africa. In Zambia last year, in a large second-teir city, my _household_ internet cost about $8/gb, so things like automated backups and downloading software updates isn't especially attractive.

Is this something you have sources on or just an opinion? Would be interested in knowing.

Sigh ThomPete, where do you live? The Hamptons?

Really, you need to actually go out and meet the world around you. It isn't all wine and roses I assure you, but it is better than living in a bubble, those burst, you know. If you decide to travel to South America and go by Bogotá, contact me and I'll show you around the good, the bad and the ugly.

Hmmm... Very uninformed of you.

Just walk into an alley at night in Manhattan or Chicago or Boston or Los Angeles or (surprise!) San Franciso and you'll know... Seriously, read the newspapers of any more or less poor third world country and you will find many notes about people mugged and killed, stabbed or shot to death, to steal them some US$75 chinese MediaTek shitphone you can find in Amazon.

I'll give you some newspapers in Latin American cities that range from 6 to 25 million inhabitans:







As always, Google Translate is your friend.

I live in New York and I don't experience what you claimed but we arent talking about the west as far as I can tell.

I am still trying to figure out if that is actually the reason or just an opinion. The links didn't provide info about that but thanks for trying.

Looks like an interesting phone to take to music festivals...

Now, if they were paired with some kind of api/dev-kit so one could rip out the "snapchat"-stuff and bundle something useful, like xmpp+otr, a bare bones rss client... email... that kind of thing.

> something useful like xmpp+otr

XMPP+OTR is just about the last thing I'd want as a messaging service on my phone.

Not to mention the stand-by time is usually enormously different...

Well I find no difference between developed and developing countries in versatility of phones. Most of them are on LTE, internet is pretty good. Power may be spotty in most rapidly developing countries due to high rate of growth, but I would prefer my iPhone anyday to such a phone, and only use it as a backup phone because whatsapp is much bigger than SMS in Africa(or at least in Kenya, where I stay

Only partially related, but I have a friend who carries around a comically-large 14000 mAh battery[0]. Comically large as in about the size of three or four iPhone 6s's stacked on top of each other - he wore it on a belt clip.

My other friends and I made fun of him. He always had his ridiculously large, power-guzzling phone plugged into it. But he insisted that he had it because it could jump-start a car (he's a mechanic, but with no formal training and only a high school education, and he said he had never used the device himself). I and another friend, me with a masters degree in electrical engineering, and he with a PhD in an engineering field, thought the idea preposterous: Surely one could not draw enough cranking amps from such a device to start a car, and could it even hold enough energy to do so?

I received, by way of my own carelessness, an opportunity to test this out when I found my car's battery dead one day in the middle of winter. My friend lent me his battery pack, and I set it up, leaving it connected to the car's battery for 30 seconds before attempting to start the car. Lo and behold, the car started.

I felt chagrined, but I also thought this was really cool. With the price and availability of lithium batteries as they are, why _should_ you need a 50-100 lb lead-acid battery to jump start a car?

Also, maybe I should learn a little more about cars.

[0] I couldn't find the Amazon listing back, but this is in the same product category: http://smile.amazon.com/dp/B00D42AFS8

My car runs off of a 3.3lb LiFePO4 battery. It has very little capacity compared to the 50lb lead-acid battery it replaced, but has no trouble sourcing enough current to start the car reliably. Lithium batteries have the ability to source tremendous amounts of current, which is why they're so popular in RC models. The best RC lipo batteries can source 65 times capacity continuously, and are often limited by the cell tabs, wires, and quality of solder rather than ability of the cells. LiFePO4 doesn't have quite the same power, but it's still more than enough to start a small car engine.

I think the reason why lead-acid is still common are:

1) WAY cheaper per capacity, by a TREMENDOUS margin (10x+).

2) Better low-temperature performance.

3) Better tolerance to being abused (overvolted, run dead).

On a car (at least an old one) the ridiculously robust lead-acid battery is used also to filter out spikes and to act as a voltage regulator. If you've ever wondered why the headlamps on a kick-start moped flicker while idling, that's what you get without using batteries as a filter. Li-ion wouldn't survive very long in this application AFAIK.

There are plenty of replacement LiFePO4 auto batteries available, and they work very well without needing much in the way of support circuitry. I think that it's mostly cost keeping lead-acid around (as well as operating temperature range and lifetime), not that nothing is suitable for the application.

The headlamps on a moped probably flicker because it uses a magneto instead of an alternator as its power source.

Can't comment about mopeds, but in car, when your battery nears the end of its life, when you turn the steering wheel (with electric power steering) while stationary, headlights dim for a short moment until the alternator increases its output.

If you're wondering why we still use lead-acid batteries in cars, it's because they don't have a memory effect and a high power to weight ratio.

Oh, I'm aware of what value a lead-acid battery has in cars. But after considering it for a short bit I'm not so surprised that you could jump start a car with a smaller lithium battery (as opposed to the bulky equipment that most mechanics around here will carry around to do the job).

But you are not jump starting the Car with the Lithium battery.

You are slowly recharging the existing car's battery so that it has enough charge to start the car.

If you disconnected the car's battery this wouldn't work.

The big battery (and leads) that your mechanic uses does have sufficient capacity and peak current to jump start the car, even if the car's battery was disconnected.

An old, old trick is to recharge your car battery in an emergency with a bunch of dry cells (eg torch batteries).

Pretty much everyone in this comment thread besides you seems to think that I am suggesting replacing a car's main battery with a lithium battery. I do not believe I ever suggested that.

While I respect that you seem to have read a more circumscribed version of my comment, I'm not sure what your quibble is. A two-pound battery pack that can be used to jump-start your car seems like a heck of a win for most people.

Yes, you can start your car by disconnecting your battery and connecting a charged lead-acid battery. That seems pretty obvious. I can't think of a reason you'd need to do this, though, unless your car's main battery has gone bad. And if that's the case you will need to call a mechanic anyway.

Leave alone that the lithium batteries mentioned above are advertised to supply 400 amps, enough to start many cars.

I was curious about whether the battery can push the current to start a vehicle or not. Going by the videos they post, it can:


The video at the lower right shows the Jeep starting with the vehicle battery disconnected (the booster is clamped to the disconnected positive lead).

I have the product you linked in the trunk of my car. So far I've had to use it twice and, just like you, it worked beautifully each time.

I wouldn't recommend it for your cell phone but it's way more convenient an emergency kit than jumper cables.

If I understand your description correctly (and it is the way it should be done, whether jumpstarting with external battery dolly or using another vehicle), you had the battery pack connected together with that old monstrosity of lead-acid battery at parallel, which still had some charge left and also acted as a buffer.

It would be completely different story having the lithium battery pack connected as the main and ONLY battery and cranking with it four times a day.

A typical car battery can begin at 55 Ah 12 V, this is for a European downsized petrol engine (larger engine requires more, diesel requires more, electric accessories require more) from before the advent of start-stop systems (start-stop requires better batteries or even two of them).

That is 660 Wh.

I guess the weight and volume of this in li-ion would be similar to or slightly better than lead-acid (imagine roughly 10x laptop battery or 75x 18650 cell), but the cost would be a multiple even at manufacturing prices.

Next, the car battery can sit in freezing cold for several days to weeks at -20 °C and still crank or it can be frying itself all day under direct sunlight. This is deadly for li-ion. Electric cars have heating and cooling systems for the battery packs even when the car sits still in a parking lot.

Also, while driving, the battery sits next to hot engine. You can move the battery elsewhere (driver seat or trunk, like the second battery for start-stop systems), but you need high-energy leads and the engine heat is actually a benefit for recharging the lead-acid in winter.

Compare all these complications to price, simplicity and reliability of nicely recyclable lead-acid box...

I think 55 Ah is a bit large for an econobox. That's about the size in my 6 cylinder volvo and my 6 cylinder pickup. I have seen quite a few small cars with batteries that look to me like they should be for a motorcycle.

I have replaced a few wet Pb batteries in my vehicles during the past couple years and the average lifetime I got from them is 9.5 years.

I once had a friend show up to help me start a car that wasn't starting–we thought it was the battery but it turned out to eventually be a flaky ignition switch.

It took us a good 20-30 cranks to eventually narrow it down to the ignition switch (when we bypassed it it started). I couldn't believe that little paperback-sized box was capable of doing that.

And it was a relatively big, high-compression engine.

I almost still don't believe it.

The engines and starter motors have been slowly getting more efficient over the years. I recently hired a car which, once up to temperature, would kill the engine when stopped and fire it up for you as soon as you put it back into gear. That feature wouldn't ship without a lot of confidence in the ability to start every single time without putting excessive wear on the starter.

You may already know this, but for those that are wondering - this is called "Start-Stop" and is built into many new cars. The feature saves about 10% in fuel usage: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Start-stop_system

Yeah, this was a supercar made a couple decades ago, which makes the whole thing all the more impressive. Probably a pretty inefficient starter motor on it, and no start-stop on it, obviously.

This is very common in Thailand and Malaysia. Vendors, locals, they're often seen standing in the street holding both the power bank and the phone in the same hand, plugged in, while talking.

Clearly they're being pragmatical, it's all about battery time and a small set of features.

I just got back from Ghana, where I was evaluating an ICT in education project, and one of the people on the team that was implementing the project had this phone. At first I thought he just had an old phone, then I learned he had downgraded from a smartphone. Then I thought maybe he was doing it for ironic retro style points (which is not really "a thing" in rural northern Ghana in the way it is in London or New York). He did acknowledge a certain smugness about the "anti-style." At the end of the day, it seemed like the practical durability and the long battery life were the clinchers for his decision to "downgrade".

What was the call quality like? I'd imagine fairly good simply from the better microphone placement given the size of the thing.

PS: My old Blackberry can do 2.5+ days on a charge since I mashed the earphone socket and can't use it to listen to music. The music application seems to drain the battery for some reason.

Batteries that last a week would be nice in current markets too! Not just emerging ones.

I personally still don't understand how flagship phones costing $100s barely make it through the day but still get rave reviews. I can't count the number of times Galaxy and iphone touting friends have become unreachable in the evenings because of this - I would have trashed those in a review, who cares about fancy features if you can't even call your friends on a night out because the battery doesn't make it past 10pm...

I recently went camping in an area where there was no data reception. My iPhone 6+ still had 17% battery left after 5 days of using it like a normal phone (voice and SMS). Smartphones have short battery life because we do so much more with them. I'm sure those friends of yours could have made their phones last through to the end of the evening by switching off data once they hit 30% battery, but they preferred to have access to all that functionality that data provides, knowing there was a risk of running out of charge.

The point being, people have the power to make that choice with their current hardware, and they vote overwhelmingly to accept the lower battery life for higher functionality tradeoff.

I remember once when I was roaming at exhorbitant cost, I was regularly turning off data to save money and my battery life was greatly improved. I wish I could have finer control on the polling frequency and volume of most apps...

It should be doable to build an Android app that turns data on every X minutes. Does such a thing already exist ? Does it really help with battery ?

Yes, and yes. https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.gyagapen.c...

It essentially disconnects data when screen is off (the algorithm is a bit more complex, but that's the basic idea). Especially in areas where my phone passes between 2G/3G/noSignal often, I see much improved battery life.

JuiceDefender does this. It can also disable Bluetooth until you start to make a call, and other tricks. https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.latedroid....

This is one of the major things that JuiceDefender on Android phones did, though the app has apparently been abandoned (last updated more than 3 years ago). I suspect that there are newer apps doing the same things, at least on rooted phones.

Sony Xperia devices have a Stamina mode that turns off data and wifi right after the screen is turned off. Big difference in battery life if one is not really interested in push notifications, etc.

+1 for this, my z3 compact with stamina mode on lasts almost a full week(!) even though i do a few calls, check emails, browse a bit etc. Performance while using it actively is still 100%, so not like many other lame battery saving modes that reduces the frame rate to 1fps and brightness to 0.01% making the phone unusable.

Only drawback is that background downloads get canceled when the screen dies but i don't have any downloads outlasting my active usage sessions anyway so i don't care really. Many people wouldn't like missing the push notifications from the mailbox but for me that is just another good reason to activate it.

Tasker can do it, but it might require a rooted phone to be able to toggle the mobile data setting.

Personally, I tried to get it to do a "turn data on when I have the display on, otherwise turn data on every X minutes/hours", but handling all the corner cases was difficult.

Plus, programming in the Tasker UI is fiddly.

According to this [1] StackOverflow answer there is no API support for enabling/disabling mobile data, but it can be done using reflection. Process requires CHANGE_NETWORK_STATE permission.

[1] http://stackoverflow.com/questions/12535101/how-can-i-turn-o...

It's true that it's a tradeoff, I just don't understand why people put up with this, why it's apparently still more desirable to shave 0.5mm of the thickness rather than have more reliable power. Or my pet peeve - reviewers who compare 2 phones with high density screens and clearly state that you can't see pixels with the naked eye on either one... then proceed to mark down the one with fewer pixels, even though it would be more power efficient.

If this is how reviews go, it's not surprising we see impractical tradeoffs.

Quite simply because longer-life phones would get trashed even more for not having the features they traded to get longer battery life.

Imagine what the reviews would be if the next iPhone is twice as thick and double the weight. That it goes 3 days without a charge for most people would be a footnote to an otherwise poor review.

That's because the reviewers - and users - have been conditioned to think that thinner and lighter is the ultimate feature, even if it means sacrificing a ton of other things. The less material in a device the less it costs to make, and the more fragile it tends to be, meaning more profit for the producer. It's all about the marketing - convincing the consumers in the direction the companies want, so they can extract more money from them.

For a good example of this look at the new "portless wonder" Macbook and all the controversy around it...

With smartphones, the fact that I've seen many people put theirs in huge thick cases - and some of those cases have batteries too - indicates that we've probably passed the point of optimal size already. Personally I find it hard to pick one up or hold it comfortably by the edges if it's below ~10mm in thickness.

The irony of course is that after the Apple engineering team spends months trimming off that extra millimeter of thickness, most of their users still go out and get an otterbox that triples the thickness.

Of course, even if they designed an iPhone only twice as thick with triple the battery life and no need for a case, it would still be panned.

The irony is that the iPhones are designed to be broken from falls so that consumers are motivated to buy new cases.

Anecdotal (as an iOS dev), yes, but how hard would it be to add back a fraction of a mm in casing above the screen to protect from falls?

That's not really irony, is it? A thinner phone in an Otterbox is still thinner than a thicker phone in an Otterbox. Also, there are plenty of people (myself included) who do not use cases, and instead prevent their phones from being damaged by not dropping them. I suspect that "most users" do not use a case anywhere near the thickness of an Otterbox.

Also, the lower weight makes the phone more resilient to drops. Anecdotal evidence: I've never seen a cracked iPhone 5, but cracked iPhone 4's were common.

Less volume means less mass, which means less kinetic energy that must be absorbed by the frame when dropped on the floor.

Thin and light phones don't need a protective case like thick and heavy phones do.

iPhone 6 models in my workplace (sample size 2000/12000) are about 4x more likely to break than 5/5s models.

Interesting. I remember people complaining that the iPhone 6 was slippery, and of course it is heavier than the 5/5s. Do you also have numbers for 4/4s and 6 vs. 6 plus?

We don't have a lot of 6+. We may deploy more later as iPad Minis age out. FWIW, I dropped mine from a belt clip to the pavement and it shattered -- my first dead iPhone ever, and I've dropped my phones dozens of times from the 3gs up.

5/5s was better than 4/4s, but not dramatically so.

The irony being people then have to shove them in massive cases, often with built-in extra batteries, because the thin phones are vulnerable and have crap battery life.

iphone and android battery life are heavily dependent on use.

the typical user has wifi on, bluetooth on, full brightness, taking and 4G-uploading photos and videos, browsing the web and messaging non-stop for hours on end. let's not forget the ridiculous gaggle of background apps that track everything constantly. oh, and it's a phone.

try not doing any of that, and you'll find that your phone lasts for 2 or 3 days just fine. i've stretched it for longer than that when i'm on vacation and need only analog cell and text messages.

There are plenty of phones which last a week or 4, usually in packages smaller than the average smartphones and costing a fraction of the price (without subsidies, because $100 is not the unsubsidised price of a flagship phone, it's off by a factor of 5 to 10).

The smart part being the one that's missing, you can't power multiple radio antennas and systems (GSM, GPS, bluetooth, WIFI, ...) for 4 weeks, let alone multiple antenna bound to a gigantic, bright and power hungry screen and a CPU which wouldn't have been out of place in a desktop computer 10 years back which keeps being woken up to fetch new data. We just don't have the battery technology.

Hell, if you just shut off all the smart part off and keep the thing in your pocket without powering the screen you'll get multiple days out of the average smartphone easy. No reason to buy one though, you can just get a $20 candybar it'll do the job better.

> I can't count the number of times Galaxy and iphone touting friends have become unreachable in the evenings because of this - I would have trashed those in a review, who cares about fancy features if you can't even call your friends on a night out because the battery doesn't make it past 10pm…

Well that's great, you've got your priorities and they've got theirs. Nobody's forcing you to get a smartphone.

You can buy them for less than $20. I bought a refurbished Tracfone LG 505C about 2 years ago. I use it daily. The battery lasts about a week.

Edit: I paid $9.99 for the phone.

Exactly. I carry two phones - feature phone for, you know, calling people, and a smartphone for its apps (perpetually in airplane mode). The bonus is that if I happen to run out of battery in feature phone (which still happens, though rarely), I can still stick my SIM card in a smartphone. Also, both phones last much longer this way.

I must admit I've never had this problem, but I do leave my phone to charge most of the time.

You can, however, pick up a phone with long battery life if you want. The Nokia 106 for example – specced for over a month on standby, 10 hours talking.

Can we talk about the Nokia 8210 candybar phones? Circa 1999 this thing was indestructible and had battery life that would probably outlast 3-4 iPhones.

I think there is a market for these types of phones again. Even if it was ugly it was durable and functional. There is definitely a market for a phone that can be dropped and still function.

Since the 8210 didn't really have a working web-browser (by modern standards) or legitimate animations, you could likely make a 8210 today with an eInk display and also take advantage of the battery tech' improvements.

At the time it only had a 650 mAh battery. And while it is a very small phone, similarly small phones today can easily get double that in the same physical dimensions.

So I guess what I am saying is, if someone actually made a 8210 today and REALLY tried they could likely double its already insane battery life.

At what price?

I had a Nokia 6310i when I was younger, and on average (short calls, a few texts per day) the battery would last for 2 weeks. It had a small (but perfectly formed) black and white screen, a distinct lack of apps, and no 3G. All helps.

Interestingly, the claimed talk time, at 7 hours, was no better, and in fact possibly a bit worse, than a modern iPhone. Draw your own conclusions.

Modern Nokia feature phones get battery life of 2-5 weeks depending on talk time. I use one.

I just bought a Nokia 105 for about $16 after my 6320 finally died, and I'm quite happy with it.

Battery lasts for ages, I'm not afraid to drop it, I don't get distracted by social apps and notifications all the time, and it just works.

I get nostalgic for my HP-41CV RPN programmable calculator. It had a printer as a peripheral! And a magnetic card reader, and an optical wand. It's a totemic device for me.

But I don't think there is a market for either my old calculator, or candy bar phones, outside of nostalgic ebay purchases.

I take your point on the calculator, but as others have mentioned, the Nokia branded candybar phones of current production are doing rather well actually. People are buying them.

The HP48G runs on my android as a free app. I use it daily.

Do you think there would be a market for a new dumb phone that had modern things likes contact syncing and threaded text messaging? I feel like a lot of existing feature phones would be great but they're just not that usable.

A few years ago, I bought a Samsung quad-band flip phone for about $50. The battery lasted nearly two weeks with light usage.

If you just need a reliable phone, I'm sure they're still out there.

> battery life that would probably outlast 3-4 iPhones.

And functional life as well. iOS 8 crippled A5 devices which had previously chugging along quite decently. Planned obsolescence sucks (in iDevices' case, it also affects present performance, i.e. Safari constantly having to reload tabs because the device has little RAM to spare). Unlike a smartphone, a simpler device won't be reduced to be unable to perform its more basic functionality decently a few years down the road...

You don't have to upgrade to iOS 8. Similarly, the 8210 wouldn't have had software upgrades, which naturally would be geared towards newer devices and cause the device to also slow down.

Security confounds that strategy unless you're planning to stop using data once an exploit is discovered which won't be patched on the old OS, which in this case happened the day iOS 8 shipped.

Upgrading is compulsory for many apps, such as Whatsapp.

My Nokia 3120 phone can do a week or so between charges quite easily, and is very small. It has a paygo sim in it with £10 of credit for emergencies and sits in the kitchen drawer.

As others have mentioned, the new Nokia branded basic phones have good battery lifetimes, although the build quality is basic and I find the buttons quite plasticky

>> "Has built-in FM radio"

Technically, your phone does, too, but access to it has been blocked.


Technically, all of my smartphones so far have a working FM radio app preinstalled (I'm in EU). Is this block some US thing?

According to that link:

wireless carriers are dragging their feet and won’t activate the FM chips that are in every smartphone

So it's probably something similar to SIM-locking, and what happens if you buy a phone from a carrier.

My experience has been the same with Asian no-name smartphones, in that they all come unlocked and with FM radio. The reference platform has the feature, and the manufacturers wouldn't bother removing it because doing so would mean extra work and one less bullet-point in the feature list.

Aha, thanks for the explanation.

Google Nexus phones doesn't come with FM radio in EU. I think all HTC, Samsung, Sony etc does.

Old Galaxy S2 here. It has a FM radio, it uses the earplug cable as antenna but it can play through the speaker. Same thing for my older Nokia N70.

One of the confusing things to me about the apparently competitive smartphone market is how little creativity there is in smartphone design. Why do we only get thin rounded rectangles? Seems like there would be a market everywhere for big thick indestructible smartphones.

I worked on Siemens' Xelibri (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Xelibri) brand of phones. The problem was the lack of usability studies or real technical innovation. We basically chopped up existing Siemens models and tried to squeeze them in a "cool" looking housing without causing to much retooling for the manufacturing people.

Many of the examples you listed did the same. Different for the sake of being different doesn't work out.

It's shocking that none of these forms ever caught on.

I think it's because the thin rounded rectangle is the base model and then almost everybody gets a case to customize it to their needs. There's a half dozen options at every point on the ruggedness, battery life (I'm thinking of things like the Morphie power case), water resistance and price spectrum.

BLU is making a smartphone with a similar feature, the BLU Studio Energy. It's a large Android phone with a 5,000 mAh battery and it's designed to be used as a power bank for other phones.


I've used a BLU phone before (the recently released Win HD LTE) and I wasn't impressed with the build quality; my phone suffered severe touch lag and an inexplicable lack of multi-touch capability, to the point that typing was impossible. It also suffered frequent stuttering and crashes that even my old Lumia 521 didn't have. I promptly returned it and went back to using Android for the time being, and now I'd hesitate to get another BLU. But the Energy does look like a nice concept.

This is a repost, original article here: https://medium.com/product-notes/the-mystery-of-the-power-ba...

I recently got rid of my Moto G in exchange for a $20 Nokia 208.

It's been great. I can still call or text my friends when we're out and need to find each other. I'm not reading reddit everywhere I go. I can still do USB tethering with my laptop. It has an MP3 player built in, as well as a radio. It even has Opera Mini, which does well in a pinch for settling bets via wikipedia. The only thing I really miss is maps.

But by far, the best part has been that it simply doesn't die. I charge it about every 4 days. It charges in an hour or less.

I think being a power bank + a phone is the major reason why it is getting so much attention - "Hey, I ought to buy a power bank, so why not this one which will give phone features too." Considering that the cost of this phone is almost equal to a good power bank, people would definitely chose this over others. I think this is an awesome example of giving something + some additional features equating to viral growth, even if the other features are not that good.

Do we have an equivalent of that in software world?

I remember ten or so years ago being in Ghana and being amazed that after driving 3 hours to a remote village, the residents had better cell coverage than I had oftentimes stateside.

I worked with a guy from 2006-2009 who was retired USNavy. He said he always judged a country's infrastructure by whether all the natives drank bottled water and had cell phones -- it meant they didn't have the ability to build POTS infrastructure/water systems.

Of course, he then gave a knowing look and applied the same metrics to the USA.

Impressive that it sells for $25 given that I just (yesterday) paid $60 for a Fujitsu MC700 10,400 mAh battery.

You can get a Xiaomi 10400mAh powerbank for $22.22, free shipping from Aliexpress. I'm not saying it's a better deal, but you can already get this raw spec for a lower price. Getting a dumbphone for that extra $3 is quite nice though.

The battery in this phone is only 1,000 mAh, so not that impressive really.

Edit: my mistake, the phone is 10,000 mAh. Impressive indeed!

Using the USB port as a reference, the size of the battery pack is roughly 71mm x 35mm, so it probably contains two 18650 cells side by side.

Panasonic's best 18650s have a capacity of 3350mAh, which sets an upper bound of 6700mAh for the pack:


Those "5000mAh" 18650s you find on eBay come from Chinese manufacturers who stick random numbers on cylinders, so the actual capacity is probably off by a factor of 3-5:


Well it certainly says that on the battery, but I really doubt has that much power in practice.

That's not what the picture in the article shows. It shows 10000 mAh.

I seriously miss low-tech phones that are actually so low-tech and dumb that the only features they boast are the most practical necessities.

The worst part about most phones of any era is that they become ruined with sinister bloatware, designed to funnel you into dark patterns of paying for garbage that burns any trust you might invest into a device, until it's a charred unregocnizable mess.

Unfortunately, even now, if they made a device that was purported to be "dumb" and no-frills, I probably wouldn't believe that the phone were as pared-down as I might wish to believe, simply because I'd be sure that the chipsets available to manufacturers might actually possess far greater power under the hood, than some simple throwback of a handset might seem to house.

Unfortunately, even now, if they made a device that was purported to be "dumb" and no-frills, I probably wouldn't believe that the phone were as pared-down as I might wish to believe, simply because I'd be sure that the chipsets available to manufacturers might actually possess far greater power under the hood, than some simple throwback of a handset might seem to house.

You'd probably get a 32-bit ARM at a few hundred MHz, with several MB of RAM, like this:


I don't know if that counts as being minimal to you, but they're certainly not putting even low-end smartphone SoCs in these. Interesting that a low-end smartphone costs roughly the same, with all the smart features, but not as much ruggedness:


I felt more concerned by the behavior of the Facebook and Whatsapp applications as the author described them. At first guess, the poor notification for new messages might reflect the absence of a proper multitasking OS.

On the other side, chances for these applications to be legit seem quite low considering that nobody seems to have any clue where and by whom these phones are manufactured. This constitutes a big opportunity for a serious widespread scam scheme being built up (or already operational).

Any security folks looking into it?

It is probably using the official J2ME "apps" for Facebook and Whatsapp. I think it's about as dangerous as trusting any pre-installed app on feature phones and even smart phones.

About the "absence of a proper multitasking OS", well, that's what many/most non-smart phones have even today. I think my first phone that supported J2ME software would not properly receive messages while the JVM was running, and the handling of phone calls was jerky. If you received a call the application/game would be terminated abruptly, causing any state to be lost. Yeah, that's how most phones worked ten years ago - forget any sort of background tasks, be them Java apps or music (MIDI!) playing. Not all phones were as bad, though: Symbian-based ones, for example had some sort of multitasking IIRC, but these also tended to be more expensive.

I wouldn't mind downgrading to a feature phone that was mostly battery that had a minimal screen (watch sized) for power saving and was good for text, voice, tethering, music and gps logging and not much else. Then tether a 7" or bigger tablet sitting in the car or backpack for when I need the screen.

Lugging around a huge, fragile, power hungry screen just to play music and receive texts and being tied to a charger is moving in the wrong direction for me.

It helps to be reminded that wireless tech is a great enabler for the developing world. I wonder if the entrepreneurs who rent solar-powered lamps also rent batteries for these phones?


This phone looks really interesting as a backup/utility, especially for people who travel a lot with many sim cards from different countries... Has anyone found somewhere to order internationally?

EDIT: Specifically that exact design, there's something about it..

Hey there - I'm the author of the power bank phone article. It looks like local retailers are unwilling to ship it internationally.

Kindly let me know if you'd like me to get it and courier it to you: equartey at gmail.

If you find how to get one of these phones, let me know. I'd like to do a teardown.

Alibaba/Aliexpress would be the place to go for this and other unbranded feature phones.

The WhatsApp client is not official or licensed, I guess? I wonder how WhatsApp deals with such third-party clients that end up with a large user base?

It might be the WhatsApp java client (J2ME?). At least in the beginning, WhatsApp made a point of being available on as many different devices as possible, including low-end feature phones (java based, symbian, etc.).

I carry 20,000mah anker in my bag most days. Charges 5-12v up to 3A, good stuff. Charges my blackmagic camera too

Wait, so that "power bank" is only 1,000 mAh? I saw an Alcatel One Touch 20.01 "for seniors" recently that looked much better/slimmer yet still have a 1,000 mAh battery. It didn't cost much more than this. I think ~1,000 mAh is pretty typical for such a low-end feature phone.

It's 10,000 mAh.

10,000 mAh. You forgot a zero :)

10Ah, or 10,000mAh.

Even I would like to get this phone. It's awesome especially with battery.

Hey there - I'm the author of the power bank phone article. Kindly let me know if you'd like me to get it and ship it to you: equartey at gmail.

Cheap phone with built in reliable solar charger - please


Well you do have the shipping issue in the US. You wouldn't be able to ship those phones by themselves (without it being a very large box) much less multiple phones in one shipment.

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