What goes around eventually comes around.
Clamshell “flip phones” were popular in the late 1990s and early 2000s for their compact design – a fraction of the size of chunky “brick” phones a few years earlier – and satisfying closure when you hung up a call.
However, flip phones were not ideal for texting because you had to press a key up to three times to get to the desired letter, not to mention the super-small screens. If you were lucky enough to have a flip phone with a camera, your photos were grainy or pixelated.
Feature-rich smartphones, such as the iPhone in 2007 and Android devices beginning in 2008, quickly surpassed flip phones and other cellphones in market share (including “candy bar”-shaped devices).
Fast forward to 2023, and despite its limitations, this retro technology appears to be a fad among Generation Z.
Why are we returning to flip phones?
Because of many high-profile TikTok personalities discussing flip phones, the hashtag #bringbackflipphones has received over 25 million views on the social media platform, along with other related and trending hashtags like #y2kaesthetic.
The craze could be traced back to Sammy Palazzolo (@skzzolno), who claims flip phones aren’t just for retro kitsch. The 18-year-old college freshman believes our reliance on smartphones is having a negative impact on young users, and switching to a simpler flip phone when out with friends leads to a better and less stressful night.
Even young entertainers, like 25-year-old Cuban-born Camila Cabello, tweeted this to her 13 million Twitter followers: “I support the flip phone revolution. Guys, maybe I can write the theme song.”
“It started with Samsung’s flip phone and has been a big hit in South Korea,” Tim Bajarin, a veteran technology analyst and Chairman of San Jose, California-based market research firm Creative Strategies, tells USA TODAY in an interview. “Then it started appearing in TikTok videos, which drew the attention of Gen Z, a demographic unfamiliar with the flip phones of the 1990s, and they started looking for those models.”
According to Bajarin, flip phones appear to be “a fad for this generation at the moment,” but the interest in flip phones on social media could eventually have an impact on new smartphone designs “if it shows a real demand for them.”
TikTokers from Generation Z have also posted about other retro technology, such as film cameras (and instant print cameras), turntables, cassette players, and arcade machines.
How much does a flip phone cost?
There are several options for purchasing a flip phone.
Avoid purchasing an old flip phone, such as on eBay, because this vintage technology may no longer work now that most major carriers have discontinued 3G service.
Like Sammy K, you can get a new flip phone for $20 to $50, with higher-end models including “modern” features like Bluetooth connectivity and a better camera with flash.
You can also choose a modern take on the classic flip phone design, which will cost the same as a smartphone.
The Samsung Galaxy Z Flip4 has an innovative OLED screen that folds in half and costs $889.
When closed, this 5G-enabled flip phone is small enough to slip into your jeans or clutch purse, and with a 1.9-inch Cover Screen to view notifications and messages on the outside, and integrated Samsung Pay to buy something at retail by waving the device over a contactless terminal, it’s perfect for slipping into your jeans or clutch purse.
When you need more space – perhaps to watch a TikTok video, play a game, read an ebook, or browse the web – the Z Flip4 flips open to reveal a 6.7-inch Full HD+ Dynamic AMOLED display with a smooth 120Hz refresh rate.
Fold it halfway and prop it up in a “L” shape on a table or desk for hands-free video calling.
The waterproof Android phone also has twin 12-megapixel cameras (plus a 10-megapixel selfie camera), fast wireless charging, and comes in a variety of colours.