Today’s tablet-style smartphones are almost totally ubiquitous but the form factor isn’t without problems. Even basic models are expensive, the large touchscreens are easily damaged and batteries have relatively small capacities requiring regular recharges. These aren’t big limitations for suit-wearing knowledge workers but for people who spend more time outdoors, a more rugged, longer-lived and cheaper phone can be a better choice. On review here is the Archos F24 Power, a candy bar feature phone that costs less than GB£30. Let’s take a look.
Although not immediately obvious from the picture above, the F24 is a chunky phone nearly 2 cm thick. Officially it measures 129 x 53 x 19 mm and weighs in at just under 100 g. The upper surface is filled with a 2.4″ 240 x 320 pixel screen and a keypad which wouldn’t be out of place on a old skool Nokia. And that’s a good thing, as long-forgotten key presses to, say, unlock the phone, work just fine.
The screen and keypad don’t explain the phone’s bulk but the 4,000 mAh battery does. Not only does the battery give the F24 Power its size and weight, it gives phone a ridiculously long battery life: standby time is nearly two months when loaded with a single SIM. The big battery powers the F24’s other interesting features; a twin LED torch and a USB charging port. The phone itself charges via a microUSB port, but the adjoining full size USB port can charge whatever other gadgetry is running low on juice, although the output current is only 700 mA.
At the other end of the phone is the torch. It’s a pair of LEDs that can be turned on and off by holding down the central pad button for a couple of seconds when on the home screen. The torch isn’t blindingly bright but it’s good enough to find your way on a dark night or find dropped house keys.
Popping the back off and removing the battery shows slots for two standard (mini) SIMs and a microSD card (up to 32 GB). I only used one of the two SIM slots during the review but there’s the option here to have work and personal SIMs, to maximise coverage with SIMs from different vendors or for a foreign SIM when travelling.
The F24’s installed apps are fairly limited in comparison to today’s app-oriented world but they do the job – Phonebook, Call History, Organizer, Multimedia, Messages, File Manager, Profiles, Recharge Mode, Camera, Services, App Zone and Settings. These broadly work as expected, though Services is a primitive web browser and the App Zone has three games plus links to the mobile versions of Google, Facebook and Twitter. Interestingly, there is a call recorder too. Organizer is a bit of mixed bag, with a combinations of apps (calculator) mixed in with settings (Bluetooth). Multimedia covers images, music (mp3), FM radio and video.
The rear camera takes 2 MP (1600 x 1200) and the camera app has a surprising number of options and the picture quality is fine in good light – the colour reproduction isn’t bad at all. Obviously this is not comparable to anything from the latest multi-megapixel smartphones but for comparison here are a couple of untouched photos – click through for the full size images.
To its credit, Archos tries to make configuring F24 for data as easy as possible with a large array of presets for European telecoms providers. It’s a good idea but fails as there’s too many similar names. For example, there are two called “3”, but one is Danish and the other Italian. I ended up having to enter the network data settings manually. Although the phone has Bluetooth, it doesn’t have WiFi, and any web surfing, such as it is, has to be done using the 2G mobile data network (and consequently, I don’t think it will work with 3 in the UK as they’re 3G only. Check before buying.)
Disappointingly, Messages is only for SMS messaging. There’s no email, POP3 or otherwise, which I think would have been a useful addition to the F24 Power. At a pinch, you might be able to use the web browser with an email service. I didn’t try.
Archos have made moving round the phone’s options as easy as possible, with a choice of navigation methods either by the rocker pad or by number key. For example, pressing 3 will select the third item on the screen. The four way rocker can be configured for four shortcuts and out-of-the-box, it’s linked to Camera, Profiles, Music player and write SMS message. While talking about “the box”, the F24 Power comes with a charger, USB cable and headphones.
In use as a phone, the F24 worked fine. Call quality was acceptable with both parties audible, though there’s no noise cancellation or anything fancy like that. Not much more that I can say here other than there’s no problem.
Overall, the F24 Power is good value at less than GB£30 and if you are the kind of person who needs a phone for calls and texts with a seriously long battery life, then the F24 Power worth a long look. It would also be ideal as an emergency backup phone, perhaps left in the car or taken hiking when away from power for several days. The LED torch, USB charger and FM radio are all handy for those little emergencies. Just remember that the F24 Power is a feature phone that would have been well spec’d ten years ago, cf Nokia 6300, so adjust expectations as appropriate.