Motorola MOTOFONE F3 Mini-Review

Motofone F3

I received a Motofone F3 from India today. (A website I had read indicated they were tri-band, so I asked a friend to bring me one back from India. Unfortunately, they are dual-band, and they are the two bands NOT used in North America, 900/1800, so it won't work with any US providers.) The F3 is exactly what I would want in a non-data-enabled phone. Feature wise, it makes calls, takes call, and can also send/receive SMS messages in a pinch.

Other advantages are it's very rugged construction (almost completely sealed), extremely long battery life, and good antenna. The screen uses E-Ink's static display technology, which requires no power except when it changes, and has a contrast ratio like paper, which makes it easily readable in daylight. The two main advantages of this display is that it uses very little power, and it never goes blank.

On most modern phones with high power color displays, when the user hasn't pressed a button for a while the phone goes into a power-saving mode where it turns out the back-light and presents a totally blank screen until the user taps a button to wake it up. The problem with this is that many non-technical users are very confused when the screen goes blank. In a talk by Dr Robert Pedlow that a friend attended he mentioned that while studying the use of cell phones by people in nursing homes he found that the one problem they all had was when the screen on a phone turned off and not knowing the state of the phone (if it was on, off, in the middle of a call, etc…) The ability of the E-ink display to stay on and provide feedback without drawing power is good for battery life, and good for usability.

The display elements on the Motofone F3 is very minimal, and does not have individual pixels. Instead, it's more like a custom built LCD, with various static icons that can be turned on or off as well as a 2×6 matrix of 8 element Number/Letters.

User Interface

The phone has four dedicated buttons (action, which looks like an up-arrow, phone-book, green/call & red/cancel), plus a 4-way pad and the standard 9 digits. The star (*) button doubles as a keypad lock when held down, and the pound (#) button has a pile of coins icon, which I assume will give a remaining balance feedback if used on a prepaid plan. If you hold the 1 key down the phone attempts to call voice-mail.

The up-down controls on the 4-way pad defaults to controlling the ring volume and vibration alarm, moving from 0  Vibe-only, through silent, volume levels 1-5 and finally volume 5 plus vibe. When in other modes the Up-Down arrows scroll (e.g. in the phone-book it moves between entries). The left-right controls on the 4-way pad selects the (minimal) functions and highlights the appropriate icons as follows:

  • Send SMS – The letter "A" with a pencil.
  • Read SMS – An envelope with a letter in it.
  • Call History – Phone with two arrows.
  • Change Ring-tone – A bell with "sound waves".
  • Set Alarm – A stylized analog alarm clock with bells on top.
  • Change Time – A Wrench & Clock icon.

In addition, if you selected option 1 (Voice Prompts) when you powered up the phone, each action is announced out loud using the speaker. Most actions are very linear, and you press the up-arrow/action button to advance. For example, to send an SMS you would: 1) navigate to the Send SMS icon, 2) press the action button 3) enter a text message, 4) press the action button, 5) Enter a number (or press phone-book), 6) press the action button to send. At this point, a block animated "message" flows across the screen with a trail of lines. Of course, since the phone can't connect to T-Mobile I immediately get a "failed" message and an X in a circle icon.

To use the speakerphone press the action button twice while in a call. Press it again to switch to regular (handset) mode.


The F3 is made of hard black plastic on the back and sides, with a black metal face that is very similar in construction to the RAZR, but with less cutouts. The E-Ink display extends above the main screen area to provide two bar graphs, battery level on the right and signal strength on the left. The keypad and E-ink display have a few white LED back-lights that will light up when a button is pressed. It is a very light phone (68g or 3oz) and is almost too thin for large hands. The plastic is slightly slick feeling, but so far hasn't actually slid out of my hand.

Codes for Advanced Functions

You can set advanced features by using numeric codes. When the phone is in standby mode, press the star (*) button three times, enter the numeric code below, and press star action (up-arrow). For example, to change the language you would enter ***520* action.

  • Change language – 520
  • Select time format 12/24 – 470
  • Set Voicemail number – 644
  • Voice Prompts (ON | OFF) – 510 | 511
  • Keypad tones (ON | OFF) – 250 | 251
  • Prepaid Ballance Display (if supported) (ON | OFF) – 500 | 501
  • Auto keypad lock (ON | OFF) – 260 | 261
  • Set SIM Pin – 300
  • SIM Pin (ON | OFF) – 310 | 311
  • Reset factory settings – 000
  • Restricted Calling (only numbers in phonebook) (ON | OFF) – 160 | 161
  • Set Ballance Inquiry Number to #* – 642

To display phone information details, press **9999*action

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6 thoughts on “Motorola MOTOFONE F3 Mini-Review

  1. Pingback: Jay’s Technical Talk › Motofone F3 (North American version)

  2. Thanks for the codes. I used to be a little annoyed by the voice prompt but didn’t know how to set it up without turning off the volume. But now I’ve got the Idea. Thank alot.

  3. This phone is EITHER GSM 850/1900 OR GSM 900/1800. It can be found from US-based Indian online retailers for USD 26. (free shipping, WHOO-HOO!), that’s about USD 5. more than the wholesale price. I don’t believe there’s a cheaper phone sold in the USA …

    Why would you buy an UNLOCKED GSM 900/1800 phone? You’re traveling, and you want something you can afford to lose, or have stolen, or give away to someone less fortunate. This is a cool looking throwaway mobile, perfect for a backpacker’s trip, a gift to your cousin in Cuba, a phone that weighs nothing in your pocket. In short, if you travel abroad to any GSM 900 country, don’t ever pay roaming charges again, get one of these and a local SIM card – save yourself some money!

  4. I have international service on my AT&T service. Will I be able to use that sim card on Motofone 3 in India?


    • You can certainly take your sim card to India and use it in any unlocked cell phone which has the correct radio for Indian cell phone operators. You will need to confirm with AT&T that they have international roaming agreements with an Indian GSM operator (but I strongly suspect that they do).

  5. Pingback: Spare One Phone – Dead on Arrival – Two Red LEDs — Jay’s Technical Talk

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