Are you willing to pay extra to work with someone you trust and support an eager young company? The stripped-down Sunbeam F1 ($195) wants you to make that deal. This flip phone, sold unlocked but designed for Verizon’s network, is the product of a Missouri startup that does its own privacy-focused software development. The F1 costs more than some other flips, but a lot of thought has gone into its design and programming, leading to a cleaner and smoother experience than you’ll get on less expensive phones. That’s why the Sunbeam F1 shares our Editors’ Choice distinction for the best voice phone on Verizon with the Kyocera DuraXV Extreme.
Plain and Simple
Most Americans have smartphones, but voice phones still have their fans. They’re popular with parents who want to give their kids basic communication tools, people with motor issues who prefer physical buttons, and digital disconnectors trying to simplify their lives. The Sunbeam F1 is great for all those groups, and one more: those who limit their tech use for religious reasons.
Sunbeam is a Missouri startup founded by Mennonites. Their religion counsels a thoughtful approach to technology—they aren’t Amish, but they also don’t want to get totally sucked into the internet. Sunbeam’s founders couldn’t easily find good VoLTE phones without web browsers, so they decided to design some.
In some ways, this phone is related to the concept of kosher phones, restricted-feature phones used in ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities to stay in touch without violating religious edicts. The Sunbeam phone is approved by TAG, a loose coalition of organizations that deal with “koshering” technology.
The Sunbeam F1 is a perfectly simple flip phone.
But where the kosher phone companies cater solely to their community, Sunbeam realized that a lot of secular people want to semi-disconnect, too. That’s led to a set of easy-to-use phones with three different levels of connectivity and app restriction.
The Sunbeam F1 is a traditional black flip phone measuring 4.3 by 2.2 by 0.83 inches (HWD) when closed and weighing 4.7 ounces. The device is manufactured by APS, a Chinese company, but the software is custom to Sunbeam.
The exterior LCD shows the information you expect.
A 1.8-inch color LCD on the outside shows the battery level, caller ID, and the time. Inside is a 2.8-inch, 320-by-240-pixel touch screen—yes, a touch screen on a flip phone! The phone has side volume buttons, a dedicated SOS button on the bottom, and the nicest keypad of any of the voice phones I’ve tested recently. The slightly concave keys are made of hard black plastic. They’re large, clear, and well separated, and they feel nicely clicky.
The removable back and battery are convenient but not waterproof. Like a lot of the other phones in this class, though, the F1 is made of plastic and much more drop-proof than glass slab smartphones.
The touch screen is easier to type on than the numerical keypad.
The F1’s touch screen comes in handy in a few ways. Most notably, you can pop a touch keyboard on the little screen, and it’s oddly usable. Yes, the keys are very small, but they beat the other options of triple-tap and XT9 predictive text for me.
The touch screen helps the F1 get around a problem I ran into a few times on the similar Nuu F4L. Both the F1 and the F4L run custom, Android-based operating systems. Those OSes sometimes pop up big dialogs that aren’t designed for small, non-touch screens. On the F1, you can tap and drag them; you don’t have that freedom on a phone without a touch screen.
Three Levels of Lockdown
There are three subtly different F1 models. You can tell them apart by the names printed on the body, as well as by one key on the keypad: It’s a camera key on the two models with cameras, and a calculator key on the one without.
The three Sunbeam models have slightly different branding on the outside…
…and slightly different keypads on the inside.
All three phones run Sunbeam’s BasicOS on a Mediatek MT6739 processor, with 1GB of RAM and 8GB of storage, plus a microSD card slot. The F1 feels noticeably snappier than Android or KaiOS basic phones, probably because the MT6739 is closer to a Qualcomm Snapdragon 425 in power than to the Snapdragon 200 and 210 chips most of those use.
BasicOS appears to be a heavily hacked version of open-source Android 8.1, with a super-simple, list-style launcher. Many features are stripped away. There are no Google services; the few cloud services are provided by Microsoft, the Weather Company, and Sunbeam’s own private cloud. Sunbeam’s FAQ goes into some depth about how it doesn’t sign up for free services because it doesn’t want to imperil users’ privacy.
The phones have a highly simplified menu.
The Dandelion is the most locked-down model. It’s a pure voice phone, without even SMS texting. (If someone texts you, it can auto-reply saying it doesn’t get texts.) The camera and touch screen are both disabled. It has an alarm clock, a calculator, a calendar, a flashlight, and a notes app, but nothing syncs. You can use Bluetooth or wired headsets. It’s like if you took an old landline phone and connected it to the Verizon Wireless network.
The Daisy is a more popular model, Sunbeam tells me. It adds a 2MP camera, texting, and the ability to play music files off a microSD card. When you get a text, a green light pops up on the front of the phone. The F1 handles texts well, including emoji and picture messages, and group texts appear in the right threads and let you reply to the whole group by default—features that some other voice phones, such as the Nokia 225 and the Nokia 6300, struggle with. The camera isn’t going to win any awards with its soft, smeary pictures, but they’re par for the course on this kind of phone.
The phone’s back has an SOS button.
The Orchid is as close as the F1 gets to a smartphone. It adds weather (from the Weather Company) and turn-by-turn directions (developed by Sunbeam from Microsoft’s Here Maps). The Navigation app can download maps over Wi-Fi or access saved maps on a microSD card and use them offline. The directions are driving directions only; if you want a voice phone with walking, biking, and transit directions, look into the Nokia 6300, which has a full Google Maps app.
Here Maps gives turn-by-turn driving directions.
None of the F1 models will ever have email, a web browser, or social media, Sunbeam told me. None have games.
This is a disconnector’s phone, not explicitly a kids’ phone, so it doesn’t have parental monitoring, location tracking, or controls. You can’t blacklist phone numbers or track usage. However, you might be able to do some of that with your service plan, depending on your carrier.
Just Connected Enough
The F1’s antenna is tuned for Verizon, Sunbeam says, and it works best on Verizon’s network. I tested it with both Verizon and T-Mobile SIMs and was able to use 4G VOLTE calling. At the moment, I don’t have any working AT&T SIMs, but Sunbeam says it works on AT&T, too. It supports LTE bands 2/4/5/12/13, which includes Verizon and AT&T’s primary bands for range. It lacks T-Mobile’s band 71, which that carrier uses in many rural areas. (If you’re looking for a simpler phone with band 71, see the Nokia 6300.) There’s no Wi-Fi calling.
Sunbeam sells its own Verizon MVNO service plan, but the economics aren’t great. They charge $12.85 plus 1.1¢/minute and 0.11¢/text. You can do better with US Mobile, at $10 for unlimited talk and text or $12 with 1GB of data.
See How We Test Phones
The phone has HD voice calling but not the higher-quality mode called EVS, which is supported by Kyocera’s DuraXV Extreme. All three models support wired and Bluetooth headsets.
I’m impressed by the F1’s speaker. It’s the loudest of my latest bunch of voice phones, at 99.8dB in the earpiece and 99.2dB on speakerphone. Sunbeam includes around 50 ringtone options, and they’re really loud.
The F1’s signal reception is on par with other low-cost flip phones, like the Nuu F4L, but it can’t measure up to smartphones. I compared the F1 and the Nuu to a OnePlus 9 Pro on Verizon and found that the 9 Pro had noticeably stronger reception in my neighborhood. Now, that’s comparing a rock-bottom flip phone running a Snapdragon 210 to a top-of-the-line Snapdragon 888 with an antenna tuner, so it’s not exactly a fair fight. But I want to set expectations properly here. Calls on voice phones like this will sound good and clear, but they aren’t going to magically acquire better reception than much more expensive devices.
The 1400mAh battery lasted for 5 hours, 45 minutes of talk time in our tests. Many VoLTE voice phones nowadays hover around 6 hours; the DuraXV Extreme gets 7.
What You’re Paying For
The F1’s Achilles heel is its $195 price. It’s much more expensive than flip phones like the Alcatel Go Flip 3 and the Nuu F4L, and it doesn’t have the hipster design appeal of the Light Phone II or the Punkt MP02. The F1 costs more because the business is different: You’re paying for an independent company of US designers and developers to heavily customize small batches of phones. Sunbeam pays for its online services rather than using Google’s privacy-broaching free options. There’s no economy of scale at work, and no other high-profit product lines like Punkt’s alarm clocks and USB chargers. The company is burning its founders’ savings, not magic VC money. It’s not going to sell phones at a loss to gain market share.
“We are a small startup and have invested a lot in certifications, hardware, and software development,” Sunbeam founder Sterling Martin told me. “But we’ve also taken steps to safeguard user data in ways that are not readily apparent, such as hosting our own FOTA server. All of these items have associated costs, and this is what led to the $195 price point.”
The Sunbeam crew seem to have good heads on their shoulders, but being a startup has its risks, and Sunbeam may very well vanish behind a cloud. If you want a phone with a big name behind it and a higher likelihood of long-term product support, the F1 isn’t for you. But if you love supporting plucky startups and independent artisans by paying a premium for their handcrafted products, this is a rare opportunity to do that with a mobile phone.
Walk Into the Light
The Sunbeam F1 is a solid phone that protects you from digital distractions. It comes from a small US company with a thoughtful mission. As this kind of phone makes an ideal first device for kids, I wish the F1 had some sort of location tracking or remotely controlled calling blacklists and whitelists, but I understand it being mostly targeted at adults who want less internet in their lives.
There are less-expensive flip phones that work on Verizon, if cost is an issue, but we don’t enthusiastically recommend any of them. As a quality product, the Sunbeam primarily competes with the $240 Kyocera DuraXV Extreme. The DuraXV Extreme is a thundering tank of a phone from a company with a 60-year history, but it does have a web browser and email; if you’re specifically trying to get rid of those features, the Sunbeam F1 is a breath of fresh air, and an Editors’ Choice for Verizon voice phones alongside the DuraXV Extreme.
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