KaiOS is a mobile operating system designed for low-powered “feature phones.” It has a few apps from Google and WhatsApp, but is otherwise very limited.
There are two big names in mobile operating systems—Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS. These two dominate the market, but they’re not alone. KaiOS is an alternative mobile OS that has some intriguing benefits. Maybe it’s right for you.
What is KaiOS?
KaiOS is an operating system designed for phones with keypads and keyboards. You can think of it as a middle ground between Android/iOS and old-school flip phones (not the folding screen type) that can’t do much at all. KaiOS is a smart-ish operating system.
On a technical level, KaiOS was originally built on Firefox OS, which was an open-source Linux distribution. The KaiOS company hasn’t worked with Mozilla since 2016, and the OS is now web-based. KaiOS supports 4G LTE, VoLTE (voite over LTE), GPS, Wi-Fi, and it’s capable of running on devices with very limited memory.
A typical flip phone—which are harder and harder to find—offers a very limited experience. They’re pretty much only for calling and texting. KaiOS bridges the gap between that and a full-fledged OS such as Android or iOS. That means you get a few extra features and an app store where you can download a handful of simple, but very useful apps.
KaiOS is perfect for people who don’t want a full smartphone, but would like to have a few extra apps than what you’d find on a classic “dumbphone.”
What Apps Are on KaiOS?
Like Android and iOS, KaiOS has an app store. KaiOS apps are based on HTML5, and they can be downloaded from the “KaiStore.” There are over 500 apps available from the store.
Now, that may not sound like a lot of apps—it’s not compared to Apple or Google—but there are some key apps included. The big names include WhatsApp, Facebook, Google Assistant, Google Maps, and YouTube.
For a lot of people, these are essential apps that they can’t live without. So while you may not be able to use the latest social media app everyone is talking about, you can still WhatsApp your friends and not get lost when you’re driving.
Beyond this handful of big-name apps, the KaiStore has third-party apps for Twitter, podcasts, Reddit, shopping lists, weather, music, and a variety of other things. It can’t compete with the sheer size of the App Store or Play Store, but the KaiStore has much more to offer than a traditional flip phone.
Where to Buy KaiOS Phones?
As mentioned, KaiOS is designed for phones with keypads or keyboards, and that’s exactly what you’ll find in the devices. KaiOS phones are being made by Nokia (HMD Global), Alcatel, Vodacom, Orange, and a variety of other lesser-known manufacturers.
KaiOS devices are generally very affordable but not particularly easy to find. One of the best KaiOS devices for the U.S. is the Nokia 6300 4G, which only costs $70 from Amazon. That gets you a 2.4-inch display, 512MB of RAM, 4GB of storage, a microSD card slot, and the ability to be a Wi-Fi hotspot.
You can find more KaiOS phones on Amazon, but many of the models are not compatible with U.S. networks. The KaiOS website is another good place to find information about phones. KaiOS devices are especially popular in emerging markets where smartphones aren’t as practical.
Can it Replace Android and iPhone?
KaiOS is not intended to be a competitor to Android or iOS, but it may be a viable replacement depending on what you need from a phone.
If you fall into that middle ground of wanting “smart” features from your phone but not all the complexities of a full-blown smartphone, KaiOS might be ideal. You get some nice bonuses such as Google Maps and WhatsApp along with the simplicity and great battery life of a “dumbphone.”
People also turn to KaiOS for a “minimalist phone” experience. You can use your smartphone all week when it’s needed, then switch to a KaiOS device on the weekends to “unplug” for a while. Or maybe you just want a super cheap, more durable device to toss around.
In short, KaiOS is not a one-to-one replacement for a smartphone, but it could potentially offer a better experience for your needs. Not everyone falls into the smartphone or “dumbphone” category, and KaiOS is the answer to that.