Best Dumb Phone 2018: Seven Days Going Rogue With a Minimalist Light Phone
Scroll, text, repeat. That’s how I and hundreds of millions of Americans spend chunks of our days. Apple and Google know their smartphones are addictive, that’s why they’ve rolled out “Screen Time” and “Digital Wellbeing” to try and curb users’ smartphone obsession. But for some, fighting incessant mobile use with the very product that causes it is simply not an option. That’s where The Light Phone comes in.
The spawn of a 2015 Kickstarter campaign, this minimalistic phone strips down handsets to what they were in the pre-SMS days. It just makes phone calls, no texting, no apps, and no camera. Its only shred of modernity comes in the form of its foggy OLED screen and haptic touch feature, which made it look and feel as if the Third-Generation iPod Nano were redesigned today.
This barebones approach is meant to drastically reduce the five hours that U.S. mobile users were found to spend on their phones on daily basis. All-consuming smartphone usage has been shown to create imbalances in brain chemistry resulting in depression, anxiety, and insomnia, according to research published in the journal Radiological Society of North America. The Light Phone’s mantra puts the detrimental affects of handsets front and center.
“Our phones have become our nervous habit, our invisible crutch. We find ourselves reaching for them without thinking,” reads the company’s manifesto. “We love their illusion of productivity and stimulation that is socially acceptable to abuse. Multitasking is a myth, it is addictive and exhausting.”
As someone who was caught picking up their phone 113 times per day, this cut to the core. I was ready…to go light.
- Product: The Light Phone
- Price: $150
- Perfect for Smartphone addicts that want to get away from notifications of all kinds.
Monday: First Impressions and Set Up
The credit-card sized phone was packaged inside of a coffee table book you would find atop the counter of a hipster coffee shop. Inside I found scenic photos of forests, skies, and oceans. About half way through I stumbled across The Light Phone that was embedded into the book like a flask in the inside of a hollowed-out Bible.
I popped it out of its crevasse, downloaded the computer program necessary to set it up, made my iPhone forward all of its calls to it, and gave my roommate a ring. It came with its own nano 2G GSM SIM card already inside so it was ready to go as soon as it was updated. It was a fraction of the size and weight of my iPhone 6S, roughly 3.5-inches diagonally and 38.5 grams. It felt like pressing a credit card to my ear.
“Hello?” he picked up sounding confused because I was in the room next door. The sound quality was clear, like any smartphone I’ve used.
“Dude, come check out this phone I’m going to try to replace my iPhone with,” I responded.
Tuesday: Understanding What It’s Used For
I quickly discovered that transitioning completely was going to be harder than I thought. The Light Phone only allowed me to save nine phone numbers on speed dial through its laptop app. I assigned my parents’, roommates’, and a couple of friends’ phone numbers to keys on The Light Phone’s number pad. For those nine people, making calls is pretty effortless: as with the flip phones of yesteryear, all I had to do was hold down on the corresponding number to give that person a call. But I could already see how getting through a whole work-week with The Light Phone and the Light Phone alone was going to be a problem.
If I didn’t also carry around my smartphone along with it, contacting sources, colleagues, my delightful editor, or that person I met at a bar last week was pretty much impossible. The idea is to get you to be more deliberate about who you actually need to reach on a regular basis, but this changes a lot depending on where I am and what I’m doing. I selected my “Top Nine” by just going through my texts and seeing how I chat with the most, which means it would be fine for the weekend but not when I need to work.
On the other hand, carrying the process out made me realize that out of the 392 contacts of my phone, I only talk to seven of them frequently. I proceeded to purge my contacts list of a few long-forgotten phone numbers and was feeling lighter already.
Wednesday: How It’s Actually Supposed to Be Used
Mid-week I realized that using The Light Phone to completely replace my iPhone was going to be impossible: I had to cover a smartphone launch, which meant I had to take photos and navigate to somewhere I’ve never been. We need smartphones sometimes to do our jobs.
That said, weighing the desire to unplug with the desire to, well, do my job made me realize that The Light Phone isn’t meant substitute my smartphone completely. It’s more like a fancy shirt or tie you should save for certain occasions.
“The Light Phone works as a stand alone phone, however we did not design it to be used in this way and we are hesitant to recommend doing so,” reads the products FAQ page. “There are some intentional limitations in place as we designed the phone to be used as a second phone.”
Thursday: Great For Focusing, Not For Friends and Family
When I stopped seeing it as a replacement and started seeing it as a supplement, my experience with The Light Phone greatly improved. I found that it provided a great way to focus on work during the day, even if it did make some of my friends and family think I was ignoring them.
At work I usually rest my phone right next to my laptop so I can see any incoming notifications. This way I don’t miss anything important, but this is more distracting than useful most of the time. With The Light Phone, I found that I could drastically cut down on phone usage by relegating my iPhone to my backpack while still feeling like I’d catch important calls.
The only real drawback was the handful of “Hello?” and “???” text messages that awaited me when I got home but, frankly, they’ll live.
Friday: What’s Next and My Verdict
The Light Phone is a sleek device that stopped me from absent-mindedly checking my phone, while cutting down on the anxiety you feel when you’re unsure if you’re missing important communications from a colleague or boss. However, its lack of texting, camera, and navigational features really limited the extent to which I could use it to replace my iPhone. Then again, if you don’t need to take pictures or head to far-flung corners of Queens for your job, you might find The Light Phone much more suitable for longer periods of time.
To address some of these complaints, the Light Phone 2 is on the horizon and it’s touting 4G LTE messaging, navigation, alarm, and music features that could make for a more formidable middle-ground between “smart” and “dumb phones.” This device is scheduled to ship in April 2019 for $225 and has amassed almost $2 million in Indiegogo donations.
By then, “going light” won’t exactly be the same as going rogue.