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Digitally weary users switch to ‘dumb’ phones (ft.com)
118 points by walterbell on Feb 24, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 103 comments

I recently got rid of my cell phone. There are a lot of benefits and just about as many negatives. Overall, I think the benefits outweigh the negatives. For context, I've been on-call for the past 7 years since the start of my career, so ditching the phone probably comes from that. fwiw, I have a land line, but that's about it.


My instinct is no longer to check my phone when I'm bored or waiting. It was rough at first, but I can be pretty content just standing in a line with my own thoughts.

Nobody can call me at any given time, whenever they want. Social anxiety has a mental toll on my energy, so not having a phone around gives a significant boost.

It's easier to accept not knowing something.

Plans are planned significantly more concretely.


"You don't have a phone?! What's wrong with you?!" -everybody

Not having a GPS/google makes things hard to find in certain circumstances.

There's a huge expectation when dealing with any modern service that you'll have a cell phone and can be contacted at any time. For example, it's impossible to order an Uber on a laptop.

(I realize the article is about smart->dumb, but the problems are still surprisingly similar)

A negative for me would be not being able to read whenever I have to wait on something. I have read more books than ever before because I have them on my phone.

It sounds like a lot of people in this thread do not need to quit using a smart phone, and instead need to quit facebook. I don't do FB and do not have many alerts at all on my phone. My email apps are smart enough to only show me alerts for things that matter and everything else I get to when I get to it.

I do agree with you on one thing though. When hanging out with people leave your phones in the car. Nothing is more annoying that having a conversation and people messing around on their phones.

Sometimes it's not as easy as just quitting facebook. This argument comes up a lot, but it's a solution that works entirely on a case-by-case basis.

When I had a smart phone, the methods of communicating with me were email, work email, work IM, facebook, skype, hangouts, phone, and text. Because of work, it wasn't possible to do airplane mode and it wasn't possible to do a sleep-mode bypass for specific phone numbers because of the oncall situations.

The only way I could find to manage notifications properly was to essentially create a black list for my contacts and blacklist all apps. It worked up until somebody on the black list needs to reach me, so they get added to the white list to avoid the issue. Oh, shit, they're texting me while I'm trying to work - back to the whitelist!

It eventually just becomes an incredibly tedious task to manage your notifications properly - which in itself is a dang distraction.

Agreed on leaving phones elsewhere - just as long as you live in a decent area. Some of the most awkward times I've had recently are while hanging out with others where everyone is on their phones and I can really only just twiddle my thumb. Bringing the subject only results in "hipster" comments, rather than an actual discussion.

I thought the same way until I realized that 99% of the people I'm bantering with online are only in my life because they are accessible. Neither of us would ever put the effort towards actually meeting up and hanging out. I only have a couple of people I want to retain contact with so ditching FB and all other chats was simple. I'm able to actually DO things now instead of being in this weird digital limbo where my life is a moving data point and social media is the measuring stick. I couldn't come up with a good answer to "Who actually are these people I chat with all day?"

Do you really need to get a dumbphone to avoid all this nonsense, though—or do you just need to get everyone to treat you as if you have a dumbphone? Which you might easily do by, say, telling them that you have a dumbphone, whether you do or not. If nobody thinks they can reach you over all these notification protocols, then you don't have to manage the notifications—even if you are, secretly, reachable over those protocols.

Many people have two phones (and two accounts for every relevant messaging service) for that reason; one phone for normal communication and one that people are told to only contact in urgent cases. If you manage to make people adhere to that you can put the normal phone in airplane mode as needed while still being reachable for important things.

I actually tried that for a bit. Biggest problem is.. then you have two phones in your pocket.

Since it's possible to send a text to an email address, I just tell folk to shoot me an email with anything important. The conversation can sometimes get weird when they ask, "Why can't I just send a text to your computer?". I'm pretty curious about where that dissonance comes from, as it's happened maybe 4 or 5 times already.

Android and iPhone both have software settings that can mute calls and texts from anyone who isn't on a whitelist. I use the "Blocking Mode" on Android all the time: if you call me after 11pm and aren't on a short list, you go right to voicemail.

For some cases that works great, but whitelists fall short when the same people text you both for important and unimportant reasons.

Personally, I have a smartphone and have no intention of giving it up. It's just too useful, between taking photos, using GPS, playing games if I'm stuck somewhere and am bored, using RealCalc (RPN calculator app), plus of course voicemail, texting, etc. I rarely use it for email though; I wait until I get home for that. Email is, by definition, not that urgent IMO.

I really don't understand why a bunch of people here feel like they need to get rid of their phone, or put it in airplane mode, or get a dumbphone, or whatever. I guess you all have a whole lot more friends and family than I do. If I don't want to be bothered by people, it's simple, I just go about my business and no one calls or texts me most of the time. And if someone does at a bad time (and half the time it's a wrong number or something anyway), I just ignore it.

Of course, as a few people mentioned, I don't have Facebook installed on my phone either. What a waste of time (and battery power).

As for hanging out, that's easy: if you're having a conversation, don't get your phone out and mess with it. Is that really so hard? I keep mine handy on my belt holster, and if I'm talking to someone, it stays there, unless I have a really good reason to whip it out, such as wanting to show them something on it. I'm not the most socially-adept guy around, but even I know better than to get my phone out when I'm talking to someone and use it (like for texting) to the exclusion of that person's attention.

I don't have a phone either, but carry an e-reader with me most of the time. Best of both worlds.

I've always thought if the Kindle Paperwhite was just slightly nicer spec-wise, it might be my perfect tablet. Batteries that last a long time, books everywhere, a better browser would be great, a way to take notes maybe, slightly more responsive screen. I don't need much more.

Kindle Fire! The $50 one is just good enough that I can use / take notes on it, but not so good that I end up browsing the web.

Often is easier to avoid temptation than to resist it. Hence why throwing the phone away is better for some people.

It is possible to order Uber on a laptop. https://m.uber.com/ with location services active on your browser. Works well.

Just so this post is relevant to conversation... I use a Blackberry Q10 with the keyboard. I only have SMS and phone and it is great for those purposes. I used to have an Android but it was too intense for my fragile millenial attention.

You can use m.uber.com on a phone, too, and it complains less than the app does if you have location services turned off. (Though it actually is possible to order a car without location services, despite its protestations, if you dance back and forth enough times to make it close the alert box.)

Thanks! It's a bit of a hacky way (why doesn't their non-mobile version at least link to it?!), but it's better than nothing, I guess.

if you have a windows 10 laptop they also have an app: https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/store/apps/uber/9wzdncrfhxrd

> It is possible to order Uber on a laptop.

But probably not possible to sign up without a phone?

You can sign up on regular Uber.com

    Plans are planned significantly more concretely.
I've found that only works as long as everyone you work or hang out with knows that you don't have a smartphone and, therefore, don't have access to Google Maps and Facebook everywhere. Otherwise you can get into trouble when, for example, someone changes the location of a meetup at the last minute, with the expectation that everyone will 1) be notified of the new location and 2) be easily able to find their way to the new address.

I would think people who have "dumb" phones have a bit of extra money to invest in GPS. This is one reason I'm considering switching from Sprint into Google Fi, the only thing holding me back is the hefty cost of the phone.

You can get a pretty good deal on the previous gen Nexus 6 from Amazon @ http://www.amazon.com/Motorola-Unlocked-Cellphone-Discontinu.... I was considering getting one there instead of buying it directly from Google Fi.

GPS devices have a host of annoyances... Lack of live traffic information (unless you want to pay a subscription), no Waze reporting (a feature of Google Maps), slow power up and lock, difficult to pick waypoints manually and zoom around freely, etc. Maybe they have gotten better in recent years but I haven't been very impressed in the past.

Thanks, hopefully I end up with a reliable phone. The GPS is really the only thing relevant to me outside of texting and talking.

> "You don't have a phone?! What's wrong with you?!" -everybody

I think next-wave hipsters won't have phones.

I'm 34, and I've resisted having a cell phone my whole life.

For the last 4 years I had a dumb phone, but 6 months ago I got rid of it and have gone back to no phone at all.

I've never had a "smart phone" and given that I'm addicted to the internet/computers, I think it's best that I don't, else I'd be the guy constantly on my phone rather than engaging with the people in the room with me.

The negatives are sometimes annoying, but I only need to see how tied to their phones other people are to remind me of the positives.

Good on you! I have a work-provided smart phone, and while it's nice to have, I constantly stun my more progressive co-workers by leaving my phone off for long periods of time. It doesn't take that much more time to turn it on if I truly need it, but often I just forget about it.

I suspect I could do without a cell phone of any type. I'm just not the target demographic, I guess.

You could also put it on airplane mode so when you turn it off from airplane mode you wont have to "wait" for it to turn on. This also saves significant battery, maybe not as much as it being turned off but enough.

In echo of your words, for the last few years, people I've been meeting in the pub have sometimes turned up late, sometimes really quite late indeed, and they always complained that they couldn't call me to tell me. I would point out that they would generally have called too late for me to delay, being on my way to the pub already (or even already there), but there was a weird belief that telling me they were late made it better, somehow.

Except this year. For example, the last time I went to the pub (a week ago) the other party got there bang on time, to the minute, having apparently freaked out at his other half and made absolutely sure that she'd give him a ride to the pub in time, because he knew there was no way to contact me. Now that I'm known for not being contactable, people actually start planning around it and make an effort to be on time.

This would be a deal breaker if one has kids or old parents or someone with medical condition at home :( In all other cases, it is very much possible to live without a smart phone

You can get a nice GPS with up-to-date maps and a data connection for traffic etc for $200-$400 these days if that's the biggest part you're missing. Garmin still makes nice ones: http://www.cnet.com/topics/gps/best-gps/

For those not willing (like me) to take the plunge into the world of no phone or changing back to a plain old flip phone, try just using Airplane mode on a regular basis.

I do this all the time when I want peace and/or focus and it does the trick for me. I still have the benefit of a phone nearby if I have a genuine need to make a call or to get some information, but I don't have the inbound calling or popups which come with having data enabled.

After reading an article on how multitasking kills your productivity/IQ, I decided to take a step that's similar: disable all my notifications. (I'm not sure how possible this is on Android, but on iOS it's relatively easy) The only things I have allowed to give me notifications anymore are: calendar, to do app, and the actual part of the phone that makes calls. This gives me similar to what you're saying: I have my phone available so that if something bad happens to my wife, I can react to that immediately, but otherwise it will remain silent so that I can deal with things in a more "pull" manner than having a million things "push" into my attention. (I also cleaned out most of my apps, because most stuff on iPhone is designed to take over your life and make you a zombie addict to them, and screw that)

This might not disable all notifications, but for every app on my Android phone that I've wanted to block notifications, I can open the app settings (deep in some menu, or process manager, found via googling as I do it rarely) and disable notifications for just that app. It's on the same screen as doing a Force Stop, I believe.

You can turn on Do Not Disturb and setup people like your wife so her calls/texts always come through. I started doing this with my phone anytime I want some time to think without being bothered.

I used to do this when sleeping. Now I've decided that I dislike getting any kind of notification unless it's objectively important. (thing I need to get done via to do app, phone call, though with the latter I can still get spam, but the rate at which those come through is low, so I still see them as important) And I can still turn on some notifications in some circumstances. For example, at a convention recently, I turned SMS and Facebook Messages back on so I could coordinate with people easier.

On android I encrypted my phone, set a pin and told it to disable all notifcations, it still rings but everything else is hidden that and airplane mode takes care of things disturbing me when I don't want to be.

Or you know the other option. Uninstall facebook and twitter and instgram and snapchat and....

Your battery will last much longer. You won't get constant popups showing you your life isn't as good as your friends lives. And you can access the internet if you need to.

I do this as well, and I wish people did this more, it really is sad when I am supposed to be the "computer nerd" and everyone else is glued to a screen longer than me. I also get less of people's attention nowadays as a result.

On Android, try either Tinfoil[1] or Metal[2] instead of Facebook and Twitter's apps.

[1]: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.danvelazco... [2]: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.nam.fbwrap...

This is my situation. I have a bare bones Nexus 6P where all of my apps fit on one screen without scrolling. Only the phone, SMS, and Pagerduty apps send push notifications.

I understand the appeal of this, but I feel like the only way to get through the modern world is to build up the antibodies to these distractions. We can't all reasonably hide ourselves away in quiet country houses either literally or figuratively. Giving up the conveniences of a smart phone for the truly useful things in order to avoid the distraction of notifications and boredom-browsing is the kind of measure that might be necessary for the truly addicted, but for most of us I think it's cutting off ones nose to spite ones face. How about just starting by uninstalling Facebook and turning off notifications?

Not a FB user, but actually it can't be uninstalled.

I had an Android phone with no FB (I probably deleted it after I got the phone), and after the system upgrade it got installed without me agreeing to it. And I can't seem to undo it.

To be clear that's because the FB binary is baked into the firmware. Buy a better Android phone that doesn't stuff your default install with nonsense.

Or find a custom ROM like cyanogenmod

"can't" is only relative to your level of determination. Deleting Facebook and other bundled apps was my original reason to root my first phone.

FB is often baked into the OS image, but any reasonable recent Android (4.1 an newer?) still allows you to disable those preinstalled apps. For all intents and purposes that's the same as uninstalling, you just can't get it out of the app manager.

You can disable the app entirely. It will not be removed from the phone but it won't bug you ever again. Go to settings > Apps and select your app.

Maybe they just want a phone to be a phone?

More power to them. I'm just saying that for me, it's throwing the baby out with the bathwater. If I have a feature phone it means I no longer have access to useful information like maps, business information, documents I may need when running errands, etc, etc.

Ask your parents how they ran errands in the late 90s/early 2000s, before the rise of the smartphone. You might be shocked to realize that pencils, notebooks, and standalone GPS units aren't myths, they actually existed.

Every new generation seems to wonder how life on Earth existed without the technology they were raised with. It would be funny if it wasn't so sad.

LOL, my parents. You mean ask them how they ran errands in the 70s when I was born? I moved out of my parents house in 1994. I didn't get a cell phone at all until 2003. You think I'm some kid? You're entirely missing the point.

We're the same age then...but you came across as a technology-obsessed teen. My bad. I get it, modern conveniences are great, I just shudder to think how dependent so many people have become on it, to the point that one would feel crippled without their toys.

Here's the thing though: I'm not dependent on it. If I had to operate without it, no big deal. My point was simply that I don't want to make that decision based on a feeling of powerlessness against the bombardment and distraction the device creates. We have the power to choose how we use these devices, it doesn't have to own you.

> We have the power to choose how we use these devices, it doesn't have to own you.

Indeed! It's just so sad that there are legions of people who do allow their toys to own their lives, who would be lost without their modern conveniences. That's all I'm saying.

I'm the same age as the other guy. Modern conveniences are great, so why should I go without? Just because some hipster complains "how dependent so many people have become on it"? People are pretty dependent on cars too. Our great-great-great grandparents did just fine with horses and buggies. Are you going to abandon your car now and get a horse? People used to get along just fine living in mud huts or lean-tos. Are you going to try living like that too, so that you don't feel dependent on modern conveniences like houses with running water?

Why on earth would I want to go back to the days when it was easy to get lost, and I had to mess around with crappy paper maps, and had to try to find businesses using phone books, and you could only talk on the phone at certain points like your house and otherwise your spouse had no idea where you were? The rest of us abandoned all that crap for good reason: it was a pain in the ass.

> Just because some hipster complains "how dependent so many people have become on it"?

> Are you going to try living like that too, so that you don't feel dependent on modern conveniences like houses with running water?

What's with the ad hominem "hipster" crap (this isn't Reddit, so please take your childish insults back there), and when did I ever say that I was living like that or insist that everyone else should? I'm a technophile, as much as anyone else here. I'm not saying we all need to go back to the stone age, I'm just saying that total dependence on any technology to the exclusion of self reliance is a bad thing. Putting words in my mouth to prove a point that doesn't exist makes zero sense, dude.

To put it another way, sure I can call AAA when I'm on the side of the road with a flat tire, but what happens if I'm out of range of a cell tower? I still need to know how to change that tire. In other words, don't get so dependent on modern luxuries that you forget how to handle the necessities of life without them.

You're the one complaining about being "dependent" on technology, which sounds exactly like something a hipster would yap about. If the shoe fits, wear it.

Every time you get in your car and drive any significant distance, you're "dependent" on technology. Are you going to try to walk 100 miles so you don't have to be dependent on technology? Cellphones are no different.

AAA is not "technology", that's a service. Please try to learn the difference. Someone coming and doing something for you because you're too lazy, ignorant, or disabled to do it yourself (the last one is excusable, the others not so much) is not "technology" any more than a business having a telephone number is a "tech company". Changing a tire isn't hard, it even tells you how in your car's owner's manual. What this has to do with cellphones, I have no idea. If you don't have a cellphone with you because you're a hipster moron who doesn't want to be "dependent" on technology, and you're on a rural road and just had a car wreck, what's the "handling the necessities of life" method of calling an ambulance, smoke signals? Technology allows us to do things we couldn't do before, and turning your nose up at it because of some hipster ethos is just stupid and shortsighted. And no, you're not a technophile, or else you wouldn't have even come up with this idiotic argument.

I think you're completely missing my point. AAA isn't the technology, the cell phone is. I'm saying learn how to change a tire so if your toys fail you, you can still get by. A "hipster" wouldn't know how to change a tire because he would ironically be so dependent on his iPhone he would never consider the fact that he would ever be out of cell tower range, so would never bother to learn.

Your insults and assumptions ring false, and since they are the meat of your argument, you have no argument to make.

Well, for starters, Facebook can be accessed through the internet...

So don't.

You can buy heroin on the street corner too, it doesn't mean you have to do it every time you walk by.

I have never owned a smartphone. For the last six years I have not owned any kind of cell-phone, period. For the past four years I have used an Ipod touch so that I can make VOIP calls and check the web if there is wifi around. Despite what you might think, not having a phone is pretty liberating. If I get lost then it is up to me to find my way. This has lead to some super scary situations driving to and from the Oakland airport. Every time people ask me if they can give me a call on my cell phone I have to explain to them that I don't have a cell phone and that I use an Ipod instead, which can be awkward. I have had a few situations where people came up to me and desperately begged me for the use of my phone because they lost theirs or were presumably experiencing some kind of emergency. Now I know from experience that people will not believe you if you tell them that you don't have a phone in that context. If you go without a phone you will quickly learn that people have completely abandoned the concept of meeting at a place at a certain time and planning it a day or two in advance. Also people look super stupid when they are glued to their phones, especially in the car. I do scoff at those people and it feels good. Anyway, I will probably be getting a dumb-phone soon. You need one for two-step authentication and many other services nowadays. And also it is much easier to just provide a number when people ask for your cell number rather than explaining stuff to them.

I understand the appeal of partying like it's 1999, but for me the real measure of mental fortitude is having all the options and choosing to avoid them.

My girlfriend and I used to be on our phones all the time. It turned us into reactionary consumers of information and we didn't like how our conversations and feelings were essentially being dictated to us by our information sources, so we stopped using phones in the evening, and we have significantly cut back in the morning.

Working hours are hardest. The flip side of intense focus is a craving for distraction when energy is between peaks. I have experimented with the Pomodoro Technique from time to time, but so far I've had trouble breaking the habit long enough to make it an expectation rather than an exception.

But other HN users may find it useful. Pomodoro helps you work with the time you have, instead of against it, and it helps enforce a protection from distraction by design.


I had a Sony Ericsson for 3 or 4 years; for the first year or two it could go almost a week without charging (it was always on but I rarely used it). I'm still not a huge mobile user, but now that I have a smart phone it's nice to have Google search and maps when I need them. On the other hand, while I don't think my phone has much pull in my life, I can certainly see why a heavier user would want to get away from it. Sometimes it seems like all people do is stare at their phones.

Speaking as someone with a dumb phone and standalone devices for many smartphone features... I don't want to carry an expensive, fragile device that needs to be charged at least once a day, and that does a mediocre job. My iPod Shuffle is several years old, lasts a couple of days, holds plenty of music, and survives rain, snow, mud, and being dropped with nothing but a bit of cosmetic damage. My phone fits easily in a normal pants pocket, costs all of $30 to replace if it dies, and doesn't require an expensive monthly data plan. My camera has an interchangeable lens and takes printable pictures, even indoors.

I see the potential advantages of a smartphone, but the tech isn't there yet, and it is moving in the wrong direction. I don't want a thinner, wider, taller thing with more pixels. I want a smaller, tougher, cheaper thing with more battery life.

I had a flip phone until two years ago but it became a professional liability. I was interviewing at a tech startup in SF and the interviewer saw me pull out my dumb phone after the interview to check the time -- I got an offer, but not before the interviewer made a condescending follow-up call to ask if I was "willing and capable" to design for mobile because I had a flip phone.

Needless to say, I declined their offer... but I bought an iPhone shortly after so I wouldn't ever face that situation again.

Just give him some line about your side project needing to support WML :-)

I can understand that impulse. I find that I'm using my phone less and less over time, as I find the whole "install our app!!! check in with our server!!! let us track your location!!!" ecosystem increasingly irritating and just don't want to deal with it. I check my email, I send and receive texts, I kill time on the web, and that's about it. Sometimes I call a car with Uber or Lyft, too, but it turns out that http://m.uber.com actually works better than Uber's app, and punching my address in is a small enough irritation that I generally just leave location services disabled.

Entering text hasn't gotten to be any less of a chore over time and browsing the web through a telescope hasn't gotten any less tiresome, but people have gotten more clever about exploiting the mobile web, and I just... well, I say, "fuck off, ad industry, I'll find something else to do rather than put up with you".

But I'm lazy, so I'm still using my Moto X, and it's not easy to figure out what kind of featurephone would be able to do what I wanted without irritating me, so my next phone will also more than likely be yet another smartphone whose features I mostly ignore.

Just turn stuff off. I removed most of the Google services from my Android phone. There's no Google account. (At initial startup, you're prompted to sign up for Google. Choose "Not now", and then disable Google One Time Init.)

I miss voice dialing, though.

Do you skip Maps? That's one of the most concrete positives on a smartphone, to me, aside from phone calls, texts, and calendering.

I use ZaNavi, from the F-Droid repository.

It's not great, but it's OK.

Have any of these people complaining about inherently low battery life simply tried turning off data when they're not using it?

What's the threshold where a device could be said to have good battery life? The article talked about devices with 29 and 38 days of standby time. If I turn off data and don't touch my phone, maybe I'll get three days. That's great battery life for a smartphone, but on the low end in the context of all cell phones.

I'm not sure what the cutoff should be, but at least a week. My smartphone uses less than 10% battery a day on standby. My last smartphone wasn't that different. And this isn't even in a spot with a good signal.

On the other hand if I let skype run on the data connection, it uses hundreds of megabytes of mystery data and burns out the battery in two days.

I don't even use mobile data and my LG can stay on for 56hours, WiFi is also off and the only thing I do is respond to texts.

I used a Nokia 208 for about 8 months last year, coming from a Moto G, and leaving to a Nexus 6.

Battery life was the best part by far. My phone wouldn't need to touch a charger more than every other day. One feature that I was glad to not be without was tethering-- it has a 3g radio, and after some setup I got tethering working on my laptop.

The part that I didn't like was not having a GPS and Camera. I used a sansa clip for my music, but I don't have a standalone camera or GPS. I wonder if I would have enjoyed sticking with a dumb-phone if I had bought a Garmin eTrex and a DSLR instead of a Nexus.

That's something that I think we take for granted with our smartphones: They're really not that good at what we use them for. My sansa clip has 128gb of storage and plays my FLAC library flawlessly, gets days of battery life, and is convenient for exercising. A DSLR will knock the socks off my Nexus 6's camera. An eTrex has enough battery life and precision to make sure I never get lost, and can be loaded with OSM data-- no internet required.

I think generally speaking, you know when you're going to want to take a photo, or be navigated via gps, or listen to music. So why not take the route that allows you to experience those tasks at their best?

I can't speak much for the social effects of it. I didn't feel any more in-the-moment.

    I think generally speaking, you know when you're going to want to take a 
    photo, or be navigated via gps, or listen to music. So why not take the 
    route that allows you to experience those tasks at their best?
Because life is all about trade-offs. Yes, I can buy an eTrex, a Nikon D5, a standalone audio player, and a phone. But now I have 4 devices, each of which needs to be kept charged and kept track of. With a smartphone, I have a decent GPS, a decent camera, a decent audio player (which can play FLAC with the right apps), and a decent phone. I can carry one thing in my pocket, or a backpack full of gear.

That's not to say there isn't a time and a place for specialized kit. If I'm camping, for example, I'm definitely going to use a dedicated GPS device, rather than an easily breakable, low-endurance smartphone. If I'm out on vacation, I'm going to take a proper camera in addition to my smartphone. Most of the time, though, I don't need the advanced capabilities that a dedicated device would give me. A phone gives me easily 60 to 75% of the same capabilities, at a much smaller fraction of the space needed.

I agree with your points and made similar ones on a thread yesterday. A counterargument is that the best version of a device is whichever one you tend to have with you when you need it.

The phone's a subpar camera, but it's a better camera than what I used to habitually carry around with me (i.e. nothing). It's like a Swiss army knife: it's got "meh" versions of a lot of tools, but the benefits are versatility and convenience.

Because getting a decent camera, standalone GPS, music player, ebook reader and phone is quite expensive for many of us, and the marginal benefit is often minimal (Offline OSM maps? Try OsmAnd. 128GB of storage? Most smartphones accept SD cards).

I don't disagree with you. These things are expensive, and I don't own a camera or a GPS or an ebook reader for that reason.

I will say this, though. my MP3 player cost $30 (+$50 for sd card) and my nokia 208 cost $30 on ebay. I'll use my mp3 player for years to come, and if I didn't go back to a smartphone I'd be using that phone for years, too. I imagine a good camera, ebook reader, GPS, etc. would outperform smartphones for years to come, too.

It might be more expensive in the short term, but I think it can ultimately save money.

Smartphones last years, too. My 2012 Nexus 7 (I use a tablet + $20 dumbphone combo, not a smartphone) is still going strong - even after being literally submerged while turned on! - so I'm not planning to upgrade it any time soon.

Around here, we pay for our smartphones out of pocket (the vast majority of people have prepaid SIMs, not contracts), so you can bet we're not replacing our phones every year :)

I have Spotify for music, with almost every album known to mankind. I have a 13mp camera which is on par with most professional cameras, and Garmin literally uses the same gps coordinates that phones use except phones have much more sophisticated apps.

Imo phones are the best at everything. Not trying to be condescending but maybe you just need to utilize your phone better?

That phone (Nokia 208) is beautiful in its simplicity. I'm seriously tempted to import one just to have it as a solid backup.

I'd pay a lot of money for a medium-smart phone: one which has only the essentials like calling, Google maps, email, camera, and maybe Uber. I'm not on Facebook but I have a horrid news reading addiction. I only keep a smartphone because I don't want to lug around a separate GPS unit, dumbphone, and camera. And because it's actually as cheap to have a smartphone on Project Fi as it is to have a dumbphone on the cheapest provider. Ugh. I don't want a smartphone which makes me such a consumer of mindless news and entertainment! But here we are...fighting the good fight, trying to avoid wasting time on a device which seems to encourage it.

That or just be more focused with what you want to do in your life. I have an iPhone 6s and I don't spend hours a day on it (if not for dev work), I am too focussed into other matters. Anybody can do the same. It's not what you have around, but how you use it.

Switching to 'dumb' phones is probably not feasible to me at the moment, for several reasons: 1. When I'm bored or waiting for something, usually I read books/comics. Not so much on games anymore. 2. I'm into digital photography. It's much easier to send your photos from the camera to your phone via wifi and do the postprocessing there, instead of using Lightroom on your PC/laptop. 3. Messenger apps like Whatsapp or Line. Curiously, I use them more than phone calls :p 4. Blogging

I had an LG cosmo up until the middle of last year. I finally had to ditch it for an iphone because imessages broke texting. I was missing texts because of imessage. Group messages were a pain because there was no way to turn off notifications (phone buzzes anytime someone responds) and messages would be out of order or missing because imessages. I wonder if any of the 'new dumb phones' are better equipped to deal with these issues.

Phone is more a way of socialization than a useful tool.


The real tool is in the access to the human knowledge with Wikipedia but people don't do that too much. They play games and send textos.

My spouse has an antique Nokia almost-brick running Opera and can use Wikipedia. It's wonderful. He doesn't have any of the distractions of Facebook, but he can check the difference between naltrexone and naloxone or brush up on Dvorak's family history whenever those come up in an argument!

Is it the N900?


I've seen people with it because it can run Debian.

It's not -- I will go check the model number. There are about 12 I saw that looked almost the same when I tried to find the model number online.

Ohh, that brings back memories. The one I had was the N800 though (but I really missed the keyboard of the N800).

This was my reaction exactly. On the one hand, I'm sick to death of modern phones that can't hold a charge, keep crashing apps, and get super hot after just a few minutes. On the other, a dumb phone seems too excessive a reaction. I mostly don't use my phone to make calls. I use it to read. There's something to be said for a phone that has a nice touch screen but doesn't provide a browser, just a few basic apps for reading and taking notes.

A few months ago[1] I was day-dreaming on HN about an alternative to html designed from the ground up to minimize webpage bloat and avoid tracking. Now I have a further refinement in mind: build a device that has exemplary reliability and power-utilization with a big touch screen and a cellphone number. Build a bare-bones browser for it supporting a tiny subset of html (no images, so no pixel tracking). Have the new device proxy through an ISP server that also as a bonus filters out ads and third-party cookies. Gradually encourage people to build hobbyist or paywalled reading experiences out of the subset of html and fork off a new world wide web. Then win :) Or something. Who's with me?

[1] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=10496611

A potential solution: Before I got a true smartphone I had a Nokia E71. It had an OK browser, 3G and you could even tether via Bluetooth. As it was Symbian/S60 there were some apps like Google Maps, but switching apps was a pretty painful / slow process so you didn't want to do it often. The battery lasted about 3 days even with regular usage.

Do you know Gopher (the protocol)?

It's just a tree of directories and files. Files can be text like markdown, images or videos. I think it's enough for a lot of use cases.

Not a bad idea. That's actually the second time somebody's mentioned Gopher to me this week. (Was it you the first time? :) But yeah, if we're going for retro, why not go deeper.

I've owned a refurbished LG 505C (Verizon is still CDMA here) for more than 3 years now. I paid $9.99 for it. A battery charge still lasts a week. I spend roughly $100 a year for TracFone minutes. It's always been cheap and good. Nice to know that it's stylish now as well.

I've rightgraded to a pay-as-you-go dumpphone, and largely go without it.

If you don't need to be constantly reachable, a phone isn't a necessity.

The biggest single pain point is for information while moving. A device with wireless capability, a map, and transit information would be handy. It also removes virtually all distraction modalities.

There are a few factors underlying this trend not adequately mentioned in the article:

1. Phones suck. They suck as phones: poor voice/call quality, spotty coverage, poor coverage indoors, poor battery life, poor messaging capabilities.

2. Phoning sucks. Yes, there are times when direct voice comms is useful. I spent a couple of hours in a productive international video call courtesy of Google Hangouts last week -- one of my few significant voice comms in months. But the lack of text-transcribing, syncronous nature (we'd set up the call days in advance), likelihood of interruptions, and failure of virtually all devices to offer blacklist / whitelist or meaningful quiet-hours capability are all horrible.

3. Devices suck. Even smartphones lack many capabilities I'd consider essential (several listed above). The near-commodity nature of feature phones means that capabilities and interfaces are horrible. I'd be willing to pay a slight premium for durability, a decent set of basic ringtones (melodies suck), and some sort of voice messaging system of my own choice.

4. Privacy. Celebrity (and non-celebrity) nudes, voicemail hacking, messaging / email hacking, and absolutely ubiquitous advertising-based and, increasingly, governmental tracking are all massive turn-offs. If I don't need a pocket spy, I won't carry one.

Caveat to much of this: I've got a tablet. It's WiFi only, and 10'. This means it doesn't fit in a pocket, and isn't online when I'm travelling, but is often usable at stops (public WiFi is surprisingly prevalent, though yes, that too presents problems). With onboard storage, I've got vast amounts of stored information which I can (and do) access. With a bluetooth keyboard it's close to a laptop replacement (though I'd prefer a more capable OS and set of apps).

For road trips, it's quite useful: parked when not needed (or feeding to my car's sound system), pulled out at rest stops to check routes and hotels (I still rely on, and know how to use, paper maps). But it avoids many of the negatives of a cellphone.

Device identity is of course random strings and principle account is rarely if ever used.

Note, this article is basically a plug for Light Phone.

Don't call me, I will call you.

One thing to note: no adverts on `dumb` phones.

Well, except for telemarketers.

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