Is there a dumb phone for me?
October 19, 2011 10:49 AM   Subscribe

I want a simple, dumb cell phone. Calling and texting are essential, number directory is semi-essential, clock + date are okay - everything else I'd rather not have.

My carrier at the moment is AT&T, and I live in the US.

I don't know much about advanced level cell phone stuff - all this "unlocking" stuff is a mystery to me, but if knowing about it will help me get the right phone I am willing to learn.

Phones that come close to what I'm looking for, but don't quite work for whatever reason:

John's Phone - I love it! But it doesn't text.
Æsir - Beautiful! But (1) it literally costs $10,000 and (2) it's European, so even if I were some kind of fancy person I don't know if it would work here.
Connect Phone - Perfect! But it doesn't actually exist, apparently; this is just some design guy's concept phone.
Willcom R9 - Looks like it could be The One, minus a few extraneous features. But it's Japanese, and also a couple years old - don't know enough about phone stuff to know if either of those would make it impossible.
posted by bubukaba to Technology (24 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
I've looked into this before.

My conclusion was that you should buy the cheapest phone Nokia are producing when you purchase, and ignore the slight extra features you'll get.

John's Phone actually has usability difficulties - the buttons on the side are a complete pain.
posted by curious_yellow at 10:51 AM on October 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

I have a really plain Nokia phone that sounds pretty close to what you're looking for. There are a few additional features -- some games, some other stuff -- but I basically never look at them. You can find these at Target.
posted by BlahLaLa at 10:59 AM on October 19, 2011

Do you need to stay with AT&T? Here's a prepaid (no plan) VirginMobil LG 101 - $14.99. Doesn't even seem to have a camera.
posted by Squeak Attack at 11:00 AM on October 19, 2011

The Motorola F3 has neither camera nor color screen.
posted by unmake at 11:02 AM on October 19, 2011

I used the Nokia 1100 for a while. It's the best selling phone in the world, so it's easily found online, and it was super basic, but it did what it did very well. The 1200 is fairly similar.
posted by zug at 11:03 AM on October 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

I wanted a phone like this last year so I basically went into Walmart and picked one of the 3 t-mobile prepaids available, I think it cost like $30 bucks. AT&T do similar cheap prepaids that do all the basics and make it easy enough to ignore all the extras as you have to menu down to most of them.
posted by wwax at 11:05 AM on October 19, 2011

The Motorola F3 is absolutely miserable for texting.
posted by ghharr at 11:06 AM on October 19, 2011

The Motorola F3 has neither camera nor color screen.

But unfortunately due to how they implemented the e-ink screen, texting is like texting on a speak&spell for the visually impaired... i.e. it's hard to distinguish different characters and characters vs. numbers.
posted by at 11:07 AM on October 19, 2011

nthing cheapest Nokia. You can probably get a lightly-used or NOS unlocked model on eBay, e.g. the 1600b, which uses AT&T's GSM frequencies.
posted by holgate at 11:08 AM on October 19, 2011

Chiming in again for a cheap Nokia - I'm still using a 1112 and like it: simple and very durable.
posted by ryanshepard at 11:14 AM on October 19, 2011

I've got a Motorola V365 (on AT&T) and it's a very dumb phone with an awesome battery life (in the beginning I only had to charge it every ten days or so; now that the battery's a few years old it's down to maybe every 5-7 days). The downside is that it's rather bulky (I have been mocked for the size of my cell phone), so maybe not a pocket phone (I carry it in my purse).
posted by enlarged to show texture at 11:21 AM on October 19, 2011

There are phones geared for seniors. Their main feature is the lack of features.

Check out:

1. Doro phones

2. Pantech Breeze

3. Jitterbug
posted by 7life at 11:21 AM on October 19, 2011 [3 favorites]

The technical term for what you want is a "Feature Phone" and I will second the idea that the cheapest (often free) Nokia phone that you can get at the AT&T store will be appropriate. Very similar versions of that phone is being used by people all over the world from the most remote villages in Africa to tiny fishing villages near the arctic circle.
posted by mmascolino at 11:35 AM on October 19, 2011

My aunt and father have these phones. I don't know what they are exactly, but they look very similar to the Breeze phone linked above. They walked into the nearest Rogers store (Canadian equivalent of AT&T) and asked for their senior plan. They love them.
posted by cgg at 11:41 AM on October 19, 2011

We recently bought a Snapfon for my wife's parents. Big buttons, simple display. The two features it has that go beyond what you're looking for are a flashlight, and a panic button that can call 3 numbers in sequence.

Disclosure: Phil, the guy who founded and owns the company, is a friend of a friend and an acquaintance of mine. But we decided to go with the phone and the plan on its own merits.
posted by straw at 11:48 AM on October 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

I have the classic Pantech Breeze and absolutely love it (and AT&T is my carrier). Got it about 4 years ago for five bucks, the buttons are huge, and I can drop it and nothing ever breaks. All I do is call, text, use the alarm feature, and occasionally take crappy-quality photos of something that I must send to a fried (recently, a New Kids On The Block mural behind a Pizza Hut). See if you can get a Breeze (they're discontinued but I'm sure there's a way to get an old one) or look into the Breeze II. It is my favorite phone ever! I am totally not the generation that this phone is geared towards but people are always impressed with it's basicness when I bust out my five dolla phone.
posted by jabes at 12:45 PM on October 19, 2011

The Motorola F3 is absolutely miserable for texting.

This is actually not the worst issue with the F3. I would, barring 2 problems, recommend it highly.

1. There are 2 plastic tabs that hold the SIM card in place. Flex from the phone being in one's pocket all day causes the tabs to break, which allows the SIM to come away from the contacts. On occasion, this will corrupt your SIM card.

2. The lock function doesn't keep you from dialing emergency numbers. The way this is implemented actually makes it more likely that you'll pocket-dial 911, as those are the only numbers it lets you dial when the keypad is locked. That was the main reason I ditched the F3.

Having spent a lot of time looking for, and using, simple phones, I'd go with the Nokia 1100.
posted by god hates math at 12:51 PM on October 19, 2011

I use a Nokia 1100. It texts, calls, stores numbers, has a clock/alarm, and has an LED flashlight. A FLASHLIGHT!!!*

*I should also mention it keeps a charge for a week, is indestructable, and I can drop a sim card in it in nearly every country on the planet and start making calls. Seriously.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 12:59 PM on October 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

I use the AT&T R225. It calls. It texts. It displays the date and time. It doesn't really do anything else (or if it does, I haven't bothered to look). It costs $15 for the phone and the charger, no special or sale. Battery life is fine. Call quality is fine. I bought it after my iPhone was stolen and haven't looked back.
posted by 3FLryan at 1:03 PM on October 19, 2011

I also have a nokia 1100 since late 2005. Unfortunately, my clumsy self dropped it from about a metre high to a concrete floor during its first year of use and it has never been the same since then. However, it has never given me any further trouble, and apart from minor complaints about the way some menus are set up, I definitely recommend it, and when mine dies I'll probably try to replace it with another 1100 (unless this thread comes up with an even better alternative).

I'll stress that the flashlight was a feature that I initially didn't care about at all but has proven itself to be extremely useful on various occasions.
posted by Bangaioh at 1:51 PM on October 19, 2011

I've been looking for a dumb phone myself. One warning: if you want to stay with a post-paid account and you do decide on buying a pre-paid phone, as suggested above, make sure it'll work on your post-paid account. I'm not sure about other carriers, but my current carrier (Verizon) only allows you to use a pre-paid phone on a post-paid account if it's been active for pre-paid use for at least six months.
posted by pie ninja at 3:21 PM on October 19, 2011

I have had many phones of varying intelligence. As far as I'm concerned, there are only two good phones: the current iPhone, and the Nokia 1100.

Battery lasted a goddamned week. Texting is as good as numpads get.
posted by modernserf at 3:59 PM on October 19, 2011

I have a Sonim and I freaking love it. Words fail. It's a dumbphone with smartphone capabilities, but the warranty and sheer indestructibleness of it is humbling. I use none of the smartphone stuff (have a BlackBerry for work, so why pay for my own data plan?) and it's great for the usual things - texting, calls, a black list so your phone doesn't ring when certain people call, great ringtones, and I hammered 4 nails into a wall with it.

Also: cool looking, minimalist, great camera/flashlight. Bluetooth if you need it.

I charge mine 2x per week. It's never died on me, even while traveling.

I have put it through my dryer, too. And I've broken one and they replaced it easily and quickly and re-started the warranty from that point (!). I have AT&T and live in the US and let me tell you...

if you call customer service, the guys who answer all sound like mini James Bonds. Fabulous accents.

Sorry, this is turning into a romance novel but yeah - this phone > every other thing, but that's just my opinion.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 9:30 PM on October 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

Basic Nokia, as mentioned above.
posted by radioamy at 10:57 AM on October 20, 2011

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