Looking for a well-designed *dumb* phone
April 5, 2016 3:47 AM   Subscribe

I’m looking for a well-designed 'dumb phone’ to help manage my digital overload. Ideally: tiny, long battery life, and only makes calls - think a simpler version of Nokia’s 8210 from 1999. Crowdfunding attempts to crack this problem seem to be either stalling or scammy. Any ideas, guys?
posted by scrm to Technology (20 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
A Blackberry, and just don't set up the email account.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 4:10 AM on April 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

i asked something similar earlier - i will be getting a small nokia next time i'm in the states.
posted by andrewcooke at 4:51 AM on April 5, 2016

Over on Boingboing, Rob Beshizza describes the Moto F3 as "flawed" because you can't easily text on it and that it's "expensive." (at around $55). Lots of food for thought in that writeup, like credit card-sized phones that are around $12.

You could get a John's phone, but you are paying a premium for the most stylish and defiant dumb phone (seriously - no display, even).
posted by O9scar at 5:08 AM on April 5, 2016

Well, it doesn't only make calls, but it's not worth trying to do anything else with it: the Samsung Juke was by far my favorite pre-smart-phone.

As the name implies, its selling point was that is could actually play MP3s! But it's tiny, about the size of a 20-stick pack of gum, and has a satisfying switchblade action swivel to open and close it.

Prior to that, I had the even dumber but tiny Motorola Star Tac "Vader" which I loved.

I have no idea how well either of these phones work for calling these days, but that's my two cents. Or phones.
posted by The Deej at 5:33 AM on April 5, 2016

I've just bought my boss a Nokia 301 for this very purpose. You might have more luck searching for "feature phone" which is the official term for a dumb phone apparently.
posted by car01 at 6:06 AM on April 5, 2016 [4 favorites]

Until just over a year ago I was still using a Nokia 3310, but finally had to upgrade because it was getting harder to find a 2G signal. I got an unlocked Nokia 301.2. I love the thing. The only thing I miss from my 3310 is snake. Assuming you are in NA, you have to choose carefully as a lot of the 301s out there are not compatible with NA 3G, which leaves you stuck on 2G.
posted by fimbulvetr at 6:43 AM on April 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

I used a Motorola F3 for about 2 years, after Android came out but before reasonably non-crashy Androids were available. It's totally fine. I still have it as a backup phone for hikes and vacations and stuff when I don't want to break my real phone. Just FYI it's REALLY BASIC -- even the address book function is extremely clunky.
posted by miyabo at 6:58 AM on April 5, 2016

Oh, and GSM will be slowly shutting down in the US starting at the beginning of next year, so anything you get is not going to be a long term solution. I bet someone will make an LTE dumb phone at some point but it will be a niche expensive product, not a holdover.
posted by miyabo at 7:00 AM on April 5, 2016 [3 favorites]

The platonic ideal of what you want is the Punkt MP01: designed by Jasper Morrison, calls and texts only, 20-day battery life. $300. Being European, though, it only works over 2G GSM. They recommend T-Mobile if you’re in the US.
posted by ormon nekas at 7:22 AM on April 5, 2016

My husband has an LG flip phone currently. He doesn't like it as much as the Samsung Rugby it replaced. Both flip, and in theory can connect to the web but it's such a horrid interface that I would never do it, plus it costs extra. Great rugged phones though.
posted by dpx.mfx at 7:31 AM on April 5, 2016

If you really wanted to go hard-core, you could build your own dumb phone.
posted by fimbulvetr at 8:33 AM on April 5, 2016

^ Or if you have a talent for software design, you could write a dumbphone app with a single screen interface which blocks all but the phone features on a smartphone.
posted by fairmettle at 8:44 AM on April 5, 2016

There are a bunch of Chinese made cheap tiny dumb phones.

Yes, BangGood is the name of the company, no, it's not a scam.
posted by gregr at 8:55 AM on April 5, 2016

Chinese phones don't always work in the US, due to frequency differences. (They sometimes do though.)
posted by miyabo at 10:17 AM on April 5, 2016

My husband bought and loves a feature phone from Caterpillar. As in, the construction equipment company. (They make smartphones too, and sent him one by mistake, but he sent it back -- he wanted a dumb phone.)

The thing is tough -- my stepson likes to throw it 10 feet onto concrete just to demonstrate. Waterproof and dustproof too, and (best of all!) the default ringtone is exactly the backing up beep-beep of a bulldozer or whatnot.

I'm not sure it meets your criteria of smallness, but the idea is that some people are still making feature phones for niche audiences, and some care is still going into their design.
posted by wyzewoman at 11:59 AM on April 5, 2016 [2 favorites]

I have two Nokia 106 phones I bought new for $17.99. Call quality is fine if unspectacular and it's annoying they use proprietary chargers.

I use 'em for emergencies only and they stay in my cars. It's wonderful to not worry about being unable to call AAA in the event my smartphones die. Prepaid plans are cheap as chips so I don't worry about my budget either.
posted by Monochrome at 12:21 PM on April 5, 2016

Here in So. CA, I purchased a dumb Alcatel Tracfone for $5 at a local supermarket for one reason: it has an FM radio that I like for my bike commute. That seems to be about its only non-phone feature. I can't say how well it works as a phone, coverage, or any of that stuff, since I haven't activated it, but I just might, out of curiosity. Plans seems cheap enough, as its a pay-as-you go type of burner thing. Battery lasts forever when used as a radio. When almost dead (I've never actually run it down completely), it seems to charge up really quickly. Basically, I manage to plug it in every now and then for maybe 30 minutes and it's ready to go for a few days.
posted by 2N2222 at 1:39 PM on April 5, 2016

Just came back from an attempt at living life with a dumbphone. Kyocera DuraXV is the way to go on this.
posted by WCityMike at 5:37 PM on April 5, 2016

For travel I bought a "BLU" brand dumbphone with quad-band GSM, which ostensibly works in most countries. Seems to work in the US and Europe, at least. Not this phone, but almost identical. Texting with it is deeply unpleasant- no predictive text. At all. But phone calls are totally fine!
posted by BungaDunga at 12:20 AM on April 6, 2016

I found a used Jitterbug phone on ebay for my mother in law a number of years ago. She uses it for calls only (I think you pay extra for the ability to text) and she loves it. Flip style, w/ big buttons - perfect for her needs. I think the service is a bit expensive, but for her, the simplicity is worth it.
posted by jvilter at 9:59 AM on April 6, 2016

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