Smartphones have become more than just a minor distraction. Swiping through social media all day is mentally and physically exhausting, yet it’s almost unavoidable, as we’re all addicted to our phones. And while certain apps can help you curb your phone usage, it may be time to just ditch the smartphone and use an old-fashioned “dumb” phone.
There’s an app for everything, and that’s the problem with smartphones. As you’ve probably guessed, old-fashioned feature phones are extremely limited, which is why they pose less of a distraction than your iPhone or Android device. You can’t spend two hours on Instagram if your phone doesn’t work with Instagram.
Now, flip phones and brick phones are a bit more advanced than they used to be. Several dumb phones run on KaiOS, a lightweight operating system that supports a small selection of apps and games, including WhatsApp, YouTube, and Google Maps.
This limited selection of apps makes your dumb phone useful without turning it into a major distraction. It also helps that dumb phones have small screens. You may be a champion at binge-watching YouTube, but staring at a tiny screen just isn’t all that enjoyable.
Unfortunately, there aren’t too many dumb phones without KaiOS. You can’t really avoid the operating system without buying prepaid.
There are plenty of features phones that don’t support KaiOS, including the Light Phone, which is so bare-bones that it has a black and white screen. Still, I think that most people would prefer a dumb phone with a touch of brains—pulling up Google Maps when you’re lost is a lot easier than bugging a stranger for directions.
And just to be clear, using a dumb phone doesn’t need to be a full-time commitment. If you want to focus on your family over the weekend, for example, you can just take the SIM card out of your smartphone and stick it in an old-fashioned flip phone.
Battery technology has come a long way since the 90s and 2000s. With minimal use, your old flip phone probably lasted a little over two days on a charge; more than a smartphone, but that’s to be expected, given that smartphones have large screens and addicting apps.
Modern flip phones and brick phones have a crazy battery life. The Nokia 3310 4G features a 22-hour talk time, and it can last for an entire month on standby. Most users will get weeks of battery from this and other dumb phones, even with regular use.
Those who talk on their phone all day with a Bluetooth headset will see a more modest battery life. They’ll charge their feature phone every day or two. Still, that’s better than what you get with a smartphone—it’s insane.
Even if you aren’t interested in the distraction-free lifestyle of an old-fashioned cell phone, the battery life a huge selling point. That’s part of the reason why feature phones are still a popular option for worksites, camping trips, and other situations where charging isn’t always convenient.
This isn’t much of a shocker; dumb phones are cheaper than sin. The average flip phone or brick phone is just $50, and that’s when you buy them new. A used flip phone may cost less than a trip to McDonald’s, and if you’re eligible for an upgrade, your carrier may even give you one for free.
Some of the fancier flip phones, such as the Alcatel Go Flip 4, can cost between $70 and $100. But that’s still a pretty solid price, and you’ll pay even less if you upgrade through your carrier.
And despite their low price tag, dumb phones aren’t crappy or poorly made. They have bright and modern displays, they support Bluetooth, and of course, they’re built like tanks.
The only problem with old-fashioned cell phones, from a quality standpoint, is that their cameras stink. You won’t get iPhone-quality photos from a Nokia or Alcatel brick. Still, the photo quality is better than it was twenty years ago, and you can always carry around a cheap digital camera if you want to capture decent photos on the go.
If you’re old enough to buy beer, there’s probably an old flip phone or brick phone resting in the corner of your closet. But you shouldn’t bother with that relic. Even if it works today, it won’t work for much longer.
Carriers are currently shutting down their 3G networks, meaning that the majority of flip phones (including those made during the early iPhone era) are basically paperweights. They cannot make calls or texts without a 3G signal.
Now, this situation may be disappointing to some people, but it’s not a big deal. New dumb phones are affordable, have fancy bright displays, and can last for weeks on a single charge. They’re much more enjoyable to use than some 15-year-old Nokia.
By the way, old phone batteries have a habit of swelling up and can become a fire hazard. If you’ve held on to an ancient phone, I suggest checking its battery for signs of swelling or bending. You can take the old battery (or the entire phone) to Best Buy for recycling, if need be.
Buying a feature phone is a lot easier than it used to be. Not just because of pricing, but because there aren’t a ton of options to choose from. Your carrier may offer just one or two dumb phones, and even if you shop for an unlocked device, there’s only a handful of options to choose from.
For those who still want access to apps like YouTube and Google Maps, a KaiOS device is the way to go. The Nokia 225 is a popular and affordable option in this space, though I suggest the more expensive Alcatel Go Flip 4 if you specifically want a flip phone. (Neither of these phones support Verizon’s networks. If you want a KaiOS phone on Verizon, the TCL FLIP Pro is your best option.)
If you want to avoid apps entirely, you need to shop from a prepaid carrier or buy a used 4G feature phone, such as the Nokia 3310 4G (which was discontinued). One of the better prepaid options I’ve seen is the UScellular ANS F30, which is shockingly cheap at Walmart.