- Jenni Gritters tried the Light Phone 2, a basic cell phone that only allows for texts and calls.
- As her two-week iPhone hiatus went by, she got used to the quiet, but she missed receiving photos.
- She also wished for GPS services and thinks the phone could be most useful for kids and seniors.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
If you’re like me, you might sometimes dream about just turning your phone off.
In that dream world, there are no constant pings, no group texts that make you feel trapped, no emails from clients or angry bosses, and no updates that render your phone slower than it was before. Instead, there’s just silence.
It sounds idyllic – and completely impossible.
But that’s the idea behind The Light Phone, a “dumb” phone that only allows the user to text and make phone calls.
The most updated model, the Light Phone 2, is about the size of a credit card and looks like a miniature Kindle Paperwhite. It comes in two colors and costs about $300, and its functions are basic: It rings when someone calls and has a little touch screen where you can (arduously) type out texts. The phone’s battery allows it to last for three or four days with normal use.
Most importantly: It’s branded as a way to simplify your life and get offline. I took the bait.
The Light Phone is the brainchild of Joe Hollier and Kai Tang. In 2014, they announced their Kickstarter-funded project as a way to “bring a human voice back into the crazy world of technology” and combat technology addiction.
In 2015, the first version Light Phone had a 50,000-person waitlist and was built to be explicitly anti-smartphone. After they ran out of parts, the cofounders decided to go back to the drawing board for the second iteration of the Light Phone, which is the one I used. It works on 4G (instead of 2G).
The company reported it’s raised $3.5 million via crowdfunding and another $8.4 million in seed funding from angel investors.
For two weeks, I used the Light Phone 2 to call my partner and send typo-laden text messages to friends. I set aside my iPhone, ignoring its pings and the allure of high-quality photos and – to my great horror – I missed it.
My Light Phone 2 arrived in a snazzy black box with straightforward directions for set-up.
The directions told me to charge the phone, turn it on, and set up an account online in the Light Phone dashboard. I then had to pop the included SIM card into the side of the phone or use my own SIM card to keep the Light Phone synced with my current cell-phone plan. It’s compatible with T-Mobile, Verizon, AT&T, Ting, Mint, and US Mobile, but doesn’t reliably sync with Sprint.
I opted to use the Light Phone SIM card and data plan, which runs at $30 per month for one GB of data. You can also opt for the $70-a-month plan, which gives you unlimited data, but one GB is probably all you’ll need. You’ll also be set up with a new phone number, or you can transfer over your old one.
When I tried to set up my account online, I got an error message saying that my request couldn’t be completed, with instructions to email the support team. Thankfully, customer service cleared the issue up within 20 minutes of me sending that email. After that, I was ready to roll.
First, I attempted to text my husband.
I immediately had flashbacks to my first touchscreen phone, a Samsung Glide, which tended to glitch out more often than it worked.
The Light Phone 2’s keyboard is tiny, and even my small fingers were often too big for the keys. Without autocorrect, it took me about 30 seconds to type out a short, three-word message. The keys in the bottom corners of the screen also require several punches in order to register.
Of course, the point of this phone is to spend as much time as possible not using it, so perhaps the arduous texting process helps to further that cause. Calls were relatively easy to make and despite the phone’s small size, the quality of the audio was good.
As the days went by, I got more used to the quiet.
Without my phone to distract me, I people-watched while waiting to pick my son up from his babysitter.
I also got a lot more done during my work hours without the constant interruption of my phone (although I did check social media on my laptop while I worked). During certain moments, the lack of technology really did feel idyllic.
But one of the biggest issues was the missing ability to send and receive photos. My son is one and a half, and I usually receive photo and text updates from our babysitter every few hours. With the Light Phone, there was no way to see photos.
We also use our phones to share photos and FaceTime with far-away grandparents. Without my smartphone, I couldn’t take photos or videos, and FaceTime wasn’t possible unless I opened up my laptop.
I also quickly realized how deeply I’ve integrated certain apps and services into my life.
The Light Phone does allow you to add tools to your phone via the dashboard – this includes a calculator, alarm, and apps for music and podcasts.
Via the dashboard, you can also choose podcasts to download and directly add audio files of individual songs or playlists. I listen to podcasts and music on my smartphone daily, so it was nice to have these options, even if they weren’t quite as easy to use.
But I missed some of my favorite tools: I iMessage my business partner constantly on my computer, using the service as a chatroom for business planning.
And then there was a big one: GPS services. As someone who’s had a smartphone since high school, I’m woefully unprepared to navigate without my phone (especially because I just moved to a new city). A representative from Light Phone told me that they’re working on adding GPS services to the phone, which would be a big win. They’re aiming for June 15 as their launch date.
The Light Phone GPS service will work similarly to a GPS option on a smartphone: After downloading the GPS tool on the dashboard, you can add a destination name or address into the search bar of the app on the phone. You can also add a category (like “lunch” or “coffee shop”) and can toggle between “walking” and “driving.” Once you hit start, the map view and directions will update as you move.
When I imagine the best audience for the Light Phone, I imagine it for parents who want their kids to keep in touch without having access to the internet.
It would also be useful for seniors who want a way to call and text family when they’re on-the-go, but don’t need the added complication of extra apps or services.
But for people who are used to smartphones – approach with caution. The transition isn’t easy!
The Light Phone is more of a philosophical statement than a functional choice. In that way, it’s something I can get behind.
Using a “dumb” phone is about getting offline and separating yourself from constant communication. It’s a counter-cultural move that makes you re-examine the way you use technology and the things you care about.
And yet, despite loving the idea of using a dumb phone, I found myself missing my fancy iPhone after a just few days of struggling to send basic messages on the Light Phone.
“Why can’t it just be easier to use?” I complained to my husband as I tapped at the Light Phone’s screen, noting the $300 price tag. He suggested that maybe that was the point.
He was right. But still, my experience using the Light Phone reminded me of how much value certain types of technology add to my life.
We spend a lot of time criticizing the addictiveness of smartphones, and for good reason, but we rarely consider how much value – and convenience – these devices add to our lives. While the ability to connect to work when I’m away from my desk is sometimes annoying, it also gives me the freedom to get away from my desk more often. That’s got to be worth something, right?
After my two-week stint with the Light Phone (and several moments of giving in to check the notifications on my iPhone and snap a few pictures of my kid), I happily packed the thing away and picked up my dinging device. For better or for worse, this is where I live now.