The need for a dumbphone

At the end of December, I set out to find a new phone. I had dropped my phone a couple months earlier, cracking the screen. But even before then, it wasn’t working as a phone. For as long as could remember with it, the microphone didn’t work in the phone app. It didn’t seem to be a settings issue, or a firmware or software issue. I worked around the broken microphone by using a headset for work calls and the speakerphone for personal calls. I probably could have gone on for a while more using the phone like this, but other parts of smartphone life began to wear me out.

I used to carry my phone everywhere, even when in the house. I’d always have it by my side. Even though I didn’t use it much for communication, I would still get notifications of all kinds. Notifications about network configuration, personal server outages, emails, app updates, syncing activity, SMS pings, voicemails, and social media messages… I was sick of all of the notifications. I supposed I could just uninstall apps or suppress notifications, but one thought entered my head and made me realize that the issue I had with my phone–that I thought was about notifications–was deeper.

I thought, “Why do I charge my phone next to my bed?” I looked at the surge protector next to my bed and saw that I didn’t have anything else plugged into it. I thought back to when I first got a phone, probably some time in middle school? At that time, I’m sure I had a long extension cord running from the outlet next to my brother’s bed to the side of my bed. That’s where I would have plugged in my fan, and naturally, it’s where I would have plugged in my phone. Since then, that’s always where I’ve plugged in my phone, even though it’s always on some kind of silent mode at night.

Screenshot of smartphone screen with notifications from Google Play, Samsung capture, Galaxy Store, System UI, K-9 Mail, and at least 2 iconized notifications
Smartphone life: Notification overload

When my phone is next to my bed, it means that I can use it at night before I go to sleep and in the morning when I wake up. I began to realize that I was using my phone without much thought or intent.

I was so connected to my smartphone, and I had already seen the signs that smartphones would become even more indispensable in society generally. I once forgot my phone at home when my family went out to dinner at a local Hawaii restaurant, and my parents also didn’t have their phones. The host asked us to scan a QR code and supply our information on the website for contact tracing purposes. We weren’t expecting this and didn’t have our phones. The host wasn’t sure what to do. Would we just not eat there? After some uneasy conversation with us, they asked a co-worker what to do. They ended up taking our information on a piece of paper. Phones are also being used for other types of contact tracing, like using location or wireless signal data to determine if you’ve likely come into contact with people who may have tested positive for certain infections. They’re also being used as passports into places that people used to enter freely. I see a future where entry into certain venues will be limited to those who can present proof via QR code of good behavior, as determined by medical record, injection subscription status, and location/proximity history.


I couldn’t handle the thought that this device that I had begun to loathe would have to be with me at all times in public. I’d like to opt out.

The search for a new phone

I realized these concerns after I had begun compiling my list of possible phones, so the list ended up including both smartphones and less “smart” phones.

The list:

  • Sony Xperia 5 II
  • some Samsung Galaxy S phone or Galaxy Z Flip3
  • Google Pixel 6 with GrapheneOS
  • Nokia 6300 4G
  • Nokia 225 4G
  • Sonim XP3plus

Once I had the list, it was easy to see that I was considering at least 2 different types of phones. The upper 3 were the usual smartphones. The Sony was everything I wanted in a smartphone. I knew the Samsung phones would be good (at least the S series). I seriously considered the Pixel because I’d be able to load GrapheneOS on it, which means NO GOOGLE!! But I ended up throwing all of these out because of the smart features. I needed to cut back on mobile.

The lower 3 were less smart. The Nokia 6300 4G, running KaiOS, looks like a dumbphone because it’s just a candy bar design with a small screen and some buttons and a number pad. Upon closer inspection, it’s actually something I might call a smartphone. It has apps like WhatsApp and Google Assistant. Supposedly, all the apps on the device are web apps, which makes it less “smart”, but the ability to easily find, install, and interact with apps makes it like a smartphone. I also wonder how Google Assistant works on the device if it’s a web app. Ultimately, I threw this phone out because of its ties to Google and its smart features. The Nokia 225 4G I threw out because it lacks group messaging. It looks like it could have been a good choice otherwise though!

I ended up with just the Sonim XP3plus remaining on the list. It is marketed as a sturdy, work device. It seemed like it wouldn’t take up a lot of my attention. It runs “Android 11”, but it is actually a Sonim operating system based on AOSP. I saw commentary that supposedly, you could install apps on it, which I thought I wouldn’t want, but the lack of a touch screen convinced me that any smart capabilities wouldn’t be very convenient to use. Unfortunately, there didn’t seem to be a podcasting app/utility. But it had group messaging, which I came to learn is not ubiquitous in the dumbphone/feature phone world.

I decided on the Sonim XP3plus.

Using a dumbphone

The first boot of my new phone, the Sonim XP3plus, was a refreshing experience. No accounts to create or sign in to. Once I got the SIM card set up, I had to manually transfer my contacts onto the phone via VCF file over USB.

Picture of a Sonim XP3plus flip phone: Sonim logo, external screen, camera, torch, a speaker, multiple external buttons, and screws holding the phone body together. External screen shows time of 1:43 PM, Fri, Jan 28.
The Sonim XP3plus

The phone is a phone first. There are 3 utilities available by default on the home screen: Messaging, Contacts, and Camera. I thought Sonim should have made it easier to open the Phone utility so I could make a call. But I realized I could just type numbers on the number pad to dial a phone number… (It was a while since I used anything other than a smart phone.) The phone also simultaneously interprets the numbers as T9 letters, so you can type in a person’s name on the number pad and it well let you select the person’s name to call them; it will also suggest a full number from your contacts based on the numbers you’ve typed; or you can just press the green call button right away to call the raw number you typed in.

The Sonim XP3plus is not a dumbphone proper, but a feature phone. It includes several utilities, like a music player, clock (alarm, stopwatch, etc.), calendar, notepad, calculator, sound recorder, file explorer, FM radio, and camera/gallery. It also has an internet browser.

I was especially impressed by the music player. I thought I might not be able to use the phone as a podcast player, but I discovered that the file system has a folder called “Podcasts”. I decided to stick a podcast file in there for the heck of it (I thought it would prove to be just a relic of AOSP). When I opened the music player, I found that it automatically created a playlist called “Podcasts” and that it put the podcast file in there. The music player remembers the playback position of each podcast, so you can resume listening later. There is no way to subscribe to podcasts in the music player, so I manually transfer the files from my computer.

Screenshot of the music player's podcast playlist, with episodes from No Agenda, Linux Unplugged, and some other podcasts.
A podcast playlist on the XP3plus

There is no app store on the device, but you are able to install apps via ADB (Android Debug Bridge). I tried out a few 2FA apps from F-Droid. I ran into problems with all of them because of the lack of a touchscreen, but one is very usable. I also installed K-9 Mail and am figuring out if I want to keep it installed. I was surprised by how well it works considering the experience I had with the 2FA apps and how much more complicated a mail program is compared to an 2FA program.


I find myself using my new phone less and carrying it around less. In the past 2 weeks, I even forgot it at home twice. When I interact with the phone, I find myself doing so with more intent than I had done with my smartphone. Everything I do on the device is more deliberate that when I was using a smartphone. I used to have lots of unused apps, unplayed podcasts, unviewed photos. Not so much now. While I use my phone less, I find myself using my laptop more. I don’t consider this a bad thing and did prepare myself for this. It was never my intent to cut myself off from the digital world completely. Just some of the mobile parts.

I don’t know if I ever would have picked this website back up if I hadn’t switched phones. My dumbphone apologizes for taking the reader’s time.

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