Light Phone 2 Review
The device that has had the biggest impact on how I engage with technology is the Light Phone 2.
(source: The Light Phone website)
It has become the norm to carry a smartphone. QR code menus on restaurant tables prove as much. I prefer not to carry a smartphone on me at all. Though a handful of digital minimalist may leave the home without any phone, that is difficult to do in practice.
This is where buying and carrying a feature phone can be a good compromise. You can still call, text and do a few other basic things, but you're not carrying a fully-functioning computer in your pocket, with all its attention engineering and harvesting capabilities.
But classic feature phones are hard to get used to. Though a little on the pricey side, the Light Phone 2 provides an elegant alternative, and a smooth transition to daily feature-phone use.
Dumb phones in practice
I had made the decision to leave my smartphone at home and out of the bedroom a while back. This was a decision with long-lasting positive impact. But the transition to using a feature phone was not without challenge, and this is where picking the right device made a difference.
For a year or two, I left the house carrying a classic 'dumb phone', the Nokia 8110:
The reisue of the iconic 'Matrix phone' Nokia 8110 4G (source www.smartphonesbd.com)
I describe my experiences in detail here. In short, this phone is robust and has an astounding battery life. The sound quality is fine, and the KaiOS app store is good enough to satisfy basic needs. Web browsing was technically possible but very unpleasant, a welcome deterrent.
In the end, the texting system was my main problem. The dictionary was not customisable, which I found both odd and frustrating, and this led to having to resort to inefficient work-arounds, especially when using multiple languages. My attempts to step back from technology were inducing more rage, not less.
So I began looking for other options. I did my research and discovered there are a lot of other people interested in reducing smartphone dependence. After watching and reading many of the excellent feature phone reviews that are out there, I decided to go with the Light Phone 2.
LP2: The good
From my experience using the device, and seeing how user feedback is implemented by the development team, I get the sense that Light Phone has a strong, consistent vision on digital minimalism. I've been surprised to find I am in wholehearted agreement with all of their tool additions; they have yet to ruin the experience for me, and I hope they never will.
Some of the things I like:
- SMS, calling, and the alarm clock
- the decision to have podcasts and music tools from the beginning
- the recent addition of simple notes and calendar tools
- Quick responses on Reddit from the developers themselves
- the implementation of a hotspot tool after hearing user feedback (love this)
- the size and look of the device; the e paper interface
- the addition of voice-to-text - a game changer!
I take my LP2 out during the day and I put it on my bedside table as an alarm clock at night. Thanks to it, my smartphone stays in the living room most days. I do my banking, password management and Signal conversations on the smartphone. All of these things can wait until the end of the day.
The LP2 makes an impression, visually. When presented with a QR code menu in a restaurant, I show my phone. It gets the point across efficiently. When asked about using WhatsApp, I do the same. I sometimes show my LP2 to my students when discussing disconnecting from technology, and they seem genuinely interested. I know of one student who also left his smartphone at home.
The LP2 is great, but not perfect. Given its small size, typing can feel clumsy. For a long time, you couldn't move the cursor back, which was maddening, but that's now fixed.
I use the hotspot tool regularly. This does noticeably increase energy consumption and even heats up the device.
When travelling abroad, I have had experiences with data roaming and even receiving SMSs not working properly. I have not been able to establish a pattern or come up with an explanation.
Light Phone sells a decent rubber casing, but it's a well-documented fact that the corners tear.
Management of software has to be done via the Light Phone's 'Dashboard'. This is a website you log onto. Ironically, you cannot do this via the LP2 itself, because it has no browser, but not having Internet access is a good thing. There have been some experiences with contacts importing incorrectly via the dashboard. One time, a bunch of country codes adjusted one digit downwards.
I do like managing my music via my PC - less fiddly. I also appreciate that the Dashboard approach limits the time I spend on the device. You can only activate or delete the small range of tools available via the Dashboard.
The directions tool was introduced last year. I tried it for a bit while walking through the city but found it more confusing than helpful. I don't drive, so I cannot comment on that experience (please do if you have any experience with it). I'm not confident it could save me if ever really got lost, and so I have deleted it for now.
The phone is expensive. I'd love to buy one of each of my children, but they are stuck with their Nokia feature phones for the moment. Citizens of some countries may have to add import tax to the cost.
I love my podcasts, but have had some irksome experiences with the Podcast tool in the past. It would lose my place, or skip. I've read those issues have been addressed, but I only have the podcast tool for when I really get stuck somewhere unexpectedly.
The device has Bluetooth connectivity, but I have had mixed results trying to connect Bluetooth headsets in the past. However, testing again this week, the headsets I own seem to connect well.
The LP2 is not really a privacy phone. It's a device that requires a subscription with an ISP for calling and texting just like any other phone. But having limited app options, and no third party apps at all, does minimise its tracking, profiling and data mining capabilities.
A lot of minimalism and privacy decisions I have made over the past years tend to come with some finicky compromise or discomfort. I can de-Google my smartphone, but my banking app won't work; I use a good password manager, but now logging requires an action; I use 2FA for social media and crypto, but now I need a second device to log in. These are the little barriers that will discourage most people from ever seriously considering adoption of privacy tools.
But the LP2 is a success story. If you like and can use the e ink touch screen, this device is a winner. It looks cool, does what it is supposed to do, and is the result of a long streak of good decisions by the development team. It works well as your main phone outside of the home, while functioning as a cool, minimalist alarm clock in the bedroom. The smallness of the device is a good conversation starter about disconnecting.
I have a few feature requests I'd like to see addressed, most notably the ability to download black and white images, so I can carry concert and transportation QR code tickets on the device, but on the whole, I am just happy with what it does and how well it does these things.
It has been surprisingly good to rediscover what it feels like to be bored, thanks to the LP2.
I considered adding a section about alternative feature phones, but there are so many great reviewers that cover this topic already. I recommend starting with Jose Briones.
The Light Phone website
After reading some of the replies about Bluetooth connectivity to my post on the r/dumbphones subreddit, I thought I would give it another shot. This time, both the Sony WH 1000 MX4 and Sennheiser PXC 500 II connected without problems.
-----Discuss on Reddit-----
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