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Punkt. MP02 as a Feature Phone for Kids

Punkt. MP02

Source: punkt.ch

In an effort to delay inevitable smartphone addiction in my children, I introduced feature phones to them some time ago. While my middle child immediately embraced the minimalism of the Nokia 'brick phone' (model 8110, 4G), my youngest wasn't so enthusiastic about the Nokia 110 and eventually persuaded me to move the SIM card to a smartphone running CalyxOS. That's still a win, of sorts.

I use a Light Phone 2 as my daily driver, but have had my eye on the Punkt. MP02 for a while now. Whereas the Light Phone 2 feels like a small e ink tablet with a virtual QWERTY keyboard, the Punkt. looks like a modernised, attractive upgrade to the classic dumb phone.

Our Nokia 8110 had a long run—initially as my first feature phone, then my child's—but the battery is dying. I considered replacing the battery, but then saw a good deal on a second-hand Punkt. MP02, and—completely selflessly—bought that instead.

I test-ran the phone for a week before passing it on to my child, so that I could get a feel for what it's like in daily use. My focus with this article is to see whether the Punkt. M02 could be used as a feature phone for kids. The answer to that is: yes, but with a few caveats.

First contact

The transition away from the greater functionality of the Light Phone 2 was difficult for me. I wasn't used to 9 button predictive text typing, and found the navigation buttons unintuitive. I missed voice-to-text messaging and being able to play sound files.

On the other hand, the Punkt. looks and feels fantastic. It has a solidity, weight and shape that feels reassuring, like what it felt like to carry marbles in your pocket as a kid. In the competitive world of hardware design, that is a noteworthy achievement, fitting with the company's minimalist philosophy, and one that's probably gone a bit unnoticed.

The key features—calling and messaging—work really well. The phone has great sound, and has an alarm clock for those who want to keep smartphones out of the bedroom.

The last must-have feature in our family is tethering. This is when you use your provider's 4G signal to create a local WiFi 'hotspot'. While I encourage minimalism, all-or-nothing approaches rarely work. Sometimes you need to connect a smartphone, tablet or laptop, for example, while travelling. I chose the Nokia 8110 initially precisely for its 4G hotspot capability.

While tethering is simple to set up and activate on the MP02, I did see a rapid reduction of battery charge and felt a noticeable heating of the device. The battery went from 65% to 45% in about 30 minutes of tethering WiFi yesterday, when I needed Internet while waiting for a piano lesson to finish. The person who sold it to me had warned me that, with tethering on, the battery will last a total of about 4 hours.

Hardware features - criticism & praise

I found the following quote by the designer, Jasper Morrison, on the Punkt. webpage:

“The MP02 builds on the paradigm shift of its revolutionary predecessor. From components to aesthetics, it’s an entirely new product inside and out – with a particularly striking contextual user interface.”

I am not sure what a contextual user interface is, nor how a phone can be a paradigm shift. Given the often big cross-section between minimalism and pretentiousness, as well as the high price tag on the device, a critical perspective is in order here. If I am going to encourage my children to use this phone every day, it has to be intuitive to use.

While the buttons and interface are attractively designed, I never got used to their functions in the week I used the phone. This uncertainty about pressing the correct button can lead to worry about accidentally deleting something or calling someone.

Without a touch screen, button navigation becomes extra important. I have seen and used various devices, like handheld audio recorders, where this works exceptionally well.

The phone has an up and a down arrow, with a single dotted button in between, called the 'Punkt. button'. The 'Punkt. button' is, oddly, one of several buttons with which you can confirm a decision. The others are the call button, sometimes the number buttons (for punctuation) and the arrow buttons, to access a secondary menu. Added to that, sometimes you have to select a 'save' option and then press punkt, as when naming the phone. For a minimalist device, have one affirmation button for everything would be clearest and best, and that is not the case here.

The Punkt. MP02 user interface:

Punkt. MP02 interface

Source: theverge.com

The phone has a prominent 'back' button: an arrow pointing to the left. This functions as expected in many situations, but also doubles as a delete/undo button in others. That could lead to confusion, and may not be ideal for younger users.

To illustrate, let me go through the steps needed to set an alarm:

  1. press the 'on' button at the top
  2. press the 'Punkt.' button to unlock
  3. press the 'Punkt.' button again, to enter the apps menu
  4. scroll down to 'Clock', confirm, then 'Alarm' & confirm with 'Punkt.'
  5. select 'new alarm' & confirm
  6. dial in hours, confirm, then dial in minutes and do the same
  7. select alarm frequency and confirm

So far, so good. Now I can see my alarm is activated, and I want to go back to the main menu. Pressing the back arrow button seems logical, but when I press it, I end up back into setting the minutes, then hours, then the Alarm app menu. The back arrow literally takes me through the steps I just took to set the alarm, but in reverse. It's confusing, and also... why would I need that option?

At this point, I don't know if the alarm is active, or have just gone through the motions of pretending to set an alarm. That's worrying, yea, alarming, with something as important as setting your morning wake-up call.

Going back into the menu, I can see that the alarm is indeed still activated. I then learn that pressing the 'end call' button is a better way to jump into the home menu.

The same is true for adding numbers to you address book: pressing the back button deletes the last digit of the number you've just entered. You need to press the 'end call' icon instead.

I kept running into these small 'affirm' and 'home' button confusions and never really got comfortable with navigation. I worry about this, because kids will quickly dismiss tools if their operation is unclear.

I do like the direct access buttons for messaging and for the address book. Also pressing the buttons themselves feels good, and they are all comfortably accessible.

Having direct access buttons for some features while leaving out volume buttons is another strange design decision. Of all things, volume is the thing you need to be able to adjust quickly. Perhaps I have missed a shortcut, but the only volume adjustments I see are under Settings, 14 clicks in, and in the status menu, which you get to by pressing one of the arrows.

The screen is great, and the sound quality is very good. Notification sounds are cute, reminiscent of the Nintendo DS. The weight, feel and shape of the phone make this an attractively tactile product.

OS and applications

The software side of things was basically good. The menus are clear and simple. When you start up the phone, you can press either the up or the down arrow directly to see some statistics (battery life, tethering status, etc.) and you can also quickly turn some of these on or off in this secondary menu. Sometimes, the arrow buttons were not responsive right after start-up, and had to be pressed again a few seconds later.

The applications are listed vertically, which works well with the up/down arrows. The phone came with several apps already installed, and some optional ones I could install myself. There is no app store.

The pre-installed tools are Calendar, Clock, Notes (thank you!), Calculator and Settings. These come in their simplest form. The Calendar tool really only shows you an overview of each month, with today's date highlighted. The Calculator is a blank screen which you can type numbers and +/-/x/÷, (), ., and % into.

Under Settings, you can find three additional, downloadable applications, called DailyView, Personalise and Pigeon. Personalise lets you give your phone a name that shows up in the lock screen—we are deep into minimalism territory now! I wasn't able to test out DailyView, but gather it enables creating calendar events via a third party site.

Pigeon caused a stir in the feature phone community, because it enables using Signal messenger on the Punkt. MP02. However, I felt hesitant to try it out, as several reviewers have explained that entering Signal details into the Pigeon apps is limiting, because the Punkt. M02 doesn't have a camera for scanning the necessary QR code needed to use Signal on multiple devices. See the Techlore review on this topic below.

Cost, and discontinued support for v1

The high cost is a major hurdle. I was able to get mine second-hand at half price, and still found it expensive. I hope the high cost will translate to enduring quality and longevity.

Two people commented on my Mastodon that when Punkt. issued a version 2 of the M02, they dropped all updates and support for the version 1 (of the M02), which they had purchased. That's not good. So, if you are looking to buy the Punkt. MP02 second-hand, make sure you get version 2!

Is the Punkt. M02 a potential good feature phone for kids?

I would say, yes, if you can live with the price.

My children found the design immediately appealing, whereas Nokia's feature phones got a rather mixed response. If you are concerned about smartphone addiction and want to delay that chapter in your child's life for as long as possible, the Punkt. M02 promises to be a fun, attractive and useful device for younger kids for calling and SMSing. I am fairly certain my child will most likely continue to use it throughout high school as a daily driver, leaving the smartphone at home.

Parents interested in tackling their own smartphone reliance or addiction might also be interested in trying out the Punkt. MP02. I would recommend it. Punkt. should offer a family deal.

Remember, there is no camera on this phone. For us, this is not really an issue. We have a running joke about the terrible quality of Nokia dumbphone cameras. My kids use a digital camera or a smartphone on WiFi for home use.

Alas, no Snake game.

Having typed up my review, I now have no further excuse to hang on to this oddly comforting device, and will hand it over tomorrow, swapping the SIM card out of the Nokia 8110 after its many years of good service. Perhaps I will ask for feedback and a child's perspective in use in a few months. If I do, I will certainly post that here!


'Smartphones Rewired Childhood. Here's How to Fix It.' Honestly podcast, Bari Weiss.

Punkt. website and shop

Techlore: 'Get to know Punkt MP02: A Dumbphone w/Signal for your Privacy' The Pigeon issue is explained at 3:45.

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