What the Heck Is a Minimalist Phone?

The Light Phone
The Light Phone

Smartphones put the world at our fingertips, but the unfettered access to dopamine can be too much sometimes. What if there was a way to get the best of a smartphone without all the distractions? Enter “minimalist” phones.

The first iPhone was announced in 2007, and we’ve slowly been consumed by smartphones ever since. This oversaturation has made people feel like they can’t simply go back to a “dumb” phone when the smartphone becomes too much. A new type of device has attempted to solve that “problem.”

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What Is a Minimalist Phone?

The Wisephone.

As magical as smartphones feel sometimes, they’ve become pretty utilitarian—similar to owning a car in certain parts of the world. A smartphone may simply be a tool at its core, but it’s one of the most distracting tools in your toolbox.

People feel like they need to own a smartphone to exist in modern society. In the process, we’ve gotten hooked on services like Google Maps, Facebook Messenger, Gmail, Instagram, and many others. The idea of “disconnecting” has evolved to mean something different.

Maybe you’ve heard someone say, “I would love to go back to a flip phone, but I can’t live without Google Maps.” This is exactly what minimalist phones aim to provide—a slimmed-down smartphone experience. You still get access to the essentials—but nothing else.

A minimalist phone sits somewhere between a classic “dumb” phone, like a flip phone, and a full-fledged touchscreen-enabled smartphone. Essentially, it’s a smartphone with a bunch of intentional restrictions. For people who want some smartphone niceties without the smartphone distractions.

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Going Cold Turkey

Phone in grass.
PV productions /

The natural question to ask is: “why can’t you just use a regular smartphone like that?” Well, you’re exactly right. The distractions of a smartphone don’t come from the phone itself, it’s how the owner of the phone sets it up.

You can absolutely get a “minimalist phone” experience from any smartphone. There’s even an Android app that can turn your phone into a minimalist phone. However, that simply does not work for some people. The temptation is too much to overcome.

A minimalist phone is the “going cold turkey” approach to smartphone detoxing. Some people are able to eat one cookie at a time, other people will slowly eat the whole carton in one night. Everyone has different levels of self-control. If you feel like you always fail at implementing healthy phone usage habits, maybe a minimalist phone is worth a look.

Minimalist Phone Options

Nokia 6300 4G

Minimalist phones are a pretty niche market, but there are some interesting options out there. We’ll start with a couple of devices that are specifically intended to be minimalist phones.

The Light Phone II ($299) is a small phone with an e-ink display. It runs the proprietary “Light OS,” which includes a few very basic apps, which Light calls “tools.” The basic tools include phone calls, text messaging, alarm, maps, a calculator, simple music and podcast players, and a notes tool.

Next up is the Wisephone ($399). This is much closer to an actual smartphone experience because it literally is a smartphone. The device has a 6.2-inch display, a 13MP camera, and 32GB of storage. It runs the custom “Wisephone OS,” which currently has clock, calculator, maps, messages, phone, camera, flashlight, and photos apps.

Moving past dedicated minimalist phones, there are some devices that have become popular choices for people looking for a secondary “detox” phone. The Nokia 6300 4G ($70) is one such device. It looks like a classic “dumb” phone, but it has Google Maps, Google Assistant, WhatsApp, and a few other KaiOS apps.

Nokia 6300 4G

The Nokia 6300 4G runs KaiOS, which is an operating system for feature phones. It has a few essential apps, such as Google Maps, Assistant, WhatsApp, and more.

Another popular choice is the Unihertz Jelly 2 ($178). This is actually a full-fledged Android phone, but it has a tiny 3-inch display. The small form factor makes it perfect for running a handful of essential apps, but you wouldn’t want to actually use it full-time.

Unihertz Jelly 2

This phone runs the full Android OS, but it’s tiny 3-inch display makes it a great choice as a distraction-free secondary phone.

That’s the story on minimalist phones. It’s the cold turkey method for people who feel addicted to their smartphones. When Digital Wellbeing tools and Focus Mode aren’t getting it done, it may be time to throw a second phone at the problem.

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