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You don’t have to carry a smartphone: Here’s how to switch back to a dumb one

You don’t have to be chained to your phone.stock.adobe.com
Few onlookers can resist making some kind of comment when they see me hang up my flip phone. Upon hearing me close the device with a familiar “clap,” one friend insisted on calling me to make sure it would really ring.

It’s not a party trick. In a bid to spend some of my personal time away from the screens and notifications that otherwise dominate my existence, I gave up carrying a smartphone.

I struggled for months over how to handle what felt like a very real addiction. Even app-blocking programs meant to minimize distractions hadn’t helped. I had to do something, but I was wary of losing precious tools such as GPS navigation and streaming audio.

So I came up with a sort of compromise. I bought a cellular-enabled tablet, which I only carry with me when I’m traveling or working.


If you’re considering returning to your dumbphone, there’s a lot to consider. Here are some of the tips I picked up along the way.

Pick an approach

I thought about ditching my smartphone altogether, but I couldn’t imagine being a reporter without the ability to file stories remotely or look up phone numbers online. Can you remember trying to read a printed map while driving?

For me, the tablet is the best way to bring purpose to my screen time and take advantage of the great tools that smartphones offer. I try not to take it out unless I really need it.

Other people have tried call forwarding. They keep a smartphone and a dumbphone on separate lines, and they forward calls to the dumbphone when they want to go out without carrying the Internet along. This can be relatively expensive, given the costs of individual lines.

To save money, you could also use both phones on one line, activating one and deactivating the other as needed. But this is harder than it used to be. There’s no SIM card slot on many dumbphones, and it’s a pain to switch between devices.

And in the end, I worried that I would just use my smartphone all the time if I had one that worked.


The author’s old-school flip phone.ANDY ROSEN/GLOBE STAFF

Don’t spend a lot on a device

Don’t buy a dumbphone from your wireless carrier. They often cost more than $100, and they’re just not worth the price. Basic phones are relatively hard to find in stores (though Best Buy carries a $60 reboot of the blocky, colorful Nokia phone you might have used in the 1990s).

I went to Amazon, where I found a ton of options for cheap. I wound up spending $43 on something called an LG Revere 3, which is an unremarkable, lightweight phone with pretty bad sound quality, a pointless camera, no games, and a ridiculously long battery life. I charge my phone for an hour every few days.

Make sure your carrier supports the device you’re buying. Basic phones sometimes only work on specific networks, and wireless companies usually have to activate them for you.

Shop around for plans

Warning: Purposefully making your life less convenient is not necessarily going to save you money.

I needed a plan that would both provide data to my tablet and support calling and text on my flip phone, and I found it very frustrating to explain that to customer service agents. In the end, I settled on a Verizon plan that costs about $65 per month, which is pretty much what I paid before — though I saved a few bucks by reducing my data allowance.

I might have been able to save more if I had switched carriers, but Verizon enticed me with a deal on an iPad.


If you can live without mobile data entirely, you can save a lot more. The wireless providers Ting and Consumer Cellular offer data-free options for under $30, for instance.

Bree Fowler, smartphones editor at Consumer Reports, said people are probably better off either sticking with their smartphones or ditching them completely.

Fowler thought my plan was silly: “That’s kind of counterintuitive to the way the world works.”

“The last thing I want to do is schlep around a tablet with me — and God forbid put it on my dashboard,” she added.

It’s clear that I’m swimming against the tide here. Forrester Research said last year that half the people in the world now have smartphones, and the firm’s forecasters expect that number to hit 66 percent by 2022.

The devices are bringing a reliable path to the Internet to many of their users for the first time, a privilege that many of us here take for granted. But the progress has a cost in the form of constant distraction, and even big phone makers are building tools to help people limit their use.

Joe Hollier’s New York company, Light, makes a $150 simple phone that is “designed to be used as little as possible” and can be used in conjunction with or as a substitute for a smartphone. He says he has trouble keeping this “phone away from phone” in stock.

“People don’t even need us to explain why you might need it anymore. It’s just, ‘How does it work? . . . Now I want it.’ ”


Andy Rosen can be reached at andrew.rosen@globe.com.