Chapter 3: I want a dumbphone, but which one?
Finding a phone for you is not as easy as walking into the store.
This is chapter 3 of my upcoming book Low Tech Lifestyle. As a free subscriber, you get a free preview :). Premium subscribers get access to the whole book. Thanks for your support!
It’s Tough Out There
As smartphones continue to become increasingly sophisticated, some individuals are seeking a return to the simplicity and basic functionality of a "dumbphone." However, choosing a dumbphone isn't as simple as it once was. Writer Kaitlyn Tiffany from The Atlantic found that the process of finding a phone that covers even the most basic needs is not a straightforward task. In her article, "Phones Will Never Be Fun Again," she wrote, "Shopping for such a device [a basic phone] today is hard. Walking into various stores in Brooklyn, I saw slabs, slabs, and more slabs. The only non-smartphones available at Target or Best Buy were super-cheap phones made explicitly for seniors (there were photos of old people on all of the boxes) or even cheaper burner phones made somewhat less explicitly for conducting criminal activity."1 The lack of availability at local stores is just one factor to consider when choosing a dumbphone. Other critical considerations include carrier compatibility, software options, available features, and design preferences.
Carrier compatibility is the most crucial factor to consider when selecting a dumbphone, as not all basic phones are compatible with all carriers. Conducting thorough research is essential to identify a carrier that supports the specific model you want to use. In addition, software options for dumbphones can pose challenges. Some devices use proprietary operating systems, while others utilize modified versions of Android or other open-source systems. Another vital factor to consider is the available features of the phone. While some dumbphones offer only basic functions like texting and calling, others may include features like music players, cameras, and even basic internet browsing. It's important to determine which features matter to you and select a phone that meets your lifestyle. Finally, design and aesthetic preferences can also be a consideration when choosing a dumbphone. Some individuals may prefer a more minimalist look, while others may desire a phone with a unique design or color scheme. Ultimately, selecting a dumbphone comes down to personal preferences and priorities. By carefully considering these factors, you can choose a phone that aligns with your needs and lifestyle.
For those feeling overwhelmed by the technical aspects of selecting a dumbphone, the dumbphone finder is a valuable tool that can help. I created this website to offer an extensive list of LTE dumbphones with a range of features and specifications that can be filtered according to your preferences. Using this tool, you can quickly and easily locate a basic phone that meets your requirements, without the need to wade through technical discussions about carrier compatibility or software. The website also offers an intuitive interface that allows you to compare different models side by side, simplifying the decision-making process. Overall, the dumbphone finder is a fantastic resource for anyone considering a switch to a basic phone, particularly those new to the world of dumbphones who might feel overwhelmed by the technical language. You can visit the website at https://dumbphonefinder.com.
If you want to learn more about the technical language surrounding dumbphones and gain a more in-depth understanding of the systems inside them, let's start with a primer!
My journey into the world of low-tech living began when I realized that my smartphone usage was spiraling out of control. I was constantly distracted by notifications, and my work productivity was suffering as a result. After conducting some research, I decided to take the plunge and find a more basic phone that would limit my access to the internet and social media, allowing me to regain control over my time and attention. Eager to make the transition during early 2019, I stumbled upon the Nokia Asha 301, a classic dumbphone with a reputation for its long battery life and user-friendly design. Without much thought, I ordered the device online and eagerly awaited its arrival.
When the package finally arrived, I excitedly unboxed the Nokia Asha 301 and attempted to insert my Verizon SIM card, only to realize that the phone was incompatible with my carrier's network. Frustrated and disappointed, I decided to dig deeper and understand the complexities of telecommunication networks to avoid making the same mistake again. My research revealed that networks in North America have evolved significantly over the years, with carriers like Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile phasing out older 2G and 3G networks in favor of more advanced 4G and 5G technology. This technological shift had rendered many older devices, like the Nokia Asha 301, obsolete and incompatible with modern networks.
As I delved further into the world of telecommunication devices, I learned about the importance of LTE bands and operating systems in ensuring compatibility between a device and a carrier. I discovered that some carriers use specific LTE bands, and understanding which bands are supported by your carrier is crucial in selecting a compatible device. Furthermore, I realized that older operating systems, once popular on Nokia, Motorola, and Palm devices, were no longer able to function on current networks. Armed with this newfound knowledge, I began my search anew, focusing on finding a dumbphone that was compatible with my carrier's network and met my requirements for a more minimalist lifestyle. Eventually, I discovered the perfect device for me that allowed me to limit my access to the internet and social media, enabling me to reclaim my time, focus, and productivity.
My experience in navigating the world of low-tech living taught me the importance of understanding the intricacies of telecommunication networks and devices. By learning about key terms, such as LTE bands and operating systems, I was able to make an informed decision and find a suitable device that met my needs, ultimately enhancing my quality of life. If you're looking to switch to a low tech lifestyle, one of the first things you'll need to consider is whether your phone is compatible with your provider of choice. The easiest way to do this is to follow your provider's approved devices list or confirm which LTE bands are compatible with their service. For example, the Light Phone 2 possesses LTE bands B2, B4, B12, B13, B17, B25, and B26, which overlap with multiple carriers in the United States and abroad, but not all.
To ensure that your phone will work with your provider's LTE bands, a good first step is to do a simple search with your provider to see what bands they provide. Additionally, Cellmapper (https://cellmapper.net) in the United States is a fantastic resource that can help you understand the location and bands of the towers around you. By using their website tool, you can gain insight into the specific frequency bands that are being used by nearby cell towers, as well as their exact location. Once you have identified which LTE bands your provider uses, you can cross-reference this information with your preferred phone to ensure that it will work with their service. These two steps will save you a headache when trying to find which phones work with the best provider in your area.
Overall, taking the time to research LTE bands and ensure that your phone is compatible with your provider can help to ensure a smooth and stress-free transition to a low-tech lifestyle. With the help of resources like Cellmapper.net and your provider's approved devices list, you can make informed decisions about your phone and enjoy a more mindful and intentional relationship with technology.
Another crucial aspect to consider when choosing a phone compatible with your desired network is determining whether the device is unlocked or not. Network-unlocked devices with suitable bands typically cause fewer issues when using your preferred SIM card. Most devices sold outside North America are network-unlocked, simplifying compatibility for those in Europe, Africa, or Latin America. However, factors such as government regulations, telecom providers, and exclusive contracts between manufacturers and carriers make devices sold in the United States and Canada more likely to be network-locked and face compatibility challenges. Take the TCL Flip 2 as an example. Retailing at $20, this device meets many basic phone requirements and offers an excellent user experience. However, it is locked to Tracfone unless you activate it, use one of their plans for 60 days, and then request an unlock code. Afterward, it is only compatible with a limited number of carriers due to their "approved devices list" or "whitelisting" procedures (specifically, AT&T and Verizon). Users often have to negotiate with telecom companies to activate compatible devices, even after ensuring proper LTE band support.
One final aspect to examine regarding carrier compatibility involves MVNOs (Mobile Virtual Network Operators). These companies lease network infrastructure from major providers and offer their services at lower prices, catering to budget-conscious consumers. Typically, MVNOs forgo premium features or promotions to provide essential services similar to those offered by leading carriers. For example, Mint Mobile, owned by Ryan Reynolds, utilizes T-Mobile's network and delivers service to its customers at a fraction of the cost. Instead of paying $40 to $60 to T-Mobile, Mint Mobile subscribers pay $15 for comparable coverage as postpaid customers. Other notable MVNOs include Cricket Wireless, which operates on AT&T's network, and US Mobile, which uses both Verizon's and T-Mobile's network. MVNOs are particularly relevant to the dumbphone conversation, as they tend to be more accommodating in allowing a wider range of devices on their networks than major carriers. This open attitude benefits basic phone enthusiasts since older devices can still function in certain areas. Consequently, exploring MVNOs' cost-effective plans and flexible device requirements is worthwhile if your preferred carrier does not support your chosen dumbphone. Additionally, MVNOs often provide simple, easy-to-understand plans, making them ideal for those seeking a no-frills experience. They may also offer pay-as-you-go or prepaid options, giving users more control over their mobile expenses.
Having delved into the intricacies of network bands, grasped the role and advantages of Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNOs), and become acquainted with the process of network unlocks, it's time to direct our attention to other critical factors in choosing the perfect dumbphone. Among these factors are the operating systems, hardware specifications, and additional features that can influence your decision. In this section, we will explore the various operating systems available for dumbphones, discussing their unique characteristics, strengths, and weaknesses. This information will be instrumental in helping you identify which system aligns with your preferences and low-tech lifestyle goals.
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