As longtime readers of the blog know, I have had an on-again-off-again relationship with my cell phone for years now. I need it—in order to communicate, get around, hail a ride—but there are aspects of it that I hate.
I hate being constantly connected. I work in tech, so I'm always looking at a screen, always answering emails, and constantly have workplace chats and texts coming in. Add personal texts and emails, and social media notifications, and there's a device ringing all hours of the day.
At best it's annoying, at worst, it has a dramatic effect on my mental health. Yours too, if you didn't realize. Countless credible studies have been published linking screen time to increased feelings depression and loss of sleep.
It is for that reason that I'm always on the hunt for a minimalistic phone. Something that is stripped of all but what is necessary.
I tried the Light Phone, and it was great—wonderfully well-made and well-thought out—but I got tired of friends asking, "Did you get my text?" And using it as Light intended, with the device connected to my iPhone, my temptation to just reach for the iPhone was not cured.
I tried a retro Nokia 3310 as well. It had numerous problems, not like the old Nokia's, and I lamented that you can't strip the phone of some of the features that get in your way, like the pay-to-play games I always ended up accidentally opening.
I also tried getting an Android phone and stripping it of all except what is necessary. I tried an LG on T-Mobile and a Pixel on GoogleFi.
Other minimalist phones, like the Punkt, are very expensive or get poor reviews or don't seem to be well thought-out. Many simple phones no longer work in the US, as major carriers have ditched 2G.
When shopping for a simpler phone, the big carriers will do everything they can to disincentivize the purchase of anything but a smart phone, going so far as to charge you for cellular data even if your phone doesn't connect to 3G or LTE.
Then I bought an iPhone SE, kind of on a whim. After trying Light, a basic phone, and Android phones, I've decided that the iPhone is the best minimalist phone (assuming you have the will-power to fight app temptation).
Here's how I set my phone up:
Start from scratch. Select 'No' or 'Set up later' to everything in the welcome menu.
When the phone starts up, delete all of the system apps that you can. App Store, Camera, Clock, Find iPhone, Health, Photos, Safari, Wallet, Phone, and Messages cannot be deleted.
Go to the App Store, sign in, and grab only the essentials. For me, I need my banking app, Dark Sky, Google Maps, Pocket Casts, and Uber.
Dark Sky beats Apple's Weather because it notifies me 10 minutes before rain starts, and it's more accurate. That way, I don't get caught out in the rain with my Jeep's top and doors off.
Google Maps is simply much more accurate than Apple Maps, Pocket Casts is a great podcasting app with much more control over downloads than Apple's Podcasts, and Uber is essential when I'm downtown or in a new city.
When you're downloading the essentials, sign in from the App Store app so that you're not bothered with all the iCloud, FaceTime, and iMessage prompts. You may use those things, but I like to keep it simple.
After downloading the essentials, go into the Settings and turn on Restrictions. Turn off Safari and App Store so that they disappear from your home screen. No more mindless browsing.
While you're in Settings, set the Color Filters to grayscale in Accessibility. A black-and-white screen discourages mindless scrolling. The phone is now bland, and bland is beautiful.
Turn off all notifications but the phone. Simply put, most emergencies aren't. And if it truly is an emergency, they'll call you. I set aside time each day to address messages, and if I feel a deeper conversation is warranted I ask to schedule a call rather than hashing things out in text.
Don't use social media on your phone and don't use email.
If you set your iPhone up that way and get the lowest data plan possible, you'll have a minimalistic phone, that's beautiful and functional with a good battery, at a reasonable cost. I paid $250 for my iPhone SE outright, and with Mint Mobile I get service for about $15/month.
I've shopped around, and at least in my region, $15/month is the cheapest plan that I've found that also comes with unlimited calls and texts. If you don't need hours of phone time, there are options out there as low as $6/month (Ting).
To wrap this up, obviously this is all just my own opinion, but I've spent a ton of time scouring the Internet to find the best simple phone and I've found that the iPhone wins, when everything except what's absolutely necessary is deleted or disabled.
If you're an Android kind of person, from my experience, I don't think that as many Google features can be disabled as Apple.
I plan on backing the Light Phone 2, but until its release, my opinion is that the iPhone is the easiest phone to use in a minimalistic sort of way.