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Dumb Phone — What It Is and How to Turn Your Smartphone Into One

collection of various open flip phones in different colors arranged on a white background

Beep, buzz, ding…our smartphones have become an extra appendage, constantly interrupting our days with notifications, texts, and social media updates. Even when we’re trying to get away (camping or yoga, anyone?), we’re tempted to pick up our smartphones and connect with anything other than the present moment. We know it’s not healthy, but we can’t help ourselves. No wonder the dumb phone is on the rise. 

If you’re distracted by doom-scrolling apps and the pressure to stay connected 24/7, you might be considering trading in your iPhone or Android for a less "intelligent", minimalist device, aka a dumb phone. What if we told you that all you need to get the peace of mind you’re looking for is to dumb down and change how you use your smartphone—not give up on it altogether? 

The latest flagship devices from Apple, Samsung, and Google all come with plenty of ways to limit your smartphone usage. In the market for an iPhone 15, Galaxy S24, or Pixel 8 series? For the best phone deals you qualify for at top wireless carriers, try our free unbiased Phone Deal Finder.

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What is a Dumb Phone?

A dumb phone, also known as a feature phone, is a bare-bones cell phone made for basic functions such as making calls, sending text messages, and that’s about it. Some dumb phones include a few additional features like a calculator, FM radio, or camera, but not much else.

No 5G or 4G connectivity for high-speed Internet access. No podcasts. No social media apps. Minimal, slow web surfing at best. You get the idea.

Dumb phones are typically flip phones or simplified touch-screen phones. Given the lack of bells and whistles, it should come as no surprise that dumb phones are less expensive than smartphones.

The best dumb phones in recent years have included the Nokia 3310, Light Phone II, and Punkt, to name a few.

The Key Benefits of Using a Dumb Phone or Simplifying Smartphone Usage

  1. Reduced Distraction and Increased Focus: By eliminating the constant notifications and the temptation to check social media or engage in other digital distractions, you can focus more on real-world interactions and the tasks at hand. This leads to improved productivity and a greater sense of presence in your daily life.
  2. Improved Mental Wellbeing and Sleep Quality: Excessive smartphone usage has been linked to increased levels of stress, anxiety, and depression. By reducing your screen time and minimizing exposure to the constant influx of information, you can improve your mental well-being. Additionally, by avoiding the use of smartphones before bedtime, you can enhance your sleep quality, as the blue light emitted by these devices can interfere with your natural sleep cycle.
  3. Enhanced Privacy and Security: Dumb phones or simplified smartphones offer limited Internet access and reduced tracking capabilities. This means that your personal data is less likely to be collected and used by third parties and apps, providing you with a higher level of privacy and security compared to the extensive data collection associated with smartphone apps and internet browsing.
  4. Decreased Dependency on Technology: By relying less on your smartphone for entertainment, social interaction, and information, you can cultivate a healthier relationship with technology. This decreased dependency allows you to engage more fully in real-life experiences and relationships, promoting a more balanced and fulfilling lifestyle.
  5. Extended Battery Life and Reduced Environmental Impact: Dumb phones and simplified smartphone usage often result in extended battery life due to the reduced power consumption of fewer apps and features. Additionally, by holding onto your device for a longer period and reducing the demand for new smartphones, you can contribute to reducing the environmental impact associated with the production and disposal of electronic devices.

How to Turn Your Smartphone into a Dumb Phone

You don’t have to get an actual dumb phone to reform your phone habits. Here's a step-by-step guide on how to transform your smartphone into a "dumb phone" to minimize your usage, create better boundaries between you and your device, and enjoy the benefits of a less digitally connected lifestyle.

  1. Review and Uninstall Apps: Take a look at the apps on your phone and identify any that serve no essential function or are primarily used for entertainment or social media. Uninstall these apps to remove the temptation to use them and free up storage space on your device. Removing social media apps like Facebook, Twitter/X, Instagram, and TikTok will not only cut back on your screen time but also limit your data usage! 
  2. Disable App Notifications: Go to your phone's notification settings and disable notifications for apps that do not require immediate attention. This step helps reduce the constant interruptions and the urge to check your phone frequently.
  3. Use "Do Not Disturb" Mode: Set up your phone's "Do Not Disturb" mode to activate during specific hours, such as during work or personal time, and especially during sleep hours. This feature silences notifications and helps minimize unnecessary disruptions, allowing you to focus on the present moment.
  4. Create a Minimalist Home Screen: Rearrange your home screen to include only the most essential and frequently used apps. This reduces the temptation to browse other applications and helps you maintain more focused and intentional smartphone usage.
  5. Use a Basic Dialer and SMS App: If your primary use for the phone is calls and texts, there’s a way to streamline your mobile phone experience without the screen and feature clutter. Apps like Easierphone in the Google Play store simplify your phone’s interface, helping you find what you need on your phone quicker and easier without being distracted. It’s also great for elderly people and people who struggle with all the extras that smartphones have to offer.
  6. Utilize App Timers and Parental Controls: You don’t have to be a parent to take advantage of built-in features like app timers and parental controls to set time limits for yourself for specific apps. This promotes more conscious use of your device and helps curb excessive screen time. There are also several apps you can install to limit the amount of time you spend on your phone.
  7. Regularly Assess and Adjust: Make adjustments as needed to help limit your phone use. Breaking habits and making new ones takes time. Stick with it! 

How to Turn iPhone Into a Dumb Phone

Love your Apple device but want to limit your usage? No problem. Your iPhone is full of tips and tricks to incorporate elements of the dumb phone trend into your lifestyle.

  1. Use Screen Time: Enable Screen Time in Settings to set daily limits for app categories or specific apps. This will help you curb excessive phone usage and be more mindful of your screen time.
  2. Enable Grayscale: Go to Settings > Accessibility > Display & Text Size > Color Filters and turn on Grayscale. This makes your iPhone display black and white, reducing the visual appeal of apps and helping you focus on essential functions.
  3. Simplify Your Home Screen: Remove all non-essential apps from your home screen and keep only the basics like Phone, Messages, and Calendar. This minimizes clutter and distractions.
  4. Disable Background App Refresh: Go to Settings > General > Background App Refresh and turn it off for all apps. This prevents apps from constantly updating in the background, saving battery life and reducing distractions.
  5. Ask Siri: iPhones have a built-in voice assistant called Siri. You can use it to perform tasks, make calls, send messages, and more using just your voice, so you’re not constantly looking at your phone screen. Just say “Hey Siri” and it should respond. Check out this article if you’re having trouble. 
  6. Use Do Not Disturb: Apple’s version of Do Not Disturb is called Focus. In Focus mode, you can set up multiple modes like Sleep, Work, and Bedtime, or make your own Focus activities, to automatically turn on throughout the day. To set them up, go to Settings > Focus > Bedtime, Sleep, Work, Do Not Disturb, or hit the “+” in the right-hand corner to make your own. Set the schedule, choose which apps and people are allowed to bypass the Focus (if any), and choose what your screen will show you and what notifications will be able to do while in Focus. 
  7. Limit Safari Browsing: If you want to restrict your web browsing, use Screen Time settings to disable Safari or install a content blocker like Freedom to control your browsing habits.
  8. Embrace the Default Apps: Avoid downloading feature-rich third-party apps and stick to Apple's default apps like Mail, Calendar, and Notes. They offer basic functionality without unnecessary extras.
  9. Use the Shortcuts App: Create custom automations using Apple's Shortcuts app to simplify common tasks and reduce the need to navigate through multiple apps.

How to Turn Android Into a Dumb Phone

If you're looking to simplify your Android smartphone and turn it into a more basic device, here are some steps you can take:

  1. Disable Notifications: Go to your phone's settings > "Apps & Notifications". From there, you can control which apps send you notifications. Disable notifications for non-essential apps to reduce distractions.
  2. Use Do Not Disturb Mode: Android's "Do Not Disturb" mode can silence notifications, calls, and messages during set times. Go to Settings > Sound and Vibration > Do Not Disturb. You can easily turn it on and off from there depending on what you need. 
  3. Enable Grayscale: Go to Settings > Accessibility > Visibility enhancements > Color correction > tap Grayscale. Voila, your Android is black and white, eliminating brightness and color from your screen.
  4. Utilize Voice Commands: Androids have a built-in voice assistant—just say “Hey Google” for hands-free activation. You can use it to perform tasks, make calls, send messages, check the weather, ask questions for it to look up online, and more using just your voice, so you’re not constantly looking at your phone screen. Read on if you’re having trouble getting Hey Google to respond.
  5. Set Up Android Parental Controls: If you're setting up the phone for a child or an elderly person, use Android's built-in parental controls. These allow you to restrict content, set usage limits, and control which apps can be installed.

Mindfulness Apps - Smartphone Apps Worth Keeping

Using some of the tips above like deleting certain social media apps and turning off the constant notifications can be a great step towards a digital detox and reducing screen time without giving up your smartphone altogether. However, it doesn't mean sacrificing all apps. There are plenty of apps you can add to your phone to promote a more mindful life and self-care.  

There are well-known mindfulness apps for both Android and iPhone users that offer guided meditations, breathing exercises, sleep aids, journaling prompts, and more. These apps can help us disconnect from the constant noise and information overload of social media, and instead focus on our mental and emotional well-being.

Headspace, Calm, and Balance are popular meditation and mindfulness apps that came to the forefront as big contenders in the wellness space early on. Some of the tried-and-true features on these apps include daily mindfulness exercises, sleep stories with guest celebrity voices, daily yoga positions to promote well-being, and guided meditations from real psychologists and practitioners to help users decrease stress, improve sleep quality, and cultivate more awareness in their daily lives. These popular apps are perfect for people who are always on the go because they allow for a quiet moment and a break from your surroundings virtually anywhere that you can have your smartphone.

In addition to the fan favorites above, newer habit-tracking wellness apps include Fabulous and Finch. Habit-tracking apps like Fabulous can help us stay on track with healthy habits such as exercise, hydration, and screen time limits with a user-friendly interface.

There are also focus and timer apps that encourage you to stay off your smartphone entirely for set periods so you can reduce tech time and be more productive. For nature lovers, Forest helps you stay focused by planting virtual trees that grow while you stay away from your smartphone. If you end up going on your phone before the timer ends, the virtual tree will wither. It's a unique, visual way of motivating people to stick to their goals and be productive. Bonus: the creators of Forest also plant real trees when you use their app, so it's a win-win for you and the environment.

The Bottom Line

Ultimately, adopting the "dumb phone" lifestyle is about finding a balance and using technology in a way that enhances our lives, rather than letting virtual distractions and apps become our entire lives. 

Trading in a smartphone for a dumb phone isn't for everyone, but there are ways of finding a healthy balance that can support your wellness goals, keep you present and focused, and inspire you to be more mindful about how you use technology. Try out our tips above for simplifying your smartphone and turning it into a device that promotes mindfulness and self-care; you just might find that it's the best of both worlds.

Another bonus of cutting back your mobile phone usage is saving money. Spending less time scrolling social media, gaming, and streaming videos on your phone means you’ll be using less mobile data. To find and compare the best phone plan deals you qualify for based on your newly reduced data needs, check out our free, unbiased Plan Finder

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