Why and How to try a Flip Phone in 2018
If you'd like to stream a podcast episode covering this topic instead of reading . . . click here.
This sounds crazy - Let me explain my Why!
I’m sure I would have thought this was not a practical experiment 2 years ago. Getting to the point of being interested in trying a flip phone didn’t happen overnight – it happened over about a year as I throttled back my smartphone usage.
The Journey to this point
About a year ago, one of the guests on the podcast specialized in children’s use of technology and we discussed digital addiction in children. This started my self-study into the topic and it expanded to adult digital addiction as well.
As I started to focus on the broader topic of how we all interact with phones, I started to become more aware of the excessive phone usage all around me and some of the tactics that smartphones/apps/social media use to hi-jack our brain.
I also read Cal Newport’s book “Deep Work” which highlights how all the different notifications interrupting us during work can diminish our ability to truly concentrate. He also highlights how willpower can be finite so by using willpower to not check a new notification; you may have less willpower for other tasks like exercise or dieting.
With all this in mind, I started to come up with some practical steps to dial back the number of times I touched my phone.
Plan A: Take some small, practical steps to reduce phone touch points.
Over the next few weeks – I took the following actions:
Started wearing a watch so I no longer needed to check my phone for time.
Bought a few nice looking analog clocks to put around the house.
Started phone free dinners where I left my phone in another room during dinner. This was surprisingly difficult at first!
Deleted Linkedin. It was never useful for me anyway but I did check it once a week so atleast I could skip that check.
Later, I expanded phone free dinners to phone free playtime with the kids after dinner.
Even later, I started using my watch as an alarm clock and would charge my phone every night at my office desk instead of by my bed. This meant that the last and first thing I did every morning was NOT check my phone. It was not easy at first because of the fear of missing some “important” message but it becomes very “freeing” later on.
Everything is awesome!
By all accounts, I was winning the war over my thoughts/brain, had a clearer focus, and my phone free time was great plus only 1 Instagram check per day when I was at my desk. I won! I had total control –my phone wasn’t even with me for 3-5 hours a day.
Oh wait . . . No its not!
Come to find out, I had only won for a few months. A few weeks ago, I caught myself checking Instagram ~10 times a day but somehow didn’t even notice before that. I had slowly started checking it more over the previous weeks and my checks creeped up. I’m sure my new it but just dismissed it as being ‘fine’ or 1 extra check won’t hurt. What the heck!! I celebrated too early and thought I won the battle, apparently this is a war instead.
What is interesting is that my phone free time was still intact but my time with a phone had become less productive with more little notification checks and distractions.
Plan A was progress but left me wanting more so I looked for plan B.
I was pretty discouraged at this point because all my great progress started to deteriorate without me even noticing. I wanted to find a way to win once and for all to ensure I stayed productive, engaged in my immediate surroundings and of course set a great example for my children.
Ultimately, I don’t want to have this willpower battle my whole life and constantly needing to remind myself to not check that app because it's not ‘app checking time’ yet.
This led me to consider the dreaded ‘flip phone’
Plan B: Experiment with flip phone for 60, see if this can work to drastically reduce phone distraction
Terms of the challenge:
Give flip phone a fair shot.
Keep iPhone for GPS, Instagram posting (must maintain this fatherhood account), listening to music/podcast at gym, video streaming, facetime.
No email on iPhone
No iMessage on iPhone
What can go wrong
My main beef with this plan is that it is feasible that I could just keep the iphone on them all the time and stay distracted. After having already had the flip phone for 4 days, this concern doesn’t really hold up because I find myself less mentally ‘involved’ with the iPhone so I just grab it whenever I’m headed to the gym or have a long drive and need podcast. There are no notifications that can ‘bing’ my iphone so there is far less ‘need’ to want to pick it up.
Now you know the Why – let's talk about the How
First things first, give up on the idea that you can use the flip phone that you had 10 years ago. I speak from experience because I activated 2 old phones and had a big problem with both . . . group texting! It won’t do it; I had forgotten this but group texting is a relatively new concept. Your old phone will just send individual text messages and its version of a group text is sending each person an individual text. The camera would be especially bad and the internet would be 3G.
The phone I bought is the LG Exalt LTE with Verizon. I ended up getting an LTE flip phone because it was the only one that I thought had a fair shot at working long term. I will get into the specifics later when I discuss results but it has some impressive features (for a flip phone).
Steps to Activate (I’m on Verizon so these steps will reflect that)
- If you have an iPhone – turn off iMessage a few days before you make the switch. This will let your friend’s phones know to send you a SMS text messages instead of an iMessage.
- Load smart phone contacts onto ‘Verizon Cloud’.
- Edit contacts on Verizon.com. All your contacts can be viewed on verizon’s website via a browser and it’s a good opportunity to delete your outdated contacts (I went from 600 to 300 contacts – jackpot!).
- Also on Verizon.com, you can activate the flip phone by entering its unique ID into the website. I ended up going to a version store and buying one there (the young lady was quite confused on why I was going from an iPhone 7 to a flip).
How does the Flip Phone Stack up?
- Can open URL links that friends send.
- Can open and watch Youtube links that are sent.
- Can receive and show GIFs right in the messenger ‘app’
- Can receive emojis and even has a small selection to send.
- Can’t send GIFs.
- You know the little iPhone text explosions like the fireworks and the balloons? Funny story, the phone can get those . . . well kind of. When that is sent to the flip phone, a second text comes through and will read “(Sent with balloons).” I cracked up pretty good the first time I saw that.
- Group text messages work! It did take my friends phone a few days to figure out that I was SMS only and no longer on iMessage.
- Texting is definitely slower – my speed is starting to improve back to ‘the good ole days’ when I was a real gun slinger with the buttons but it will always be slower.
- No voice to text commands.
- There is a voice command button but will only get you to the text box. It’s better for calling people and actually works just as good/bad as Siri in my experience.
- It has an audio recorder and you can share those messages. That wouldn’t be too bad if you set up a shortcut to go to the audio recorder. Might be a decent idea for longer ‘text’ messages.
- Yes, it does have email. I was pleasantly surprised with how well it worked.
- You wouldn’t want to type out many long emails.
- Number of unread emails show up on the home screen.
- The emails look similar to what you would expect on a smartphone but it doesn’t load images by default. There is a button to load images – not sure if this is a setting I could change.
GPS / Google Maps
- Surprisingly, the flip phone will go to maps.google.com and knows my location. I can search for places and get the map view that shows the best route however it won’t load the turn by turn directions. Still could be useful if you knew roughly how to go and wanted to check traffic or get confirmation your route.
- VZ navigator is an option but not really in my book. At $4.99 a month per device, I’d rather keep an iphone or buy a garmin.
- During this experiment, I still have google maps from my de-activated iphone. Come to find out, google maps still works on an iPhone even with no data plan. The app goes into ‘Offline map’ and still offers turn by turn navigation. Apparently, it has a GPS circuit board in it that doesn’t need data. Makes sense considering a garmin gps unit doesn’t have a data plan.
- I actually miss the flashlight on the iPhone!
- One of the few things I miss having with me at all times.
- There is a watch I’ve been wanting to get that has a bright LED light on it so that could be the solution to this shortcoming.
Pandora / Spotify / Other Music Streaming
- The dumb phone will go to these websites in the browser but won’t play.
- Pandora looks like it will work and the ‘play’ button even shows up but nothing happens.
- Spotify website keeps wanting me to install an app which it can’t do.
- Maybe there is a streaming service that would work but these 2 didn’t.
- Youtube works through the browser!
- The screen is quite small but its good enough if you got especially bored somewhere.
- The screen does not rotate to allow you to go ‘Full screen’ but it does have a player type mode where everything but the video goes black.
- No podcast apps! Bummer!
- The flip phone can still play podcast! What??? Well I had a revelation – most Podcast also stream on their own domains (myself included). I checked out a few podcasts and it works!
- Still has downsides though:
- Flip phone streams the episodes (remember it does have WiFi though).
- The phone needs to be open to play
- Without a podcast app, it would be harder to keep track of which episodes you had already played.
- Ultimately, you would need to have an iPod or something if you are a heavy podcast listener.
No Front Screen
- Even though many flip phones do, this one doesn’t which I’d probably change if I could.
- It does have a red light that slowly blinks if you have a notification. This is admittedly nice because it tells me if I have a notification without having to touch the phone. That means no wasted ‘phone checks’ just to see if I have a message.
- 5 MP camera
- No flash on camera
- Honestly, it isn’t great but it is better than I expected. They just don’t “hold up” once you zoom in on a computer or smartphone.
- I have sent flip phone pictures to people who have smartphones and they were surprised to know it was a flip phone picture because they didn’t think it looked bad.
- The focus is slower than my iPhone. You have to wait until this little green dot comes up to show what it is focused on and then the picture snap will be instant once you hit the button. If you don’t wait, the phone takes probably a full 1-2 second to focus and then take the picture.
- I would want to have another device (maybe even my de-activated iphone) on a vacation when I wanted better quality pictures.
- This camera is fine for everyday life and can still capture memories to enjoy later. Oddly, my wife and I have discussed taking less pictures. It is a bit crazy sounding because the general consensus is pictures are great but sometimes the volume of pictures we take is just too much.
- Can’t send a video on text over 20 seconds.
- Can still record longer videos and transfer them to a computer or email them.
- On a relative scale, the video is worse than the camera and someone with an iPhone would notice the quality of the video was not up to smartphone standards.
- OK, voicemail is bad!
- Admittedly, I had this flip phone for a week before I realized I had to dial a number to check the messages.
- Visual voicemail like a smartphone has is way better because you can see all the voicemails in one screen.
- If you don’t remember how basic phone voice mails work, you call a number and it plays through the messages.
- The one good part is atleast it gives you a notification if you have a voicemail so you don’t have to check it in vain.
- Voicemail is quite painful but honestly, I hate voicemail anyway and my voicemail box is full so I might just leave it full and let it ride.
Other Notable Features
- LTE mobile hot spot
- Can block numbers
- Battery life – As you’d expected battery life is much better although not as good as I expected. The phone can last 2 full days for me but the old flip phones could like about a week it seemed. I imagine the shorter battery life is due to constantly being connected to LTE, being connected to my work email and the fact that I pull up the browser a few times a day if I need to google something.
- 4.44" (H) x 2.13" (W) x 0.69" (D)
- The phone is honestly a little ‘longer’ than I would want. The above dimensions are it folded so it goes up to 8” when open. I’m sure they did this to get the larger screen.
- Compact when folded though.
*All of these features are based on my experience with the LG Exalt LTE - other flip phones will be different.
For a video run down of the flip phone features - go here.
Verdict: Is the Flip Phone as good as a smartphone?
Nope . . . it’s worse! But that is kind of the point right?
It is good enough to be useful with features like email, mobile hotspot and internet browser but it is also bad enough that you don’t want to be on it more than you have to be.
Initial thoughts after 1 week
- The adjustment hasn’t been as drastic as I expected so far.
- I bookmarked my google calendar in the browser so I have my calendar available on my phone.
- I was alittle worried about still using the de-activated iPhone too much but that hasn't been an issue. So when have I used the iPhone over the last week?
- Took it to the gym for music - one nice thing is that I leave my flip phone in the car and now am unable to receive calls or text during my workout which is great for focus.
- Took it to the creek with my sons so I could take better pictures.
- Watched a video on youtube while I shaved my head one night
- Otherwise, it has sat lonely on my desk.
- Mentally, I can definitely notice a sensation of being less connected but there is some apprehension with that.
- FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) is a very real thing and I think one of the reasons we feel so compelled to check social media or our phones often.
- Overall, my brain is getting used to the sensation and frankly it gives my mind more time to dabble on business ideas or whatever crazy thing I feel like brainstorming about.
- Oddly, I think it is making me more connected with the people I like because I'm more likely to call my friends now instead of just text.
Notes after 30 days
- I still text a healthy amount but certainly less. Mostly because it is just harder to do.
- I have admittedly ask my wife for her iphone so I could google something quickly when we are at a store to check a price or whatever. This option will go away if we decide to go full flip.
- I have called a few friends over the last month that I would normally just text. I feel like we knock out a weeks worth of texting in a 10 minute call.
- For my de-activated iphone, I found out that you have to do some extra steps to download google offline maps because I didn't have them when I needed them. To be fair, I could have made my flip phone a hotspot and iphone for gps if I was in a real jam.
- I take less pictures and videos. The flip phone pictures are pretty good but the videos are bad so typically just don't do it.
- I'm on the fence as to if this is good or not. Obviously, we all want some pictures/videos of our kids when we get older. However, it is also really easy to take 20 or 30 pictures in a day which seems like too much.
- Either your old de-activated smartphone or an actual camera would be needed for family vacations so you could get some better pictures and videos.
- This sounds weird but one downside of being on a phone less is that you start to notice how much everyone else is on their phone. I didn't notice before because I was probably on my phone too but it can be a little overwhelming to look around a public place and see everyone looking down at their screen.