Smartphones: No-frills phones are back
Are you tired of touch screens, app updates, and incessant push notifications? asked Brian Chen in The New York Times. You’re in luck: The budget phone is making a comeback. With the latest iterations of both Apple’s and Samsung’s flagship smartphones flirting with the $1,000 mark, plenty of consumers are deciding they “don’t want to splurge on a fancy phone every few years.” So they’re going retro—and finding that cheaper phones “have never been better.” In an age when everyone seems glued to a screen, the humble flip phone in particular “is turning into a statement of protest and individuality,” said Scott Enman in The Seattle Times. Oscar winner Daniel Day-Lewis, Vogue editor Anna Wintour, and billionaire investor Warren Buffett have all been spotted recently with the low-tech devices. If you prize “simplicity, durability, and affordability,” a smartphone may no longer be the answer.
“It is time to take feature phones seriously again,” said David Pierce in The Wall Street Journal. The category, which includes old-school flip phones and other “formerly dumb” devices, has gotten smarter. With retro looks on the outside for a “heavy dose of nostalgia,” the phones contain upgraded tech on the inside, giving owners the ability to not just make calls and send texts but also use a handful of modern apps. And they can summon virtual assistants, which can call cabs, do internet searches, even pay for purchases. It’s the “less is more” theory of phone ownership; you stay connected but get “something a little less intense” than the sensory overload of an attention-sucking smartphone. If you want a phone under $100, you’re no longer “doomed to limping along with leftover software,” said Rob Pegoraro in USA Today. Google has rebuilt its Android operating software “to stay responsive on low-end hardware,” so the latest no-frills phones can handle Google apps such as Maps, Gmail, and Google Assistant with “less storage and memory.”
The re-emergence of Nokia’s ultracheap feature phones is Silicon Valley’s rare “feel-good” story this year, said Brian Barrett in Wired.com. Finnish company HMD Global recently revived the Nokia brand and last year sold 59.2 million feature phones, a 70 percent bump from 2016. Both the Nokia 3310 and 8110 devices—aka the candy bar and banana-shaped phones that “defined the pre-iPhone era”—have been reissued as “thoughtfully designed and executed devices.” The 3310, which goes for about $60, “looks just enough like the original for instant recognition,” but sports a 2-megapixel camera and a web browser. The 8110’s tiny 2.4-inch screen is a great antidote for the “always-on lifestyle,” and the slider mechanism “travels smoothly from open to shut.” Perhaps the best throwback feature: “The battery life still nudges up against a full month.”