My name is Jennimai, and I am addicted to my iPhone.
As a Gen Z-er, I can barely remember a time before smartphones. My first cell phone was a purple monster with a sliding screen. I traded it in for my first iPhone in 2013 and never looked back.
I do everything on my phone: text, FaceTime, mindlessly scroll for hours and hours. I can hardly imagine going even a day without touching my phone, and I have no interest in the resurgence of nostalgic tech the rest of my generation is so intrigued by. So, imagine how I felt when I turned off my beloved iPhone for a week.
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Yes, dear reader, I tried not to use my iPhone for seven whole days. In its place, I used the Light Phone II, which launched in 2018 via Kickstarter after a successful run of the original Light Phone in 2015. Here’s how it went.
What the heck is a Light Phone?
The Light Phone II is neither a smartphone nor vintage flip phone, so using it meant I lost out on both convenience and cool girl vibes. Instead, it is an extremely basic phone that primarily sends and receives texts and phone calls. Since I had the II version, I could also download podcasts and music, but playing them wasn’t easy – more on that later.
The Light Phone II and everything that comes in the box – which is literally just the charging cord. Figure out your own adapter! Credit: Mashable/Jennimai Nguyen
For $299, which gets you the phone and a charging cable, the Light Phone promises to help you unplug from the social media-obsessed and overly connected world while still delivering the most important phone functions. To use it, you have to provide your own compatible SIM card or sign up for a separate phone service through Light Phone, which costs $30/month or $70/month depending on the amount of data. I opted to use my existing SIM, which also ensured that I couldn’t really cheat and use my iPhone during the week.
In terms of features, the Light Phone II purposely doesn’t have many. It’s about 3.8 inches x 2.2 inches, small enough to feel tiny in my already pretty small hands. It has a headphone jack, a micro USB charging port, volume buttons, and a main menu button. Everything is centered around the E-Ink screen, the same dimmable, paper-like screen found on Kindles. It doesn’t emit any blue light, making it extremely easy on the eyes.
Very smol phone fits fine in my smol hands. Credit: Mashable/Jennimai Nguyen Volume/navigation buttons on the top and bottom, main menu button in the middle. Credit: Mashable/Jennimai Nguyen
In short, the Light Phone II is the most boring phone around. It’s meant to disconnect you as much as possible from the modern world, a goal I found both admirable and abhorrent.
At first, the Light Phone was kind of a beautiful reprieve.
I agreed to take on this story because I truthfully felt like I needed it. I’d been thinking about my social media and phone usage for the past couple months, and realized that I spent far too much time on both. I don’t have exact numbers because I refuse to turn my Screen Time report on – mostly for fear of hard proof that I spend upwards of 12 hours a day on my phone.
While I don’t have numbers, I do have real situations that paint the picture of my addiction. Before the Light Phone, I fell asleep every night scrolling through TikTok. I don’t mean perusing the app for a little too long before getting some shuteye; every single night, I scrolled until my eyes physically closed from exhaustion and I drifted off while still holding my iPhone. While working from home, I’d constantly pick up my phone for no reason at all, choose a social media app to mindlessly scroll, and glance up to see an entire hour had passed. I constantly felt phantom buzzes, thinking I got a text or notification when nothing had come in. Every time that happened, I felt weirdly disappointed and sad.
Suffice to say, I felt like my iPhone controlled me more than I controlled it. I thought about deleting apps, but I always came up with an excuse to keep them. And according to a study from researchers at the University of Chicago and University of Texas, even the mere presence of a smartphone can reduce your ability to focus and perform tasks. Part of your brain is too busy focusing on not using your phone, and the closer your phone is, the more distracted you get. The more reliant you are on your smartphone, the less cognitive capacity and fluid intelligence is available when your iPhone is nearby – something the study calls “smartphone-induced brain drain.”
Essentially, even if I deleted some apps, my emotional dedication to my iPhone prevents me from truly being free and focused. I had to entirely get rid of it.
My first two days using the Light Phone, I felt like I was finally escaping. That’s the Light Phone’s biggest advantage: It has absolutely no ability to host external apps. It can’t connect to the Apple’s App Store or Google Play, and any software updates are done annoyingly on a desktop website.
Cutting off access to my favorite apps was the only way I could give them up. In my first two days using the Light Phone, I finished a whole book in less than 24 hours, something I hadn’t done since middle school. I read before bed, chatted with my boyfriend, and then just rolled over and closed my eyes to fall asleep. I barely even checked the Light Phone for notifications, because the display for texts was so unexciting – no emoji, no message reactions, nothing to keep me engaged.
Those first two days were bliss. Then things got annoying.
Being connection-free is a problem
Throughout the rest of the week, I realized that no one else was living the Light Phone life. I mean, I obviously knew that, but being disconnected from the digital world while everyone else was very much plugged in created a plethora of issues.
First of all, you have to turn off iMessage on your iPhone so that all texts redirect as an SMS to the Light Phone. Thus, I became the dreaded green bubble. Any time I texted, group chat or solo, someone commented on it. This is a very minor problem – and admittedly, pretty unique to Gen Z – but I genuinely was embarrassed to text my iMessage friends, which is pretty much everyone I normally talk to. The shame ran so deep that I basically stopped texting the rest of the week.
This is what texting on the Light Phone looks like: small and annoying. Credit: Mashable/Jennimai Nguyen
This was part green bubble paranoia, but also partly due to a physical annoyance. Like I mentioned, the Light Phone itself is quite small, with the screen being even smaller. Texting on it was honestly a nightmare for my fingers, which I consider to be pretty deft. Every letter also took about a second to register before appearing on screen, so popping off a quick “hey, what’s up?” took 10 times longer than on an iPhone. Trying to type a text rant? Absolutely not a possibility. I ended up just avoiding other people, or calling if it was absolutely necessary.
Sure, in some senses, this was a positive. I wasn’t texting just to text, as I often do. But it made me miss out on a lot of fun little moments with my friends. My best friend was at a wedding that weekend, and I couldn’t get a play-by-play of any drama via text. The Light Phone also doesn’t send or receive pictures (it doesn’t even have a camera), so I couldn’t look at my nephews’ baby pics that my sister constantly sends me. It felt good to not be tethered to my phone, but it felt not so good to be left out of small, joyful moments.
During the week, I also went to a friend’s apartment for the first time since she’d moved there. I didn’t know how to get to the new address, so I tried to use the Light Phone’s Directions feature. Sadly, it doesn’t come pre-installed. Users have to download the Directions, Music, and Podcast tools onto their phones via the Light Phone dashboard on their computer. That part wasn’t too hard. But getting the tools to actually work? A nightmare.
The Dashboard has a very minimalist look – fitting. Credit: Screenshot: Light Phone
The Light Phone should have had access to my unlimited data phone plan via my SIM card, but I found that the Directions tool never loaded when I was off WiFi.
I hypothesized that the loading issue had something to do with how the Light Phone was accessing the merged Sprint/T-Mobile data plan I have, as the Light Phone is compatible with T-Mobile, but not Sprint. When I asked Light Phone about the loading issue and my theory, cofounder Joe Hollier said “the lack of data seems like the most plausible reason,” but was unable to provide a sure answer. He did suggest the data issues could be solved by using a T-Mobile-specific SIM card, as he personally uses. When the Directions tool did load, it displayed walking, driving, and public transportation options.
You have to click on each individual tool that you would like to add in the Dashboard. Credit: Screenshot: Light Phone For Music, you also have to add individual songs. Credit: Screenshot: Light pHone
With Podcasts and Music, users have to download the apps and the individual songs and episodes they want to listen to. The Light Phone only has 8 GB of storage, so you do have to be a little picky.
Again, even when I did the requisite steps, I couldn’t get the media to load when not connected to WiFi. I’d love to tell you what the audio quality was like, but I simply never heard it. When I asked Light Phone about this issue, Hollier told me, “There isn’t a good explanation as this isn’t an issue we’re seeing with other users. There is a chance that the podcasts you were trying to listen to is no longer supported (our tool pulls from the selection of free Apple Podcast RSS library), sometimes this might happen if a show goes exclusive say, to Spotify or other paid platforms, but ideally it wouldn’t be an option if no longer supported.” To note, I was trying to access the Betches podcast, which is available on Apple Podcasts.
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The other main issue I had with using the Light Phone was largely due to the nature of my job. You see, having a job in digital media while actively disconnecting from all media was tough, to say the least. I also make Mashable’s Snapchat and TikTok content, which I do entirely on my iPhone. To do my job and keep those platforms running, I actually couldn’t put my iPhone away. Yes, I cheated on my week of being iPhone-free, but it was necessary to get paid, OK?
There were other small annoyances during the week: I couldn’t snooze the alarm on the Light Phone. Sometimes my texts just wouldn’t send. I couldn’t take any pictures of a lovely date in Central Park with my boyfriend. The vibration setting was too quiet, while the ringer was too loud. I couldn’t scan a QR code menu while out at a restaurant. I couldn’t call ahead to my hair salon when I was running late, because I didn’t have its number saved. I couldn’t sign on to Slack from the mobile app while still in bed (sorry, boss!).
For some of these things, I also cheated with my iPhone, which I ended up carrying around with me in case of emergency. Don’t get me wrong, if it wasn’t essential, I just sucked it up and figured it out, or forgoed it. Like when I made it to my hair salon, I just tipped extra well because they waited for me. But I needed things like a maps tool, so I would screenshot my Apple Maps app while at home on WiFi, then study it while out on my service-less iPhone.
Having to end up carrying multiple devices around became more of a stressor, as I was constantly checking my pockets to make sure I hadn’t lost them. Maybe this would have been less of a problem for a less anxious person, but alas, I was constantly stressed. Isn’t that the opposite of how the Light Phone was supposed to make me feel?
The Light Phone has benefits, but I probably won’t use it again.
After a full week of the Light Phone, I was thirsting to go back to my iPhone. I really did love using the Light Phone the first two days, but a week of modern expectations from friends, family, and work reminded me that disconnecting from the world is really a privilege, one that I honestly just don’t have.
I acknowledge that some of my complaints were very Gen Z – like my green bubble shame, and having no sense of direction. But the reality is, everyone in my life expects me to be plugged in. I can’t unplug if I want to continue to be an efficient employee, a daughter and sister who keeps in touch halfway across the country, and a friend who is normally just a text away.
The perfect use case for the Light Phone is intentional, short-lived unplugging. Perhaps I would switch over to it after a particularly stressful week to relax on the weekend. Or on a dream vacation, where I want to fully take in my surroundings and be unreachable.
But let’s be honest: Given the choice, I’d still pick my iPhone, 10 times out of 10. Would it be better for me to pick the Light Phone every now and then? Probably, but some habits die hard.
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