I really wanted this experiment to be a success. I’ve been a a smartphone user since the early 2000s when the first Windows Phone devices, with their clunky interfaces were on the market. I then moved to the Palm Treo 650, the BlackBerry and other pre-iOS phone/computer crossovers.
As I used those devices, and more recent Android handsets and various iPhones, one thing has been constant: I spend more and more time on my phone. So, I decided to take a radical step and shift to the Nokia 8110 – the so-called banana phone released during Mobile World Congress earlier this year. Here’s what I learned.
I don’t use a huge number of apps on my iPhone but the ones I use get plenty of attention. The main apps for me are messaging apps, with email, Messages, Messenger and WhatsApp dominating my usage. I’m also a fairly prolific user of Facebook during my downtime and don’t mind the odd game of Words With Friends.
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It turns out one of the “killer apps” for me is messaging. And while that’s fractured across multiple platforms, a smartphone makes that easy as I can have a separate app for each service.
There’s an expectation that Facebook and WhatsApp will come to KaiOS, the Firefox OS-based software that runs on the 8110, but they’re not here yet which means the device is far less useful to me.
When I started using the Nokia 8110, I thought the thing I’d most miss was access my steady stream of social media. But that wasn’t such a big deal. While I was out for brunch with friends, at parkrun and out and about there were moments when I wanted to grab my phone to post a new status. And there was the urge to pick up my phone to check for updates. But that passed quickly.
Which was probably a good thing when the service at my local Harvey Norman was terrible.
Not did I miss Words With Friends greatly. I typically have a dozen or so games on the go but limiting my play to when I was home and had access to my computer was a good thing.
One of the best things about having a smartphone is being able to snap a picture wherever and whenever I want. It’s often said that the best camera is the one you have with you and the accessibility and quality of modern smartphone cameras is pretty incredible. I still remember camera company execs telling me digital cameras, much less mobile phone cameras, would never rival film.
But not having a decent camera – the Nokia 8110’s camera is a mere two megapixels – was a good thing. Rather than feeling like I had to take a picture of the sunrise at the park before a run I could simply sit back and enjoy the moment. Getting that perfect pano shot over the lake was no longer a priority.
It’s the Little Things
The other thing I realised is that there are a number of apps that I might only use once or twice a week that are really important. For example, I use the Google Authenticator to access a number of services. Not having access to that app was a major pain in the butt.
Contact management was also a challenge. As I’m mainly a Mac user, I rely on iCloud for synching my calendar and contacts. I also have a number of Google accounts but my primary address book is on Apple’s systems. KaiOS plays well with Google so I needed a way to synchronise my contacts between Google and iCloud.
I found a service called SyncGene that does this, but my results weren’t great. Part of the problem is that I’ve done a pretty poor job at maintaining a clean address book over the years. I suspect that mis-clicks on Facebook and LinkedIn have resulted in duplicate and incomplete records. On the upside, that’s forced me to run my eye down my contact list and do some cleaning up.
One thing I thought I’d really miss was a mobile web browser. But I discovered it’s possible to hold a conversation with someone without having to fact-check every statement on Google or Wikipedia.
KaiOS includes a version of Google Maps which works well enough, although typing addresses in using a T9 keypad is a massive pain in the arse. Not being able to easily glance at the map while driving to check which lane I need to be in was also a hassle.
Unlike the original Nokia 8110, the new version has 4G, WiFi and Bluetooth so I was able to tether the Nokia to my laptop and tablet without any hassles. However, it didn’t work so well with the Bluetooth kit in my car. I was able to receive calls but whenever I tried to initiate a call it failed. I have no idea whether this was a problem with the car or the phone.
I Couldn’t Do It
My initial plan was to try out the Nokia 8110 for a full week and then make a decision as to whether I could live with a more basic mobile phone.
I lasted four days.
What I hadn’t really understood before was how dependent I was on my smartphone for a bunch of little things. Ultimately, it was the inability to access Authenticator, receive alerts from my security cameras, internet banking and other tasks that I only occasionally use my phone for that tipped things over.
In other words, it wasn’t any single big thing that was the problem. It was the sum of a bunch of small annoyances that pushed me back to my smartphone.
There has been an upside. I’m finding I already look at social media less than before and the urge to pick up my phone to just check something is diminished. Keeping that up will require some discipline.