Light Phone 2 review: A cure for smartphone addiction?
“The Light Phone 2 is a reprieve from the digital world, and it works, but its high price is off-putting.”
- Compact, looks pretty
- Easy sync for contacts
- Three-day battery life
- Helps you go off the grid
- Works as a stand-alone or secondary phone
- Ghosting, small text, keyboard autocorrect would be nice
- A bit too basic at the moment
- Micro USB charging port
Calm with a hint of anxiety. That’s what I initially felt as I used the Light Phone 2, a feature phone meant to strip away all the apps and notifications that consume every waking moment of our lives. That anxiety eventually left me, and I found myself more present and engaged in what I was actually doing.
The Light Phone 2 is a 4G feature phone (or “dumbphone”) with an E Ink screen, and it can place calls and send texts. That’s it. The problem is that it’s stupidly expensive at $350, especially when you can find feature phones for less than $100. Still, there’s something about the Light Phone 2 that has me enamored. Use it for a few days and you’ll feel the need to constantly check your phone leave your mind. It’s a break from the digital world that works on your own terms.
A smarter feature phone
Light’s first phone — aptly named the Light Phone — looks beautiful, but all it can do is place calls. In a world where messaging is king, it’s natural that the Brooklyn company’s follow-up adds texting functionality. But that’s not all that’s planned for this Indiegogo-funded phone.
The Light team understands there are certain conveniences many of us rely on every day, from ridesharing apps and Google Maps to music streaming and even using a calculator. These services don’t keep us absorbed in our phones like Instagram or Facebook, but are end-to-end experiences.
“Those are definitely not distractions; those are great tools,” Light CEO and co-founder Kaiwei Tang told Digital Trends. “We have our own principle for what tool makes sense; we don’t want email, we don’t want social media, no entertainment.”
It’s why there’s also no camera. Tang said there were internal discussions on outfitting a camera on the Light Phone 2. While cameras can be great tools, the company found them to be “disruptive,” as people take photos of everything, upload them to social media, and count the likes that come in.
At the moment, the features on Light OS are quite … well, light. You can make calls, send texts, and set an alarm. But additional “tools” are on the way, potentially by the end of the year. These include a calculator, hot spot, a Find my Phone service, third-party ridesharing apps, turn-by-turn directions, and an MP3 player (there is a headphone jack).
The MP3 player might be a Spotify integration — or another music streaming service — that allows you to play tracks from a single playlist, instead of allowing discoverability features. That way it prevents you from spending too much time on the phone hunting for music.
“We don’t want email, we don’t want social media, no entertainment.”
Sadly, none of these features are available yet, but I’ll update this section as they launch later this year. Light said there is a chance other tools will come to the phone as well, including voice memos, notes, a calendar, a weather app, and a dictionary, but there’s no guarantee.
Nevertheless, this is one of the most interesting aspects of the Light Phone 2. Most feature phones don’t have access to services like ridesharing apps or maps, and the ones that do — like Nokia phones running KaiOS — also have apps like YouTube and Facebook, which don’t help with the problem of restricting screen time. The Light Phone 2 gives you the best of both worlds.
Using the Light Phone 2
Light OS is dead simple to operate. There’s a lock screen — you can add a passcode if you want — and if you tap the middle button on the right edge, you’ll be greeted to your apps, which at the moment are Phone, Alarm, and Settings.
You’ll need to head to the Light Dashboard on a computer to activate your phone during setup though, which disrupts the process a little. It’s here that you can connect your iCloud account to sync contacts. Android owners can download a VCF (Virtual Contact File), or vCard file, from services such as Google Contacts and upload it to the Light Dashboard. My contacts synced to the Light Phone 2 within minutes; it was seamless.
You can use the Light Phone 2 as a standalone phone, or you can use it as a secondary device and connect your cell number to it through carrier services like AT&T’s NumberSync. Light is also offering a Light Phone plan if you don’t want to deal with carriers, and it will cost $30 a month for connectivity.
Back to the phone, the operating system reminds me of Windows Mobile, as it’s purely text-based with a few icons. It looks elegant, modern, and it’s effective. Tap on a contact, and you can see a conversation thread with options to call the person or to type a message. Tapping anything on this E Ink screen is a little slow, so you have to be patient. Even waking the screen takes a second or two longer than I’d like, but these are minor inconveniences.
Call quality is strong, though the speaker doesn’t get as loud as I’d like — you’ll have to hope the person on the other end isn’t a soft speaker.
Texting someone will force the screen in landscape orientation, which is how you type, and typing is a slow endeavor. Not only are the keys small, but as the touch response is also slow, it’s easy to mess up. There’s no draggable cursor or autocorrect, so if you make a mistake after writing a whole sentence, you’ll need to delete your way back to the error to correct it. It’s annoying, but after using it for a few days, I’ve gotten used to purposefully typing slower than normal. You also can’t see pictures, though emojis are fair game (you just can’t send them).
There are other quirks. The text is small, and there’s no option to resize it; people who magnify their smartphone screens may have difficulty reading here. There’s also a good deal of ghosting, which is when you see faint images and artifacts from a previous screen. The screen flashes often, creating a clean slate for the E Ink display to remove these artifacts. While the ghosting didn’t impact my use of the phone, it can be distracting.
Having a louder speaker, a slightly larger screen to enable larger text (and a bigger keyboard), and a cursor you can reposition would have gone a long way in creating a better experience.
It’s not all negative. The best part is the Light Phone 2’s size, weight, and looks. It’s tiny, easily fitting in the palm of my hand, and barely takes up any space in my pocket. The angular look is modern and sleek, even if the bezels around the screen are thick. The polycarbonate body is a bit slippery, but it doesn’t feel cheap as there’s a nice weight to it, making the phone feel substantial.
The Light Phone 2 lasted me three days on a single charge. That’s good if you’re comparing it to a smartphone, but bad if you look at the battery life on other E Ink devices; a Kindle can last for weeks, for example. Still, three days of juice is more than enough for me. On standby, Light claims the phone will last up to seven days.
I do think Light should have added a USB-C charging port instead of a Micro USB port. My smartphone, laptop, and mirrorless camera can all charge with a USB-C cable, but I’ll still need to use a Micro USB cable just to charge the Light Phone 2. There are smartphones with USB-C that cost $160, so it really should not have been much trouble for Light to include one here.
It may sound like I haven’t had the best experience with the Light Phone 2, largely stemming from the quirks of an E Ink screen. While the issues are real, I still have enjoyed my time with the phone as it accomplishes its mission: Curb my smartphone addiction so I can focus on the people and environment around me. The phone’s minimalist design and visually appealing interface all add to that experience.
I cannot use the Light Phone 2 as a smartphone replacement — it simply would not work with the nature of my job. It’s also not the best option for people who hardly use SMS to chat with friends and family — support for third-party messaging apps would be a boon.
For me, it’s perfect as a weekend phone when I want to disconnect. I’ve still been texting on it a decent amount with my girlfriend, friends, and family, and even took a few long phone calls. Not having other notifications constantly popping up on the phone when I’m out and about is satisfying, and it also makes coming home to a smartphone filled with notifications more gratifying.
But ultimately the biggest flaw with the Light Phone 2 is its price. The $350 price tag is far too high for what you get at the moment. While most feature phones don’t look as attractive, they can be bought for dirt cheap if all you want to do is text and make calls, and you can use them as a second phone if you want to curb your smartphone usage.
But ultimately the biggest flaw with the Light Phone 2 is its price.
There are also ways to restrict screen time on your existing smartphone through features like Screen Time on iOS and Google’s Digital Wellbeing on Android. The latest version of Android even has a Focus Mode that lets you block out notifications from particular apps. While these tools aren’t as effective — and require a bit of willpower — they also won’t set you back $350.
But it all hinges on how well the upcoming “tools” work and how many arrive. If Light can pull off adding features like access to ridesharing apps, turn-by-turn navigation, and other essential tools with end-to-end experiences, the Light Phone 2 will be offering something you won’t find on a dumbphone with privacy and digital wellbeing in mind.
Price, availability, and warranty information
The Light Phone 2 is $350 and is available to order from Light’s website. Indiegogo and Kickstarter backers are getting their units now, but new orders will ship in mid-October. The device works on AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile, but Sprint subscribers are out of luck.
You can buy a $30 per month Light Phone plan from Light for connectivity if you don’t want to deal with your carrier, but you won’t be able to sync the phone number with your personal one.
Light offers a standard limited warranty that covers manufacturing defects for one year from the date of purchase.
The Light Phone 2 is a promising feature phone that’s held back by its high price tag, but its value is set to increase as Light releases more apps for it.
Is there a better alternative?
The exception is phones from HMD Global, which makes Nokia-branded phones. Its feature phones, like the Nokia 3310 and the Nokia 8110 4G, look nice and have smart features — and they’re far more affordable. Sadly, they’re not sold directly in the U.S., and while you can buy them on Amazon, they won’t support most U.S. networks.
The Punkt MP-02 should be considered as it costs around the same price and has a similar emphasis on a digital detox, with some smart functionality. There are VoLTE issues in the U.S., though, but the company is working on getting carrier certifications.
How long will it last?
The Light Phone 2 will likely last your around two to three years, maybe more, before you start to have issues with battery life. It’s IPX3 rated, which means it’s splash-proof and will be fine in the rain, but it won’t survive a dip in a pool. Its lifespan will also depend on the frequency of updates from Light, which still has to prove itself here.
Should you buy it?
Not at the moment. I’ll need to see how well the upcoming tools, like ridesharing and turn-by-turn navigations, work — and it’s likely my recommendation will change for the better by then. It’s the Light Phone 2’s saving grace because a visually appealing operating system and attractive phone design aren’t enough reasons to buy it at $350. There are far too many significantly cheaper options if you just want a phone to text with and make calls.
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