This is only my second foray into writing about my feature phone use, so bear with me if it seems like I don’t know what I’m doing here. My prior instance of writing about it came back in early 2021 last year, in this video, which you can watch for more of me discussing feature phone use.
I purchased a Schok Classic flip feature phone back in January, I’ve been using it for about a month and a half, this post contains my experience with smartphones and feature phones, my thoughts about the Schok Classic in particular, critiques I have of it, and my overall current perspective about it.
If you’d rather skip my history with mobile phones and get right to the details of the Schok Classic itself, skip to the section headed “The Phone Itself”
To begin, this is my history with mobile phones:
Later on, I’d go through a series of upgrades familiar to most people my age, or even more broadly most people who have lived at the same time that I have during the smartphone revolution. Flip phone yielded to a Samsung Gravity, the phone which had a panel that slid out to reveal a full QWERTY keyboard for MAXIMUM TEXTING EFFICIENCY. Gravity’s battery got fucked up by the humidity when I worked at that same summer camp a few years later and I went back to the flip phone. Flip phone yielded to LG Smart phone in late 2010, another one with an alphanumeric string as a name. You know when you get a phone with an alphanumeric string as a name that you’re like two or three rungs beneath the flagship, but my parents were right to only get me the budget phones because of the aforementioned lifestyle which caused phone batteries to get fucked up by the humidity. It didn’t matter if it was the budget phone. It was a smartphone. It ran Angry Birds and I could read Cracked.com on it. I had lost my virginity to the smartphone lifestyle in late 2010, and I didn’t look back.
That budget LG smartphone yielded to a newer budget LG smartphone, which yielded to another model of that budget LG smartphone when the MicroUSB port failed in the first one. Eventually the MicroUSB port failed in the second one, too, so I had to hot swap batteries with a standalone battery charger. In 2014 that Budget LG Smartphone yielded to one of my funnier purchases: A Nokia Lumia running the Windows 8 mobile operating system. It only cost me eighty dollars at the Microsoft store at the mall where I worked, and boy was it an eighty dollar cell phone. Only a back camera, couldn’t do MMS group texting, couldn’t officially run like half of the apps I wanted to use and the unofficial methods that squeaked their way on to the Windows Phone app store were swiftly knocked out of existence by the long arm of Bill Gates. It burned your hand after like fifteen minutes of use. What a phone. Built like a tank and sucked shit. I miss it to death.
Anyway, Lumia eventually yielded to iPhone in 2015, when I was twenty years of age, and I didn’t look back. I’m guessing that most people don’t switch back from iPhone. Really, you graduate to iPhone at some point and then you’re an iPhone person. You use whatever you use for a while until you’re old and sophisticated enough to switch to iPhone or paranoid about government tracking enough to use an Android, and you do that forever. Mostly. I would guess that like 99% of people do that. I didn’t intend to switch back, not after the Lumia. I took every little stupid feature that thing had and put it to use, and I loved it! I put games on it, and I took super slow-motion video on it, and I installed every type of podcast and music streaming app on it that I could. I had each fun social media app – Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, Vine, Instagram, Tumblr, TikTok, YikYak, FetLife, each one – and I absolutely loved it, at least for like a year of having it.
But eventually, that lovely novelty turns into mundanity. I can’t remember when the phone stopped being fun and when it started being just there, all the time, a given that this thing was going to be in my hands during any moment of downtime. For a while it was just sort of mundane, and then at some point there developed a resentment, and it all came to a head – like, I knew it was a problem and I wanted to stop using a smartphone – in mid-2020 or so, when I’d spend hours on certain nights scrolling through Twitter, lying on the floor because I had nothing else to do.
Anyway it took until the end of 2020 for me to actually do something about it. This is where the Nokia featured in the video came in. I used that, and then I later bought an AGM M7 which I used most of last year save for when I lived in Canada and I had to have a smartphone for my university’s contact tracing thing. I struggled with some aspects of the M7 (chiefly the annoying manner with which it handles text messaging and the way that the touch screen would constantly brush up against my face during phone calls, turning on the speakerphone function at inopportune moments), and honestly, I felt like I wanted something that did less. Enter the Schok Classic. I spent about $100 for an unlocked new one off of eBay, and I’ve been using it for about a month and a half now.
The Phone Itself
There are different levels of ‘smart’ness in the feature phone market right now. If I wanted just a phone that did calls and texts, I could get one, there are a few like that. And I may at some point in the future. But right now, there are certain “smart” aspects that I do still want or need in my phone. Those are:
- A music streaming app like Spotify
- Wireless hotspot
- Group texting (which I’ll admit I don’t love in itself but I can’t escape how everyone else uses it)
But that’s it. Theoretically, the Schok Classic can do all of these things. It runs on a modified version of Android, it can download and run .apk files from the internet. These were not created to run on a phone like this, and since there’s no touch screen, most of them don’t run well. Group SMS works perfectly, and Spotify actually works very well even just with directional pad navigation. Using a maps site like Google Maps works fine, I find that it’s best to just look up a list of directions, it doesn’t have a built-in GPS from what I can tell, so real-time navigation just isn’t feasible. Thankfully my car has a navigation system built in that I used most of the time anyways if I needed it. Shazam and MyFitnessPal I couldn’t get to run properly, though I can access the MyFitnessPal counter through the browser and I typically just access it on my computer anyway. The wireless hotspot is hit or miss in my experience.
The thing about Shazam not working is that I kind of found out that I don’t really need it. It’s a nice luxury to have, I made use of it pretty often back during my smartphone-using days. But I didn’t need it. And I didn’t need basically any of what a smartphone offered. There are aspects that I liked having access to about a smartphone – a good camera, the notes applications, audio like music and podcasts available very quickly – but all of those things come down to convenience, and don’t we always sacrifice something for the sake of convenience? Doesn’t everything cost more at convenience stores? I think that I was sacrificing a lot, more than I have space here to fully list out lest the entire point of the post change, and after years of being so used to having those things so close and convenient, it’s hard to recognize what really is necessary and what you’ve just become accustomed to. I won’t deny that those benefits are definitely benefits, but they aren’t so beneficial that they outweigh the drawbacks I experienced from extended smartphone use.
Probably my biggest complaint about the phone itself is that the volume controls on the side of the phone can get bumped when it’s in my pocket, so I accidentally turn it to silent mode, or alternatively full volume mode, more often than I want to. The T9 system is weird, in that it doesn’t recognize contractions (so if my texts have more “do not”s and “will not”s than they used to, that’s why) and it hides the apostrophe when texting in a sub menu. The camera sucks, but it’s what I expected.
Otherwise, though, this is exactly what I need, and nothing more. It does texts and calls. If I needed WhatsApp or GroupMe or one of those, I could install it, but I don’t right now. It can do some light web browsing, which has come in handy, like if I needed to google something very quickly and I wasn’t near a computer, but it’s such a sluggish experience (remember what web browsing was like on your flip phone in the late 2000s? It’s exactly the same now as it was back then) that it really doesn’t have the addictive capabilities that a smartphone presents. I look at this whenever it alerts me and then I put it down. I probably look at it for a combined ten to twenty minutes over the course of a day, and I can go three to four days without having to charge it if I want because I use it so little.
My phone is no longer an appendage, the way that it used to be. I’m back to leaving it other rooms and forgetting about it for hours on end, the way that I did when I was a child. Now, filling the time that I’m not spending on my phone with something better is still a bit of a dicey prospect, but I’m working on it.
If you’re interested in finding a feature phone of your own to use, I really recommend checking out the website of Jose Briones, who has done such good work both through his “Dumbphone Finder” tool and his YouTube channel where he reviews features phones.