Thus begins another entry in my almost two-year long feature/non-smart phone journey. My last deliberation on this venture came with my post about the Schok Classic back in February, in which I detailed my history with smartphones, feature phones, and everything in-between. In May, I replaced my Schok Classic with Unihertz’s Titan Pocket, an android QWERTY-keyboard phone. To understand why I pursued the Titan Pocket, we must first understand the most significant issues that I encountered with the Schok Classic, about which I felt mostly positively:
Issues That Pushed Me Away From The Flip Phone And Towards The Titan Pocket
Issue 1: Typing on a Number-Pad
This still sucks. What pushed me from the Schok Classic to the Titan Pocket in 2022 is the same thing that pushed me from a generic Samsung flip phone to a Samsung Gravity slider phone in 2009, except slightly worse now in that the discursive landscape has changed so much towards text that it’s really imperative that I send text messages (also I’m 27 now with adult responsibilities and I was 14 with adolescent responsibilities back then). For the record I would rather communicate more complex information via call than text, but I am one of the only people that I know who is like that, so I often find myself needing to communicate more complex information via texts, and it sucks trying to type anything needing more than one sentence on a flip phone.
I will say that I preferred the tedium of typing on a flip phone to the inaccurate fury of typing on a touchscreen. I figured that out as soon as I was gifted my first rectangle phone (I’m sure there’s a real phrase for that sort of phone, but you know what I mean when I say rectangle phone to differentiate it from a QWERTY phone or a flip phone) in 2010 and I just sort of dealt with it for a decade. For a while, the functionality and applications of the rectangle, be it an Android or iPhone (or that brief stint in which I had a Windows Phone) made up for the poor typing experience, but once I started to disdain the functionality and applications, the QWERTY phone started to seem like a more feasible choice.
The only unfortunate thing is that there are very few QWERTY phone options as it stands. In North America, you can pursue one of the phones in the Unihertz Titan lineup, you can preorder the fxTec Pro1 X, or you can hope that the Astro Slide ever comes out. If you want a feature/dumb phone with a QWERTY keyboard, you really can’t get one here anymore. With the shutdown of 2G and 3G cellular service plus many carriers’ insistence (mine included) on VoLTE calling, there don’t seem to be any currently functional QWERTY feature phones available in the United States. (I believe that Canada’s keeping 2G alive until 2025, but I haven’t checked since I moved away from there)
This presented something of an issue, as I prefer feature phones to smartphones, but the Titan Pocket can serve as a midway point between the two. I’ll give details on that later on.
Issue 2: E-Ticketing
I attend a lot of sporting events. I probably attend between three and six sporting events per month, depending upon the season. This year, I don’t think I’ve even had the option to get a physical ticket to any of them. It’s all e-ticketing, it’s all QR codes now. I dislike this, as you could probably guess. Primarily, I dislike it because it requires me to keep a smartphone around (Before I had the Titan Pocket, I had an non-SIMmed old Android I’d have to take to games exclusively to serve as my ticket into the event, which is unwieldy and the security people look at me weird for having two phones). I also dislike it because I liked having a physical ticket to keep around as a memento, and I just don’t get that anymore with a one-time-use QR code.
The worst part of e-ticketing is that, at best, it’s presented a slightly different and often more infuriating sort of temperamentality to everything at very little benefit to anybody. The best example of this came last weekend when I was in Omaha for a conference and I wanted to go see a Creighton Blue Jays soccer game. The ticket was seven dollars, and I had to go through Ticketmaster to purchase it. Creighton sports are partnered with Ticketmaster. I tried to buy the ticket through the Creighton website, and the browser version of Ticketmaster was sluggish and barely functional for me. I looked in the Ticketmaster app, and it said the event was sold out, which was not the case on the website, and indeed not the case in reality. I had to go back through the web app, log back into a site I’ve already logged into on my phone, struggle through clicking on a seat and re-entering my credit card information, and I still had to use the app to pull up the ticket that the app itself said was an impossibility to procure. Compare this to only five years ago when I would’ve been able to walk up to the box office, hand a real person seven dollars, and walk my merry way in to watch some Big East soccer in what really is one of the prettier venues in American Soccer (and if you’re ever in Omaha, I recommend you check it out!). It would be nice to have a ticket from the event I could put on a corkboard or something, as I’ve made a habit of visiting soccer stadiums in new cities I visit, but alas, what I ended up with is this one whiny paragraph in this one blog post. It is going to suck when we grow old and don’t have any of that stuff to look back on, though. This is why I recommend printing important photos you only keep digitally and buying print media when possible.
The Titan Pocket can run all of the ticketing apps (SeatGeek, Stubhub, Ticketmaster, et cetera), so I can at least get into the events. I can feel a theme developing here, that the Titan Pocket allows me to continue to participate in some aspects of the world around me even if I’m reluctant about the manner of doing so.
Issue 3: I Am Still Shackled to and Mostly Okay With the Smartphone Audio Landscape
The one smartphone app that I feel has had absolutely no detrimental effect on me is Shazam. I will fully go to bat for Shazam. Sometimes I hear a song in a store and I want to know what it is, and having worked retail I am aware that much of the time, the names of songs playing over the speakers is hardly ever a priority of the workers and often not even accessible to them (unless it’s a record store in which case they generally know), so Shazam can really come in handy. I couldn’t get any version of Shazam to work on my old Schok, so having it back in my life with the Titan Pocket has been beneficial.
Spotify I have a more complicated relationship with. I like finding new music, and Spotify allows me to do so. I prefer to then purchase a physical version of music that I like if I can find it, or at the very least pay the artist directly for the digital album via Bandcamp or some other service, as I know that Spotify pays them very poorly for streams. I have heard and understand the criticisms of Spotify on the level of the listener – That it makes music feel more transient, less valuable, and therefore less appreciated by the listener due to its abundance – but I feel like I have a mostly healthy relationship with it through continued efforts to pay for albums I find through Spotify when possible. The Titan Pocket runs both of these apps, which I like.
Issue 4: There Are Some General Modern Smartphone Amenities That I Like
Along with the audio apps, certain things like weather forecasting, sports scores, note-taking, Google Maps, and Wikipedia I have a perfectly fine relationship with, and I have them installed on my Titan Pocket. What is nice is that, with the Titan Pocket, I can have the modern amenities that I like and I can lock away other modern amenities that I don’t like, which leads me to the next section, and the main reason why I’m happy to keep this smart device on me.
Features I Like About The Titan Pocket
Feature 1: Student Mode
When I was setting up my Titan Pocket back in May, I wrote down the list of applications I actually wanted to have on my phone, and I came to about twelve. They all fit very nicely on my home screen:
I thought to myself, “If I could just limit what my smartphone could do to those twelve apps, I’d be good with it.” The Titan Pocket has a workaround which allows for this, named Student Mode. Student Mode is, by design, a parental control app that basically blocks every app installed on the phone behind a six-digit PIN with a function allowing the user to whitelist certain apps. With this feature, I was able to limit my smartphone to those twelve apps, allowing me the functionality of a QWERTY keyboard and the limited applications that I feel are beneficial to me while limiting me from the amenities I find exacerbate self-destructive tendencies.
For the record, what I do for the PIN is that I’ll keysmash into a text file on my computer, take a random six-digit string out, and use that as the PIN. That way, if I absolutely need to use it, like if I need to download a new app for something, I can turn it off, do whatever I need to do, then turn it back on, pick a new six-digit string out, and go on from there. I realize that this does not seem like the action of someone who has a healthy relationship with the internet, which is something I’ll get to at the end, but to be fair, I do not have a healthy relationship with the internet.
Feature 2: Technical Limitations
One of the other benefits regarding the Titan Pocket’s capacity as a non-smart phone is that it can’t do what other smartphones do. It is slow and underpowered (there’s also a “Gamer Mode” that can be activated, but I cannot imagine it running any games that use any significant resources very well. The screen is only 3.1 inches in size and nearly 1:1 in aspect ratio (716×720), and most applications are built for a much taller screen in mind. Anything requiring a lot of touch screen use has me frequently accidentally bumping my thumb against the home key at the top of the keyboard, which is activated with a hair’s trigger.
It’s a terrible smartphone in many senses. If I wanted a smartphone that could fulfill all the trappings and expectations of a modern smartphone, the Titan Pocket would be an infuriating device. Yet, what I want is my Samsung Gravity slider phone from 2009 with the ability to do Shazam and display the QR codes that get me into college soccer games, and this fulfills that.
I realize the paradoxical nature of this part of the piece, but I’m starting to recognize that I view the mobile phone as something of a necessary evil. At best, I need a barebones tool for communication. The best phone to me in this stage of my life is one that I think about as little as possible that can still fulfill the modern amenities I enjoy or require. The best corollary I can think of is my car. I do not enjoy driving. I find no joy in driving my car on the open road or anything. However, it gets me to my work better than the bus does given the devastating highway construction separating my home and my workplace, and I’m going to alter my work schedule in the spring so that I can rely more on public transit than I do now. All that I care about my car is whether it runs and if it gets decent gas mileage, and mine does, but I would live without it if I could. I think of my phone in a similar way. I need one for communication in this era, so I’ll make the best of it, but I’m not looking for that much out of it.
Feature 3: 3.5mm Jack
If it worked the way that it was supposed to, I wouldn’t mind Bluetooth so much, but my car always wants to interrupt whatever’s playing to read me text messages if I’m connected by Bluetooth and it annoys me, so I will hold on to the life of an AUX cord and a 3.5 mm headphone jack for as long as possible. It also – and this is Toyota’s fault, and I don’t think they do this anymore – somehow have the message ribbon informing me that nothing’s connected to Bluetooth as the top priority thing on the console screen, above even the backup camera, which I feel should be treated as unimpeachable. My old Hyundai wouldn’t even let me skip songs when it was in backup camera mode, but my current car’s happy to have a ribbon informing me that nothing is happening come down and take up a quarter of the screen I’m using to see what make of car I’m about to back into. Ridiculous.
This is not as much of an issue with the AUX cord/headphone jack method. I’ve found, as I’ve grown older, that I don’t use headphones that much in transit (as in I enjoy hearing the ambience of the bus and the campus when I do take the bus to campus), but the Titan Pocket works fine with standard 3.5 mm headphones.
Features That I Dislike About the Titan Pocket
Feature 1: Buttons I Don’t Want
There are two buttons on this device that I’d like to deactivate, but I can’t seem to do so. The first is the home key, which is far too sensitive, as I’ve stated earlier. I’ll be in the middle of clicking on something on the little touch screen, I’ll accidentally tap the home key, and I’ll be back to the home screen – or worse, if I hold my finger against the home key for just a beat too long, it’ll try to bring up the Google Assistant, which is thankfully blockable by Student Mode.
I do not want the Google Assistant. I tried to use Siri back when I had an iPhone, I’d be driving, and I’d say something like “Siri, Play Podcast Ain’t Played Nobody” and it’d wait several seconds before telling me I needed to log in with my passcode to open the podcast apps but it could instead play from the music I had stored on my phone, defaulting to “About Your Love’” by Paul Johnson every time. I do not want and will not use the Google Assistant.
The other thing that these rugged sold-to-construction-worker phones love doing is having a button on the outside of the phone which turns the flashlight on. My old AGM M7 had that feature as well. It’s little more than annoying, but I probably only have one instance in which I benefit from being able to turn on the flashlight with the side button for every twelve instances in which I spend several minutes with a bright dot shining through the pocket of my jeans while I stand in line at Planet Sub.
Feature 2: The Keyboard is Temperamental
My “F” key is getting finicky, it’ll take an extra tap or two to get it to register sometimes. My instinct is to complain about the alternative characters offered with the letters on the keyboard, but as I study the device right now, I’m realizing that getting everything I’d make frequent use of onto the keyboard would add space, the only thing I can think to swap out is the @ symbol on the letter “A” with a $ symbol, but given that this is a phone sold globally, I understand its exclusion.
This is a fine phone for me, and I’m going to keep using it. Though it’s smarter than I want a phone to be, I can limit it to only be what I want. This is my favorite phone that I’ve used since the halcyon days of texting my friends on my old Samsung Gravity slider in the eighth grade. There are days in which I spend less than thirty combined minutes looking at it, and I will routinely go three to four days between charges (the battery life is quite good as well, for the record). This is what I had with the Schok Classic as well, except this one does texting better and runs the apps that I like having available to me.
There is a dissonance between me and this device. I want it to do less than it does. I am trying to get less out of it than it offers, because I know that, allowed its full potential, I’ll fall into habits I don’t care for, and I don’t like that. This device puts out directly in front of me that I have a problem, that I get addicted to aspects of social media in a way that the flip phone didn’t. The amount of activity I take to this phone to in order to use it as little as possible – the locking away of the browser app behind a PIN and the very mindful curation of which apps I’ll allow on it and the way that I still try to keep it in another room when I’m at home or in my bag if I’m out because I’ve heard that having it in eyeshot makes me more susceptible to general distraction – it does not feel like the activity of a person with a healthy relationship with the internet.
The flip phone, for all its hassles, was self-explanatory. If I’m using a flip phone, I just don’t want the bullshit that comes along with a smartphone. With this one, it feels like I’m trying to exist in-between two spheres, like I want one thing but I have another, so I’m never really happy with it… But, I think part of the idea here is that no phone can make me happy. Maybe the Titan Pocket helped me recognize that.
I am going to put more discussion into the accompanying Substack post, which you can check out at joebush.substack.com