3 things dumbphones do really well

Tried and trusted. Credit: Image via Flickr/Yosomono.

The weather, the distractions, and overseas worries: all abated with a very cheap replacement.

I would never advise people to get rid of the cellphone they have now, unless it is an HTC Thunderbolt.

Cellphones can save people's lives. Most jobs make use of a cellphone. What's more, if you already have a smartphone, it would be rather difficult, and perhaps prank-ish, to suggest you downgrade. Let's not pretend that little glass rectangle is something other than addictive and great at killing time.

But I might suggest to you that if you have a "dumb phone" or "feature phone" hanging around, you might think about taking it out once in a while. Maybe try out a pre-paid/pay-as-you-go plan. Or even grabbing a new feature/dumb phone, especially if you're planning a trip to a destination outside the U.S.

I suggest these things because there are a select few things that dumb phones (or occasionally "dumbphone"; I will not argue for one form over another) still do better than smartphones. Those things, in no particular order:

They work in much colder temperatures

deep_reception_0.jpgImage via Flickr/Philip Bitnar.
This phone might actually work in that spot!

Something more than a few residents of Missouri, Chicago, New York, and other locales caught in the recent "polar vortex" might have discovered is that smartphones don't do so well in really cold temperatures.

How cold? A study of cold weather and phone failure by PCWorld Finland found that the iPhone 4S would literally shut itself off at 23 degrees Fahrenheit (F). That's below the 32F temperature Apple says is the safe temperature for their devices.

Follow the chart of cold-phone failures down the line, and you'll see that smart phones with very nice screens fail early on as one slides down the thermometer. Toward the bottom, the only phones left standing are those with very simple, non-LCD displays, and those with smaller batteries on which the phone can last for a very long time.

So if you often find yourself outdoors for a very long time (football games, snow-covered jobs, pond hockey fun), you could get more reliable service and usability from a dumb phone. Plus, do you really need Twitter while bear hunting?

Working in other countries

overseas_sim.jpgImage via Flickr/comedy_nose.
Passport to not worrying about getting lost.

There are quite a few hurdles between the way we use phones in the U.S. and the way the rest of the world uses phones. Americans have phones on GSM or CDMA networks, often locked to a particular carrier that gave them a subsidized "$200 phone," and with plans that make it mortgage-breaking-ly expensive to use said phones overseas. The rest of the world is mostly GSM, sometimes on slightly different bands, and using unlocked phones.

And, last but certainly not least, the major U.S. carriers generally do not have networks overseas, so it's up to you to either pay for a roaming agreement with your carrier (if it works where you're headed), or buy a SIM card for a network in your destination country. Check the adequately named Pay As You Go SIM with Data Wiki to see your options in every country.

But maybe you only really need a phone line and occasional text messages, for emergencies, for reservations, and to call someone and ask them to give you directions from Google Maps, back in the U.S. In that case, having a dumbphone makes it much easier to pop in a SIM card from a pay-as-you go carrier and have it on hand. It's what I plan to do, via Fido, the next time I'm spending any length of time just over the border in Canada.

Note: You can add data to a Fido plan, but I'm note sure vacations and day trips are the moments when you want to be wondering exactly how much data Google Maps is using on your phone right this minute.

They give you a break from being aware of everything all the time

Wondering what life would be like if you didn't wonder what every buzz, ping, screen flicker, or little blue or red dot on your phone meant? You can read a few different accounts about this crazy lifestyle of willfully avoiding a smartphone:

You know who really has the best reason to (occasionally, at your choice, at your leisure, if work permits) trade back to a dumbphone? Comedian Louis C.K., who laid out his argument in a couch talk on Conan that has since been dubbed "Louis C.K. Hates Cell Phones."

For those who can't watch a video at work:

You need to build an ability to just be yourself and not be doing something. That's what the phones are taking away, is the ability to just sit there, like this. That's just being a person. Nobody can ... they gotta check.

That makes a bit more sense in context. But the man is right: it really feels different to wander around and have no ability to see into all the channels you know on the web. It's a pretty cheap pleasure, too, given how cheap a dumbphone off Craigslist, eBay, or even Amazon can be.

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