Smartphones may have the computing power of a small military command centre, but dumbphones – known in politically correct circles as “feature” phones – are not dead yet.
The tech dinosaurs made up 12 per cent of all phones shipped to Australia in the first quarter of 2014, research firm IDC estimates.
That means almost 250,000 trusty bricks and flips, with their old-style keypads and quaint little screens, were imported between January and March alone.
Tech expert Paul Lin, CEO of leading app agency Buuna, tells The New Daily there is “absolutely” still a market for “no frills” phones, which he thinks may even be staging a comeback.
“Many smartphone owners are fed up with their constant connection to email, Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, Tinder, and other social channels. Opting for a simpler mode of communication allows them to break away from unhealthy tech habits,” Mr Lin says.
Mobile phone plan company Amaysim agrees.
“While more and more people are hungry for data and always on the hunt for the latest devices, there are a few that still just want to use their phones for calls and texts and find these old models easier to manage than a fancy new handset,” says Amaysim spokesperson Ged Mansour.
American celebrities are paving the way, with pop icon Rihanna and Vogue editor Anna Wintour both spotted recently with flip phones.
There are a number of practical ways that retro phones are off the hook. Here’s why.
Big brother can’t watch
KISA phone, a Melbourne-based company, launched a screen-less and keypad-less phone four months ago that has already seen demand from “young hipsters”, despite being targeted at older, disabled or technophobe Australians.
Privacy is a reason to ditch a smarter piece of tech, says KISA co-founder Dmitry Levin.
“Everyone knows that if you carry a mobile phone right now you have no privacy. Everything that you do on mobile phones – every bit of technology, every bit of information about you – belongs to someone else. Someone else has access,” he says.
With something like a KISA, it could be harder or near impossible to track and collect data on your life, especially if you do not or cannot use the internet.
If your phone is crappy, why would anyone want to steal it?
Last Christmas, a mugger in New York reportedly declined to steal a man’s mobile because it was too old.
“If someone sees an iPhone, they are more likely to get stolen because it’s a more readily tradable commodity. With our phone, it’s pointless for anyone to steal because they can’t do anything with it,” Mr Levin says.
Smell the roses
Vintage phones can return us to a simpler time, when books were read, scenery was seen and real conversations with real people were had.
Or so we can dream.
“For those who spend a little too much time on their smartphone, a retro phone offers the opportunity to detox and assess unhealthy habits,” says Buuna’s Paul Lin.
“For some elderly Australians, a simpler mobile phone is easier to use. With bigger buttons and basic functionality, it allows them to call and text messages without unnecessary bells and whistles,” Mr Lin says.
Cold hard cash
Basic pre-paid handsets are also dirt cheap. Like really cheap. And so are their phone bills, which are generally free of tedious long-term lock-in contracts.
Whether you need a cheap backup for your smartphone, or you want to ditch all ties to intelligent telephony, here are some dumbphones to check out.
Doro PhoneEasy — $99
Telstra Easy Call — $99
KISA phone — $84 (with plans from $15 to $45 per month)
Telstra Flip T20 — $59
Nokia 301 — $49
Telstra T96 — $49
Samsung E3309T — $29
ZTE F286 — $19