Patrick Stevens bio photo

Patrick Stevens

Former mathematics student at the University of Cambridge; now a software engineer.

Email Twitter Github Stackoverflow

*This post is unfinished, and may never be finished - I have decided that the Nexus 5 is sufficiently cheap, nice-looking and future-proof to outweigh the boredom of continuing the research here, especially given that such research by necessity has a very short lifespan. I am one of those people who hates shopping with a fiery passion. *

My current phone is a five-year-old Nokia 1680. It has recently developed a disturbing tendency to turn off when I’m not watching it. This puts me in the market for a new phone. Having looked over the Internet for guides to which phone to buy, I’ve become lost in the swamp of information, so I am using this post to order my thoughts.

My current phone usage

I use my phone pretty rarely. It has a camera, but I have only used it once ever (and that picture was so blurry that it doesn’t really count). It has a colour screen, which I would happily forgo if it made the battery life better. The battery lasts about a week between charges at my current usage level. I have made about five calls on it in the past year, and sent a few hundred texts. The £20 of credit I gave it about four months ago is now down to £2.50, but I used it unusually often to make calls (four of the five calls I mentioned were in that period). The phone can connect to the Internet, but I have never used it thusly, because interacting with web pages would be too painful on that screen and with those buttons. My current tariff is pay-as-you-go, with Tesco Mobile, on a plan that doesn’t seem to exist any more (4p per text, and some unspecified amount for calls).

Projected phone usage

I have two main options available.

  • Buy a dumbphone
  • Buy a smartphone.

These options greatly affect the way I would use the phone. For a dumbphone, I would use it much as I use my current phone: for rare calls and for less-rare texts. For a smartphone, I would branch out considerably, into using it for calendar syncing, to-do lists, GPS/maps/directions, on-the-go information, computation and so forth. I would not use it for games (because they are simply a waste of time that I could be using to become more awesome, and because they aren’t fun anyway). I don’t see myself using it as a camera, either. I will not be installing social media apps on a smartphone, because I hate it when people use them in front of me, and because I categorically do not want to become one of these people who incessantly posts about what food they had this morning. I reserve public self-broadcasting platforms for those things which I think could be important or interesting to many people (and I amend the “what-I-post” category in response to feedback), or which I’m proud of having created, and it’s much harder to find/make these things on a phone screen than on a computer with keyboard and big screen.

Requirements for a dumbphone

  • Cheap - I do not want to spend more than £50 on a dumbphone
  • Long battery life
  • No need for a camera or a colour screen - eInk sounds ideal
  • No need for Internet access

Requirements for a smartphone

  • Calendar syncing (I could host a CalDAV server on this website, so interoperability should be easy)
  • To-do list syncing (I have switched to Workflowy for to-do lists, and that can be accessed in-browser, so it only needs a web browser)
  • Preferably maps/GPS
  • Smooth user experience (I want to feel like I’m controlling JARVIS)
  • Cheaper is better -  I do not want to spend more than £400 on a smartphone
  • Preferably libre and more preferably secure/NSA-proof, although this is not paramount
  • At least a four-inch screen, preferably larger (up to a maximum of six inches)

Dumbphone research

It would appear that very few purely eInk phones have ever been created. There are a few dual-screen LCD and eInk phones, but they are primarily smartphones; what I want from eInk is more like a Kindle turned into a phone. The eInk page on phones demonstrates three phones, but they are either dual-screen or truly dreadful (as in, only two lines of text can appear on the screen at once). It looks like eInk is a no-go.

I am reduced to looking for dumbphones without a camera, colour screen or Internet access.

Smartphone research

Operating system

There are two main OSs in use: Android and iOS. I say this because Windows Phone OS is ugly enough to flout the JARVIS requirement, and Blackberry phones… hmm. My cached thoughts on Blackberry phones run along the lines of “don’t like them, uncool” more than anything else. I find myself generating excuses not to include them in this list, even though I don’t actually know much about them. Better put them in.

iOS

The only phone devices which run iOS are Apple’s iPhones. With an education discount, the only model I can buy new within my £400 limit is the iPhone 4S (at £349). This model has access to Siri (the Apple personal assistant).

Apple offers a “refurbished and clearance” store, but they do not offer iPhones through this.

Android

Android phones are very widely available. Because there is such a huge choice of phones already, I will make the simplifying assumption that I only want a phone which runs Android 4.4 “KitKat” (the latest version of Android, as of this writing).

Blackberry

It turns out that only two Blackberry phones have full-size touchscreens. The JARVIS criterion is failed for screens which are too small to fit reasonable amounts of text on, which leaves only the Z30 and Z10. However, from what I’ve seen, the Blackberry OS is kind of uglier than Android or iOS. For the sake of simplifying the discussion, I will go with my cached self and rule out Blackberry.