With the Light Phone 2, the team behind the minimally-minded Light Phone that blew up on Kickstarter in 2015 continues to explore the balance between being connected and preserving your mental health. It’s a spare, standalone handset that rethinks how smart a smartphone actually needs to be.
With the number of apps, gadgets, and social media platforms constantly begging for our attention, people are beginning to realize that there is such a thing as too much internet. But at the same time, completely disconnecting isn’t really an option for most people either.
In an attempt to foster digital wellbeing that goes beyond things like blue light filters and disabling annoying notifications, the original Light Phone only did one thing: make calls.
The Light Phone was as much of a philosophical experiment as it was an engineering challenge, attempting to boil the essence of communication down into a tiny device. And while the Light Phone did its job, due to its single-purpose nature, it was never designed to be a replacement for your current smartphone. Instead, it was intended as a backup device or alternative choice for when you wanted to cut out distractions.
The Light Phone 2 shares the same design principles as its predecessor, featuring an ultra-minimalist appearance both inside and out. It’s only slightly smaller than a deck of cards, and aside from a few buttons for volume, menu, and power, the Light Phone 2’s only distinguishing exterior characteristic is its 2.8-inch e-ink touchscreen.
Meanwhile, on the inside, the Light Phone 2’s custom LightOS is just as spartan. Unlocking the phone brings you immediately to a log of your recent calls and messages, while pressing the menu button presents a total of three functions: Phone, Alarm, and Settings. That’s it, at least to start.
By removing the ability to install more apps, the Light Phone 2 hopes that you’ll spend more time focusing on the real world, instead of constantly checking your emails or who liked your latest post on Instagram.
However, for a device that’s supposed to be a true replacement for your typical smartphone, the Light team knows making calls and setting alarms isn’t really enough. So after the phone’s official launch today, there are plans to add features such as mapping, rideshare apps, music playback, hotspot tethering, and a few more before the end of the year.
But that doesn’t mean the Light team is going to open the app floodgates, because if they did, then the Light Phone 2 wouldn’t be any different than a typical smartphone. This is where the process of deciding what kind of features are truly essential comes in, with Light fielding requests from users while trying to balance their goal of preserving digital health and maintaining your privacy.
So while the Light Phone 2 can connect to modern 4G LTE cell networks, it will never have email, news feeds, an internet browser, social media apps, or ads. That means for things like ridesharing, the Light team is planning to work with companies like Lyft and Uber to create custom versions of those apps that can still book rides, but without any of the tracking features that are present in their standard Android or iOS counterparts.
In fact, while the Light Phone 2 supports most of the U.S.’s major cellular providers such as Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile (Light is working on Sprint), the team is also creating its own MVNO cell network to maintain the company’s vision of a more streamlined and respectful internet. The service will be available for an extra $30 a month.
Still, even though the Light Phone 2 is still sort of a work in progress, it’s delightful to use—it’s like a feature phone mixed with a Kindle. When it’s locked, the Light Phone 2’s screen only shows a clock and a battery gauge, while an asterisk next to the clock is the only indicator that you have a message.
The screen is easy on the eyes and comes with a backlight and ambient light sensor so you can still use it in the dark. And while the refresh rate of e-ink screens can’t come close to what you get on modern OLED or LCD panels, it’s more than functional.
Between its power-sipping screen and limited feature set, the Light Phone 2 offers some seriously good battery life. You’re looking at two to three days of normal usage, or about seven to 10 days on standby. The Light Phone 2 even comes with a headphone jack and built-in Bluetooth to help with playing music, whenever that functionally gets added.
However, there are potential rough edges that could be an issue for some. Because of Light’s insistence on keeping attention hogging things off the phone, if someone texts you a picture, all you get is a little icon indicating that an image exists, but no way to view it. (Light says it’s considering adding a way to view those photos in a web browser, but nothing has been decided just yet.) Same goes for emojis, which don’t show up quite right.
Also, because its e-ink screen doesn’t always fully refresh like a traditional smartphone display, sometimes you can see the residual image of a text or menu even after you’ve moved onto to something else. This presents a small security concern, as it could let other people see your password or parts of a text message if you’re not careful. Thankfully, the screen fully refreshes whenever you press the lock button, so just remember to hit it before you hand your phone over to a friend to make a call.
Still, either as a standalone phone or a companion device, the Light Phone 2 feels very different from pretty much anything out there, and for people weary of the stress and frustration that often comes with being constantly connected, it feels like a thoughtful alternative.