Dumb Phones & Digital Detox: Minimalists’ New Favorite Trend of 2024

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Premium devices captured a quarter of global smartphone sales last year. No surprise there, but a counter trend is taking shape as more people become disillusioned with doom scrolling and endless look-at-me interruptions. An influential outgroup is ditching their iOSs and Androids for something simpler — ​dumb phones or feature phones in telco industry parlance.

The recent launch of Heineken’s Boring Phone adds another twist to a class of semi-smart mobiles that are really just for calling, texting, reading emails, or playing retro versions of Snake. Pocket-sized yet increasingly visible, minimalist phones are part of a move to detach from screens, detox from digital life, and reconnect with the stress-free joys of single-use technologies.

From basic handsets to analog cameras and tablets that are just for writing, it seems a new tech trend is on the up.

We track the rise of dumb phones and the wider growth of dumb tech. Is it just a blip on a 2.8-inch screen?

Key Takeaways

  • With their immersive functionality, responsive touch screens, and apps galore, smartphones have a magnetic pull on attention spans. For some, they are both a blessing and a curse.
  • A steady proportion of consumers say they’ve had enough distractions and interruptions, want to reduce the time spent on their devices and crave a digital detox.
  • The dumb phone market is one way people are switching off, opting for handsets inspired by the feature phones of yore — before touch screens and social media became mainstream.
  • It’s part of a bigger trend towards digital minimalism: a sort of Neo-Luddism that doesn’t hate technology but yearns for less powerful devices that can’t constantly pull you back in.
  • Nokia’s maker, HMD, relaunched the iconic Nokia 3210 for its 25th anniversary, offering users to take a break from scrolling and stay present.

The Rise of Dumb Tech

Why would a beer maker create a dumb phone of its own? A Heineken spokesperson told Techopedia that the globe’s second-largest brewer is tapping into a very current discontent.

“We spoke to Gen Z and Millennials and realized that many feel habitually distracted by their device but don’t want to go completely phone-free. The Boring Phone is our way of encouraging people to enjoy better real-life connections and disconnect from their smartphones.”


Heineken’s Boring Phone. Source: Heineken

Its striking see-through case and bold green accents sets it apart from other dumb phones, but the basic format is still recognizable.

Most are updated versions of the narrow rectangles and flip phones that were state of the art in the late 90s and early 2000s.

Harkening back to when Nokia and Motorola ruled the mobile space, simple phones boast tiny screens, front facing cameras in the 1.3mp-2mp range, old school headphone jacks and keypads you can operate with a single opposable thumb.

Why buy a gadget that does less by design? It’s a simple pitch for simpler tech, leaving out the stresses that smartphones are increasingly being blamed for.

Phones That Leave You Alone

A recent survey of 9,000 consumers by Canalys found that almost 47% strongly agreed with the statement ‘I often feel that I spend too much time on my phone and struggle to put it down.’

Runar Bjørhovde, an analyst at Canalys, told Techopedia:

“It’s frightening to see that this trend is much, much higher amongst those under the age of 30 than those over. This is probably the user-group that struggles the most with doom scrolling and doom surfing.”

As far back as 2012, researchers were noting a correlation between heavy mobile phone use and increased anxiety and depression.

Today’s smartphones and tablets are much more immersive and, arguably, addictive than the devices on offer 12 years ago. So some people are making a concerted effort to switch off — in part, if not entirely.

There’s been a resurgence in all kinds of ‘newtro’ tech products that limit their functionality by design:

The company’s products are “distraction-free by design,” says Christina Andersen, Communications manager at reMarkable. She told Techopedia that reMarkable strives to be human-centric, avoiding ads, notifications, pop-ups, or other nuisances that make it hard to have moments of perfect clarity.

“This resonates with individuals aiming to minimize paper consumption, declutter their digital space, and enhance their focus.”

reMarkable 2 Tablet with Type Folio. Source: reMarkable

Embracing Digital Minimalism

All of this is connected to a broader trend of digital minimalism, named for the bestselling 2019 book by Cal Newport. It’s about staying focused, putting down the phone, switching off the laptop, and generally withholding attention from the attention economy.

If you’ve ever been phubbed by a friend or found your mind wandering whenever you consume long-form content, you’ll understand the attraction of gadgets that do less. For all the benefits smartphones and tablets bring, too much time staring into them leads to a level of cognitive decline.

“Devices created to be multipurpose overflow with digital distractions like social media, email, and reminders,” adds Andersen. “They are useful but have too many attention-grabbing annoyances that steal time away from us.”

It may also be testament to the biological attraction of physical formats and tools designed for doing single tasks well. Consider that no matter how strong the pull of digital transformation, the much-touted paperless office has never materialized. Activities that require you to maintain focus while you move, write, fold, stack, color, shape, or arrange things with your hands are just more satisfying.

How Big Is the Dumb Phone Market?

As attractive as the simple life may be, ditching your smartphone isn’t easy.

Bjørhovde notes that dumb phones lack features that have become natural extensions for smartphone users, particularly maps, rich messaging (WhatsApp), banking, and pairing with companion devices like speakers and smartwatches. He said:

“In our consumer survey we asked respondents if they would consider switching to a feature phone to reduce screen usage and 18% said they agreed or strongly agreed.”

While that number might appear high, Bjørhovde says the gap between considering and buying is huge.

“For most users, it would probably be a fun, nostalgic experiment for a few weeks or months, but would be unlikely to be a permanent change.”

In developed markets, Canalys expects flat to marginally negative growth in the next few years, though he does note that “there is a niche in the market that is drawn towards feature phones that we expect will keep the market stable in the years to come.

“I don’t think we should underestimate that there might be a niche opportunity for an OEM to capitalize on, as HMD (maker of the Boring Phone as well as the current crop of Nokia feature phones) is trying to do now.”

The feature phone market in North America and Europe is worth just above $1 billion, he adds, “so there is an opportunity to do good business. But it is a niche and will remain a niche, which is partly why it has become an interesting tool in creative marketing campaigns.”

The Best Dumb Phones Right Now

Considering a move to a less distracting brick phone? The following list will help you get started. Instead of a ranking or rating, we’ve selected the phones analysts and reviewers mention frequently or have won awards for design and innovation.

  • Light Phone — small and sleek with a basic black and white interface, similar to an e-reader’s electronic paper in look and feel.
  • The Boring Phone — admittedly a promotional campaign by Heineken with only 5,000 available for a lucky few, its striking colors, retro features, and limited run make it a flip phone to covet.
  • Nokia 6300 — Super affordable and smarter than most dumb phones, the Nokia 6300 looks old school but comes with basic Facebook and WhatsApp, maps, and also works as a hotspot.
  • Punkt MP02 — This Swiss brand has won numerous accolades for design, adding enhanced privacy to its digital minimalist appeal. A premium feature phone for those willing to pay extra for security and cachet.
  • Nokia 2780 Flip — Retro and basic with a monochrome screen, the Nokia 2780 is a top choice for strict minimalist cool that’s affordable too.
  • Nokia 3210 (2024) — Another classic Nokia phone from 1999, which received a modernized look for its 25th anniversary. 

Nokia 3210: ‘Take a Break From Scrolling and Reconnect With What Matters’

The iconic Nokia 3210 (2024) is the latest addition to the list of the best dumb phones.

The maker of Nokia, Human Mobile Devices (HMD), relaunched the “cultural icon” because the demand for simple feature phones is growing as part of a digital detox trend.

For £74.99, the new Nokia 3210 offers 4G, Bluetooth, and classic games.

It promises a battery life that will last for days and suggests to “take a break from scrolling and reconnect with what matters.”

Lars Silberbauer, HMD’s chief marketing officer, said:

“The Nokia 3210, a cultural icon, is back at the pinnacle of the global dumbphone boom as consumers look to balance their screen time usage with a digital detox. The Nokia 3210 has simplicity at its core, allowing consumers to be totally present. Forget dumbphone, this is 2024’s fun phone.”

Iconic Nokia 3210 Revived. Source HMD

The Final Verdict

Dumb phones and single-use gadgets may never replace smartphones, but resilient demand from a segment of fashionable outliers seems likely to sustain their appeal.

reMarkable’s Christina Andersen said:

“There is a cultural shift toward more minimalist and human-friendly technology, fueled by a growing interest in technology that can foster intentionality and mindfulness in a world full of distractions.”

In a 1995 interview with Inc. magazine, Catch-22 author Kurt Vonnegut explained his preference for old-school tech:

“I work at home and I could have a computer, but I use a typewriter. So when I leave the house my wife asks, ‘where are you going?’ and I say, ‘I’m going to buy an envelope.” And she says, ‘you’re not a poor man. Why don’t you buy a thousand envelopes’?


(It’s because) I go to this newsstand where they sell magazines and lottery tickets and stationery. I have to get in line. There are people buying candy and I talk to them. One time I had my pocket picked and got to tell a cop about it. Anyway, I stamp the envelope and mail it and I go home.


And I’ve had a hell of a good time.”


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Mark De Wolf
Tech Writer
Mark De Wolf
Tech Writer

Mark is a freelance tech journalist covering software, cybersecurity, and SaaS. His work has appeared in Dow Jones, The Telegraph, SC Magazine, Strategy, InfoWorld, Redshift, and The Startup. He graduated from the Ryerson University School of Journalism with honors where he studied under senior reporters from The New York Times, BBC, and Toronto Star, and paid his way through uni as a jobbing advertising copywriter. In addition, Mark has been an external communications advisor for tech startups and scale-ups, supporting them from launch to successful exit. Success stories include SignRequest (acquired by Box), Zeigo (acquired by Schneider Electric), Prevero (acquired…