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Retro phones: Why buying a dumbphone or an old phone is smart

Retro Phones
© Mehaniq / Shutterstock.com

Through the romantic notion of nostalgia or simply the desire of disconnecting oneself, some people choose to abandon their smartphone in order to return to their first mobile love. If retro phones are not yet a trend right now, we at NextPit do wonder whether this phenomenon has a future. We take a look at the pros and cons of using a retro handset!

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If you are like me and were born before the year 2000, you will surely remember your first cell phone as a GSM handset. This object entered our daily life with just a few taps on the keypad, allowing us to remain in touch with our loved ones near and far, to play games on a small screen in monochrome, and especially fooling around with strong vibrations and polyphonic sounds of the latest American Idol hit.

You also would probably remember the Snake game on Nokia, your classmate's latest flip phone, number of hours spent looking for an interchangeable case from a physical store. Our phones had become a way to assert our similarities, individualities, and differences.

Back then, our phones weren't really smart; WhatsApp and Instagram didn't exist. We were sending messages via MSN while Facebook was only starting to attract American college kids. I'm talking about the early 2000s, when a small amount of data flowed through our mobiles. 20 years ago, all the mobiles on the planet were struggling to reach 100 GB of data consumption daily. Back then, Google was a search engine which was still available on Internet Explorer and Chrome didn't exist.

In just two decades, our phones have changed so much. In 2021, Huawei estimated that a single user transferred an average of 1.5 GB of data per day on their smartphone alone. In the age of constant, unlimited connectivity, some are choosing to go back to basics.

Nokia 8810 being compared with a banana
With Nokia 8810, the well known brand wanted to go back to the basic phones root in 2018 / © NextPit by Irina Efremova

Why does retro phones work and for whom?

As we can see from the music or video game industry, objects from the past end up finding a place on our shelves and TV sets. Some music lovers connected to Spotify, Apple Music or Deezer can spend hours looking for vinyl records. The same is true for video game fans, and nostalgia for their first video game experiences has prompted some manufacturers to replicate their old consoles such as the SNES Classic Mini, which Nintendo sold more than 5 million units in less than a year after its release in 2017.

After reclaiming our interiors, could the objects of the past find a place in our pockets? Could our old mobiles also adapt to our ultra-connected lives? That's what my friend Christopher thinks, as he can't let go of his Nokia 3310 which he found intact at a flea market nearly a year ago. More out of a concern for disconnection than nostalgia, he says he found an alternative here "to wasted hours of achieving nothing" on his old iPhone. "I was a bit fed up with the impact of GAFAM on my daily life," he insisted.

If his Nokia is no longer in working condition as far as the battery is concerned, it still performs well since he only needs to recharge it "once every four days". Christopher confided, however, that he sometimes takes his iPhone X with him when he goes out. "I use it as an iPod and a camera, if I want to perform in-depth research or manage my emails, I mainly do so from my computer."

A person sending messages with a Nokia 3310
Would you trade your iPhone for a Nokia 3310 in 2022? / © NextPit by Irina Efremova

The price of retro mobile handsets also remains well below those of our current smartphones. Unless you are looking for a rare handset like the Motorola Aura which was released in 2008 and sold for an insane 4-digit amount on vintagemobile.fr, you will easily find a phone for less than $50 on the same site.

The question of operating system obsolescence does not even arise on old phones because at the time of their release, Android and iOS did not even exist. Hence, there's no need to worry about that.

If you are like Christopher, some people might be tempted to abandon the smartphone because of personal data collection concerns, others might be enticed by their conscience to keep the planet green. Indeed, returning to a "dumbphone" is a more responsible move for the environment than buying a smartphone that contains components which are getting increasingly rare without any recycling effort.

The same goes for data. The French Electronic Communications Regulatory Authority estimated that digital data transfer accounts for 2% of greenhouse gas emissions and this figure could rise to 7% by 2050. Since January 1, 2022, your fixed and mobile Internet bills even include the carbon footprint related to your connection. Try to take a look at the evolution of your energy consumption!

Are retro phones relevant?

The ecological impact, data protection, or the vintage aspect of GSM may push some people to switch to mobiles from another time. But in the era of the iPhone 13 and the Samsung Galaxy S22, the "retro phone" fans risk having a hard life. If they choose an old phone, there is a risk of it falling apart. While it may be easy to repair, it will be difficult to find replacement parts for their retro phone unless they've opted for a Nokia 3310 whose batteries and parts are still available and is basically one of the hardiest phones ever developed.

Unless you are already addicted to preloaded games like Tetris or Snake, retro phones might get boring in the long run. Indeed, our smartphones have become real mobile multimedia powerhouses that are capable of storing hours of video, audio, and game content. Over time, our smartphones have become actual, viable gaming platforms. A recent study showed that Mobile gaming share 57% of total gaming revenue worldwide.

As we have seen during the recent coronavirus pandemic, smartphones play an essential role in crisis management, whether it is in terms of contact tracing, meteorological events, or seismic disasters. Some applications also help save lives by alerting the right people nearby of a stroke or cardiac arrest. Acting or reacting to an emergency would become more complicated without having a smartphone in one's possession.

Corona warning app icon on a smartphone homescreen
In the pandemic times, smartphones played a big role on information and tracing areas / © NextPit

Smartphones also allow us to remain connected to the world, to know what's going on at the other end of the planet as well as what is coming right around the corner. And, if you haven't chosen to live on your own like a hermit, it will soon become difficult to make transactions without using Google Pay, Apple Pay, PayPal, or some other forms of e-transactions.

Sharing the 'right here, right now' moment with our loved ones without FaceTime, WhatsApp, Skype, Facebook or Instagram may be impossible with an outdated mobile phone, and the simple functions of your monochrome phone could keep you disconnected from your friends and family  who live far away.

Some manufacturers understand this and allow you to remain up to date, connected, while maximizing your phone's battery life and retaining its essential functions, arriving in the form factor of an old phone to boot.

Feature phones a credible alternative?

Whether it's the Alcatel Go Flip 3, the Nokia 3310 Dual Sim from 2020 or the Nokia 8110 4G, manufacturers have understood that continued production of replicas of their bestsellers fulfills a niche desire for those who are nostalgic for a keypad.

Updating old models to keep them current, old sneakers, musical instruments, clothing, and even car manufacturers, all of these have already been done. The embedded technology of the features phone might appeal to aesthetic seekers more than those who prefer to remain disconnected.

Indeed, the majority of feature phones released over the last few years use either Android or the KaiOS operating system, allowing one to install the most downloaded applications on the Google Play Store. It is difficult to "unglue" oneself in this case.

The Nokia 3310 menu displaying modern apps
Released in 2017, the revival of the Nokia 3310 had much more than the Snake game! / © NextPit by Irina Efremova

Feature phones are not considered as eco-friendly either, since they follow a production chain that is similar to that of our current smartphones, but they are often less energy consuming and more durable. The alternative lies almost exclusively in the nostalgia of the keypad or the clamshell, and the battery life.

The resurgence of our old mobile phones is likely to become a trend in my opinion. I wonder if people who are looking to disconnect have concerns about the environment and the protection of personal data could find themselves falling under this niche category. With their dumbphones, they might not be able to photograph a starry sky, but rather admire the real deal while reflecting on the future of humanity. That's all we wish them...

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