Something remarkable happened to me a few weeks ago. Thanks to the resourcefulness and generosity of my friend and spirit guide Documentally, a rather exclusive, high-end and indeed Swiss tech company sent me their new Punkt MP02 phone. For free. No strings attached.
I’ve written elsewhere about how everything is free, but I’ve never had the gumption to straight up ask people to send me stuff. But The Swiss Phone Incident has inspired me: never again will I spend significant sums of moolah, until I’ve first tried to get it (or do it) for nothing.
Of course, nothing is for nothing. I doubt Punkt would have sent me a free phone if I didn’t have some record (however modest) of writing about stuff on the internet.
The Swiss Phone Incident has made me realise that, although writing isn’t a terribly well-paid job, it does open up opportunities to supplement one’s income.
For example, some friends recently invited me to Love Trails, a running festival in Wales that sounded right up my alley – if it wasn’t for the £130+ price tag. So, in the after-glow of The Swiss Phone Incident, I emailed the organisers suggesting that I give a talk in exchange for a free ticket and travel expenses.
To my enduring surprise (I still think it was all a dream), they said yes. What’s great about this – aside from saving well over £130 – is that instead of merely going to the festival, I am the festival – or part of it, at least. My experience of Love Trails will be all the greater for not spending money on a ticket.
I have found this again and again: spending money is the simplest, but also the lowest impact way of acquiring a thing or an experience.
Hitch-hiking will always be more latent with possibility than buying a plane ticket. Skipping food from bins is so much more fraught with surprise and reward than is shopping at Lidl. Sharing tools and swapping skills with your neighbours opens up futures that are sullied by contracts and cash.
By spending a little time figuring out how we might get shit for free, we not only save money, but also become more engaged with the people and planet around us, learn new skills or practise old ones, and – above all – have more interesting stories to tell of our lives.
Digital minimalism is a niche topic, and I doubt many people can afford to spend £300 for a phone that doesn’t even take photos – but I hope that The Swiss Phone Incident inspires you to look for opportunities where you can spend a little less and live a little more.
For those of you who are interested in what I think of the Punkt MP02, the review is here.
We get sold on a particular feature – like the ability to make social phone calls to friends and family – but find ourselves quickly overwhelmed by myriad extraneous features that distract us from our intentions.
This is where the Punkt MP02 feature phone intervenes: adding a step between my sociable intentions and the pernicious distractions of my ‘smart’ devices.
Note: Punkt sent me this MP02 gratis. Of course, it’s lovely to receive such a kind gift, and you would be forgiven for being suspicious about this the honesty of this review. But please suspend your doubt – as you will see, I’m far too reliant on connectivity to tolerate a device that doesn’t work properly!
The Punkt MP02 as a minimum viable technology
I’ve written before about using the minimum viable technology for a task, and the Punkt MP02 fits perfectly into my buffet of devices.
The MP02 does only two things really well:
It does a few other things, like messaging and note-taking, but it doesn’t do them very well. These features are more for emergencies than day-to-day use.
Using the Punkt MP02 in combination with my laptop and my smartphone, I can still take part in extraneous ‘connected’ activities, without turning them into reflex habits.
But, best of all, the Punkt and I now prioritise phone calls.
Has the Punkt changed my behaviour?
Of course, the proof is in the pudding, or, as the saying goes, in the device use statistics.
With the Punkt in my digital arsenal, I’ve averaged only 15 minutes a day on my smartphone. For comparison, my average smartphone use – excluding phone calls – in the week immediately pre-Punkt was around 60 minutes per day.
Looking back over the longer term, my average smartphone use – excluding phone calls – in the last two months has been about 45 minutes a day – and that’s with a conscious effort to reduce my smartphone usage after reading Cal Newport’s Digital Minimalism.
It seems that, with the Punkt, I could be saving 30-45 minutes a day, a remarkable return for the device thus far.
I have also made more phone calls to friends and family with the Punkt than I used to with the smartphone. In my first week with the Punkt, I made 5 ‘social’ phone calls for a total duration of 110 minutes, averaging about 22 minutes each.
In comparison, over the preceding six weeks, I made 9 similarly social calls on my smartphone, lasting a total of 180 minutes. On average, that makes only 2 calls every week.
These smartphone calls were still around 20 minutes each, which reassures me that I’m comparing apples with apples, but with the Punkt, it seems as if I’m more than twice as likely to pick up the phone and call friends and family. Brilliant.
This might, of course, be down to novelty. It’ll be interesting to see whether I continue to spend significantly less time on my smartphone, as the unnecessary habit degrades, or whether instead I begin to crave the convenience of the ‘smart’ features I do use.
Which brings me on to…
Do I still need a smartphone?
There are several features for which I know I will still use my smartphone.
Maps. Connectivity is not necessary: I have downloaded maps for offline use.
Camera. Wifi will be needed to transfer these from phone to computer.
Whatsapp messaging. I prefer to use my computer for the actual sending of messages, but this is only possible with a ‘smart’ connection as well.
Strava tracking for bike rides.
Banking apps. Not strictly necessary, but I can’t be the only person who finds the mobile apps easier to use than the web equivalents.
As you can tell, none of these activities are urgent. I could survive without any of them. Does that mean I will get rid of my smartphone? No.
My smartphone is still, for better or worse, the minimum viable technology for that grab bag of low-priority, but still useful features.
I’m not going to buy a dedicated camera because I hardly ever take photos. Photography isn’t a priority for me. Likewise, I’m unlikely to buy a Garmin GPS for my bike: they’re expensive and I’m not massively into following pre-planned routes.
It remains to be seen whether the Punkt MP02 has turned the smartphone into one useful tool among many, rather than one dominant tool to rule them all (and me) – but that is the hope.
Pros, Not bothereds, Cons and a Wishlist
With the psychological and practical aspects of the review dealt with, let’s look at the phone in more detail. What works, what I don’t care about, what doesn’t work, and what could work.
Pros (for me)
The phone works as a phone – hallelujah! This is huge.
Tethering works as well as with my old smartphone (after help from the excellent customer support team). This is also huge.
Excellent customer support, fortunately, because the phone needs it. It can’t be easy designing and launching an entirely new genus of phone, and early adopters need support.
Beautifully designed and feels good in my hand. I’ve dropped it a couple of times already and it seems robust.
BlackBerry security. Hopefully this means that my phone can’t be hacked. To be honest, I’m not exactly sure what this means in practice: presumably the protection doesn’t extend to tethered devices. I’ve written before about the leaky nature of mobile phones, and how this data is big business. It feels good to own a device that, for once, puts my privacy first.
Not bothereds (for me)
For a simple phone, there’s quite a going on. I can connect to other devices using Bluetooth, WiFi and a USB connection. I genuinely have no idea why the phone has GPS.
There are a panoply of other unobtrusive features, including messaging, calculator, calendar, alarm, world clock, stopwatch, timer, and notes with timed reminders (including recurring reminders). They all seem to work well, but I doubt I’ll use any of them much.
The messaging system can display emoticons and QR codes. Wowzas.
Cons (for me)
UPDATE: Punkt are currently manufacturing an update to the MP02 which will be available in July 2019. Hopefully many of the bugs listed below will be fixed – and they have kindly offered me an exchange. As I said earlier, the customer service is excellent.
This is quite a long list, so I’ve bolded the cons that have a significant negative impact on my day-to-day use.
Limited battery life. The Punkt’s battery life is currently only about a day of light to moderate use. A couple of phone calls, a couple of hours’ hotspotting, and it’s dead. Even on standby, the battery drains remarkably quickly. Overnight, on aeroplane mode, I lost 15%. Frankly, compared to other feature phones, it’s feeble – and very nearly a deal breaker. Luckily, Punkt’s engineers are working on a solution and hope to release another firmware update in June. Watch this space…
I can’t have an audible ring tone without also turning on all the other annoying system noises (key-pad tones, lock and unlock tones, etc.). For a phone that sells itself on discretion, this seems very odd. The excellent customer service people don’t appear to have a solution either. What this means is that, for the sake of my sanity, I have to have the phone on silent all the time. It does vibrate, however, so I usually hear something buzz when someone calls.
The ringtones might be ‘the work of respected Norwegian sound artist Kjetil Røst Nilsen’, but in my humble opinion, they are all a bit weird. It’s not possible to upload my own, although they do say this might be a feature for a future update.
Likewise, I can’t change the alarm noise, which is unfortunate because it sounds like I’m under attack from quite a raucous seagull. Not the most relaxing way to wake up.
The earphones aren’t very good quality and only come with one earpiece. They are USB-C, though, so I could buy a new set, I guess.
You can programme shortcuts, which is handy. This would be a pro, but isn’t very well done so becomes a con, I’m afraid. The options are fairly limited and the execution isn’t always as clear as it could be. I set a shortcut to turn on tethering, but there is no notification that the shortcut has executed successfully, and I can’t set a shortcut to turn tethering off.
The power source is USB-C, so I can’t share chargers with most of the rest of the world yet, and heaven help me if I lose this one cable before I get a chance to buy a backup. A bit harsh to make this a con, but there we go.
I’ve also run into quite a few glitches:
I’ve experienced a few (5) dropped calls. It’s hard to say whether these were down to the Punkt or the caller’s phone. I’ll keep an eye/ear on it.
I had to restart after the home screen stopped working.
The notifications don’t always behave as they should.
The home screen clock takes a few seconds to update. (This bug seems to come and go.)
USB tethering only worked once and never again. Shame, because it could be a useful feature to keep the phone charged while using the battery-intensive hotspot.
Wishlist (for me)
I would love a voice note feature so that I could record notes to myself, rather than type them out, tortuously, on the predictive keypad.
A torch would be handy.
The Bottom Line
For me, at the moment, the Punkt MP02 just about crosses the line. After a week’s testing, I will definitely keep the Punkt in my pocket.
The annoying ring tones, the various glitches, and the more significant issue with the battery life, are still not enough to outweigh the importance of untethering myself from my smartphone.
I need a phone that keeps me in contact with friends and family, without distracting me from the way I want to spend my time. The miraculous little Punkt MP02 helps me do that.
If I were grading the phone as a whole, however, I couldn’t give it more than a B-Minus. Everything about the Punkt screams Premium – but I’d be a bit gutted if I’d shelled out the £300 asking price for a dumbphone that scarcely lasts a day, and does some pretty annoying things.
If they can sort out the myriad glitches, and significantly improve the battery life with the next firmware update, then we’ll be talking about a phone that delivers not only on the promise of digital minimalism, but also on the premium price point.
But the real test for me will be whether I decide to take the Punkt MP02 when I go travelling this summer.
When I’m out of the country, my reliance on the web increases. I’m much more likely to want to connect to look up places to go. I’m much more likely to stay in communication with friends and family over email and Whatsapp, and I’m much more likely to be away from my computer and a fixed WiFi connection.
Finally, space and weight are a consideration and, although the Punkt is small and light, every inch and every gramme counts when I’m travelling. The fact that I have no other devices that charge from a USB-C is another slight point against the Punkt.
So the Punkt has 3 months to prove itself indispensable!
Thanks a mill to Punkt for sending me this MP02, and thanks to their customer service team for helping me get it up and running. Thanks also to @documentally for putting me in touch with Punkt in the first place.