How to Turn an Android Phone Into a Dumbphone in 8 Steps
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For a few weeks toward the end of 2016, I bought a flip phone. I wanted to disconnect and have the option to walk away from the internet without being inaccessible to family and friends. And I wanted to recall what it was like to not know something; that meant no Google or Wikipedia.

Did I get what I wanted? Not quite. The dumbphones I used weren’t particularly good. So I’ve gone back to using a smartphone. But while I added back a few features that were the most challenging to do without, I’ve disabled or removed most of what people associate with smartphones.

Here’s how you can turn your Android phone into a (mostly) dumbphone.

1. Disable the Browser

Android Disable Apps

A smartphone really isn’t a smartphone without a web browser. This app comes pinned to your dock, and is one of the biggest time sucks on your device. Click one site and, before you know it, you’ve been straining your neck staring down at the screen for forty minutes.

Do you really need to read articles on your phone? Save that to do on your laptop at designated times. If you strongly prefer the experience of reading on the go, you can enable the browser during those times, then disable it again when you’re done.

This extra step forces you to stop and think every time you’re about to fall down the rabbit hole.

2. No Email

Email has a way of changing the trajectory of our day. A response from a colleague or a simple request can have you in front of your computer working for two hours. These seem urgent, but often, they can wait. Our email addiction thrives on us thinking that they can’t.

I’ve removed the email app from my phone. If I absolutely must access email in a pinch, I can re-enable the browser and visit the mobile site. That amount of effort is enough to keep me from checking mail on my phone often.

Not everyone has this option. If your coworkers have grown accustomed to your constant availability, it may be too late to adjust expectations without changing jobs. You have even less flexibility in an environment where all employees are expected to be on standby. But if you’re a student or work for yourself, a lot more of the control is in your hands.

3. Only Keep Essential Apps

What tasks do you want your phone to do? For me, it’s a short list: make calls, send texts, take photos, and navigate. All but one of these functions has long come standard on flip phones.

If you have a need for a compass or a timer, these apps complement what you’re doing in the world, rather than pull you away. Such utilitarian tools, like a calculator, don’t lead to phone addiction. It’s the games, social networks, news apps, and video streaming services that you have to watch out for.

As a general rule, take Cal Newport’s advice in Digital Minimalism and uninstall any app that makes someone money every time you tap on it.

4. Turn Off All Notifications

Android no notifications

Did you decide that you can’t part with a social networking app or certain gamess? Fine. You can still cut back by disabling notifications.

Don’t let a morning direct message on Twitter drag you into a two-hour conversation when you intended to go for a jog. That game doesn’t need to tell you that more fuel is available or that your barn is complete. You’ll find out when you sit down to consciously open those apps on your own.

This is important. Notifications are a big part of what make us feel out of control. Each incoming chime is the phone’s way of telling us when to pick it up. We obey more often than we’d like. By turning those alerts off, we approach the device on our terms.

Make an exception for calls and texts. This is a phone, after all. If you want to include other messaging apps (such as WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger) as texts, that’s your call. Our social circles all communicate in different ways.

5. Turn Off Data and Wi-Fi

Our phones don’t need a data connection in order to manage calls and texts. But they do need internet access to retrieve tweets, show us Facebook arguments, download work attachments, and supply an endless stream of blogs. Toggling Wi-Fi and cellular data off is the single easiest way to remove those distractions.

Most Android phones come with a toggle in the notification shade for these connections. If you don’t want to adjust it manually, you can also disable data on a per-app basis How to Prevent Any App From Using Mobile Data on Android How to Prevent Any App From Using Mobile Data on Android If your apps use too much mobile data, try restricting background data on Android. Here's how to turn off data and save money. Read More . Making this change helps you stay focused on other tasks, and it can greatly extend your phone’s battery life.

Note: If, like me, you use a messaging app other than basic SMS, you won’t be able to disable data usage entirely. But you can disable data for other apps, or only enable data during times when you actually want to talk.

6. Download Music, Maps, Etc. for Offline Use

Local files don’t need access to the web, so you don’t have to re-enable Wi-Fi or LTE whenever you want to play a podcast or your favorite songs. This reduces how often you connect to the internet, saving you from temptation each time.

You can do the same with navigation. Google Maps lets you save sections of an area for offline use, but it’s rather limited. I recommend downloading an alternative that lets you store entire countries offline, like OsmAnd.

7. Install a Simpler App Launcher

Your phone’s interface encourages you to install more software. You may be able to swipe across home screens or open an app drawer that’s meant to display 20 apps at a time. With such a layout, removing all but eight apps can leave your phone feeling broken.

An alternate layout can rearrange apps in a way where you still feel like you’re using a fully featured device. This way it no longer seems like you’re restraining yourself. Perception matters. If you’re looking for options, launchers aimed at older smartphone users The 6 Best Simple Android Launchers for Parents and Grandparents The 6 Best Simple Android Launchers for Parents and Grandparents Are your parents or grandparents confused by their new Android phone? A simple Android launcher can make things easier! Read More may be a good place to start.

8. Get Rid of Google Play

Smartphones come with more built-in software than flip phones. Take a look at the default apps. Chances are you already have a browser, a music player, and a way to take notes. The screenshots above show what comes preinstalled on the Essential Phone, which provides only a handful of few apps compared to most Android devices.

If you want to simplify your phone environment, don’t install a single additional app from the Play Store. You can even remove Google Play entirely How to Use Android Without Google: Everything You Need to Know How to Use Android Without Google: Everything You Need to Know Want to use Android without Google? No Google, no problem. Here's a guide to going Google-free on your Android device to regain privacy. Read More ! There’s no easy way to do so without rooting or installing a custom ROM, but making the effort will extend how long your Android phone lasts thanks to the removal of Google’s background services.

Are You Going Back to the Basics?

The original point of carrying phones in our pockets was to be accessible. We’ve since warped that to mean ever-connected and always-on. This has direct effects on our health, our social interactions, and the way we go about our lives.

A phone is a tool. Like a hammer or a ruler, there are certain tasks that make me glad I have one around. But my life doesn’t revolve around other tools, and it shouldn’t circle around this one either. The reasons I wanted to ditch my smartphone Why I Ditched My Smartphone and Bought a Dumbphone Instead Why I Ditched My Smartphone and Bought a Dumbphone Instead Smartphones may not be all they're hyped up to be. Read More are still valid, even if I’m currently not doing so in the way I expected.

Image Credit: iconogenic/Shutterstock

Explore more about: Android Tips, Declutter, Minimalism, Productivity Tricks.

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  1. faith
    October 17, 2019 at 3:09 am

    I use "DO NOT DISTURB" mode which really has it all (no sound, no notifications etc) and custom it to "ring for call of favourites" (loved ones) only.

  2. Mark Tristan R. Ocampo
    February 24, 2019 at 1:12 pm

    I'm using a Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge and older Samsung flagships in the past. What I love most to achieve this "dumbphone" feature is by switching on Ultra Power Saving Mode. They don't call that anymore now, though. Simply just set your Battery settings to Max and that's it. And the best things about this are: 1. you save battery, 2. default dark mode (best for Super AMOLED displays).

  3. Bobo
    February 23, 2019 at 4:21 pm

    I have done this for 10 years. My phone is for sms, playing music and watching the occasional video from my sd card. Nothing else. NOTHING ELSE. Everything is removed or turned off. As a result my battery lasts EASILY for 20 days on one charge. For my internet needs I have a house full of computers. I miss out on absolutely nothing by not having internet in my pocket. I was born in 1970, I don't get lost and I went to school so I know everything I need to know too. Want to know where I am or what I do, send me a sms. MAYBE I'll answer, probably not because mind your own business. My phoneplan includes 1.000 free sms, I pay 10 euros per month. That's 120e in phonebills per year. I have lots of beermoney. I buy a new phone with cash maybe every 4 years or so, don't even need that often because the battery lasts forever since it doesnt discharge/charge every day. But everyone likes new toys once in a while.. I'm oldschool and I am way cooler than all of you combined, HA! =) Have a nice day, phoneslaves.

  4. Azagthoth
    February 23, 2019 at 12:07 am

    Has society become so week that you can not just refrain. It's not drugs or alcohol so no physical addiction spit comes down to will power and it sad you have to practically break your own phone to keep from using an information service.

    World is in a sad state...

  5. dragonmouth
    February 21, 2019 at 3:49 pm

    Don't you think it is a bit silly to buy a smartphone and then emasculate it so it becomes only a dumb phone? Not to mention not fiscally astute.

    I have a basic LG flip phone. Since I have never owned a smartphone, I never had the chance to get addicted to its functionalities so I don't miss any of the bells and whistles. I just have a device that allows me to make/receive phone calls. I know, how last millennium!

  6. Carlos Silva
    January 31, 2017 at 4:17 pm

    A "vintage" Nokia phone has all you were looking for. Sometimes is great to disconnect.

    • Bertel King, Jr.
      February 2, 2017 at 3:23 pm

      Ah man, nostalgia.

  7. Gary
    January 30, 2017 at 10:30 pm

    Yup, self control is the way to go. I use my phone for what I need, my phone does not use me! Stays in my pocket and my headphone button controls the play/pause for my music and answering calls. When I go into meetings at work, or at any time I feel it would be rude for phone to make noise, phone goes into silent mode with the tap of a button. I only keep apps that I need and very few games. All twitter and email notifications are turned off, only check at breaks and lunch.

    • Bertel King, Jr.
      February 2, 2017 at 3:24 pm

      Nice. You seem to have a good handle on things.

  8. Anonymous
    January 30, 2017 at 6:50 pm

    Or you could just have some self control.

    • Bertel King, Jr.
      February 2, 2017 at 3:27 pm

      Some people condition themselves not to reach for something they find addictive. Others do better if they remove the temptation in the first place. To each their own.

  9. Anonymous
    January 30, 2017 at 6:49 pm

    Or you could just have some self control.

  10. likefunbutnot
    January 30, 2017 at 6:15 pm

    While I do feel that it's a bit silly to carry a powerful pocket computer and then remove nearly all the communication tools that make it a powerful computer, I will say that Android DeBloater is very helpful for removing unwanted software.

    My phone carrier, Sprint, installs both Facebook and a NASCAR application as part of its activation package. They don't come with the phone or from Google, but if I activate an Android device on Sprint, it's GOING to get Facebook and NASCAR. Since the Debloater doesn't require root access and can be used to disable arbitrary software on an Android phone, including packages that have Carrier or Manufacturer mandates, it's very helpful for someone who wants a stripped down Android experience.

    • Bertel King, Jr.
      February 2, 2017 at 3:23 pm

      Thanks for bringing this app to my attention! I may end up checking it out down the road.