When I made the decision to replace my iPhone SE with a Punkt. phone, it was spurred by seven-plus years of experimentation that lead me to realize that no matter how much I stripped it down and tried to keep the smartphone in its place — no social media, no notifications, no fluff, greyscale screen, leaving it silent or off most of the time — every smartphone is expressly designed to be an all-consuming monster. By the end of 2021, I was willing to do pretty much anything necessary to be free of the smartphone paradigm. I wanted out.

Punkt. recently released an updated version of their MP02 feature phone; it now works on multiple bands worldwide, and it integrates with the Signal protocol for secure, encrypted messaging and voice calls. I've had my eye on the MP02 and similar devices for years, but Punkt.'s global update and integration with Signal finally made the MP02 fit the bill.

Mobile phones are an important means of fulfilling essential biological needs and practical, everyday communication. Thanks to the MP02, that means is no longer situated within a technology and a corporate-driven ecosystem that does not support biologically-appropriate behavior in a human being.

My most immediate and emotionally significant forms of communication are now decoupled from the smartphone. For me, the limitations inherent in the MP02 amount to greater health and freedom.

“Checking my phone” is a thing of the past. I don't check the MP02. I just use it.

My friends were very supportive of my purchase.

I left Facebook in 2016, Instagram in 2018, and more or less nuked my Twitter account in 2020. I kicked LinkedIn and my entire Google account to the curb (feels great), and I've long since left Gmail for Posteo, which I love.

All that's to say is that, equipped with my sword and a ball of string, it's taken me a while to find my way out of the social media labyrinth. The MP02 has no camera and no browser, so if you reflexively use your phone's camera as a primary means of communication, or are pretty deep into social media, you'll probably be frustrated by the MP02 unless you wean yourself off the expediency of the smartphone first.

When I first got the MP02, it was smaller than I thought it'd be. The phone is calming and tactile, and I swear I felt an entire sector of my brain deactivate as soon as I touched this phone. While I don't know exactly what my brain was able to turn off — maybe visual processing, since the MP02 has physical buttons and my visual cortex no longer has to do all the work? Social stress dissipating, or the sudden vanishing of a bajillion different user interfaces? — the result was a physical sensation of relief as many neural processes that had been working very hard were able to just… stop.

For the first few minutes after setup, my hands frantically scrabbled at the MP02 in a behavioral extinction burst, trying to swipe! Poke! Tap! Download! Read! Buy! Anything! Hrrrrrrr! And then my hands, too, found calm.

I love that I didn't have to run right out and get a case to protect this thing, or to fetishize it. The MP02 is cute and unobtrusive, easy to slip into any pocket and carry along. It hearkens back to the Nokia clamshell of my college days, which was pretty much all I ever wanted in a phone.

On the MP02, photos and video are sized for an elf, but they’re clear. Texting is easy on the T9 keyboard. The predictive dictionaries work well, and yes, you can still use emojis. With practice, I know I’d be able to text left-handed, without looking, but this isn’t really a goal I have, motivated as I am to banish long-form SMS conversations for good.

And that’s where Pigeon comes in. Pigeon is a downloadable privacy feature that uses the Signal protocol for secure, encrypted messaging over WiFi and LTE. The existence of Pigeon was what made me feel like I could make the leap to this phone.

I'd been enjoying using the desktop version of Signal in combination with the iOS app, and since a “linked device” was mentioned in Punkt.’s advertising, I assumed that Pigeon conversations could be linked to Signal desktop in the same way that the iOS app did, so I could fluidly interact with the same conversations either from my computer or the MP02.

But it was not to be. You can't link the MP02 to an instance of Signal desktop, and using the desktop version of Signal is no longer even an option once you've set up Pigeon. Signal only allows its users to link one mobile device, and since the MP02 has no camera, it can't scan the QR code required to link to Signal desktop.

I hope Signal will embrace changes that don't require their security-conscious users to have smartphones in order to have mobile conversations linked to their desktop app. And I hope they take the cryptocurrency feature out of their smartphone apps and refocus on secure messaging, since its inclusion made me hesitate to continue recommending the Signal app to others.

For now, after some initial disappointment and a couple days of trying to find a workaround, I realized I enjoyed the experience of the MP02 and Pigeon enough that I didn't really care about the loss of Signal desktop, and I actually have more fun just using the phone by itself.

Pigeon allows my Signal-using friends to either text, call, or voice message in accordance with whatever they have time and enthusiasm for. I like this flexibility, and this is the hybrid vigor that I found lacking in smartphone apps that are hyper-focused on the exchange of a single kind of media (photos, texts, videos, or back-and-forth voice messages). Almost any app that does combine these things does not have the security features of Signal.

Press the Punkt. button for better visibility on longer messages in both Pigeon and SMS.

After I sent an inaugural Pigeon voice message to my friend Ben, he berated me yet again for paying so much money for so few features on the MP02, and then said:

I will say this: That voice message was, like, clear as a bell. That is absolutely the closest thing I think I've experienced to hearing you talk in person, in front of me, in YEARS. … It was very nice to hear your voice as I recall your voice actually sounding.

And you know what? No matter who I'm talking to on Pigeon, the feeling's mutual. Voice messages and calls sound amazing on Pigeon. During regular phone calls, there's as much quality variance as you might expect between different phones and cell networks, but through Pigeon, I can clearly hear the detail in everyone's voice, and even background ambience sounds clear and good.

That accuracy and clarity, combined with the richness of emotional data imparted by the human voice — richness that is absent from every text conversation ever texted—does so much for my spirit in terms of feeling like I'm actually making a clear connection with the people I talk to.

Voice message, call, text, files, or media: Pigeon can handle it all.

Although I've not been able to receive video via MMS on this phone, video plays smoothly in Pigeon. If you receive media or record something that you really want to get off the MP02, it's a little tough. The MP02's user manual says that if you receive a document attachment, you can forward it to another device, but I haven't had an opportunity to test that. I do know that for everything else, the only option I get is to share the media with another Signal user; I can't forward it to an email address or anything. So if there's something that you really want to access on another device, you've… basically got to forward it to a Signal-using friend and get them to extract it for you. Not ideal. This is where the ability to link to Signal desktop would really have come in handy.

The MP02 has Bluetooth, WiFi, and can tether its connection to other devices. Battery life and standby time are pretty good for most days and most purposes, but not great for super-long calls or lots of heavy sustained use. Punkt. claims the talk time is about 4.2 hours, but in a normal day, I'd be impressed if it could handle ~3 hour-long calls. Even after plugging the MP02 into a beefy wall charger after it alerted me to low battery levels during a Pigeon call, the device couldn't recharge fast enough to compensate for the drain rate, and it shut down.

Its small size also makes it a bit uncomfortable to hold for long phone calls, so be prepared with a pair of headphones or a Bluetooth headset. (Punkt. still makes landline phones; it would be neat if they made a version of their big phone that could receive audio from the MP02 for comfort during longer conversations.)

I still have my iPhone SE, which is now effectively an iPod Touch. I currently use it:

  • as a webcam with Camo Studio and/or Teleport

  • to interface with my jury-rigged sunrise alarm clock (made from two $10 lamps and Bluetooth Philips bulbs)

  • for offline Google Maps, used as infrequently as possible, and sometimes online and tethered to the MP02 if I really want traffic data or something. I've looked into getting a standalone GPS or in-dash nav, but the few available options have UI and app integrations that're potentially more irritating than Google displaying the precise location of every Cracker Barrel and Long John Silver's in America as I drive past them.

  • testing mobile experiences for web development

  • in tandem with Sync if I really need to get a quick photo or video in a position to be emailed. Regularly getting media off of my DSLR currently exceeds my convenience threshold, but that could change.

The iPhone is also my only vehicle for depositing occasional checks to my online-only bank. All of these things that would keep me somehow tethered to smartphone ownership are continued inspiration to find simpler solutions for each, and to seek out companies that don't encourage reliance on an iOS or Android app. Even though it doesn't have a SIM card any more, I want to achieve smartphone-zero.

When someone initiates an open-ended conversation by SMS, I've just been calling them or emailing my response, which works well. We always have a fuller and more interesting conversation than we could have had by text — and if the person can't be bothered to respond by any form of communication beyond texting, they can go text someone who's not me. Winning.

For every task that a smartphone once made faster and more efficient (like scanning things, or accessing event tickets), I just think of the hours, days, and years of my life spent focusing on nonessential information, products, and "web slurry," feeling distanced from the feelings, experiences, goals, and projects that actually mattered to me, and I cheerfully fire up the printer.

Midori Pocket Diary 2022

With the MP02 and some intentional planning, I can get along just fine in a world where almost everyone else I know still chooses to use a smartphone.

I love that I've been able to return to a paper calendar. I genuinely look forward to using it every day with a nice sharp pencil, and I enjoy keeping a mini-diary of the three or so things that had the most significance to me in any given day. I've never been able to keep a long-form journal, but I've enjoyed keeping one in abbreviated format. (Jan 1, 2022: Caught hair and clothing on fire while tidying kitchen. Watched Idiocracy. Ate peas with mint and butter.)

Any thoughts or ideas I have that aren't time-bound go into a small, unfussy bullet journal or into one of my Sync folders. Grocery list goes on a Post-It note that I stick to the fridge and put in my pocket before I go to the store.

I like being able to set the terms of how I want to interact with other people and with the world at large. I like being able to choose my point of focus in any given moment; focus is now the most valuable asset in existence. I like that people I already know can give me a call or an email, and people I haven't met yet can contact me through this site.

I like to use my voice to have meaningful conversations with other people, don't you?