New year, new phone.

I dropped my phone just before Christmas :(. I was visiting family in Sydney and decided it was a nice night for a run. As I wove through the streets of Balmain I felt my large phone was secure in my pocket. I was wrong.

Less than 1km from where I was staying and … crack! Out it slipped and bit the dust. Being a relatively affordable Xaomi device – and with a failing power button – I didn’t really think it was worth the cost of repair.

So I figured it was time for a new phone. But I wanted to try something different. I wanted a device I could use on my terms. Something that wouldn’t get in the way of life, but still afforded the convenient communication, navigation and organisation functions that we now take for granted. But no email or social media! (However, my iPad is rarely that far away…)

For me, this meant something in a smaller form factor. Something I could comfortably take on runs and hikes. When the “best compact phones” lists had pretty large and expensive devices (like here and here), I knew I had to look somewhere else.

I turned to the cheap stuff.

Android has a less-than-positive reputation for the longevity of budget devices, so I started reading up on the recently-announced Android Go edition. Summary: stripped down Android optimised for low-end devices. Great, now to find a decent Android Go available in Australia. There were a few cheaper options around with larger screens, but I found a few smaller options. There was the Nokia 1 with 4.5” display for ~$120 from Kogan, but we could go smaller and cheaper. $77 for a 4” screen with 4G/LTE for hotspot? Sounds good. The (unlocked) ZTE Telstra Essential Smart A125 will do me, I thought. (I forget exactly how I came across this model, but a great find it was!)

Its been a few weeks with my bargain phone and it has been great. Small phones are much more pleasant to take actual phone calls with! In reality, a phone like this can do everything a $1000+ flagship can, whether you want it to or not. Video calls, check. Messaging, check. Emails, web browsing, camera, Google Maps… the main practical difference being the speed and quality with which these are accomplished.

This has prompted some reflection. I think what we need to ask of ourselves is not “what device should I buy”, but rather “why do I want it?”. It seems in the constant development of technology, smartphone manufacturers haven’t stopped to ask whether we should be cramming all of this functionality into our pockets.

Yes these nicer devices offer a “pleasurable experience”, making us want to use them more and more, but we have to remember that technology is a tool. It is designed to serve us and not other way around. This cheap phone does everything I need, and the not-quite-instant load times force me to question the necessity of whatever I’m doing.

So should you buy the shiny, new iPhone this September? Maybe… I’m not saying we shouldn’t indulge in the latest technologies, or that they can’t be beneficial, but perhaps sometimes we need to take a moment to pause and ask the all important question of why

Have some thoughts? Please continue the discussion on Twitter.

Beyond prompting privileged westerners to question their technology habits, I think the potential for connectedness in developing nations is even more exciting. Watch this space over the next few years.

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