Light Phone II - First Impressions
My first look at the newest "toolphone"
Oct 17, 2019 • 6 min read
I originally backed the Light Phone II’s kickstarter way back in March 2018. Yesterday, over a year and a half later, I received it in the mail. It wasn’t a surprise; in fact, I had been following the developer’s updates on the Indiegogo page for the last few months. Now that I have it – I’m waiting for a few minor issues to be ironed out, which can be expected from a kick-started project – I can’t wait to use it.
Why “Go Light”?
Before I go over my first impressions, please understand that this phone is not for everyone. For one thing, it doesn’t have any apps. Actually, I need to clarify: it has apps, but it calls them “tools”. Not because it’s trying to be different; each one only serves a single purpose. As an example: there are three tools in the initial software release: “Phone”, “Alarm”, and “Settings”.
- Use the Phone to communicate with your contacts
- Use the Alarm to set an alarm
- Use Settings to manage your phone’s settings
You can also connect to WiFi networks for updates and set up Bluetooth pairing, but that’s it. That’s all you can really do with this phone for now. Oh, and also: the display is e-ink, the bezels are massive, and it even has a headphone jack. It’s fair to say that the Light Phone II is on the opposite end of the mobile phone spectrum from today’s flagship phones. So, again, this phone won’t appeal to most consumers.
But, as it turns out, there is a market for the “toolphone”. The Light Phone II reached its funding goal in about a day. Backers flooded the comments section, proclaiming their excitement about finally “going light.” The excitement, for the most part, hasn’t died down in the year and a half since. I’d expect the average consumer to look at this and shake their head. Why would people willingly give up their fully-featured smartphone for the modern equivalent of a Nokia brick phone?
There are actually several well-researched and well-worn talking points about why people choose to abandon smartphones, but that is better left for another blog post. In short:
- the market has encouraged smartphone app developers to prioritize capturing attention above anything else. The more you can monopolize attention, the more your app is worth.
- In the effort to improve user retention, many developers have included addictive components in their apps.
- Some people don’t like being addicted to their smartphones, so they’re getting rid of them and “going light.”
Light knows this and has designed a “light” companion for this market. If this wasn’t clear, take a look at the Light Phone II packaging:
“The Light Phone is for going light. It is a choice. How will you experience your life today? Appreciate your time, life is right now.”
This isn’t Light’s first foray into building a “toolphone”, as you can probably guess from the “II”. The original Light Phone was, from what I understand, a supplement to your smartphone. It forwarded calls and messages to and from your regular phone. This meant, obviously, that the Light Phone isn’t standalone. The Light Phone II, which is basically a stripped-down and unlocked Android phone, changes that. You can provide your own compatible SIM card, and Light offers a mobile plan you can buy for $30 per month. It allows fans of the first Light Phone, as well as others who are disillusioned with the distraction of modern phones, the opportunity to fully “go light.”
My plan is to use the Light Phone II as a fully standalone phone and use my iPhone SE as a GPS while I’m hiking. Assuming I can get the phone working, of course – more on that later. Now, enough of my philosophizing, let’s get into the first impression.
Disclaimer: I will not be evaluating Light’s mobile service, since I’m bringing my own SIM card.
The phone comes in a small cardboard package. The SIM card may be packaged separately. You can unfold the packaging into the main compartment and three panels.
- The first panel describes the purpose of the Light Phone, as mentioned above.
- The second panel gives an overview of the phone’s interface components, along with some instructions to get started. One unusual label may be the “toolbox menu”. This is basically the equivalent of the homescreen where you can navigate between your “tools”. The instructions are pretty foolproof: just put in the SIM card, plug in your phone, turn it on, and follow the on-screen instructions.
- The third screen contains additional resources, including the online Dashboard, a Support page, and a more complete manual.
The main compartment has the phone, a micro USB charging cable, and a SIM pin underneath the charging cable. I didn’t have the SIM pin, so I appreciate that they included one. From what I understand, Light was originally going to make the phone USB-C, but changed their mind due to technical constraints.
Overall, the packaging is good-quality cardboard and contains various phrases that further emphasize Light’s values:
- “Enjoy now”
- “A Phone for Humans”
Despite having a plastic body, the phone itself doesn’t feel cheap. The glass on the front feels smooth. There’s a faint “Light” logotype on the back of the phone which is barely visible. You can opt to purchase a case as well, but I did not.
Overall, the phone feels nice in my hand. Using the phone with one hand feels comfortable.
Using the Phone
When I turned the phone on, I was prompted to connect to WiFi, which I did. They don’t obscure the password field, which is a nice touch. One thing I noticed immediately was the “ink burn” effect on the screen – that is, you can see an outline of the screen’s previous content before it changed. It remains on the screen for quite a while, although it isn’t a major distraction once you get used to it. There’s also a “flash” effect on the “white-on-dark” screen whenever you make a change, which I’m presuming isn’t an issue for “dark-on-white” displays. You can switch between the two in the Settings tool. Again, I got used to this pretty quickly.
Pressing the “toolbox menu” button shows me my tools: Phone, Alarm, and Settings.
As explained above, Alarm allows you to set a single alarm. Once you set the alarm, you can go back to the Alarm tool to view the alarm time as well as cancel the alarm.
Phone, by default, shows your list of contacts and contact groups. From here, you can go to the dial pad and call a number (bottom left corner); send a text message to a new number (bottom left corner); search your contacts list (bottom center); or click on a contact. Clicking on this contact will take you to your conversation history with that contact, a stream of the calls and texts between the two of you (or your group). You can edit your contacts via the web-based Dashboard.
Settings is the catch-all for your phone’s preferences and settings, including:
- switching Airplane Mode on or off
- setting notification types: vibrate vs. sound vs. silent for calls, texts, and alerts
- setting a passcode for your phone
- setting your phone as a hotspot
- configuring Bluetooth and WiFi
- viewing device information
- checking for software updates
…and many more. One problem: I couldn’t figure out how to manually change my device’s time, so I’m stuck on Eastern Standard for now. I’m guessing that this gets set for you when you connect your cellular service.
That brings us to my main roadblock so far: I can’t get my SIM configured. I decided to take a risk and buy a Red Pocket pre-paid SIM. Red Pocket Mobile works with every U.S. phone in existence, and since the Light Phone II is unlocked, I figured there would be a relatively low risk of issues. I was able to activate the SIM easily enough through Red Pocket’s website. Unfortunately, Red Pocket requires changing the Access Point Name configuration information, and there’s no way to do that right now through the Light Phone, so I’m stuck there for now. I’ll update this post when my issue gets resolved.
Aside: Customer Service
I’ll put it simply: Light’s customer service is the best I’ve seen from a kick-started project. Joe, one of Light’s co-founders, has responded to almost every question in the comments on the Indiegogo page, which is incredible. Light clearly communicated every issue they ran into with hardware and distribution. Post-launch, their support email address has responded very quickly to my queries. I expect them to have my issue resolved shortly and in a professional manner.