Pando

Pando's Christmas gadget guide: This phone costs $18. You're welcome.

By Paul Bradley Carr , written on December 21, 2015

From The "You know, for kids" Desk

Here’s something you won’t see often on Pando: A gadget review. Consider it my Christmas gift to you.

I’ve written before about my decision, earlier this year, to step away from the relentless, pointless social media melee. In truth, it hasn’t been particularly difficult, certainly compared to certain other addictions I’ve been able to kick.

More of a challenge, however, was fighting off the impulse to constantly check my phone for new Tweets. That nagging sense that I’m missing out on something. After quitting Twitter it occurred to me that, between Tweets, emails, Slack and other messaging apps, I was spending almost as much time checking and refreshing for new messages as I was actually responding to anything remotely important.

How much time could I recover -- either for doing meaningful work, or just for enjoying the world -- if I wasn’t distracted by my cellphone a hundred times a day? The answer, it turns out, is A LOT.

This I know because, not long after giving Twitter the boot, I decided to seriously downgrade my phone. I considered simply uninstalling the various messaging apps from my existing smartphone, but that still left email and a web browser. That meant most distractions were still a URL away.

No, if I was really going to take back control of my away-from-desk hours, I knew I’d have to go cold turkey. A surprisingly lengthy and involved search of Amazon gave me the answer...

It’s called the “M5,” it’s manufactured in China (obviously) and it costs a staggering $17.99 with free next day shipping. It‘s just as small as the photo above suggests -- 85*55*5.5mm by about 30g in weight. By contrast the iPhone weighs close to 130g. The M5 works fine with my existing SIM and charges by one of those USB cables that everything except the iPhone uses. On a single charge it lasts about four days. Four. Days.

Using it is ridiculously simple -- it offers calls and text messages and nothing else -- but also ridiculously ridiculous. I still haven’t been able to figure out how to send texts in anything other than all caps, and the size of the phone means making calls is like talking into a credit card. There are half a dozen ring tone options: All of them designed to encourage you to keep the device on vibrate-only mode. Except the vibrate mode doesn’t actually vibrate -- it just rings silently and motionless. If this thing weren't such a miracle of miniature technology, it'd be a really shitty phone. 

Did I mention this thing costs $20, weighs nothing and lasts four days on a single charge? The M5 manages to amaze me at how advanced and cheap technology has become while also reminding me of how much time we waste playing around with our smartphone toys.

Like you, I thought I couldn’t possibly wait til I got back to my laptop at home to check my email. Like you, I thought I needed to take photos of every fucking thing I put into my stomach. Like you, I thought I’d be embarrassed to be seen with a phone described on Amazon as “A Funny Gift for Your Children or It Can be Used as a Second Phone When You Going Out.“

Like you, I was wrong. There’s no such thing as an email that can’t wait. If you’ve ever switched off your phone to see a movie or fly transatlantic, you know that’s true. The world already knows what eggs look like. Embarrassment is just a state of mind.  

Every other tech publication is rolling out their ad-friendly Christmas gift guides, packed with expensive gadgets to buy for your loved ones. I don’t have any suggestions on that front. But if you’re looking for a cheap gift for yourself -- but one that will reward you with many happy, stress-free hours in 2016 -- then I strongly recommend you give your iPhone to a loved one, and buy yourself an M5.