Convert a Smartphone into a Dumb Phone

Customize a smartphone to remove features like Web Browsing and addictive apps while keeping Maps and useful features.

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Tech Lockdown Team
Updated May 13, 2024

There have been several times in my life that I've seriously considered getting rid of my smartphone entirely and swapping it for a "dumb phone" like a flip phone. 

But it's difficult to function in the modern world without Maps/GPS and the modern high-resolution smartphone camera. This is why I've never made the switch.

In my experience running a website dedicated to helping people restrict themselves from their own technology, people are switching to a dumb phone as a last resort. 

The main reason is that they want to limit their exposure to the addictive and harmful aspects of the internet, which can be difficult to block out on a smartphone.

Instead of making the switch to a flip phone, my recommendation is to first try completely modifying your smartphone to make it a useful tool again instead of a distracting problem in your life.

You can convert both Android and iPhone smartphones into something closer to a dumb phone without losing access to Camera, Maps, and other useful features while blocking out the bad stuff.

Option 1: Modify your Smartphone to Create Your own Dumb Phone

A common method to get a dumb phone is to modify your existing smartphone. The exact steps for this process will vary depending on the type of smartphone you own.

If you're looking to plan your next smartphone purchase, read our guide on choosing between iPhone vs Android for content blocking , enforcing restrictions, and ease of achieving a dumb phone setup.

Dumb Android phones  are easier to achieve compared to  dumb iPhones , but there are tradeoffs for both.

Here are some ways we recommend to create your own dumb phone.

Prevent Installing Apps

One of the first steps you can take is to restrict your access to downloading any app from the App Store. The options you have will vary depending on the type of smartphone you own and how restrictive you want to get.

For example, you can use built-in parental controls to disable the app store. For people who find this method easy to bypass, you can use supervised or managed device configurations for a stricter setup.

Reduce your Home Screen to be a simple as possible.

A minimalist home screen can reduce visual clutter and improve your phone's usability.

To create one, you should only keep the essential apps on your home screen and hide the rest (not just group them into folders). This can be done on both iPhone and Android devices:

Use grayscale mode to reduce the effectiveness of vibrant icons

Achieving a minimal phone interface is a key part of dumbing down a smartphone. Enabling grayscale mode will turn off the color on your smartphone.

This is helpful because color contributes to over-stimulation. After turning on Grayscale, you’ll start to notice that your phone feels less interesting!

Color scheme settings are typically found in the accessibility part of your smartphone's settings.

Enabling Grayscale is similar to changing brightness on your phone. If you take photos or screenshots and send to another person (or disable grayscale mode), those images will still be in color. 

Always-on VPN to Restrict Apps and Websites

A Content Filter can be used to block websites and apps using an always-on VPN. 

Here are some things you can use a Content Filter for to make your smartphone less appealing:

Block Distracting or Problematic Websites

You can block an entire category of websites and applications, or specify specific apps that you want to block.

For example, using my Tech Lockdown Content Policy, I can specify entire categories of websites and apps that should always be blocked.

To prevent myself from simply logging in and bypassing these rules, I lock my Tech Lockdown profile.

Furthermore, I can use various device management methods to prevent turning off the VPN on the device, so the connection is always filtered.

Get Powerful DNS Filtering
Get Powerful DNS Filtering
Create and enforce a Content Policy on all your devices.

Use a Content Filter to Limit App Features

A Content Filter can also be used to limit certain types of features within apps.

For example, I can update my Tech Lockdown Content Policy to include a Block rule for YouTube images:

YouTube is now far less interesting without clickbait thumbnails.

You could also use this approach to access a website or app like Reddit in text-only mode by blocking images and videos:

Learn more about blocking Reddit Media .

Schedule Usage of Distracting Websites and Apps

Another strategy I use it to schedule when I can use websites and apps so that I'm intentional with when I use distracting websites and apps.

For example, I use my Tech Lockdown Content Policy to unblock news and certain social media websites on my lunch break.

Otherwise, these websites and apps are always blocked.

Get Powerful DNS Filtering
Get Powerful DNS Filtering
Create and enforce a Content Policy on all your devices.

Kiosk Mode

Using Device Management, you can enable Kiosk mode on your smartphone to significantly reduce the available features.

You can force your smartphone to only run certain apps. Other apps won't even show up on the home screen.

This can apply to default apps, like Settings or a web browser.

Step-by-step instructions for Android and iOS device management is available to Tech Lockdown member's in the Guides section of your dashboard.

Manage Android and iOS Devices at Home
Manage Android and iOS Devices at Home
Go further with blocking content and preventing bypass on iPhone and Android smartphones.

Option 2: Buy a Pre-Configured Healthy Smartphone

If you're in the market for a new smartphone, but want one that's dumb by design, you might have considered something like the WisePhone .

This is a heavily simplified smartphone:

  • It has a minimal app launcher, similar to Olauncher.
  • It includes common apps, like Photos, Maps, or Notes.
  • It does not include a web browser or app store.
  • You still have the "normal" Phone and Messages app.

This smartphone values simplicity. Whether you want to limit screen time and reduce your own digital distractions, Wisephone has a unique approach that sets it apart from other smartphone companies - it's dumb by design!

Closing Thoughts

Setting up a Healthy Smartphone is a great way to protect yourself while online. The process of setting up a Healthy Smartphone requires the use of Mobile Device Manager, which enables you to set up much more advanced restrictions on a device than a standard blocking app.

A Healthy Smartphone uses a Content Filtering service, usually DNS Filtering. This allows a device to have much more detailed approach to blocking adult content online. 

Go Beyond Beyond Basic Blocking

Elevate your content blocking and bypass prevention.

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