How long should you wait before writing a review? Most tech journalists take somewhere between two days to a week with a new device before publishing their findings. But, more time reviewing means a more accurate review. And besides, we’d rather be accurate than first. So, here’s our long-term Light Phone 2 review, two years in the making.
Read on to find out what we learned after using the phone as our daily driver for over twenty-four months.
Underpinning this review are two simple questions. First, do you want to reclaim your attention from your smartphone? And in doing so, are okay with accepting a few trade-offs? If you answered yes to both, then we’d argue you’re in for a treat with the Light Phone 2.
Origins of the Light Phone 2
In our quest to live a more present life, we became aware of a growing trend of mobile phones that were ditching all but the essential elements. These devices are reminiscent of early “featurephones”. They rely less on apps and act more like a Swiss-army-knife of mobile tools. The idea is to detach from addictive modern-day devices by replacing them with the bare essentials.
However, unlike those devices of 10+ years ago, the Light Phone team envisioned a product that was capable, yet not demanding. A tool, or rather a collection of tools. One that you could use when needed, and then get back to living in the now. A phone you could take to the beach, small enough to slip into your pocket and ‘light’ enough to forget about until you decided to use it. The original Light Phone was actually a phone first, without access to social media, emails or foodie-photography. The Light Phone 2 promised to add a few more essential tools, while retaining the values of the first phone.
Also, unlike other devices which claim the ‘minimal’ moniker, the LP features a pleasant design. It also isn’t simply running a variant of Android-OS with standard smartphone features present but disabled. No email, no internet browsing. In fact, less online features mean the Light Phone is a more secure device than many $1000 devices.
From indie to international
We got our hands on the petite crowd-funded device back in November 2019, around seven months after contributing to the IndieGoGo campaign. The Light Phone team posted regular updates and interacted with the community on a near daily basis, and though there were some manufacturing delays early on, we were confident that the item would ship in a reasonable time frame. Hats off to Joe Hollier and the team for providing detailed insights on all aspects of the campaign as they brought the phone to life. Backers were treated to engineering updates, ring tone samples, packaging designs and feature developments, whilst responding to virtually any and every question in the lead up to launch.
The LP2 also features broader carrier support than the original, which only operated on 2G networks. This was a good call, as in most countries 2G has now been deactivated in favour of contemporary 4G and 5G infrastructure. Though most 4G LTE bands are listed as supported, not all carriers have certified the device, meaning though the LP2 could technically work in most countries, if the carrier doesn’t test and verify the device it won’t be able to transmit voice or data over the network. The team at Light Phone have published a detailed compatibility page for every country, including which model to choose and as well as carrier support.
Design and form factor
Every aspect of the Light Phone 2 feels mindful, designed with purpose and intent.
One thing we definitely noted when putting together this Light Phone 2 review was the unique design choices made by the company. From packaging to the list of included ‘tools’, every aspect of the phone feels mindful, designed with purpose and intent. The original Light Phone notably came packaged in a coffee table style book. The phone itself delightfully nestled within a center cutout like something out of a heist or secret agent film. Again, this was intentionally designed with consumer delight at heart, as the company sought to reward its backers with something special that went beyond the standard unboxing experience (EG: the tired ‘picture of device on front of white package’).
This time around, LP2 came in a more modest cardboard fold-out sleeve, and a switch to recycled card stock as the base material. Unfolding the side panels revealed an illustrated quick-start set up guide, with verbiage that echoed the core principles of the Light Phone on the adjacent panels (“Appreciate your time, life is right now”). A charging cable and SIM ejector-tool were also neatly tucked away under the center panel which housed the phone.
Back in black (and white)
Available in black or white, the design of the phone continues the sleek, minimal aesthetic of the original, and around the device you will find the usual controls: a power button and full-sized headphone jack (!) on top, volume up/down controls flanking a ‘toolbox’ button on the right side, a front-facing speaker and light sensor atop the e-ink display and SIM tray on the left. During development, engineering challenges forced a change from the planned USB-C port to micro-USB. Upgrading this would be welcomed from a longevity and standards perspective. It’s late 2021 and the Light Phone 2 is now one of the few devices we use which requires a micro-USB connection.
What about that unique e-Ink display? Early on, the LP2’s display suffered from a variety of issues. The refresh rate was very slow, meaning a jarring flash of the screen every few moments when entering in digits, text or changing screens. This left ghosting on the screen from previous interactions – a look similar to burn in on a very old TV monitor or half-shaken etch-a-sketch. Thankfully, the team were receptive to user feedback and issued several updates over the air which have considerably improved the visual clarity, refresh rate and general responsiveness of the screen. Whilst there is some lingering screen ghosting, it’s a vast improvement, and still highly visible in direct sunlight minus the blue light found on traditional LCD smartphone displays.
Tiny yet mighty
The small form factor makes it a joy to carry and is both a head turner and conversation starter.
Another place the LP2 shines is in audio quality. Don’t let that small speaker fool you, the audio on calls, ring tones and the alarm is pitch perfect and among the best we’ve heard on a modern smart phone. The harmonious piano and xylophone chords of the various ringtones and alert notifications actually sound like what they represent, and we’ve never had an issue with call quality over the last two years. An added bonus is the LP2’s ability to pair with Bluetooth headphones and earbuds, or even utilise the headphone jack for wired headphones if that is more of your jam.
Battery life is impressive for such a small device, and has somehow improved over the course of its lifespan – we chalk that up to the ongoing performance optimisation from the many OS and firmware updates it received (and continuous to receive). We routinely got nearly 3 days out of a single charge, though this is now around 2 days after a few years with the phone.
Overall, the diminutive device feels great to hold and is the perfect size to slip into a pair of jeans or use one handed. For reference, it’s about the size of a credit card and roughly the thickness of a pencil, and it’s amazing what the team were able to do in such a small package without sacrificing on build materials. The small form factor makes it a joy to carry and is both a head turner and conversation starter.
Out of the box the LP2 shipped with a more features than the sparse LP1. Ours came with calling, messages, an alarm clock, settings and a phone book. Through an online ‘dashboard’, users could send additional ‘tools’ to their device, and later features that came to the device included a simple calculator, directions, offline music and support for syncing audio shows/podcasts. This shows impressive commitment from the team as they have been able to successfully roll out virtually all of the features they originally announced several years ago. The only omission we can recall is the lack of an integrated Spotify tool, and though we’ve no doubt the LP engineering team could build this, it would more than likely require input from Spotify by way of licensing to make this one a reality.
Continuing the trend, the team just announced the release of the latest tool, voice-to-text message dictation. This, along with text message scrolling to make navigating the small screen even easier.
The team designed the phone to be used ‘as little as possible’, and it shows.
It’s beginning to sound like a smart phone, right? Well, the key here is to think of these not as ‘apps’. These are essential everyday tools that enable you to get the most out of life, instead of demanding your attention. There is no social feed here, no little red notification badge or ‘likes’ to count. Don’t need a tool? Don’t install it. Simple. The Light Phone dashboard handles tool configuration, contact management and device information. The dash is a web portal that replaces the standalone Light Phone app required for use with the original device. Most changes sync instantly, however you can force a sync by checking for updates from the device itself.
With every software update the phone becomes more of a viable everyday carry. It’s the small things, like a moveable message cursor, emoji support, and full-featured navigation tool. Watching this phone continue to evolve has been a joy. In fact, it’s actually appreciated in user value over the two years of ownership.
So, after two years do we miss our smartphones? Not at all. But that isn’t to say our smartphones serve no purpose. In fact, we’ve been reaching for them throughout the pandemic whenever we need to scan a QR code to check-in. Outside of that (and perhaps tap-to-pay), the Light Phone 2 has every basic utility and function covered.
The only obvious caveat would be a camera. But in all honesty, we can’t imagine current e-ink screens rendering photos very well. Though there are rumblings of colour and higher resolution e-ink displays on the way. Also, camera aficionados generally invest in a dedicated point and shoot, and fortunately they don’t come tethered to social media. In all, we rarely felt like we were missing out on anything by taking only our LP2 when venturing out. Going ‘light’ helped us feel more connected with the people and places we were spending time with.
Light Phone 2 review: Final verdict
Anyone can bash out a first impression or surface-level critique. For our Light Phone 2 review, we wanted to go the extra mile. That’s why we spent over two years getting to know the device, inside out. Is this the perfect minimal phone for people who want to disconnect? Can it help you get back to living life in the now? We’d argue that the Light Phone 2 is the closest device we’ve seen yet that can fulfil that promise. If you can live without music streaming and have a micro-USB charger cable handy, then this is an easy recommend. The Light Phone 2 is well suited for those who want to get back to living life and be untethered. The device can help you remain present and enjoy life free from attention nagging apps and flurries of notifications.
We were intrigued with LP1, impressed with LP2 and can’t wait for LP3.
- Great battery life
- Crisp audio & quality speaker
- Regular feature updates
- Unique form factor
- Micro USB
- Lingering screen ghosting
- Weak vibration motor
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