How long should you wait before writing a review? Most tech journalists take between two days to a week with a new device before publishing their findings. The longer the use case, the more accurate and detailed the review will be, though you run the risk of missing the ‘hype window’ and getting lost in the shuffle of cyberspace. It’s a balancing act. Well, consider this long-form take beyond overdue. Here’s our report after using the Light Phone 2 as our primary device for over two years. So, is this the one minimal phone to rule them all?
If you want to reclaim your attention and are okay with a few remaining trade-offs from this second gen product, we’d argue this is your best bet at breaking away from the shackles of the digital world.
Also, unlike other devices which claim to be ‘minimal’ phones, the LP features a pleasant design and isn’t running a variant of Android-OS with standard smartphone features present but disabled. In fact, with a smaller surface of attack due to a lack of emails or internet browsing, it could be argued that the Light Phone is a more secure device than many $1000 devices.
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.
From packaging to the list of included ‘tools’, every aspect of the Light Phone 2 feels mindful, designed with purpose and intent.
From packaging to the list of included ‘tools’, every aspect of the Light Phone 2 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 itself.
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. The bottom side houses the mic and charging port, which was unfortunately swapped to micro-USB from the planned USB-C port due to engineering challenges. For any future versions, an upgrade to the more modern USB-C style port would be welcomed from a longevity and standards perspective, as in late 2021 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.
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 few more features than the sparse LP1. Ours came with access to calls, 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 almost 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.
The team designed the phone to be used ‘as little as possible’, and it shows.
Continuing the trend, the team just announced the release of the latest tool, voice-to-text message dictation, along with text message scrolling to make navigating the small screen even easier.
You might be thinking, isn’t this device turning into a smart phone? Well, the key here is to think of these not as ‘apps’, but as 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. Tools are configured along with the ability to edit contacts (phonebook) and view your device information from the Light Phone Dashboard, a web portal that replaces the standalone Light Phone app required for use with the original device. We found that most changes sync to the device instant, 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. From the small things, like a moveable cursor inside messages, to emoji support, and the surprising full-featured navigation tool, it’s been a joy to watch this device evolve and actually appreciate 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 anytime we need to scan a QR code to check in or help with contact tracing. Outside of that utility and perhaps tap-to-pay, if you are in a position to ditch your main phone in favour of the LP2, we find ourselves hard pressed to find any utility or essential feature that isn’t matched. Well, the only other caveat would be a camera, but in all honesty we can’t imagine current limited-resolution e-ink technology rendering photos very well, though there are rumblings of colour 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 and in fact felt more connected with the people and places we were spending time with.
Is this the perfect minimal phone for people who want to disconnect and 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 are okay keeping a micro-USB charger cable handy, then this device is well suited for those who want to be present and enjoy every moment without the attention nagging apps and flurry of notifications that accompany modern smartphones.
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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