The Minimalist Phone app.

Are you spending too much time using your phone and not enough time being present in the real world? Do you find yourself mindlessly scrolling social media and want to get back to living a more purposeful existence? The Minimalist Phone app can help you reclaim your attention and mental energy and put you back in control of your digital life.

Today we are looking at the Minimalist Phone app. Now, I know what you are thinking, ‘isn’t this just another Android Launcher?’ Well, kind of. Only, it’s more than that. It’s actually a time machine, conveniently stored in your pocket. No, it won’t let you go back in time, but it does let you revisit a time when things were simpler, when you had more time to spend doing the things you loved and less time pawing at a screen.

Let me explain… Most mobile apps, especially social media apps, are designed to keep you engaged and using their services. They do this in a variety of ways, mostly through interactive visual elements, aimed at making sure you are hooked in and constantly checking, tapping and swiping through their content. From flashy colours to recurrent notification badges, constant alerts and endless feeds that can lead to aimless scrolling and hours lost grazing through newsfeeds and stories. Your phone, driven by the apps installed, is constantly crying out for your attention.
But what if I told you there was a remedy to all of that? A way to claw back your precious time and attention from your phone?

More Than A Launcher

Introducing the Minimalist Phone app by QQ Labs. As mentioned, it’s an Android Launcher that lets your break free from the social media succubi and other daily distractors living in your phone. It does this by, quite frankly, making your phone less visually appealing, but in a good way. Remember when your phone was a tool? A purposeful device that you used with intent? The app is a return to those simpler times, when you’d reach for your phone in order to achieve a specific task, and then put it away and get back to life. By muting visual distractions the app lets you escape sensory overload and regain cognitive bandwidth. Put simply, it makes your phone less of a drain on your mind.

Assessing The Landscape

If some of this sounds familiar, well, you’re not wrong. As people have become more aware of the relationship they have with their devices and the importance of being present, an entire industry of solutions has popped up in recent years. There are plenty of chromatic filter apps, productivity apps and apps which outright block social media applications on your device. Heck, even the phone vendors have begun adding ‘digital wellness’ initiatives, essentially tracking and displaying your app usage to discourage prolonged exposure to what I like to call ‘social media-itis’. Dumb phones, or phones with limited functionality (AKA ‘feature phones’) have also made a comeback, like the Nokia’s of old – who coincidentally have re-released a range of retro phones from their back catalogue of best sellers, like the famed 3310 and the once futuristic 8110, aka the ‘matrix phone’. A personal favourite of mine is the Light Phone, which we covered in an earlier review – be sure to check that out.

But what if you don’t want to spend hundreds of dollars on another device, or would rather not opt in to yet another behavioural tracker brought to you by big tech? Well, that’s where the Minimalist Phone comes in.

Everyday Essentials

First off, sorry iPhone users, but as this is a launcher, this app is Android-only for now. Set up is straight forward, simply download the app from the Play Store, open it once it has downloaded and set it as your default launcher when prompted and agree to the required permissions. Next you’ll be taken to your new, minimal home screen and guided through all the basics with a brief tutorial. We won’t go through that in detail here, but the process is very straight forward and easy to follow.

The home screen itself is very reminiscent of the old Windows Phone and Zune UI’s that were honestly ahead of their time; just a simple, text-based list of apps and a few icons, nothing else cluttering up the display. It’s also very similar to the experience on the Light Phone, though the Minimalist Phone app is more customisable. The circle up top is your battery widget, and it doubles as both a visual indicator of your remaining battery, as well as a function clock. Click it to be taken to your alarms and timers. The remaining two icons down the bottom are your dialler and camera shortcuts.

Swipe to the left to access your apps list, again in text-form. Again, there are no distracting icons or bright colours, just a vertical list of everything installed on your phone and a search box at top, to make finding your apps just a bit easier. Though honestly, I found it just as easy to swipe through my short list.

Long press on an app to bring up a contextual menu, which is one of the main ways you can configure the launcher. The menu allows you to set up an access timer, add the app to your home screen as a favourite, block the app – which sets rules-based restrictions on when you can launch the app, or hide the app from your apps list entirely. The other options do as suggested, renaming, uninstalling and taking you to the app’s info page in the phone’s settings. Customising the home screen with your apps is also a breeze. Once they are added as a favourite, simply return to the home screen and long press to rearrange or remove them.

There is also a monochromatic mode available, though this does require connection to a PC .

The cog icon in the bottom left brings up the launcher’s settings, where you can access your hidden apps, change the look and feel, and even access the official Reddit page and suggest development changes and features for future updates. You can set up a notification filter to stop apps from hassling you for your attention. Filter app notifications are stored silently, allowing you to view them at your leisure.
There is also a monochromatic mode available, though this does require connection to a PC and playing with developer settings on your phone. For anyone who isn’t comfortable doing that, or downloading additional files to enable the mono mode, we’d recommend waiting until it becomes a seamless part of the app itself. From what I could tell, there are some restrictions that prevent these from being a simple toggle, so hopefully that can be addressed in a future update.

Speaking of colour, you are also able to shift away from black and white to one of several pre-set themes, or create your own if a custom colourway is more your jam. The oche goes well, as does the coral option, and both add a bit of flair without being too distracting either.

Big Features

The Minimalist Phone app also provides a usage snapshot and suggests similar, high-use apps that might be worth blocking access to as well.

Let’s look at two of the standout features of the Minimalist Phone app; blocking and reminders. Both are designed to limit your use of apps, though they achieve this in different ways, either through usage limits or preventing access entirely. Let’s start with reminders. Out of the box, the Minimalist Phone app has reminders enabled and prompts you to set usage limits when you open certain social media applications, such as Twitter or TikTok. On launch, you’ll be presented with a pop-up to set a time limit for your session. You can also configure which apps to enrol for reminders, or turn it off entirely. Once your timer elapses, you’ll be prompted to either add more time, or exit the application. While it’s not a fool proof way to limit your time using time-wasting apps, it’s a good first step, and can help you take stock of just how long you are spending on social media or any other apps you’ve set reminders for. To take it up a notch, there is blocking. This takes things to the next level, by allowing you to restrict access to the problematic app, for a time period that you define. The Minimalist Phone app also provides a usage snapshot and suggests similar, high-use apps that might be worth blocking access to as well. You can either set a block-out time for several apps at once, or at an individual level, on a per-app basis. Once blocked, the app won’t be accessible for the time period you’ve set.


Can you put a price on the time you’ll save from mindless scrolling and social media time-sinks?

In terms of pricing, the Minimalist Phone app has a free, three-day trial. After that, you can choose from an ongoing monthly, yearly or one time purchase fee. Prices vary per country, but were roughly $4.99 per month, $14.00 per year or $24.99 for lifetime access across USD, EUR, CHF and AUD. So, is it worth it? Overall, the Minimalist Phone app presents a great way to regain control over your time, by minimising what can be a huge distraction for many people – the smart phone. It is good value for what it does, especially for those who don’t want to have to invest in a dedicated dumb/feature phone, whose prices can range from $150 to $300USD. That’s the equivalent of 60 months, or twelve lifetimes worth of access to the app. On top of that, you’ll be supporting the developers and help enable them to bring improvements to monochromatic mode and enable the extension of the UI to the dialler and camera. And after all, can you put a price on the time you’ll save from mindless scrolling and social media time-sinks?

Final Verdict

At the end of the day, smart phones are a big part of everyday life, and sometimes there is no getting around the utility they provide. Case in point, the recent requirements for QR code scanners, a feature that was unfortunately missing from my Light Phone. The Minimalist Phone lets you utilise the technology and tools that are essential, and filter out what isn’t. Whilst our mobile devices were once phones-first, they’ve evolved into be-all devices that are constantly clamouring for your attention. The Minimalist Phone app gives you back your time and mental energy, enabling you to pay less attention to your phone, and spend more time being present in your life, a life beyond the screen in your pocket. ■


Minimalist Phone

Good Stuff

  • Easy setup and use
  • Elegant and strikingly simple UI
  • Highly customisable
  • Blocking and reminders limit app use
  • Fair price vs competitors

Bad Stuff

  • Monochrome mode setup is clunky
  • UI not on dialler or camera

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