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Dumbphones, Feature phones, and Non-Android Smartphones

Nokia 105, Nokia E75, Nokia Lumia 520 (roughly to scale)

Avoiding Google and other companies tracking your every move has become more and more difficult, as smartphones have become an integral part of life. We accept Google knowing everywhere we go because we find Google Maps extremely useful for getting us from point A to point B, for free.

We accept tracking of distance and speed travelled, as it informs Google of traffic issues, and can then let other people (and yourself) know that there might be a quicker way to get to where you're going.

Sure you can switch off tracking, but other apps may still be tracking you. For example, Google Play services also likes to know where you are, as does Chrome (for "helpful" location based search results). (Google's mail system GMail also likes to read your emails).

Use Facebook messenger, and Facebook read (or scan) all your messages, or flag up your message to moderators to read.

So if these are functions and features built-in to Android, then what option do you have to avoid them, or unplug from the Google ecosystem?

Well, that's where "dumbphones" or feature phones come in...

But what options are there? Are you stuck to just text messages and phone calls? No, because there are non-Android phones available that still have access to email, the internet and more. Lets have a look, starting with some of the most basic "dumbphones"

Another benefit of a dumbphone or a feature phone is that it can offer much better standby time, and battery life, thanks to not needing to be recharged every day. However, the more features you add, and the more you step towards a smartphone, the shorter the battery life is.

Basic phones: With text and phone calls - without Internet Access

These tend to offer the least features, the longest battery life, and the cheapest prices, when buying new. 
  • Nokia 105 - £15 - Texts, Calls, Calendar, Games
  • Doro 7354 / 2404 - £35 - Dual SIM, VGA 0.3mp camera, FM radio, Calendar, Bluetooth, MicroSD
Doro are famous for large buttons, and being easy to use, as well as catchy (semi-meaningless) numeric names, like 6030, 6520, or the rather catchy 7354 / 2404.

You could also look at the original (second hand) versions of Nokia phones, such as the Nokia 3210, 3310, 1100, etc.

Next level feature phones - with Internet Access 

Most basic Nokia phones (even the old ones) have some form of the internet, which means you'll be able to log-on to Facebook or Twitter.
  • Nokia 216 (2G) - £30 - Includes Opera Mini Browser
  • Nokia 3310 (3G) - £50 - Looks like the old one. Opera browser, Bluetooth, MicroSD, FM radio, 2mp camera, Mp3 player
  • Doro 6520 Flip phone - £60 - 2.8inch screen, internet, email, facebook, 2mp camera, bluetooth, FM radio
It's if you want access to better apps (such as Whatsapp*), and potentially sat-nav / maps then you'll (normally) need to look past feature phones. To the "Almost Smartphones" and smartphones... Although with reduced battery life most of the time.

KaiOS Phones (almost smartphones?) 

KaiOS is a Linux based OS designed to be used on feature phones, but with features nearing a smartphone. The basic design of the smartphones, with a small(ish) screen, and numeric keypad limits the usefulness, or rather the ability of them to come across as a true smartphone.
  • Nokia 8110 (4G, 2018) - £60 - 2.4inch screen, 2mp camera, Email, Google Maps (GPS), Facebook, Twitter
  • CAT B35 (2018) £90-99 - 2.4inch screen, 2mp camera, GPS
  • Doro 7060 - RRP £130 (ouch) - 2.8inch screen, flip phone, outer screen as well, email, 3mp camera, GPS, web browser

Smartphones* that don't run Android

There are very few alternatives available, when looking for a smartphone that doesn't run Android (or iOS), and most of the options are dead (Symbian, Bada, Palm), dying (Blackberry OS, Windows Phone), or you wish it was dead (Tizen). Lets have a look at the options.

* and almost smartphones.

Symbian (Main, Series 60 / S60 / S^3) - Discontinued

Old Nokia phones used to be feature rich, running Symbian OS, before Microsoft killed it off in favour of Windows Phone.

There was a fairly large range of apps available for Symbian, and you could use Whatsapp* (until the end of 2017). They even pioneered Sat-nav with Nokia Maps which was free on some of the smartphones. However, getting it to work, or getting many things to work on an old Nokia running Symbian now is particularly difficult due to people no longer supporting the phones. One nice feature, is the support from Opera, with Opera Mobile or Opera Mini Browsers available, giving you an up to date web browser.

Many of the later Nokia phones (before the Microsoft purchase) were trying to compete with Android and iPhone smartphones. However, many phones often had little memory, and it would be quite easy to fill the memory by opening too many apps at the same time.

The Nokia PureView 808 launched in 2012 (Microsoft purchased Nokia late 2013) was running Symbian, and had a groundbreaking 41mp camera with Xenon flash, and was the last Symbian smartphone released. Nokia switched to "Microsoft Windows Phone" OS which struggled to compete with Android and iOS. (Cutting off their nose to spite their face springs to mind - perhaps with continued development and use of Symbian there would be a 3rd alternative to Android/iOS).
  • Nokia PureView 808 (2012, S^3) - 4inch touchscreen
  • Nokia X7-00 (2011, S^3) - 4inch touchscreen Symbian phone
  • Nokia E6 (2011, S^3) - 2.46inch touch-screen, keyboard
  • Nokia E7 (2010, S^3) - 4inch touchscreen, slide out keyboard
  • Nokia N8 (2010, S^3) - 3.5inch touchscreen
  • Nokia E72 (2009, S60) - 2.36inch, keyboard
  • Nokia E75 (2009, S60) - 2.4inch screen, slide-out keyboard
Cons: Lacks support, lacks a working app store, almost impossible to find a phone with maps still working for sat-nav, Whatsapp no longer supported

Symbian (Series 40) - Discontinued

Nokia, and Nokia Asha phones, using Symbian Series 40 - An OS used for "feature phones" and described by Wikipedia as "almost smartphones".

Some phones, IE the Asha 210, even included a Whatsapp logo / button, and Whatsapp is still available for these phones (until Dec 31, 2018).

The phones are generally low-end, budget phones, with low resolution cameras, small amounts of on-board memory, and low-resolution screens, but did have apps for access to the internet, Whatsapp*, Facebook, twitter, email, etc. Due to the low-end nature of the smartphones, they never featured cutting edge or premium features, such as high-end cameras.

Here are the last phones released used Series 40. 
  • Nokia Asha 230 (2014), 2.8inch touchscreen - from £35 s/h
  • Nokia Asha 503 (2013, 3G), 3inch touchscreen, 5mp camera - from £25 s/h
  • Nokia Asha 310 (2013), 3inch touchscreen, 2mp camera (maps?)
  • Nokia Asha 210 (2013), 2.4inch screen, with keyboard
Not quite a fully fledged smartphone, these can offer good battery life. 

Cons: Definitely budget phones, *Whatsapp will stop working 31st Dec 2018.

Blackberry OS - Discontinued

You could have a look at Blackberry phones running Blackberry OS - as Blackberry (as the original company) still exists (in some form), with support for Blackberry OS devices till Dec 2019. Blackberry has since switched over to releasing Android based smartphones. Whatsapp was supported up until December 2017 (on Blackberry OS devices). Later versions of Blackberry OS supported some Android apps, based on a Jellybean 4.3 runtime.

Some of the last Blackberry devices released using Blackberry OS (and not Android) are the following:
  • Blackberry Leap (2015) - 5inch touch-screen, 8mp camera, around £35 s/h
  • Blackberry Passport (2014) - 4.5inch touch-screen, keyboard, 13mp camera, around £80+ s/h
  • Blackberry Classic (2014) - 3.5inch touch-screen, keyboard, 8mp camera, around £35 s/h
Cons: Limited support (till Dec 2019), Whatsapp not available (but the Android version could work)

Bada (Samsung) - Discontinued 2013

Samsung have (had) a number of alternative OSs for smartphones and other devices, with Bada (up until 2013) with a relatively small number of devices released. However, considering the popularity of Android, what need was there for Samsung to use Bada? After Bada was discontinued, Samsung decided to make another alternative OS, designed for low-end devices: Tizen...

Tizen (Samsung) 

Tizen devices have been released up to 2017. There is limited availability and lots of hate aimed at smartphones running Tizen. Models available include the Samsung Z1, Z2, Z3 and Z4 (2017)

Cons: Very limited availability

FireFox OS - Discontinued 2016

Another (discontinued) OS designed for low-end hardware, launched in 2013, discontinued in 2015. The last FirefoxOS smartphone released was released in 2015 - the alcatel Orange Klif. FirefoxOS is also used in smart TVs - but these are also finding alternative OSs for future models, as well as switching to Android.

Nb. FireFoxOS work was continued into H5OS (discontinued), and some of this code was used to create KaiOS.

Windows Phone (Microsoft) - Discontinued

Microsoft / Nokia Lumia smartphones running Windows Phone - are also available - but Microsoft left the mobile phone business in 2016/2017 (MSFT sold the Nokia name to HMD Global in 2016), with the last phone released being the Microsoft Lumia 650 (2016). As Nokia and Microsoft were pretty keen on making Windows Phone a success there was a range of phones from the low-end / budget end of the market, all the way up to the premium end of the market.

Other companies also offered Windows Phones, but preferred to sell much more popular Android phones. Whatsapp is available for Windows Phone, but for how long?

Here are the last phones released running Windows Phone:
  • Microsoft Lumia 650 (2016), 5inch HD touch-screen, 8mp camera - £30-35 s/h
  • Microsoft Lumia 950 XL (2015), 5.7inch touch-screen (high-res), 20mp OIS camera - £90 s/h
  • Microsoft Lumix 950 (2015), 5.2inch touch-screen (high-res), 20mp OIS camera - £70 s/h
  • Nokia Lumia 638 (2014), Last Nokia Lumia phone, 4.5inch screen, 8mp camera.
Cons: Limited support (till Dec 2019 - varies per phone), People don't like Microsoft

Palm OS - Discontinued 2010

Bought by HP in July 2010, for 1.2 billion dollars. Closed by HP in August 2011. The OS, Palm WebOS, and HP WebOS, looked pretty cool, and the Palm Pre Plus (2010) looked like a great smartphone with a slide out keyboard that hides from view most of the time, letting you use a 3.1inch touch-screen.

The Palm Pre Plus was launched in the UK. But the US got newer phones, and more apps in the app store. At the time of the launch, the iPhone 3GS and a range of excellent Android phones came out, and sold like hot cakes. After Palm devices were re-branded "HP" all the cool factor disappeared. Nobody wants to buy a phone from a computer brand, *cough* Dell PocketPC, we're looking at you, and *cough* Microsoft!

Due to the scarcity, they are mostly sold as "collectors items".

Palm webOS, became HP webOS, which became Open webOS, which became LG webOS - which is used in LG smart TVs, smart refrigerators and smart projectors! LG most recently released an Open version of webOS.

Sailfish OS - based on Linux Meego OS (from Nokia, Intel)

Limited number of phones available. Due to this the alternative is to load it on an Android based smartphone, replacing the Android OS, with Sailfish OS. Jolla are the main developers of the OS. The OS can run Android apps (including Whatsapp), if you buy the full version for €49.90.

Here's a list of some of the main Jolla phones available:
  • Jolla Smartphone (2013) - 4.5inch screen, 1/16GB, 8mp camera, 2100mAh battery - £60-80 s/h ebay
  • Jolla C Smartphone (2016) - Limited edition for developers, 5inch screen, 2/16GB, 8mp camera, 2500mAh battery (£80-499 / ebay)
Due to the low numbers of phones, finding these new or second hand is particularly difficult (only 3 are currently listed on ebay UK - in comparison there are around 40x Nokia N9 Meego phones listed - Meego was discontinued in 2011/2012). Other Sailfish OS phones:
  • INOI R7 (2017) - Russian release. 
  • Intex Aqua Fish (2016) - 5inch screen, 2/16GB, 8mp camera, 2500mAh battery - £60 s/h
The OS sounds like a good idea, being independent from Google, but will also be a reason why there has been very little mainstream support for the OS. Why use an OS nobody has heard of, when Android is marketed by Google, and every other smartphone manufacturer out there?

You can load the OS on to Android smartphones, and there are a number of supported phones. In fact, it would be much cheaper to load the OS onto one of these phones, and you'd also have the choice of newer smartphones, most likely with more memory and storage, and a higher resolution camera.

Cons: Limited availability

If you've got any suggestions for a smartphone that is full of features, but isn't from Apple or running Android, then let me know!

* Whatsapp is currently available for Android, iOS, Windows Phone, and (until 31/12/2018) Nokia Series 40 phones.


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