Design your life to include more money, health and happiness with less stuff, space and energy.

Design your life to include more money, health and happiness with less stuff, space and energy.

The Smarter, Simpler Smartphone

If you’re like me, you have a somewhat conflicted relationship with your smartphone. Features like GPS, email, basic web browsing and ebook reading have become indispensable. But I also find myself looking at screens filled with apps I’ll never use. And while I appreciate the Retina display on my iPhone, I don’t use it for watching movies or playing games–things that might justify its extreme energy sucking tendencies. In fact, I find myself constantly charging my phone with even the most moderate use. I would love a simple–but not too simple–smartphone that retains basic functionality but uses far less power than my iPhone. I want an E-PHONE by New York design consultancy FormNation.

The basic idea behind the concept phone is to retain most of the smartphone functionality, but use an e-ink display, which consumes a fraction of the power of LED models (the battery could last as long as a month on a single charge) as well as reducing the phone’s capabilities. It would still make calls, texts, have music, a GPS and web-browser–it would just do it in black and white and not have fluid motion graphics (video, games), which aren’t essential for many people anyway. Head designer Jan Habraken asks, “Do we really need angry birds or flying pigs?”


The phone would take pictures, but since the display is in black and white, it’s anyone’s guess how colors will appear in the shot when they’re downloaded. FormNation says users would enjoy “the suspense of waiting to see how their image develops,” akin to how we used to take pictures with 35mm cameras. And rather than taking videos, the E-PHONE will take stop-motion GIF’s.

To make the package even sweeter, FormNation says the E-Ink phone would only cost $175-200 dollars. Unfortunately, there are no immediate plans to manufacture the E-PHONE, but given its long battery life, nice styling and low price, we think it would have a lot of appeal.


  • George Sears

    I used TracFone (prepaid) for my cell phone, my only phone. Last year they offered basic Android phones, and prepaid data plans where the data rolls over. The LG 39C sells for 90 bucks on Amazon. If you are very careful setting it up, it will not eat up data, or you can just turn the data off most of the time. The data is Verizon 3G, the old system. If you want to keep it simple, you limit the apps to email, Google Maps, Google News, a weather app, etc. The phone is slow loading emails and web pages. But it is much less chunky than any top tier smartphone, at least Androids like the Galaxy S5.

    At this point I would probably go with a Moto E for $130. I’m sure it is smoother loading web pages or emails. A lot of the secondary providers (who use the big networks but don’t own them) offer SIM’s for unlocked phones. One carrier has 130 minutes and 150MB of data for $20, and unused minutes and data rollover. If you set the phone up right, with basic Apps and little else, that amount of data can work out, especially if you generally have wifi.

    It seems like once a technology is pretty complete, people change the focus to “What do I really want from this device?” Buying a chunk of data and using it over a year, with some minutes for the phone, is pretty cost effective. I like my Nexus 5, but there are many times when I’d rather carry a phone that is somewhat “expendable”, or just lighter and smaller.There are some interesting choices out there, both phones and data/voice plans. The problem for the e-ink smartphone is that low cost smartphones are flooding the market, driven by Asian companies.

  • Kevin L

    I use a Samsung Virgin prepaid phone. I text and call, have access to the internet though rarely use it. I’m on my iPad or computer all the time, why do I need a small screen to do the stuff I do anyway? I was on the road the other day and needed some information. I stopped and asked a human being. A beautiful experience.

    • Saying out

      I too choose human contact. I would not put up with someone opposite to me whilst eating ‘together’ and constantly answering or fiddling with a ‘phone.
      I use an iPad but am not impressed and will not buy more.

  • Chris

    I think it’s a couple of years too late to the market.

    There are good quality phones, like the Moto E at $125-150 and more coming on stream everyday. The battery life is really the only thing to admire about this phone.

  • I am an avid iOS user. I use apps for everything, productivity, habit developing, fitness, diet, banking, selling closet castoffs. You name it, I use an app for it. A month ago, I shut down my iPhone plan and opted for a prepaid phone instead (GoPhone from AT&T). I’m saving $60/month and my GoPhone (a Nokia windows) has a battery that lasts for three days. It is a smart phone but I don’t purchase data and I don’t use it as such, I chose that phone because it’s good for texting. It’s also cheap so if the battery starts to suck, I’ll just buy a new one. I still use my iPhone but as an iTouch only on wifi (or on a hotspot which I already had, but it’s rare that I pull it out, I’m more thoughtful about my usage when I need to turn on and hook up to a hotspot first). Why did I make this change? Quite simply, I got sick and tired of worrying about my battery life. An unexpected benefit is I am more intentional in my usage of apps now. I do not randomly check my phone anymore and can fully enjoy dinner, a concert, etc. I’m not sure how this phone would do on the market because of the visual aspect of social media but I fully understand the need to have a phone that doesn’t die by 3 PM.

  • Kristyn

    Our relationships with our phones have become so interesting! It’s a phone and it’s like pulling teeth to get people to call me on it! I love the phone above particularly the minimal number of apps and the fact that its e-Ink! I LOVE E-INK! So soothing to look at and read. And I love the idea of letting a phone get back to being a phone. Ok, a phone/text device. I’d even lose the camera and the animated gif motion capture. Full disclosure – I’m nuts for the camera on my Samsung Galaxy 2. Yes 2. The colors on the 4 just aren’t as juicy. I think it’s optimistic that people would get excited about seeing how the colors really came out. Now for those of us that love shooting in black and white… Makes me wish this was in production

  • Pontifikate

    I like the idea, but wonder if it would be a supported and as safe an environment as an iphone. I don’t play games or need color. Just like with cable we may pay for things we don’t want (sports), we are paying (in battery power) for games and other functions we may not want.

    What I’d like to see is something with e-ink and just-in-time technology so that the phone is only as complex as you want or need, no more.

  • Megan

    Can this go into production yesterday?? This is fantastic. Not quite a cure for our smart phone addictions, but if it saves energy and reduces irrelevant and overwhelming options.. I’m all in!

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  • Jack

    are there plans for this to exist in the future? This is exactly what I want! Smartphone age is directly opposite my Minimalistic tendencies!

    • David Friedlander

      none that we’re aware of, but we’ll keep you posted.

      • Jack

        so, David, anything?

      • Jack

        One more try 🙂 anything there?

  • Laura James

    I have an original kindle e-ink reader and I love the long life of it. With each current ios upgrade my battery simple loses massive amounts of power even when I am not touching it. I have researched every hack to keep the battery from needing a charge every 12 hours but short of leaving it in airplane mode or turning it off the operating system is too bloated for such a small battery. I would welcome e-ink in an iphone. Or better yet this phone would let me choose the components most important to me.

    • Saying out

      I find exactly the same problem with iOS upgrade and apple are not concerned to fix our problems they cause. They should sort out problems with current models and not bring out newer models to buy. I wonder what the problems will be?

  • Saying out

    I do not have one and never have!
    It is ridiculous and so I do not join the madness but the one described in this article is more, much more than adequate. If this one came onto the market it is almost certain I would buy two, one for myself and one for my husband.
    I wonder about charges but assume there would be a pay as you go method as, without this I would not consider purchase.

  • Marty try this if you want a simple phone.

    • David Friedlander

      love it.