My minimal phone... isn't exactly a phone

As a minimalist for the past five years, I’ve previously jumped on the quiet trend of finding a minimal phone. These typically just provide the basics, such as voice calls, messages, a clock and contacts. Occasionally, you’ll also see a podcast or music player and maybe some navigation features. The idea of these devices is to rid or greatly reduce all of the “noisy” apps found on modern smartphones, providing a less distracting experience.

Eventually, I found the solution for me, but my minimal phone isn’t a phone. Not exactly, anyway.

I decided to purchase an Apple Watch with LTE, although you could accomplish the same thing with a cellular-enabled wearOS watch. For me, this solution is a perfect way to accomplish the goals of a minimal phone. And its one I’ve been using for several years now. I wouldn’t change a thing about it.

How I use the Apple Watch vs my iPhone

During work hours, I certainly rely on my iPhone, although I do wear my watch all the time. The types of activities I want or need to do in this timeframe are far better served by the iPhone, if not an iPad or a computer. This isn’t a ground-braking thought; it’s fairly obvious. So from say 8am to 4 or 5pm, I’m like most of you. I interact with the web, apps and others on my phone.

Outside of those hours though? The iPhone is on a charging stand next to my bed. I really don’t use it much, if at all, outside of what I’ll call “work hours”. That includes when I’m out of the house, which I suspect is not like most of you. Everything I want or need to do from a computing perspective can be done with my Apple Watch.

Well, with one exception: I like to take photos. When I’m going to a place that I know I want to snap some shots, I do take the phone with me. In fact, during the Utah vacation I took with my wife back in June, I carried a phone on the 50+ miles of hikes we did. It was actually a Google Pixel 7 Pro. However, I didn’t have a SIM card in the phone. Essentially, it was solely a camera for those activities.

Back to the watch when I’m out and about. On my wrist, I can make and receive phone calls. I can (and do) sent messages, usually through voice rather than typing. It’s far faster and quite accurate. I have navigation and turn-by-turn directions. Effectively, I have a minimal phone on my wrist.

What I do (and don’t do) with the watch

I also have a few key apps installed, but only a few.

One, called Stats, lets my watch be the key for our car. I can fully control the car’s locks, climate system and more. So I don’t need my phone, or a key, for the car. Apple Music is installed by default and I have roughly 5 GB of music downloaded on the watch. This lets me listen to music whie away from home; no phone needed.

Stats app on Apple Watch

Apple Pay is also a default app so although I carry a wallet, I tend to pay for things with my watch. I have a slim, minimal wallet (shocking, I know) with a pair of backup payment cards and my driver’s license. I rarely need these but I carry them just in case.

I don’t mirror my iPhone notifications to my watch. This reduces the noise or things that aren’t a priority during “me time”. I have made exceptions in the past though. A good example is allowing Google Chat notifications on my watch.

Even though Chat isn’t installed on the watch, I can still receive and reply to message notificvations, again using voice rather than typing. I did this when working with Stacey on our IoT efforts for several years for a key reason. If I left home during work hours and she needed me, she could still contact me and I could still respond through the watch. We could have used text messaging but Stacey ran the business on Google Workspace, so Chat made more sense.

I do make heavy use of the watch’s health tracking features, which again are built-in by default. You can certainly track your steps and such with just a phone, of course. However, I like to track more than just those basic metrics. The watch monitors my breathing and heart rate, for example.

The only other third-party app I have installed on the watch is Home Assistant, which I use as my smarthome platform of choice. It’s useful to open the garage when I get home from a motorcycle ride. I could unlock the front door with it as well, but my Apple Watch acts as an NFC key for my connected lock. I simply tap to open, just like you’d tap to pay.

Apple HomeKey

I found other minimal phone options too limited for me

All of this isn’t to suggest that my solution will work for you. I’m simply sharing my thought process, use cases and experience on my quest for a minimal phone.

Again, I researched several other options ranging from “dumbphones” to custom built basic handsets such as The Light Phone, the Punkt, the Mudita Pure and others. Yes, they would have accomplished the goals of fewer distractions that come with a minimal phone.

However, I needed a middle ground. For me, a connected watch was the answer. An LTE-enabled watch doesn’t cost much more than a bespoke phone solution. And it only adds $5 a month to my monthly phone bill. Given how I use it, that’s well worth the price of freedom, mindfulness and intentionality.