Minimalist vs. Dumb vs. Feature vs. Smart

A label can give us quick access to a vision of something. “Track shoe” tells us that a shoe is for racing on a track. “Convertible” tells us that a car has a retracting top. All track shoes are for races on a track, but we do not know whether they have cleats. All convertibles have retracting tops, but they could otherwise vary quite a bit.

Forum members have used at least four labels for cellphones. They are minimalist, dumb, feature, and smart. I once believed that I could define each label. Now, though, I am unsure about their Venn diagram. The more that I ponder cellphone characteristics, the less sure that I become.

  • What does “minimalist” mean? Who decides? Is there a consensus?

  • When does “dumb” apply? For example, does a dumbphone’s characteristics never overlap with a smartphone’s characteristics? Can one design a dumbphone by dumbing down a smartphone? How?

  • What features must a “feature” phone have? Why? At how many or which particular features is it no longer a feature phone?

  • When does “smart” apply? For example, must a smartphone have an app store? What label do you apply to a cellphone to which users can add only a few apps, such as the Ghost Phone? What label do you apply to one to which users can add a few subscription services, such as the Sunbeam Wireless F1 Orchid?

Please let me know in your responses below!


I personally don’t like the term “dumb” phone. I’ve also heard it be called a “senior phone” and I don’t like that either. I feel the term “feature phone” best describes something like a Mudita Pure or an old school Nokia


I have been thinking about this too. I don’t really like the term “feature phone” since the point of non-smart phones these days is their relative lack of features compared to a smartphone.

I do like the idea of “Focus Phone” for things like the Pure or Light Phone 2 that offer basic functionality + media and organization features with little to no expansion through applications. And “Voice Phone” for devices such as burner flip phones or the Light Phone 1 that focus primarily on calling with little to no effort put into other features.

As for what is “smart” these days is hard for me to pin down. Would some things that used to be called smart phones still be considered smart today? PalmOS didn’t have an app market, however you could install apps through a computer. But if someone came out with a clone of the Tungsten W today I would suspect that it’s primary market would have more in common with those of us that want “dumb” phones than the latest flagship smartphones.

Honestly, if the original iPhone on the original software came out today I don’t think I would personally consider it a smartphone. No app store, no notification management system, with a focus on just syncing your media library, calendar, and email with your computer seems less smart by today’s standards.


I now use “Privacy Phone” as a shorthand way to describe my Sunbeam Wireless F1 Orchid flip phone to my friends, given that SW’s “Premium Services” subscription anonymizes my use of the subscription’s voice-to-text input feature, extended-forecast and radar lookup in the Weather feature, and point-of-interest search in the Navigation feature.


Related to “smart” phones, I do not want a “smart” home, either. Here’s a funny video about the danger of “smart” things in one’s homes:

The videos linked at the end of this video continue the humor!


“Det enkle er ofte det beste”: The simple is often the best.

Thanks for sharing it, @kirkmahoneyphd.