/ Technology

Do you use your smartphone as a ‘phone’ anymore?

Travel anywhere and you’ll see at least a few people in the now-traditional pose – head down, hands together, tapping away… It’s a look that has become synonymous with the modern-day smartphone.

In fact, I associate smartphones with these browsing and texting mannerisms more than any other of their functions, which raises the question – is anyone regularly using their device to actually ‘phone’ anyone?

According to research by Ipsos Mori, only three quarters of smartphone owners say they make at least one call a week. This compares with almost all (96%) of them just three years ago.

Texting and scrolling

I’ve just had a quick scroll through my call history and found regular gaps of two to three days, sometimes more. Yet in that time I’ve used my phone frequently throughout the day – easily running the battery down – doing things other than calling.

What does that tell me? That I need to get out more, probably. But it does also suggest that we’re changing how we choose to interact with one another. After all, it’s not like anyone is forcing us to use texting apps like WhatsApp instead of speaking to each other – it’s entirely our own preference to have shifted things in that direction.

But it’s not just that we’re texting rather than talking – it’s that we never seem to be looking away from our phones. There’s always something popping up on-screen to distract you; whether it’s Facebook, Twitter, or that game you’re addicted to. For many, persistently reaching for their phone has become something of a reflex reaction. Apparently British adults collectively check their phones 1.1bn times every 24 hours. Who knows how close to reality that statistic actually is, but we’re no doubt glancing at our phones more than ever before.

Are we overindulging? It seems it’s in our nature to search for distractions – there have been similar concerns in the past with televisions and video game consoles. I used to spend a lot of time browsing the website on a desktop PC, then later a laptop and now a smartphone – so isn’t this just a natural technological progression towards more convenient devices?

Giving your life back

Swiss consumer electronics company Punkt certainly feels something needs to be done – it launched a new phone in September that aims to ‘give you your life back’. It makes calls, it sends texts… and that’s about it. It removes temptation by simply eliminating it entirely. Why the phone costs as much as £229 is anyone’s guess, but the idea of taking a backwards step technologically to free yourself from the consuming nature of the internet is an intriguing one.

Would you be able to go back to a phone that acts purely as a phone after all this time? A good old Nokia 3310, for example – that definitely got the traditional job done, and it was pretty damn indestructible to boot!

I suspect it may be too late to kick the habit for many – perhaps smartphones have already taken over. Or maybe you’re not like me at all and you only use your mobile phone to make calls. If so, I want to hear from you (just don’t call me about it as I probably won’t answer).

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Those of us who spend a couple of hours on the train most days would be eternally grateful if fewer people used their smartphones as a phone. There’s little sign of any diminution in this modern-day annoyance, nor that of using them to listen to music so loud that it escapes their headphones. And don’t get me started on those who hammer their laptop keyboard as hard as if it were a manual typewriter.

There’s a psychological phenomenon which causes ‘phones users to talk far more loudly when on the ‘phone. It doesn’t just apply to mobiles, either.

Technology used judiciously is a godsend as far as I am concerned. I don’t think that a backward step to spare the waistlines/brains of couch potatoes/other addicts is a solution, especially at £229 a pop! (Is it gold-plated?) They’ll just go cold turkey and launch into something else. Nature always finds a way.

Education will only go some way towards reducing the overuse of technology, especially perhaps the telly, and apart from that I’m not sure that there is a non-dictatorial solution to all this.

My Nokia – a 6230i – still works well after 9 years handling calls and messages, and that’s it. I was happy when it linked to my new car via Bluetooth. I’ve never found the need to do anything more with a phone.
However since phones have transformed into computers I appreciate how other people make use of the features – satnav, reading bar codes and checking prices, internet, on-line banking and many things of which I have no knowledge. What you don’t have, you don’t miss. But once you’ve tasted it you no doubt wonder how you managed without it as it helps organise your life.

Like Malcolm, I have fallen out of step with the march of technology and have a simple phone that I use for occasional calls and texts, but since hardly anyone else knows its number I get very few and send even fewer. The index is mainly loaded with taxi company numbers for when we have to upset Nick Davies on the train home. My phone can connect to the internet and take pictures but I have never done either with it. Since it is PAYG and was given to me a few years ago it has been good value, so I feel gratified that Punkt realise that people need to get their lives back but horrified that they will charge £229 [before tariff] for it.

Some time ago there was a Which? Conversation on the apps that people use and which they would recommend. It seemed that out of the millions available only a tiny handful were being used regularly and there were very few recommendations.

I was with someone recently who was tapping away furiously on his smartphone with both thumbs and I was quite impressed. There was something childlike about his intense concentration and his sense of satisfaction with what he had created. Why should he forego those pleasures? He has a life and his phone is an integral and enjoyable part of it, indeed it is almost a physical extension of his body connected invisibly to his own nervous system. The fact that he knew when the next bus was coming a moment after I had seen it down the road was incontrovertible proof of the phone’s purpose, reliability and value.

You’re a cynic, you know…

But possessed of an excellent dry wit…


You won’t upset me phoning for a taxi, John, or even ordering a chicken tikka masala. But spending forty minutes solid holding a computer helpdesk session; or having what should be a highly confidential HR discussion; or having a deep meaningless conversation with someone clearly not you partner is something else.

Yes, I only use my phone for making phone calls and sending texts. I don’t have a smart phone but then I am of an older generation that does not feel the need to wear out our finger and thumb joint with constant twittering etc. and taking meaningless photographs of things that are of no interest to any one other than the person with the phone. I just rely on my trusty DSLR to get good composition, exposure and focussing when I want to take proper photos that actually interest the people who look at them. Eventually, people will have to ditch smart phones and go back to larger screens because their eyes will not be able to read the small text on mobile phone screens. If I want information from the internet etc. then I use my trusty desktop computer or a smaller laptop when away from home.

I do make a lot of phone calls and increasingly they are made on my smartphone. I have been away from home over the Christmas period and I have been taking the opportunity to call friends I don’t speak to very often. I agree with Ian that having to listen to people on the phone is annoying, so try to avoid adding to the problem.

If I need to get my life back then I need to hide the laptop rather than the phone.

Keeping up with technology is a bit of an expensive quandary. I have a Nokia 5800 XpressMusic, never used the music but bought because it had the largest screen available over 6 years ago. The battery is still excellent and I only use the phone for calls, texts and the camera was useful for evidence when another car scraped my bumper. It does what I need it do but I do feel out of date.

So to retire it would be a waste and although I can afford to buy a new iphone or an ipad etc, they would not really get used so it is difficult to justify the cost.

I do think smartphones must be a nightmare for teachers. I saw Ann Robinson interview school children about their smartphones some time ago. Parents must be out of their minds sending their children to school with a £700 phone that is little more than a toy to show off to their classmates.

Perhaps children should only be able to take affordable basic phones similar to the the Punkt to school. It would not be popular with some children, but would enable those unable to afford £700 phones to fit in better.

I am a retired 76 year old, the first mobile phone I had I carried on a shoulder holster and which had a BT style handset on top which always fell off at the most inconvenient moments, it was required in the course of my work. I think it was in 1988, finally in 2000 my wife and I purchased the famous Nokia 3310, both of which were in use until just before this Christmas. I have just recently recycled one of the two as the back cover fell to bits and of it went to one of the recycle companies, together with 4 other phones that had been accumulated since 2000 all of which had been found wanting. It has been necessary for me to get a “Smartphone” for messaging purposes which I obtained for £79 free of tie with all the same latest kit as an Iphone and using the Android operating system. Excellent telephone dual SIM and very fast messaging. The only cons rubbish with EE.

Kevin Cairns says:
2 January 2016

Don’t even have a smart phone so not a prob for me!

Made the move to a smartphone after the trusty Nokia had got through its third battery. But not on a contract, on PAYG, and paying for broadband at home, so I rarely use the mobile for anything internet-dependent: as mentioned, switching on Wifi or mobile internet drains the battery like a sieve! As an aside to this, find it really annoying that people in the “eyes down” mode are constantly bumping into you in the street, and even some friends cannot give their undivided attention to the live conversation in hand: eyes and fingers frequently straying to the smartphone to Facebook or Twitter: it’s just plain rude!

There was an interesting Which? Conversation on “phubbing” over two years ago in which contributors tried to define the social norms and etiquette for dealing with boring conversations in social situations or for reacting to potentially important incoming messages from social networks.

I find it interesting to explore the social norms and etiquette that John mentions. My view is that it’s OK to drop out of a conversation with three or more people providing that you our your device is not distracting the others in the group.

Perhaps we should give some thought to the ways that conversation can sometimes be antisocial. Here I’m thinking of people that discuss a topic at length when others obviously have no interest. Carry on talking about sport if you wish but I will sit there quietly reading Which? Convo.

Looking at your tablet is not quite the same, though, as getting your tabloid out and flicking the pages in a noisy and impatient manner, especially with the odd chuckle or heavy sigh at something on the page.

Yes, there are many ways we can annoy fellow travellers. I wonder why it is more annoying to have to listen to someone engaged in a phone conversation than to several people speaking face-to-face.

Because you only hear half the conversation. You have to imagine the other bits if you are earwigging.

That’s a possibility, but it does not concern me that I cannot hear the quiet member of a group. I suspect that our conditioning about what is and is not acceptable is the main reason.

At the behest of my family I acquired an iPhone. I bought it on an interest-free purchase plan and a contract, which costs £10 per month, for 500 minutes of phone time plus data and messages. I certainly do use the phone as a mobile computer and generally make inroads into the data allowance.

At about the time that I bought the iPhone I accepted an offer from BT to increase the speed of my Infinity service. Whether I did get an enhanced service is a matter of conjecture, but BT took the opportunity to increase the cost of weekday telephone calls to 10p a minute.

Wherever possible now I use the iPhone for all my telephone calls. If I use all the 500 minutes I do so at 2p a minute. Go figure! When my BT contract ends I shall be moving to another provider. In my opinion, their behaviour is despicable.

Oh, and since it appears to be the norm to give one’s age here, I am 74.

I bought my first smartphone (a secondhand one) in despair when they stopped making PDAs. Imagine my delight when I found how much more versatile it was AND that I could leave my old mobile phone (which I only used – and stll use – very exceptionally) at home!

Vivian Brumpton says:
2 January 2016

That was also why I bought my first (2nd hand) smartphone. I now have a Note 2. I don’t like phoning. I chat to my family via Facebook, text or WhatsApp. The first time someone phoned me, I’d already had it about a year, I didn’t know how to answer the call!
I generally use it instead of my pc.

David Ludlow says:
2 January 2016

I am that odd person – I use my phone for call, occasional texts, have never reached the contract level for texts, call or downloads. There is a lot to be learnt from conversation rather than cold text, no inclination, etc. I changed my car recently & the salesman couldn’t understand why I questioned the fact that it only took a single CD. If I want music I listed to my Hi Fi, when out I rarely play music, be a bit hypocritical to complain of having to listen to other peoples music then doing the same thing. I have taken the odd photo but, being a dinosaur, took me a long time to work out how to download from the phone, but usually I use a small camera.
Is part of the problem fashion, look at me with my Iphone or what ever, I’m so important & busy I have to use my phone all the time because either wise people may not recognise how important I am. Also seems strange that people will spend a fortune on a smart phone then not invest a small sum of money to go ‘hands free’ in their car!!! I do worry that in a few years we will face a generation of people with wrist & finger problems who are unable to hold a ‘normal’ conversation!!

John G says:
2 January 2016

As David Ludlow said “I use my phone for call, occasional texts, have never reached the contract level for texts, call or downloads. There is a lot to be learnt from conversation rather than cold text, no inclination, etc.”
I work outside -in the sticks – my phone is mostly used for work. I find emailing and sending photos via text or internet a very useful feature, otherwise it is mainly for emergency use. I have no real interest in Facebook, Twitter or other social applications.

Pat Egan says:
2 January 2016

Recently bought a smart phone off the internet – because it was half price (discontinued colour) to replace my old mobile. It was a bit of a novelty at first. Within a month I’d lost interest in all the apps and gadgets that did the ironing and made the beds because I have a life. The battery needed a recharge after a couple of days and my pay as you go top ups disappeared at an alarming rate. Switched off wifi and roaming. now just use it as a mobile phone to occasionally talk to someone or text them – nothing else.

My children purchased for me a Samsung Galaxy Ace and they downloaded Watts App which enabled me in turn to keep in touch with my 85 year old mum daily without long drawn out conversations, send photographs and keep in touch with my spread out family. Unfortunately Google got it’s hands on Watts App, I have been unable to download the latest update returning ‘I Do not have enough storage space’. For some reason since then I cannot use pay as you go, I have lost photos in gallery, all my watts app photos. My phone is crowded with apps I can’t Delete. Mcafee has also added stuff I don’t want or need when all of a sudden a large M appeared on my phone taking up more storage space.

Paul Richardson says:
2 January 2016

I neither have or need one of these new fangled smarty phones. My Nokia 2310 does all I need as it has a radio to go with calling and text modes. In fact I only got this as it was cheaper and easier to get anew phone rather than a replacement battery for my previous Nokia, which looks a lot like the picture at top of article.
Happy New Year

I’m a recent convert to the iPhone, having previously had a rather basic Samsung smartphone. I have a variety of interests, some being outdoor and involving lone-working. The iPhone enables me to keep in touch with home by several means (voice, text and email) which is a valuable safety tool. It also has a brilliant camera, which saves lugging a separate camera around and is also a very straightforward means of sending photos . I can check my bank balance more readily than by any other means and the calculator is brilliant. This afternoon I’ve been keeping in touch with the Test Match whilst working on my car. I have a reasonably priced contract with EE which, after some teething problems, is now working fine. All told, I’m very happy with the phone and the facilities it offers, though I still keep my original, basic, Nokia 1100 in the car for backup.

I am guessing from the conversation that most contributors are “of a certain age”. This may be slightly worrying for Which unless their target demographic is purely “silver surfers”.
Anyway, I have had a smart phone for about 4 years; my partner has had the “upgrade” for about 2 years. We travel a lot and make few phone calls so we mainly use the phone as a mobile computer. Our kids live and work abroad so a group conversation on Skype messaging is a good way to stay in touch.
We use Google maps a lot to find routes on foot and on public transport. We use Google to search for places of interest, look up things to do, timetables, search for local retailers…well, the list is a long one.
Nobody is forced to own or use a compact high powered Internet connected portable computer but it can be enormously useful.
On the subject of music, annoyance pre-dates the smartphone. I assume most posters are old enough to remember the Sony Walkman, and possible also the “ghetto blasters” carried on the shoulder for the true mobile music experience.
On the subject of photography I am told that professional photographers carry a pocket camera as well as the SLR for that “quick snap” opportunity and that a phone can also be used in this way. I find myself using my DSLR less and less these days.

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