Idiomdrottning’s homepage

Time to review the phone that I helped make!

As a volunteer (“community contributor”) I contributed a little bit to the Mudita Pure’s FOSS OS; I mostly did some localization stuff.

Time to review it!

Listen, I don’t want y’all to cancel your preorders. We worked hard on this thing (in my case, only a few weeks, but I followed along and saw how much everyone effort else was putting in). All the following nitpicks aside, this is my main and only phone.

So, I’m coming from a few years of the Doro 5517, which I loved, and a few months of the Doro 7011, which is a horrible phone that I can’t believe they shipped. That’s the reference here. 3G phones that look like old-style feature “candybar” phones. Before those two 3G dumb phones, I went through three smartphones, and before those, five GSM dumb phones.

This is a similar phone in many ways; slow (in the Pure’s case understandable, because of the e-ink, which is, on the other hand, a huge reason to get this phone. E-ink is e-ink, for good and bad), similar navigation/button layout, stripped-down feature phone.

The round buttons, like those “bar” context specific keys and the number/letter keys, all feel great. Easily the best improvement compared to those Doro feature phones.

The navigation directions not so much, are tiny, difficult to use (and that’s with mittens off!), and for the first couple of days, when I hit down there’s a loud creak, a long sound as the frame slowly and creakily pops back into place. That problem went away after a while.

Kind of confusing menu system—as I was doing the set up wizard I accidentally hit finish as I was trying to set it to 24h time instead of 12h time.

I’m constantly hitting the wrong button, usually hitting the center key when I mean the left context key; I expect the center key to do what I want but it instead doesn’t.

For people my own age who remember when computers were point&click, it’s sort of an OS that needs a three button mouse, and where the semantics about what’s left click, middle click, right click is really mixed up.

The problem is this:

Currently, the center key usually means “do it to it”. It’s what you click to go to whatever’s under the cursor in the app menu, for example. When there are two things, “do a small thing to this specific widget” and “finalize the entire thing, the message, the contact, the setting”, the center key is the big thing and the left context key is the small, local thing. In my opinion, that’s backwards. Instead, I would’ve wanted the center key to be the small, local thing and the left context key to be the big thing.

Why? Because what the current behaviour means in practice is that there’s gonna be a lot of prematurely sent text messages, saved contacts, saved settings. The center key is what you use to click around and do small things normally when there isn’t a “big thing”, so you get used to it doing small things such as entering apps.

And then when there suddenly is a big thing (like “send the message”), the center-key is co-opted to do the big thing while the left context key does the small, local thing. Can I get used to the current UI? Sure. (That’s why I’m writing this down now, when the problem is still fresh in my mind.)

There is an autolock setting, deep in the settings menu hierarchy, where you can set an autolock time from fifteen seconds up to twenty minutes, but you can’t turn off autolock. To lock it manually, this isn’t obvious at all, but the way you do it is by holding the # key (when you’re not in a text input field). I usually don’t want autolock on when I’m at home but I usually do want the phone to be locked while it’s in my purse.

I love holding it. Holding it just makes me happy. They describe it as “inspired by the shape of a stone”, which sounded weird since stones and rocks are all kinds of shapes, but, a beach pebble worn smooth by the ocean, is what it is. I love it. However, as with many phones, the “the phone is a slippery bar of soap” factor is pretty big, I’ve almost dropped it three times already and I’ve only had it a few hours.

The speaker, for ring tones and SMS tones, is awful and most of the ring tones and text tones are very clipped and distorted because of that. During phone calls, sound quality is horrible for both me and for the other person. Easily the worst feature of the phone. It comes out of the box crankes up to the highest volume, and, like most speakers, sounds a little bit better and less clippy if you lower the volume a bit. But then it’s too quiet.

Most of the SMS tones are really long. You get a ton of text messages and there’s a little song for each one. I chose one of the shortest ones (a kinda harsh guitar chord strum). I haven’t figured out how to add custom tones for calls and messages. Maybe that’s gonna be done with the Electron app.

You can’t have contact-specific tones.

It has a vibration mode which I disabled since I hate phones that vibrate (especially for a flat-bottom phone like this one, that I’d love to set down flat on a desk); that’s a waste of space in the phone for the motor. Thankfully you can disable vibration for calls, messages, and alarm. (If you’re wondering how to change the alarm tune, it’s in the alarm app itself.)

I love that the context keys light up red and green during a call, that’s a great feature actually! Super relaxing and makes it less stressful, less risk of hitting the wrong key.

The huge size is comfortable when talking. I still think the screen is too big. The font is tiny and squint-inducing, and there’s a lot of empty white space in the UI. To see if you have any unread text messages, it’s the tiniest of tiny dots in the corner of the tiny little “envelope” icon on the main menu. Unread messages also show up on the main screen, under the time and date. I’ll keep an eye out whether they are also visible when the phone is locked.

The buttons are OK sized. The phone does fit in my purse if I squeeze it in, it’s a tight fit.

There is no way to get to the main menu from a deep sub menu or app, you need to go back step by step. That may sound like a minor thing but for low-vision users, it’s necessary to consistently be able to • “go back to neutral”. Only workaround is to jam the back key many many times and then hit the center key to get to the menu. This is especially an issue since the navigation keyboard wraps around.

The main menu is a 3 by 3 grid of icons; on some similar phones I’ve then also been able to hit the corresponding number key to open that app. Not here. That would’ve been especially good in low-vision situations.

When the phone is locked and someone else wants to find my ICE-contacts, that’s a pretty fiddly and cumbersome UX if you’re not used to the Pure’s idiosyncratic three-context-button setup and e-ink delay. It’s even harder to find the ICE contacts when it’s unlocked.

You set the meditation timer to 15 or 30 or 60 or 90 with the directional keys, or use the keypad to set it to a specific time. It also doesn’t save your meditation settings, I need to turn off “chime every 2 minutes” every time. You can turn off the meditation prematurely by hitting the right context key, labeled “stop”.

I can’t change the text message templates (“I’ll call you in five minutes” and such) on the device itself.

I want to try to test the Electron app, hopefully I can change the message templates in there, I just, uh, I need to get a new cable for that since my desktop computer doesn’t have any USB C ports. That’s also where I hope to update the music.

It comes with a handful of Nick Lewis songs (the headphone speakers sound OK) but those aren’t tagged with metadata (either that or, the song browser doesn’t work properly; the songs only show up under “all songs”).

I miss incoming text messages while listening to music or when I’m on a call.

The text entry works like this. There’s no T9, you just hit the “JKL” button three times if you want an L, for example. So if you want to write the word “bad”, you hit ABC twice to get the first ‘b’, then wait a bit (you don’t get a visual cue and there’s no setting to adjust the delay) and hit it once more for the ‘a’, then you hit the DEF key once for the ‘d’.

The number/letter keys are way better quality than either the Doro 5517 and the Doro 7011. On both of those, there’s a pain if you wanna capitalize a letter mid sentence, but here it’s easy enough; the lower-left key (marked *) toggles between ABC, abc, and 123. There’s no attempt at an “Abc” mode (capitalize next letter). That’s both good and bad. It’s bad because capitalizing one letter is a common need, it’s good because the fact that there’s only three modes makes it faster to toggle through.

The speaker is a bit too high, for shoulder-ear-pinch mode (the way we did handsfree in the seventies), in other words, if you pinch the phone between your shoulder and ear where the sound is the clearest, the phone will slip out because the speaker is placed so distally from the center of the phone.

It’s great that you can assign notes to contacts; great place to put door keypad codes.

Sometimes text is truncated (for example, but not limited to, in the message templates) and I don’t know how to scroll it.

I like that I can turn off the backlight completely and just have a pure, unlit e-ink. That makes the phone feel more like a physical object, a part of my home like a pen or notebook, than a “digital magical endless attention grabber”.

Overview of phone features

The three things a phone need to do:

Less essential stuff:

Summary of hardware issues (need to live with these)

Summary of software issues (fixable hopefully)

This phone is successful at its main goal: being un-addictive.♥

I’m overall happy with it and hope it’ll last me for a long, long time.♥

Update

Getting feedback that the “review is horrid”. Don’t shoot the messenger!

I tried to write an honest and thorough review.

And, thanks to this phone, I can receive deliveries and call the doctor. It works.

Don’t get stuff that you don’t want. Obviously. That’s pretty key to a simple life. If you don’t wanna buy it, don’t buy it. If it’s not gonna spark joy for you, don’t get it.

It makes me happy and I’m proud of it.

It’s pretty much the only simple, open source, 3G phone that I know of. There’s nothing like it. Pine Phone, Fairphone? Not simple. Light Phone, Punkt? Not open source. Retro phones? Not open source nor can they handle 3G.

Update

I’m getting sick of the awful call quality (sounds like a rabid drowning modem) and the missed calls.