The perfect smartphone

Let me introduce you to the 2014 BLU Advance 4.0:

By any objective measure, it's a sad, useless device. Sorry BLU, it's true. Retailing for just $70 in 2014, it was an off-brand, bare-bones “hold-over” phone for almost anyone who bought one at the time. The only consistent pro in the Amazon reviews is "price" and the most frequent con is "one of the worst purchases of my life". Now, three years later, an eon in smartphone time, I can’t imagine there is anyone on the entire planet who is still using their BLU Advance 4.0 as their day-to-day phone.

Anyone, that is, except me.

Here in late 2017, with gorgeous, refined, powerful phones released every few months, I use just one smart device: the BLU Advance 4.0. And it’s my favorite phone. Ever.


Well, with the BLU Advance 4.0 in your hands, it would not be immediately obvious. You’d spend the first few moments desperately tilting the phone back and forth, trying to find a viewing angle where you could actually see the screen. This would be futile. Once your eyes had adjusted to the dark, washed-out -- yet highly reflective -- screen you’d be able to make out the pin lock screen. Moving your thumb to enter the code with the swift, precise motions you’ve honed over thousands of hours of smartphone usage, you’d find none of your taps had registered. You’d then learn, over a frustrating few minutes, that the touchscreen requires enormous and precise pressure to register anything accurately. A few minutes later, your thumb aching, you’d have finally arrived at the home screen, perhaps then venturing to check your email, clicking through a link in one of your emails. As the BLU heroically summoned its resources to render the modern bloated web page it would crumple under the memory load and then force close the browser. Thus would end your (not atypical) session with the BLU Advance 4.0.

So no, it’s not because it is a great phone, per se, that I use it, but really the opposite: the BLU Advance 4.0 is the optimally useless smart device. Smart phones, like most technology, have given us something that “we could never live without”, even though just a few years earlier the world was humming along just splendid without them; and something that -- again like most technology -- has turned on its creator: controlling them; adding stresses, temptations, and tests of will that were unknown to humankind before its introduction. Our phones are constantly demanding our attention -- check your email, play that game, scroll your instagram, watch a youtube highlight, swipe your dignity away on tinder -- each surrender reinforcing the dopamine reward pathways. Do we really get any benefit from having all these things real-time, right in our pocket? How many of them could wait, or just disappear forever? Ever go on a weekend trip where you don't have reception? How blissful and wonderful is that time; how quickly do we forget smartphones ever mattered.

With my BLU Advance 4.0, I don’t have any of these stresses, temptations, micro-addictions, or existential questions: my smartphone has returned to the background; a utility, a tool that I choose to use when I need it -- when I really need it. With 600mb of storage after the OS and pre-installed bloatware, the phone only has room for 5-10 downloaded apps, which means only the essential utilities: Google Maps, messaging (Signal, Whatsapp, Messenger), Audible, Spotify, Podkicker, and Lyft. And if you do try to download Instagram, Youtube, or a functional modern browser, for instance, you will find the BLU’s meek hardware capable of rendering only a maddeningly slow and glitchy experience, slow and glitchy enough to break the dopamine cycle.

Since my Nexus 5x stopped working two months ago and I resurrected my BLU Advance 4.0 from the mass grave of smart devices in the bottom drawer of my Ikea desk at home, I’ve been more peaceful, relaxed and happy. Intermittent downtime that used to be dominated by smartphone usage I now find filled with reflection on my day, observation of my surroundings, and peaceful daydreaming.

You can try to go cold turkey and buy a flip phone instead, or leave your phone at home, but you will not last. Each of us now has “essential” tasks we need to perform on our phones; you won’t be able to escape them all if you plan on integrating into modern (business) life. The BLU Advance 4.0 gives you just enough to perform these essential functions, and absolutely nothing more.

Is it all roses? No. The BLU Advance 4.0 takes grainy smudges for pictures, for instance. But the best pictures are mementos, not masterpieces anyways. And, yes, you will occasionally curse your BLU Advance 4.0 to the grave for being the glitchy, unresponsive piece of shit that it is. BUT this only affords you the opportunity to reflect on the meaning of your life, the insignificance of the day-to-day, and the eternal virtue — and reward — of patience.

Switching to the BLU has been the best lifestyle change I’ve made this year. I’d tell you to go out and buy one right now, but the secret seems to be out already: