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OwnFone: A minimalist reimagining of the cellphone


August 27, 2012

OwnFone is a small and light cellphone which lacks in features but is very accessible as a result

OwnFone is a small and light cellphone which lacks in features but is very accessible as a result

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Modern-day smartphones like those produced by Apple and Samsung have put a bunch of cool features into our pockets, turning the mere portable telephone into a computer, personal organizer, games console, and more besides. OwnFone, however, takes the opposite approach, offering an inexpensive, easy to use handset stripped down to the bare essentials.

Of course, basic cellphones are nothing new, but OwnFone goes further than, say, the Doro and ClarityLife C900 for sheer simplicity.

OwnFone’s spartan interface features just enough buttons to cover the basics. The handset sports a minimum of two, and a maximum of twelve contact buttons, each of which is printed with a contact's name which corresponds to a predefined number chosen upon purchase. The user simply selects the relevant contact name to make the desired call. The few other buttons turn the phone on and off, answer and hangup calls, and adjust

Remaining buttons are cover on/off, answer and hangup, and volume adjustment. There's no support for SMS messaging, no display (a blue light indicates that the phone is ready to place a call), and, obviously, no keypad to dial numbers with.

OwnFone measures 7 mm (0.2 inches) thick and weighs 40 g (almost 1.5 oz), which is around a third the weight of an iPhone 4 and significantly thinner. The device's battery is good for around three days, or if you prefer to keep it switched off, a recharged battery should last about a year. It also supports call-forwarding, so you can divert calls from your smartphone if doing something potentially hazardous to expensive gadgetry.

When purchasing an OwnFone, customers are able to personalize the phone’s color and design to their taste. A monthly plan can be chosen at various price points, starting at £7.50 (US$12) per month for 50 minutes of calls. Should one ever wish to change the numbers on the OwnFone, this can be done for free by ringing the OwnFone helpline, while new contact buttons can be purchased for £5 (US$8).

Clearly, OwnFone’s distinct lack of features and basic styling are unlikely to get technophiles hot under the collar, but the device’s very simplicity could make it a good fit for children, the elderly, and those with learning difficulties. With no numbers, but only names to press, OwnFone makes communicating via cellphone very easy, and an upcoming braille will only enhances its accessibility.

At present, OwnFone is only available in the UK at a price of £55 (US$86). The inventor of the OwnFone explains the device in more detail in the following video:

Source: OwnFone via Engadget

About the Author
Adam Williams Adam scours the globe from his home in North Wales in order to bring the best of innovative architecture and sustainable design to the pages of Gizmag. Most of his spare time is spent dabbling in music, tinkering with old Macintosh computers and trying to keep his even older VW bus on the road. All articles by Adam Williams

The need to come up with a free version, paid for by advertising.

Uncle Roy

Great! Now all they need to do is add a display, some memory, music player, SMS, MMS, some games... :-)

Asoka Indrasoma

@Uncle Roy,

Really they don't- intrusive advertising is already far too omnipresent in most of our lives- and to get constantly bothered by advertisers who's services we don't want would be a sure way for this phone to go from being a godsend for technophobes (such as my Mother, who won't own a mobile phone) to being an instrument of torment.

I think this phone is a little too basic. What I'd really like is a very simple phone with basic and intuitive controls and texting facility that does not use 'predictive texting' as a default- the latter is a pet hate of mine- how DARE mobile phone companies assume I can't spell and presume to complete my words for me (usually choosing words that are entirely incompatible with what I am trying to say).

I'd dearly love to have an instruction manual for a phone that actually told me how to use basic functions, rather than irrelevant ones that I would never bother to use, and for those operating procedures to be standardised from phone to phone. A phone's basic function really ought to be Fisher-Price simple.

Usually I have to collar a twelve-year-old in order for him to tell me how to use my new phone.


Good idea. I use 10% of my phone´s fearures. I think a numeric pad is a must. Braile pad is wonderful.


I am waiting for a safe phone. One that communicates with safe energy. It is proven that radiation will break the blood brain barrier. The government approves.

Stewart Mitchell

The possibilities for butt-dialing 999/911 or whatever the emergency number in your country is...

Even with it "off", skooch around with it in a hip pocket and eventually it'll get turned on and then one of the other buttons will get pressed.

There would still be a way to dial any number with this phone. Get one of those phone dialer gizmos Radio Shack used to sell. They had a keypad and could store several numbers. Poke around the web and you'll find some sites and instructions to build a similar device, though none as elegantly compact as the vintage late 1980's original. That same device was also supplied "function reduced" as a remote for some answering machines.

Why they existed was for use with pulse dial phones when you needed to access something like voicemail which only works with DTMF. They were also used as a quick and handy auto dialer to use with any phone so you didn't have to remember whole phone numbers or keep them on a piece of paper.

Hold the dialer up to the microphone and use the dialer to play the tones. Simple as that.

'Course first you need a way for the OwnPhone to go "off hook" to get a dial tone in order to dial a whole phone number.

There are also many audio editing programs for Linux, Windows and Mac that can generate DTMF sounds and there are DTMF sound apps for smartphones that pretty much duplicate the function of that old Radio Shack device. Yup, use your high tech smartphone to tone dial through any old pulse dial landline phone.

Gregg Eshelman

This isn't the first of the very basic, limited contact phones- remember the LG VX 1000 Migo? Aside from the fact it was a horrid shade of eye-searing "Shrek green," it was a great concept for children and seniors, having only 4 (user-programmable) buttons. I think if it had been offered in basic black or silver it may have had better acceptance.

I'm not aware it was ever offered as a GSM phone.

William Lanteigne

The expensive part of mobile phone use is not the phone but the monthly wireless fees. How will this company persuade phone carriers to offer the service cheaply? At the moment they seem to have no desire to do so, at least in the U.S.

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