Dumbphones Have Fewer Dropped Calls, Spam Texts And Slow Downloads Than Smartphones: Pew

Maybe Dumbphones Aren't So Bad
395265 03: Japanese mobile operator DoCoMo introduces a new mobile phone named Freedom of Mobile Multimedia Access (FOMA) October 3, 2001 in Tokyo. (Photo by Koichi Kamoshida/Getty Images)
395265 03: Japanese mobile operator DoCoMo introduces a new mobile phone named Freedom of Mobile Multimedia Access (FOMA) October 3, 2001 in Tokyo. (Photo by Koichi Kamoshida/Getty Images)

Despite the convenience of carrying the Internet in your pocket, there are a few hidden benefits to forgoing a smartphone for a so-called "dumb" one.

To anyone's whose ever maxed out a credit card to purchase a new smartphone (or had to max it out again after the phone broke or was stolen), these benefits might be apparent: Dumbphones (formally known as "feature phones") are cheaper, more durable, practically theft-proof alternatives to their advanced cousins.

In fact, low-tech cellphones remain popular enough among groups of people that would typically purchase new smartphones that in March the trend caught the attention of the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. "Though my phone elicits stares in the soigné precincts of New York, I’m just one member of a small but hardy contingent (a convoy, if you will) of smartphone holdouts," novelist Teddy Wayne proclaimed in the Times.

But being a cheap and sturdy brick that happens to make phone calls isn't the only unlikely advantage of dumbphones, according to new research conducted by Pew. A survey of U.S. adults reveals that owners of dumbphones reported fewer dropped calls, fewer spammy texts and fewer incidences of slow downloads.

What gives? Let's run down the findings and speculate.

Fewer: Dropped calls

Keeping calls connected is the most basic feature of a phone, an instrument designed for talking (in case you forgot). But smartphones, supposedly at the cutting edge of technology, have a surprisingly tough time doing this. Calls are dropped weekly for 35 percent of smartphone users, but for only 28 percent of those with more basic cellphones. Are smartphone users making more phone calls than feature phone users? Or are data-hungry devices placing more stress on networks?

"As carriers continue to upgrade network infrastructure, expand coverage areas and improve data speeds, smartphone usage will continue to test network capacity," Kirk Parsons, senior director of wireless services at J.D. Power and Associates, said in 2010. The firm found then what Pew confirms this week: Smartphone customers were three times more likely to have dropped calls than consumers with normal cellphones. J.D. Power also noted lower voice quality on smartphones.

Fewer: Spam texts

Twenty-nine percent of smartphone users who text say they get spam texts every week. Only 20 percent of those with regular phones report the same. We fathom that it's the spammers themselves that make this the case.

To see why, put yourself in spammers shoes. Who would you rather hit with hit with your unsolicited SMS ads: hoity-toity iPhone or Galaxy spendthrifts or dumbphoning cheapskates?

Fewer: Slow downloads

Here's another technological failure for the smartphone, it seems. But whiny smartphone users may actually be to blame.

Nearly half of all smartphone users report slow download speeds on a weekly basis, whereas only 39 percent of dumbphone users say that happens to them. Here we think the gap is a matter of different expectations: People shelling out for smartphones probably expect at lot of bang for their buck, and any little hiccup in reading an email or streaming a video might be viewed as a major downloading problem. On the other hand, feature phone users, many of whose devices are equipped with nuts-and-bolts web browsing and email services, don't have high expectations for their cellphones' downloading performance and therefore report fewer problems.

Check out the full findings from Pew here, and the stats for smartphone vs. dumbphone users below.


Are you a smartphone user? Would you say your device makes your life easier or adds to your stress? Sounds off in the comments.

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