In 2020, Justine Haupt came up with a brilliant design for a mobile phone that was free of productivity-killing distractions. Even better, it was made to look like a 40-year-old rotary phone. Two years later, a promised purchasable DIY kit allowing anyone to build their own, complete with a working rotary dial, is finally here.
As we pointed out in 2020, there’s now an entire generation that’s undoubtedly left scratching their heads when they see the spinning wheel on a rotary phone. Before touchtone phones existed, which produced a distinct tone for every numeric button press (allowing automated analog systems to complete calls without the need for an operator), telephone systems relied on phones with numbered dials. Each number was spaced out on the dial so that it would spin for a specific amount of time, producing a series of electrical pulses the telephone system could recognize as the digits in a phone number.
It made for simple hardware, which is the appeal of a mobile phone that uses similar technology. It provides no access to social networks, games, streaming services, or any of the digital distractions that make it hard to put down a smartphone once you’ve picked it up.
But make no mistake, the Rotary Un-Smartphone is 100% a fully-functional 4G LTE smartphone with most of the features one would expect from a ‘modern’ cellphone, including the ability to “receive basic SMS messages and send pre-typed messages and numeric strings.” It’s also got a mechanical power switch, a privacy-focused physical disconnect mechanism for the device’s microphone, a metal brass ringer bell (in a gold or silver finish) so it sounds like an old school landline phone when someone calls you, and of course, a SIM card slot allowing it to be used with almost any carrier.
More modern conveniences include an e-paper screen on the back of the Rotary Un-Smartphone for displaying messages, a smaller OLED display on the front for other status messages, a headphone jack, a USB-C charging port, and a microSD slot making it easier to load a list of contacts through a simple text file. The kit version of the Rotary Un-Smartphone also features an injection molded housing available in five suitably retro colors: white, beige, seafoam, atomic hotline red, and black.
According to Sky’s Edge website, where you can order one for yourself, the Rotary Un-Smartphone “was designed to be an easy-build kit. No soldering is required, nor glue, nor cutting. One should be able to put it together in a short afternoon with a screwdriver or two, tweezers, and a careful hand.” The only downside that we can see is the kit’s $390 price tag, which makes it more expensive than many smartphones. But if you’re struggling with a distracting smartphone, this “downgrade” could be a much cheaper alternative to talking out your addiction with a therapist.