A 5-Step Guide to Dumbing Down Your Android Smartphone

Photo by ROBIN WORRALL on Unsplash

Anyone in the western world who wants a smartphone probably currently has an Android phone or an iPhone. The result is widespread distraction and, in some cases, smartphone addiction. Our phones and apps suck our time and attention. It’s gotten so bad that you can now purchase an intentionally dumbed down phone for more than the price of a decent Android smartphone.

But you don’t have to spend any money to enjoy a practical communication tool with pretty good battery life — your own Android phone, but used only when you really need it. You can make your phone dumb for $0 and a little bit of your time. Although you can not get away from Google apps and services, you can create much more friction between you and your phone, so you will only use it when you need to access a utility (like the calculator) or you actually need to talk to someone.

This guide to making your Android phone dumber is based on my personal experience of dumbing down my Motorola G5 Plus — and keeping it dumb — for the last few months.

Screenshot of Android phone home screen in grayscale.
Believe it or not, that wallpaper is Monet’s Water Lilies.

1. Go Grayscale

Sapping the color from your phone might be the single most effective way to decrease its appeal. Once your phone displays only shades of gray, you will not want to look at it much. It just won’t be very rewarding.

The good news is that Android 10 allows you enable grayscale mode to save battery life. For those of us running an older version of Android, you’ll need to first enable Developer Options.

2. Uninstall Most Apps

Non-utility and non-communication apps including Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and all games and other time-wasters have to go. Maybe Facebook Messenger is your primary mode of communication and you really need to keep it. That’s fine, but you have to be honest about the purpose of each app that you keep. This includes Chrome and other web browsers because browsing tends to beget more browsing.

In the case of Chrome and other apps that can not be uninstalled, you just need to disable them. Check out Google’s instructions for how to disable Chrome.

Now it’s time to clean up your home screen. I recommend limiting yourself to your top 3 apps, including text messaging and/or the Phone app for calls. Clear the home screen of everything else.

3. Disable Notifications

Once you’ve rid yourself of most apps, it’s time to disable as many remaining notifications as possible. For example, I intentionally chose not to disable the Gmail app on my phone but I made sure to disable its notifications. I can still check Gmail a few times a day without its notifications distracting me throughout the day. Click here for a comprehensive guide to disable notifications for any Android app.

Bonus: Go to Settings → Security and location and disable your fingerprint reader. Open your phone using a pattern, PIN, or password instead. You will find that you will start to naturally unlock your phone less often. Over time, you will reach for your phone less and less.

Screenshot of Android phone app drawer in grayscale using Evie Launcher.
Evie Launcher’s customizable app drawer.

4. Install a New Launcher

Your choice of launcher can change your entire phone experience. Many launchers serve up clickbait articles and news to entice you to fall into a web rabbit hole. Whenever your goal is to interact with your phone differently, it’s a good idea to switch up your launcher.

I tried a few different launchers before settling on Evie. Try out a few of the minimalist launchers from this list for yourself:

Screenshot of Android phone notifications drawer in grayscale with WiFi and data turned off.

5. Turn off Data and WiFi

If you’ve already deleted your most distracting apps and disabled notifications for the rest, turning off the internet won’t make a huge difference. Yet, untethering from these networks feels meaningful. Plus, it’s easy. In the notifications drawer, turn off data and WiFi completely. It will make you more thoughtful about how you use your phone when you do need to turn them on. After all, that’s the whole point of making your smartphone dumb.

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Academic and career coach and counselor. INFJ by trade.

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Olga Karma

Olga Karma

Academic and career coach and counselor. INFJ by trade.

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