Most modern smartphones have big, colorful touchscreen displays and lack physical keyboards. The Minimal Phone bucks both trends. It takes two very niche features and combines them into a single device: it’s an Android-powered smartphone with a square E Ink display and a QWERTY keyboard.

You can’t actually buy this phone yet, but the developer says the design is finalized and a crowdfunding campaign is set to launch in early February. Update: The Minimal Company launched an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign for the Minimal Phone in early March, with an expected ship date of August, 2024 and Early Bird rewards starting at $350.

The phone gets its name from a custom version of Android that’s optimized for low-power, high-contrast black and white E Ink displays with low refresh rates.

Upsides to this type of display include the fact that it’s easy on the eyes and highly visible in direct sunlight, since E Ink can be viewed without a backlight. The screen also doesn’t draw much power, since E Ink can display a static image indefinitely even with no power at all. It only uses electricity when the image on the screen is changed. The company behind the phones says users should expect up to 4 days of battery life from its 4,000 mAh battery.

But there are down sides: don’t expect to use this sort of smartphone for watching videos or playing games that involve a lot of motion. You can probably do it, but it probably won’t be fun. At all.

Despite the focus on simplicity, in a recent reddit AMA, Minimal Company founder Andre Youkhana says that the phone should include modern features including:

  • Illuminated display with capacitive touch input
  • Support for RCS
  • WiFi, Bluetooth, and global cellular network support
  • Android-based OS with support for most Android apps
  • Camera
  • 5 years of software updates (hopefully)

Youkhana says the company is working with a well-established manufacturer, which could also help facilitate certifications from Google and wireless carriers, suggesting that the phone could ship with the Google Play Store and other Google Mobile Services, although I suspect that’s not set in stone just yet, given the phone’s unusual design and display.

It’s also unclear how that fits with the company’s promise that the phone will come with a small, curated set of apps pre-installed that are designed to minimize data collection. Google typically requires phone makers who want to install the Play Store on their devices to also load a bunch of other Google apps including Gmail, Chrome, YouTube, and Google Maps, none of which are known for not colling a lot of data from users.

The company is also “exploring” including support for 5G networks, so at this point it seems like 4G support is a safe bet, but 5G is a maybe.

The Minimal Phone is expected to measure 120 x 72 x 10mm (4.7″ x 2.8″ x 0.4″), making it pretty small by modern smartphone standards. And it’s expected to have a retail price of $400, which puts it squarely in mid-range territory, although backers of the upcoming crowdfunding campaign will be able to score discounts.

That said, this is a project that will only come into the world at all if the company raises enough money from that crowdfunding campaign to manufacturer at least 3,000 units… and doesn’t run into unanticipated issues while trying to turn its designs into a real device that’s ready to ship.

So this is definitely one of those cases where you should be clear on the difference between crowdfunding and pre-ordering before taking out your wallet. This isn’t a 100% finished device from a well-known brand. It’s a brand new product from a brand new company that’s never delivered hardware before. Backing this campaign is sort of like making a donation to help that company get off the ground… and hopefully getting one of that company’s first smartphones as a reward for your support. But there are plenty of ambitious crowdfunding projects that have ended in failure without delivering on all of their promises.

Still, this one’s just so weird that I kind of hope it succeeds.

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  1. Seems to me that these guys should be working on their own app store. The focus of which are e-ink friendly apps, a large eBook library (and a ton of free eBooks), music… but especially eBooks.

    There are going to be things this thing does not do well. It shouldn’t have to. It should be setting expectations. There’s an audience for this kind of device.

    It’s a nice looking (and effective) device that deserves its own ecosystem.

    1. I think that might be to do with the Kindle’s slow processor? E-ink screens are definitely more laggy, but if you use devices with faster processors like the ones Boox makes, then browsing happens quicker too because things move along even if you take a second to see them.

      There’s also a browser called EInkBro specifically designed for e-paper, doing things like moving on to the next screen the same way an ebook moves to the next page, rather than scrolling and causing all sorts of blinking.

  2. I think something like this running on GrapheneOS or a fork of it would be nice. Clean Simple more secure and private device for simple communications without the Google Spyware.

    1. That would be cool! Or even LineageOS. Basically, since they’re making it they could also release the details so others can quickly build a custom ROM (I don’t know how any of that works, but I’m guessing the process would be easier if the manufacturer were actively encouraging it)

    1. Other than the menu items being a list of words, it doesn’t have any Zune UI aesthetics.

  3. I think it looks great. My dream phone would be a folding phone sized like a pixel fold with this for a cover screen. Make it thick with a massive battery. Add ip68 and a headphone jack and my head would explode with excitement and i wouldn’t be able to stop my self from buying one for every one of my nerdy friends.

    1. Please give us a fingerprint scanner or face if with similar tech to iPhone and I will sell my Samsung

  4. Someone should start using AI to generate prototypes, a beta group to whet them, a fabrication unit to make dozens of units for reviewers in the beta group (circular reviewing) then short kickstarter campaign to delivery cycle, then start over

  5. At last! This is the phone I’ve been waiting for!

    Here’s hoping it’ll have support for Indian bands…as well as Indian payment apps, which are notoriously finicky about what devices they support 🙁

    I wouldn’t have minded a flip-phone T9/numpad form factor, but this one’s good too and I guess it’ll help those who are not used to typing in T9.

  6. Interesting project. The price is not so attractive, but the product announcement still welcome news.

    The website doesn’t say, so I took my own measurements. The keyboard seems to be about 1.6 inches tall and the screen about 3.5 inches diagonally.

    This device would be a bit smaller vertically and horizontally than the Android phone I currently use (which is on the relatively smaller side at ~5.5 inches display size) when the keyboard is up. It’s pretty uncomfortable typing and scrolling with this cramped screen space, so I’m not keen on using the Minimal’s even smaller set-up. I’d prefer greater screen length, even on E-ink with the scaling really small. I think it would still be uncomfortable to use frequently otherwise.

    1. I’m hoping there’d be apps tailor-made or modified for this, which work with the new form factor. And that things I absolutely must use, like banking apps, can work at a pinch albeit less comfortably.

      It would be awesome if we could have a lightweight OS instead of Android, but unfortunately Android is the de facto standard nowadays so if you use something else (besides Android forks) you won’t automatically get third-party apps for it. Especially for things like local restaurants or taxi apps.

      1. KaiOS, technically based on Android but a distinctly separate thing, is designed for tiny displays such as this, but it’s limited to devices that have designated compatibility and it’s full of all kinds of development snags for third-party contributers.

        It’s pretty frustrating how the big push for “responsive UI” (often more so “smartphone screen aesthetics”) has been going on for around a decade and it’s still often unreliable and caters to flagship devices with larger real estate. Android Go should have been AOSP with KaiOS / extra-responsive parameters for smaller screens.

        The device manufacturer needs to release the source files in order for the bootloader to be unlocked and custom ROM work to be done. This company doesn’t seem aligned with open-source ideas at present so this path doesn’t seem to be on the table.

        I’m holding out faint hope for Framework to come up with an intuitive phone that can suit a larger range of user needs.

  7. I love it – the announced Punkt. devices tickle something inside of me, but this one with a full android and a screen that prevents me from anything else than pure communication seems promising. I wish them the best and might order when it’s real…