TECH

Light introduces its latest minimalist phone, now with an OLED screen but still no addictive apps


As Apple prepares to introduce its AI-powered features for the iPhone, another company is taking the opposite approach: Instead of building a phone with more technology, it’s opting for less. Light, the maker of the minimalist phone with an e-paper screen, is announcing its newest model, the Light Phone III.

Like its earlier counterpart, the Light Phone III offers a simple black-and-white display, without access to social media, the internet or email. But unlike Light’s older phones, the Light III sports a larger OLED display and an NFC chip to make way for future payment tools, as well as a camera for snapping moments you wouldn’t want to miss by leaving your smartphone at home.

The goal with the new device is to improve its usability and performance, says Light co-founder Joe Hollier. The new Light III is larger than prior models, approximately the width of most iPhones, but significantly shorter; it’s more like the BlackBerry in terms of its form factor. That will make texting on the phone while holding it vertically easier, the team says. In addition, the AMOLED screen only lights up the white pixels which, combined with a matte glass, will feel more like the older Light Phone II.

“It actually will keep a lot of the characteristics that people love about the e-ink screen, [with it] feeling much different than a glossy smartphone screen,” Hollier said.

Image Credits: Light

Along with Kaiwei Tang, Hollier founded Light in September 2014, initially as a Kickstarter project for people looking to break their smartphone addictions. Between the first two models, the Light Phone I and Light Phone II, the company has shipped over 100,000 devices, with the latter accounting for roughly two-thirds of those sales.

The Light Phone’s appeal is that it doesn’t force you to give up useful aspects of modern-day smartphone technology, like built-in access to maps and navigation, calls, texting, notes and voice notes, a calendar, timer, alarm, calculator, a hotspot, and a simple music player and podcasts tool. Instead, what it offers is a way to escape the sorts of technology some would rather do without: social media apps, clickbait news, and the call of a web browser connecting you to the internet.

Image Credits: Light

Light phone owners can use the unlocked device on their own carrier, or they can opt for Light’s $30 per month phone plan with 1GB of data. There are also higher-priced plans at $45/month or $70/month for 5GB or unlimited data, respectively.

The phone has niche appeal among an audience of 25- to 40-year-olds, the majority of whom use it as their primary phone, often alongside a tablet or laptop computer for their expanded internet access. A smaller group may switch to their Light phone when they need to take a break, like when trying to go “offline” for a weekend or holiday but don’t want to be without a way to reach people or be reached in case of an emergency.

The Light Phone III will target the larger demographic that are already using the non-smartphone as their main device.

Image Credits: Light

Like its other devices, the Light phone will also appeal to the privacy-minded crowd. When you use a feature like directions and navigation, Light pays to get that logic privately for its users. That means tech giants like Google aren’t tracking and sharing your data when you use these sorts of features.

Besides the new form factor and OLED screen, the camera is the most notable addition. It’s not on par with those found in high-end smartphones like the iPhone or Google Pixel; instead, it is a center-focus camera without zoom that feels more like a point-and-shoot. Pressing the dedicated shutter button a half press focuses the photo and a full press takes the picture.

Another new feature is the light wheel, which lets you adjust the brightness of the screen by turning a knob when you’re going outside or inside, making it brighter or dimmer.

The larger phone now sports more antenna bands so there’s only one phone model this time, not separate ones for North America and Europe. Around the side of the phone’s casing is aluminum, with recycled plastic making up the speaker grille at the bottom. The Light Phone III has larger loudspeakers for listening to music or podcasts or using the speakerphone.

The power button now includes a fingerprint ID, making it simpler to open the phone and use it. The 5G-enabled phone also features 6GB of RAM (up from 1GB in the Light Phone II), 128GB of memory (up from 8GB) and more-modern Qualcomm chips.

Meanwhile, the battery, about double the size of prior versions, is user-replaceable or users can ship their phone back to Light to have it replaced for them, likely for under $50.

Image Credits: Light

All the upgrades make the new device more expensive: The Light Phone III is $799 compared with the $299 Light Phone II. The latter will still be sold, though, for those who prefer the e-ink version.

“We pose the question: Can a phone last five years or even 10 years? Things like the metal, more quality materials, the removable battery, and we’ve even improved how screens could be replaced — and other components — as much as possible,” Hollier said. “We’re trying to make it a more sustainable phone. And to that point, you know, the $799 price point really does embody that.”

Earlier adopters of the Light Phone III will be able to preorder the new devices for $399 — a 50% discount. Similar to crowdfunding, these preorders will help Light move toward its first mass production run with Foxconn. There will be a total of three production runs until around late November, and orders are expected to begin shipping in January 2025.

From 2015 through 2024, Light has raised around $11 million from over 80 VCs and angels, including Bullish VC, Twitter Cofounder Biz Stone, Lyft Cofounder John Zimmer, Tim Kendall (Facebook/Pinterest), Scott Belsky (Adobe), Wisdom Venture, Dave Free (Pglang), Pete Davidson (SNL), Able Partners, Gaingels, Heroic Ventures, Hinge Capital, White Bay Group, New Lab Ventures, SOSV, as well as Foxconn. As of 2022 — the last valuation used to raise equity — Light was valued at $24 million, pre-money.

The Light Phone III’s full specs:

Dimensions: 106mm x 71.5mm x 12mm
Weight: 124g
Network: 5G + 4GLTE
Display: 3.92” AMOLED (1080×1240)
Screen: Matte Glass
Port: USB-C 2.0
Camera: 50m rear / 8m front
SIM: Nano SIM + E-SIM
Memory: 128GB / 6GB RAM
Battery: 1800 mAH
Sound: 2 mics (noise cancellation), 2 stereo speakers
Features: GPS, Bluetooth 5.0, NFC, Fingerprint ID
Materials: Aluminum, Glass, SORPLAS Recycled Plastic
Chipset: Qualcomm SM 4450
IP Rating: IP 54



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