Ed Andersen

Software Developer and Architect in Japan

Daily Driving the Jelly Star 3 inch Android phone

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Unihertz launched the Kickstarter for their latest device, the “Jelly Star” in June 2023 and I was one of the first in line. I previously owned a “Jelly 2” before my son decided to drop it screen first onto concrete. The Jelly Star comes with a pre-applied screen protector so they’ve been listening.

Broken Jelly 2 next to Unihertz Jelly Star
Broken Jelly 2 on the left, new Jelly Star on the right. The Jelly Star is slightly thicker.

I won’t go into detail of the specs as you can find proper tech specs elsewhere, but this thing is small, around the size of a credit card with its 3 inch screen. It also has the headphone jack, dual SIM card support and SD card slot of the Xperia. The 48 megapixel single camera lens is passable and I have real cameras I need to use more of anyway. It is a full upgrade from the Jelly 2, with the only downgrade being the lack of FeLiCa support so no osaifu-keitai or Suica supporting model for Japan this time around.

Unihertz Jelly Star with Headphones in
Absolutely impossible for Apple to do this, yeah? No space in the phone or something.

It sat in a box until last month when I found myself with screen times of four or five hours a day on my phone, a mahoosive Sony Xperia 1 V. This isn’t a “Digital Detox” but more of a “re-tooling” and I just wanted to use my phone less whilst still remaining a functional member of society.

Re-evaluating what I need my “daily driver” phone for

When putting apps back on the phone, I wanted to carefully think about what I actually need this thing in my pocket to be able to do. The purpose was to change my phone use from this constant mental tether to the information super highway into just a tool.

Tools required to function in society

  • WhatsApp, Signal, LINE – IM
  • Primary daily use bank account app to check balance and move money
  • Authenticator for 2FA
  • Personal and work email
  • Google Maps
  • Fitbit for tracking and for topping up Suica on Fitbit Charge 5
  • Companion apps for my Sony cameras to pass GPS info for geotagging
  • DiDi/Uber for transport
  • PayPay for shops that have been “coerced” into to only accepting it
  • YouTube Music for gym bangers

What has to go nowhere near this thing

  • Games
  • Web Browser
  • Social Media
  • Slack
  • Discord
  • Non-primary banking apps (can stay on the old phone in a drawer)

In the end I had less than 20 apps on the Jelly Star, compared to way over 100 on the Sony.

Sony Xperia 1 V next to Jelly Star
Collecting apps like Pokemon on the Sony Xperia. Turns out you can live with less than 20.

The Web Browser is the hardest app to live without, but it also was the primary cause of phone overuse. You can be out somewhere and modern society expects you to be able to any of the following activities at a moment’s notice:

  • Scan a QR code to order food from a menu in a browser
  • Sign up to something for a discount
  • Reset a password
  • Book an appointment

I wasn’t going to compromise on being able to function, so the solution I found was to keep Chrome on the device, don’t sign in, don’t install any adblockers (which would make the web tolerable) and keep the browser Disabled. Some Android apps will just randomly crash with no available browser (for in-app sign up or some form flows) so I do have to go and toggle Chrome back to being active occasionally. If I leave Chrome enabled in this state, even the BBC News website is full of scammy adverts and is basically unusable.

“But why not just delete all this stuff from your big phone?” I hear you say. The point of having a tiny annoying phone to use is that even if I was to give into a moment of weakness and install a game or SNS, the experience is so awful on this device that I don’t want to use it. Most apps optimised for engagement now expect you to have a large phablet sized 6 inch beautiful OLED screen.

The benefits after 4 weeks

It took a while but I feel more present. I can actually go out for lunch with people and talk to them without being distracted by a ridiculously large pocket computer in my pocket. I don’t feel compelled to suddenly google information to settle arguments.

The battery life has been fantastic since I barely use the thing. It only has a 2000mAh battery but the aggressive app freezing (which needs to be disabled in some cases) and reduced usage makes the phone last just as long as my Sony Xperia 1 V with a 5000mAh battery.

Instant messages from WhatsApp, Signal etc do not always have to be responded to straight away, and the tiny keyboard makes this annoying anyway. You can just respond on the desktop apps when you get back to your computer and getting into this habit feels quite healthy.

How to stay connected

There are still some cases where it is perfectly acceptable to use a device for extended periods of time without upsetting the people you are with. Such as

  • Your train commute assuming you are sitting down
  • a 2 hour Shinkansen journey
  • Reading before bed
  • Alone in a coffee shop

It turns out I had the perfect device for this – an iPad Mini with 5G. This is big enough that you cannot get it out in public for a bit of news perusal unless its really appropriate and you are by yourself. Whipping the iPad out at dinner with your family would be a quick way of getting a divorce!

iPad Mini 6th Generation next to Unihertz Jelly Star
If Apple still made iPhone Mini’s I wouldn’t have to do this.

The 48MP camera on the Jelly Star is acceptable for a Chinese 30,000 yen phone, and is fine for taking pictures of signs and expense receipts. You can get away with the odd family photo but you’ll need a proper camera. The smallest real camera I have that I can sort of carry in a pocket is the Sony ZV-E10 with its slightly rubbish kit lens. I’m looking at getting a smaller camera that is truly pocketable to go alongside this phone. If anyone happens to be reading this and has any suggestions for a good pocketable “Everyday Carry” camera please let me know in the comments 🙂

Sony ZV-E10 next to Unihertz Jelly Star
Sony ZV-E10 next to the Unihertz Jelly Star. Not quite an “Everyday carry” camera but I’m looking for something else.

So, the experiment continues. Having a smart phone is not really optional today sadly unless you want to struggle and do extra planning before leaving the house compared to other people, but the negative affects appear to be able to be tamed without having to go completely off grid with a “dumb phone” like the Nokia Flip. I would recommend giving it a go if you want to use your phone as a tool and not have your phone use you.

I’ll keep going with this until I crack and go back to the big Sony phone. Until then I’m happy to answer any questions you have about the phone in the comments below. Thanks for reading!

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About me

Hi! 👋 I’m a Software Developer, Architect and Consultant living in Japan, building web and cloud apps. Here I write about software development and other things I find interesting. Read more about my background.

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