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my recent phone journey, and a little unihertz jelly 2 review

i long for a flip phone with apps, but this will probably suffice

3 august 2022 •  technology   semi-personal 


my phone is probably one of my biggest distractions, and with a huge change for me coming up (wow college howd i get there) i figure i should probably make the most of what will probably be one of the freest times of my life. this entails... going out to meet people and doing things Outside (maybe not as much yet though its too damn hot what the hell global warming) and picking up a camera and engaging in my photography hobby again and NOT SPENDING MY TIME SCROLLING AT YOUTUBE OR FANART ON TWITTER.

what could i do to change this? screen time limits? downgrade? switch to a nokia!? these were all options that piqued my interest and sent me down a rabbit hole when i found out about the community surrounding feature phones (aka dumbphones). this drove me to buy my first smart-ish feature phone, an LG classic flip. it's amazing, built really well, and with a bit of work you can even get some android apps on it. it was almost the perfect phone, but due to the nature of the app workaround not everything will work on it. aside from messaging and calls, my phone serves as a very important tool for things like 2 factor authentication, banking, and transportation. i'd prefer to not be without things like that. a lot of the apps i need also depend on play services or microg, which are impossible to install on the phone without root. i don't even know if it's possible to root it...

and so my hunt continued. i bought a 2016 model iphone se (twice actually, the other one i gave to a friend) and experimented with screentime restrictions on them. it probably could've worked out if i gave the restriction passcode to a friend, but the phone didn't really provide as much of a usability barrier as i wanted my next phone to have (plus i broke the screen twice on it and i dont wanna buy a new one right now). i mostly wanted something smaller, with the ability to run only the apps i need. and then i found the qin f21 pro, which... just see for yourself lol.

at first glance, it looked like my dream phone. tldr it's a full fledged android phone shoved into the form factor of an old candybar feature phone, but unfortunately it's china exclusive. this meant i would have to import it and it probably wouldn't work well on any carriers in the US. it also lacks nfc, which i need for contactless payments because i'm paranoid my card will get skimmed somehow.

a bit more searching led me to the almost impossibly small unihertz jelly 2. it was an option i weighed alongside the qin f21 and the jelly won in pretty much every regard but the form factor of the jelly started to worry me. i wanted a hard barrier between me and my phone usage, which on the qin f21 was provided by its lack of qwerty keyboard (i still suck at t9) and smaller screen. the jelly 2 has enough room for a software keyboard (which is surprisingly usable), but it wasnt actually as much of a concern as i thought.
a quick note about pricing: this phone sells for 200usd new, which may be a bit of a harder price to swallow given the specifications of the phone. if you keep an eye on sites like ebay and swappa, you can find some nice deals. i bought mine used for 110usd and it was a much easier price for me to swallow lol.

i will preface this by saying you DEFINITELY can get addicted to useless scrolling on the jelly 2. it's a damn small phone and i'm personally not as drawn to doing useless stuff on it due to its size (twitter works, but why would you want to look at it on a 3 inch screen??), but if you're super super desperate and/or addicted you'd probably need to set software blocks as well. also keep in mind that haven't had this phone for that long. i've used it a lot since i received it but i may update this review once i've used it for a few more months.

size impressions

comparison to some TWS earbuds

the size is probably the biggest thing you'll notice using this phone. if you're coming from a giant modern day phone i think your brain might explode a little. it's smaller than something like an iphone 4, even smaller than some other feature phones, and is somehow still usable for the majority of utilties you'd probably need (or want) a smartphone for. the size of this thing is something i still can't get over. it's nuts. the phone is just SO CUTE. literally the cutest phone in existence. it also tends to be a conversation starter lol. i was at a convention recently, and i vividly remember seeing the whiplash on the face of an artist at artist alley when i pulled out my phone, followed by them asking me things like "how do you use internet on it?? how old is it??? how do you play games on it!?!?!?"
jokes on you, the only phone games i play are....none....okay project sekai is one but i play on a tablet not my phone and i hate gacha games so i dont do it as much anyways we're getting off track.

software experience, neato features, and usability

go for it, nakamura!

the phone runs a pretty stock version of android compared to what you might get from other brands. unihertz has applied their own tweaks - mostly in the realm of minor UI tweaks and feature additions, but aside from that it's pretty clean with nothing else to comment on. future updates may be a concern though, since as of writing (august 2022) this phone is still on android 11 with a security patch from january. there's also no sign of an android 12 update. if this concern you, a unihertz phone may not be your best choice, but you're also able to flash a GSI onto the phone if you want to use a different or degoogled ROM. with that aside, let's get to some of the manufacturer-specific features.

configuration for most of the phone's special features are located in a custom menu named "intelligent assistance" in the settings app. i have no idea why it's called this - it confused the hell out of me at first.

i wont completely go through all of these, but summary: network manager lets you disable connectivity for certain apps on wifi or mobile data, app blocker is basically a background app killer, LED notification lets you configure the notification LED (wow no way), uCable is for a proprietary charging cable solution that you can buy for unihertz phones, shortcut settings lets you remap the red side button, flip to mute lets you....flip the phone to mute things, and scan is.. a qr code scanner lmfao. why isn't this just built into the camera app?

you get a decent amount of basic remapping function for the red side button. i have it set with a single tap to open NFC payments, double tap to screenshot, and hold for the flashlight. if you're looking for advanced functionality, i've heard that the side button has trouble with button remapping applications - you may want to keep that in mind.

another potentially helpful feature i noticed is student mode. it's a bit limited; you only get the option to disable/enable apps in student mode, but it has some other features like disabling installation of applications and factory resetting the phone. it also seems to have an option to disable mobile data and block certain websites, but i don't seem to haven't gotten that feature working.

in terms of speed and usability, this tiny phone is surprisingly fluid. it performs similarly to my galaxy s9 and pixel 3, which makes sense since the phone packs a flagship mediatek SoC from that time period and 6gb of ram. the phone shows its age sometimes and some apps may take a few more seconds to open (woe is me!), but it still packs a punch in 2022.
the screen also doesn't interfere as much with the phone's usability. sure things are smaller, but they're still usable, and swipe typing is actually pretty nice on this phone. you will make more typos, though.
compatibility with cell networks is fine. i've been using this in a dual sim configuration with verizon and t-mobile in the US, and both carriers get excellent signal, call quality, and decent network speed. the phone seems to have the network bands for every carrier worldwide too, so you're still in luck if you're not in the states. the radios are a bit weaker than some phones, but in most cases you will probably be able to latch onto a usable signal. (unrelated, but this phone has an FM radio and an IR blaster - since when do you find THOSE in a modern day smartphone??)
battery life is also decent. if you use the phone a lot, it may not last as long, but it seems to get throughout the entire day with my light-ish usage. i may update this with time though.

minor annoyances

the camera - it's definitely not the best, and leans more towards the potato size even with a somewhat high resolution sensor. i highly suspect this is just due to the stock camera app processing everything horribly, as using modded google camera apks on this phone provides a MUCH better experience.

app killer - by default, the jelly 2 will VERY aggressively kill the vast majority of apps running in the background. this could cause things like delayed notifications, and if you're trying to disable battery optimizations for an app, you shouldn't forget about checking this menu.

will this help you, and will it help me?

if the size of your phone is its only distraction (or maybe one out of a few), i'd highly recommend this phone. it trades off size for some usability, but most necessary apps won't be completely unusable at all. you'll still be able to use 2fa apps, venmo someone, check the occasional email, quickly search something, and whatnot. if the apps themselves on the phone are distracting, i'd try the phone with student mode for a bit. if you have someone else set up the passcode and keep it away from you, it might be a good solution if you need to block potential time wasters. there's also google's digital wellbeing options on the phone that you can configure if you want to use those, but i've never tried them so i'm not gonna comment on them. you can probably find guides elsewhere.

will this help me? honestly, i'm not sure. i think if i took advantage of some of the blocking features it could be nice, but the size itself already turns me off most distracting apps or sites i frequent (e.g. discord, youtube, twitter). they're not UNUSABLE by any means, but i'm less motivated to waste time on them since the experience isn't really the best. time will tell though.


i dont really know what else to write here. if you're contemplating going the dumbphone route but still need some apps, i'd highly recommend the jelly 2. hell, even if you just want a super tiny phone i'd recommend this phone as it's surprisingly usable. in the next few weeks i'm going to be daily driving this phone and may make an update with how well i've fared with it and my screen time shenanigans. thanks for reading!