Digital Minimalism: Kyocera 902KC
In August of this year, I deleted Twitter off of my phone, after what I found to be the final straw after months of garbage policy changes enforced by the rich egg who now owns the site.
While I have been using a minimal smartphone for years - that is to say, a smartphone with as few apps as I “felt possible” (more on that later) - what I found after deleting my main digital narcotic was that instead of spending less time on my phone as I expected, I was instead spending just blankly staring at my phone before either reading the news or finding some other way to waste time.
There is something deeply embarrassing about that to admit, but there is something to be said about the difference between having the willpower not to do something versus simply removing the something you don’t want to do.
For me, the solution was removing my smartphone from my life. I want to dedicate my time more wisely, and that’s far easier to do with a device that is not purpose built to distract me from the moment.
The first flip phone I tried was the Alcatel Go Flip 3, and I heartily recommend it. It features predictive typing, which makes texting less of a chore, and full FM radio - which, now not having it on my current flip phone, I deeply miss.
If you need a phone that does nothing beyond:
- Email (Poorly)
- Web Browsing (Poorly)
The Alcatel Go Flip 3 is a great phone and it may suit you needs. If you need something beyond that, well - in comes the Kyocera 902KC.
Japanese Flip Phones
If you’ve spent any time researching “dumbphones” you’ll know that Japanese Flip Phones are the gold standard in functionality, form factor, and build quality - the problem is finding one that works overseas.
After investigation, I went with the Kyocera Digno 902 KC, a reputable brand that - most importantly - functions with every major carrier in Canada.
The main difference between it, and what is available in Canada, is that it runs Android 8, meaning that you can sideload android apps onto it to pad out its functionality further.
Buying a 902KC
The easiest way to get a hold of this phone is to buy one off of ebay. I paid roughly ~$120 for mine.
Alternatively, if you’re comfortable with Japanese Shipping Forwarders, you might find a better deal buying directly from Yahoo Japan.
If you do accidentally buy a SIM Locked phone, this guide has pointers.
Out of the Box - What Works?
You’ll be able to put in a sim card (lift the back casing until it pops off, the sim slot is under the battery) and turn this thing on, and right away it should connect to the network for Phone Calls and SMS.
The UI will likely be entirely in Japanese - use Google Translate’s photo mode to navigate the settings menu and switch the phone to English.
The following is a breakdown of everything that either works, doesn’t work, or needs tweaking out of box.
|MMS (Adjust APN)||❗|
|Works||Works with Caveats||Does Not Work|
The three buttons on the base of the phone, with roman numerals on them, are your quick keys. You can rebind these to any app you please in the settings - including apps you’ve sideloaded. This is extremely useful if you want to switch away from any of the default apps but still want to be able to use the quick access buttons.
- Install the app
- Open the application, and navigate to Initial Setup.
- Choose Select Default Keyboard, and choose TT9 as default.
- Navigate back, and select Languages
- Choose English, then Load Dictionary.
This will enable predictive typing.
- Under Keypad, Select Hotkeys, then set Backspace to F4.
This will enable you to backspace in the few apps where the default backspace button is broken by pressing the “Camera” button. Don’t worry, the camera button will still work like normal when you’re not entering text.
- Finally, in apperances, you can select Show Numpad.
This will enable a pad to show up on screen when typing that will show which buttons correspond to what symbol. To switch between capital, lowercase, and Predictive text, tap the ‘#’ key in a text box.
The default messaging app combines email and sms into one application - and message trees are unthreaded. That means that if you’re used to seeing messages as text bubbles back and forth, this will be extremely unusual.
I recommend sideloading QKSMS, and binding it to a Quick Key. On launch, it will ask to switch your default SMS app; if you do this, you’ll no longer have to use the main sms app, but keep in mind that the message button will still try to open the default app.
Subscribe to the Carrot 🥕
Email & Calendar
If you’ve changed over the default SMS app to QWKSMS, you’ll likely need to also change your email app (if you wish to setup email at all.)
K-9 is the best app I’ve tested.
The default calendar is functional, but if you’ve switched keyboards to TT9 like recommended above, you can no longer enter new events. In this case, Etar Calendar is the best replacement app.
I still use the default calendar widget on my home screen, and if I have to add new events, I do so in Etar.
Other Messaging Apps
Discord, wildly, feels purpose built for such a small screen, and works perfect.
You’ll need to sideload all of the above messengers.
Access Point Names
To utilize 4G and MMS, you will need to input in your APN, or Access Point Name settings. This may be a little unusual if you’re coming from an iPhone, but rest assured - it’s very easy.
First things first, you’ll need to find what your carriers APN settings actually are. This article outlines all the major carriers, but if it’s not on the list, searching for “carrier name APN settings” will point you in the right direction.
- Go into Settings, then Wireless/Network
- Navigate into Cellular Networks*
- Open Access Point Names
- Press “Menu”, then New APN
- Inside this window, input all the APN settings as outlined for your carrier.
- Press Save
You should now be using these APN settings by default. You’ll be able to tell this worked if the 4G symbol in the top bar is visible, and if the browser and MMS works correctly.
There is no possible way to configure the 902KC, or frankly any flip phone, to make surfing the internet a truly enjoyable experience. However, in case you get a link texted to you, it makes sense to have a decent browser configured.
I have found Fennec to work the best, although it is slow.
Navigation, Uber & Lyft
For whatever reason, GPS is highly sporadic on this phone. This means that Google Maps, or any app that relies on it (including Uber & Lyft) does not work.
If you’re directionally challenged, this can be a deal killer - but if you just need guidance on where things are, a paper map of your city may just be the ticket.
If you have the foresight to organize your trip before you leave the house, a printed Google Map is great for navigating a new bus route - but if you’re walking or driving, MapQuest, after all these years, still makes the most beautiful, usable printable map.
As for ridesharing, you’ll probably have to say goodbye. If you have a laptop handy, you can actually request a ride off of their websites, but calling a cab company the old fashion way is the best method.
I’ve recently found out that my local cab company saves my cell number, so now in the future when I call, I can just press a button to summon a cab to my house, and they’ll text me when the car has arrived.
If you’re say, in a new town, there is this beautiful tool that has existed since the early 2000’s called #TAXI. Simply dial #TAXI and for a small fee (around a dollar, depending on your carrier - check here.) you will be connected to the closest, available cab company for your location.
If you’re the kind of person to listen to music on the go, I’m happy to report the 902KC has many options.
If you just want to load MP3’s onto the phone, lots of music players are available on F-Droid. I tried this briefly, but you can only use a maximum of 32GB micro sd cards to expand the limited storage, which was too small for my music collection. If this is the way you want to go, I’d recommend buying a media player - I’ll be writing an article in a bit on how to refurbish an old iPod.
Bluetooth headphones work out of the box, simply connect and go. You may wish to go into “Tools” and scroll to “Auto Assist” - in their you can disable the annoying popup that will come up when your headphones, bluetooth or otherwise, are connected.
If you need minute-to-minute forecast updates, I’m sorry to say the default weather app does not function in Canada - it requires a software update it can’t seem to find.
Clima works well if you just occasionally glance at the weather - if you want live weather notifications, I have yet to find a good solution.
I recommend enabling Zen Mode to reclaim some screen real estate.
Chess.com is painfully slow, so best to avoid.
Radio & Television
The Television app does not work in Canada - Japan offers digital aerial television on a different wireless band then us.
The radio app however, does seem to sporadically work. You’ll need a compatible USB-C to 3.5mm headphone jack converter, as it uses the headphone wire as the radio antenna. I’ve found only some converters seem to work (NOT Apple’s), so your mileage may vary.
The 902KC does not come with any app store pre-installed - however, you can use the android debug tools to plug the phone into your computer and load apps onto it.
On your phone:
- Go into Settings, then About Phone
- Scroll down to Build Number, then press the enter key until you see “You are now a developer!”
- Back out to the main settings menu, then go to More settings
- At the bottom of the list, Developer options will have appeared.
- Inside that menu, scroll to USB debugging, and enable it.
Plug in your phone into your computer. The following command should list some information about your device.
~> adb devices List of devices attached 803710696XXX device
On first run, your phone will ask if you give permission for your computer to allow debugging. Select yes.
Now you are prepared to install any Android app you wish. The first one you’ll likely want to install is F-Droid, an app store that works well with the device.
To do so, download the APK file at the link above, and run the command like so:
~> adb install Downloads/org.fdroid.basic_1018050.apk Performing Streamed Install Success
You can install an APK file this way - and in the rest of the article, I will highlight some well-functioning apps - and uninstalling them is as simple as:
~> adb uninstall
If you’re looking for apps that are not available on F-Droid, you can also find APK files on APKpure.
The free version will work, simply download and connect your phone via USB -if ADB is enabled, you will be able to open it on your computer and type into it using your mouse and keyboard.
There are lots of resources online beyond this article for both the Kyocera 902KC, and other feature phones.
Here are some I’d like to highlight:
This article may expand with time, so be sure to subscribe to my mailing list if you want to see when there are updates. Additionally, I’ll be writing guides in the future for other minimalist phone & tech options, so keep an eye out.