A $499 phone for people who hate phones


If you need a break from the constant stress of technology, you can toss your smartphone in a drawer, head to California's peaceful Mendocino coast, and admire the majestic madrone trees while picking up the occasional bits of plastic litter that wash up on the sand.

Or you can pay up to $499 for a peculiar disk that acts like a parred down smartphone, available in reclaimed ocean plastic or sustainable madrone wood.

The Runcible is an experimental new take on the phone from Berkeley, California, company Monohm. The palm-sized device is designed to look more like a pocketwatch than a phone. One side is flat with a circular 2.6-inch screen, the other curved with a small opening for a camera.

Its main non-feature is that it is silent. The Runcible will not interrupt your deep thoughts with beeps, pings or alerts. The company calls it the anti-smartphone. The assumption is that we only look at our phones when triggered, and a passive device will return our attention to the real world. (Though the lack of alerts could lead to constant nervous checking for messages.)

Related: Are simple phones making a comeback?

First previewed at the Mobile World Congress in 2015, the Runcible is now taking pre-orders on its Indiegogo page. It costs $499 for the wood version or $399 for the plastic. This is no ordinary recycled plastic. The company says it was taken directly from the Great Pacific garbage patch. The final models should ship later this year.

The hardware and software are open source, so people can "co-create" their own phones by modifying it. It comes with WiFi, Bluetooth, a 7-megapixel camera, and 8 GB of storage. While it will have LTE capabilities for phone calls, the company doesn't have any relationships with carriers. It's still unclear how, or if, the device will have a cellular connection when it launches.

The Runcible will run an OS designed by Monohm called BuniOS. It will include twee apps like maps that take you on the more interesting route rather than the fastest.

It could be a tempting alternative for anyone worn down by the constant connections to work, friends, and strangers with strong opinions on the Internet. Simply unplugging or tossing a phone into a fire isn't always practical.

There has been some buzz about switching back to less-complicated features or "dumb" phones that only have basic functions. The Runcible takes that trend and makes it more customizable, more attractive, and more expensive.

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