The NoPhone: A plastic slab for that special someone

With no screen, camera, microphone or even the ability to make a call, the NoPhone could be the most useless gift since the Pet Rock.

Roger Cheng Former Executive Editor / Head of News
Roger Cheng (he/him/his) was the executive editor in charge of CNET News, managing everything from daily breaking news to in-depth investigative packages. Prior to this, he was on the telecommunications beat and wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal for nearly a decade and got his start writing and laying out pages at a local paper in Southern California. He's a devoted Trojan alum and thinks sleep is the perfect -- if unattainable -- hobby for a parent.
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  • SABEW Best in Business 2011 Award for Breaking News Coverage, Eddie Award in 2020 for 5G coverage, runner-up National Arts & Entertainment Journalism Award for culture analysis.
Roger Cheng
3 min read

Pros: Inexpensive, doesn't need a battery.

Cons: It's a rectangular slab of plastic that does absolutely nothing.

I'm talking about the NoPhone, which -- as the name implies -- has no camera, no screen, no music and, you guessed it, no phone. (It is, however, toilet bowl-resistant.)

The product of a successful Kickstarter campaign, the NoPhone comes in three models. There's the completely featureless $5 NoPhone Zero (aka "the least advanced phone ever created by mankind," according to its website), the $10 NoPhone (with fake buttons and ports) and the $15 NoPhone Selfie, which comes with an adhesive-backed mirror. All are guaranteed to do absolutely nothing, just like the Pet Rock from 1975's holiday season.

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The $10 NoPhone features buttons that do nothing and a port that's useless. It is, however, toilet bowl-resistant.

"NoPhone simulates the exact weight and dimensions of your most beloved gadget in order to alleviate any feelings of inadequacy generated by the absence of a real smartphone," Van Gould wrote on his personal webpage. Gould is the co-founder of the company behind the "device," also called NoPhone.

The slab of plastic could be the perfect stocking stuffer for (a) your loved one who already has everything, (b) that person with extreme digital device envy or (c) someone you'd just as soon never hear from again.

So far, the NoPhone has sold more than 4,000 units, according to Gould, who also happens to be an art director for a New York ad agency. For whatever reason, Gould received a bulk order from Reunion Island, east of Madagascar in the Indian Ocean. "I didn't even know this place existed," he told me.

The NoPhone began in 2014 as a Kickstarter campaign that raised more than $18,000 -- about the same time a now-famous potato salad recipe eventually pulled in more than $55,000. Coincidence? Sunspots? Or was it just the right time to appeal to a nation's oddball sense of humor?

Whatever the reason, the NoPhone touched on a basic truth: We can't seem to take our eyes off our phones. Go to any restaurant, and you'll see families with mom, dad and the kids all looking at their phones. Heck, I've even asked a surgeon if I could check my emails while he was operating on my arm. (He said I couldn't.)

"[The NoPhone is] definitely a joke," Gould told me, "but there's something true behind the joke."

For a product that does so little, it actually accomplishes a lot by reminding us to give our phones a rest. Gould said he swaps out his real smartphone for the NoPhone once a week during date nights with his girlfriend.

Now I'm thinking I should do something similar. Not that my marriage is in trouble, as far as I know. (My wife wasn't immediately available to comment.) It's just that I have a hard time keeping phones and tablets away from our bed. Maybe the NoPhone will keep my wife from snapping at me after my umpteenth email check in the middle of the night.

Others may want the NoPhone just because it's so absurd. And people do seem to want it. After getting off work, Gould spends his nights packing and shipping the plastic rectangles from his 400-square-foot apartment on New York's Upper West Side.

"I'm not sure if we'll be the next Apple, but who knows?" Gould said. "We're the biggest fake-phone company in the world."