As we continue to evolve the mobile computing market, we also spread our personal information to more and more accessible avenues. Whether it’s Google, Amazon, Apple, or any of the other major tech players, our data is the currency we trade for most services. Punkt has come to the market with devices like the MP02 phone to challenge this paradigm.
It’s rare that a new device comes our way that completely perplexes me. The Punkt is part throwback and part unplugged 4G, if that makes sense. The fully 4G-connected device is consciously limited to just messaging, basic calendars, and phone calls. It’s an interesting movement that Punkt sees users that want to take a step back from the connected web.
The idea is that you shift your daily interactions to very focused and deliberate conversations. This means you have your close circle of friends and family that text or call you on a regular basis and all other noise makers are on the outside looking in.
Punkt sees the MP02 as your primary communication device that can be augmented by other devices like a laptop or tablet. You only stay consistently plugged into the primary discussions via messages and phone calls, but you can still call on the 4G connection to access the wider web when needed on the secondary units.
To utilize this vision the Punkt MP02 is running a BlackBerry-hardened version of Android — Android 8.1 to be exact with the proprietary Apostrophy OS found on the device. The functionality is very security focused and you won’t find any of your favorite apps here.
The Punkt is constructed of glass-fiber reinforced plastic with an angled almost wedged design. The phone isn’t much larger than a Roku remote but has a great feel in the hand. The balance is something you can tell Punkt’s lead designer Jasper Morrison really focused on getting right.
The majority of the front of the MP02 are the keys, another throwback. Not only are tactile keys present, but it’s also all just numerical keys short of dedicated navigation buttons on the left side. That’s right you, don’t get a QWERTY keyboard. Just 0-9 baby!
Atop the keyboard is a 2-inch black and white screen. The tech is a transflective LCD that reminds me of an e-ink. It’s easy on the eyes and should take minimal battery life. The screen seems tiny in today’s market, but again, it’s about focused communication only so it works.
There are two speakers on the Punkt MP02. There’s a dedicated earphone grille at the top for taking traditional calls and a larger speakerphone array on the back of the phone. Both are adequate for what you’d expect for the respective usage cases.
Finally, at the bottom of the MP02 is a single USB-C charging port. This is another reminder that while this is somewhat of a throwback, Punkt includes very updated technology. Having this over a proprietary or older port to save money is a huge plus to just using any USB-C standard charging cable when needed.
This is where I really struggled with the Punkt MP02. There is something freeing about not having your normal smartphone tropes and having connected apps constantly pinging you during the day. Being able to unplug and strip the experience down for just communication is refreshing. Having only access to calls, texts, and calendars is a unique take back to possibly a better time in mobile.
Calls and text work as expected as well. I saw zero issues using traditional text messages and phone calls while using the Punkt MP02. Pick your contact and then text away or make a quick call much like you would on any other device… with a few caveats we’ll cover in a few seconds.
The Pigeon platform is built off the existing Signal protocol and is a great, hardened way to keep on-device communications encrypted. It also means that the Punk MP02 leverages the WiFi and LTE connections to make these calls and texts.
This sounds great, but it comes with hiccups. For one, the Pigeon can perform normal SMS, but you can’t utilize group chats without the other people using Signal. No MMS-style group chats are available without individual responses to each contact.
The same is true for WiFi calling. You can’t complete calls outside the cellular connection unless the other user is on Signal. I really wish the company would enable this as it would make my next complaint a little less of an issue.
The phone doesn’t support the 71 megahertz band or Verizon here in America. This is a pretty big blow to two of the three major carriers in the States. The 71 band is T-Mobile’s main band to use in rural areas, and I found that the MP02 simply doesn’t recognize any Verizon SIM. Traditional WiFi calling would go a long way to help those that could mitigate this while on a home or office network.
Otherwise, I have three more knocks to the Punkt MP02 in general use. One, the interface isn’t great. It’s almost too minimalistic and not very intuitive to me. For instance, there’s no easy way to manipulate the volume. Most actions also take multiple clicks of the up and down arrows to accomplish. Answering a text takes three clicks: down, click, click. Even the “shortcuts” button for messages and contacts only works from the main home screen.
Next, you can’t sync contacts without manually downloading CSV files to the device. I know this is a pattern of the security focus, and a conscious choice, but it just seems like a miss for me. Modern smartphone syncing makes this so easy and I’d bet many younger users have never done this via CSV on any device.
And that brings me to the last gripe. I think this phone might be a non-starter for anyone under 30 years of age. Many of the interactions found on the Punkt MP02 are heavily influenced by devices that were no longer available after say the 2010s. By this point in mobile history, you had one of three devices: still holding a BlackBerry or you’d adopted either Android of iOS.
Picking up the Punkt is like a time capsule in a way. T9 actions for texting are a completely foreign concept. Downloading a physical file to upload your contacts is as well. It’s almost a contradiction in a way as I do think the current generation would be interested in the Punkt ethos.
The younger tech users are becoming more and more aware of the digital data they sacrifice and searching for new ways to circumvent those hooks to big techs like Google and Apple. However, I think the learning curve to using the MP02 may be too much of a hurdle over options like de-Googled alternatives like Copperhead or CalyxOS. These custom ROMs offer some similar security measures without sacrificing the hardware or app stores they expect to have on modern phones.
With the slimmed-down OS onboard the Punkt, it’s no surprise battery life has been great. I was able to easily get multiple days out of general usage. Standby should last at least a week. If you are only placing the occasional sub-thirty minute call and texting I could easily see you getting a 3-4 day endurance time on the MP02.
Again, I’m torn on the Punkt MP02. It’s always refreshing to see a company take the idea of merging great design into a secure communication device. We expend our data in numerous ways online and taking back that to an extent can be compelling. Re-establish more one-to-one communication with our loved ones is also a noble offering. I just don’t know if this is worth it for the masses though.
I personally found that I felt too handicapped by the MP02 to use it as my daily driver. And maybe that’s the balance. I could see a world where users could have this as a secondary phone for vacationing or date nights. You can simplify your interactions by throwing your SIM in the Punkt and know that only truly important contacts can get in touch.
At $379 it still might be a hard sell, but I hope the company continues its path. Punkt has teased some more versatile phones that may offer a more complete alternative to traditional smartphones. I’m encouraged by that thought and look forward to what Punkt releases next.
If you are interested in the Punkt MP02 you can purchase the phone direct from the company’s storefront below. It’s available in both Black or Light Blue variants.