How To Make Your Phone Minimalist

If you’re like me and finding that your phone is starting to own you instead of the other way round, I’m going to share with you how I’ve increased my battery life by probably at least 20%, decreased my stress of using my phone and increased my mindfulness when using it.

This is an amalgamation of having read several other writers’ suggestions for creating a smartphone that is more useful as a tool and less like a frenetic toddler having a tantrum and requiring your attention every few minutes.

I’ve really enjoyed the new updates to both iOS’ Screen Time and Android’s Dashboard with their ability to let you know how long and how many times you’ve been using your phone. This might shock most of us.

So, with that said. Let’s dig into how I’ve recently set my personal phone up. For this demonstration, I’m using a OnePlus 3T running Android 8.0.0. I’m supposed to get Android 9 (Pie) soon. But as of yet I don’t.

I’ll show you the setup on my work iPhone further below once I’ve gone through the Android phone setup tutorial.

If you’re looking to follow along with creating your own minimalist Android smartphone setup, you’ll need a couple of apps. I’m using the Nova Launcher Prime app and with the Nova Launcher I am also using Sesame. I prefer to pay for my apps to limit as much advertising that I see. Limiting the advertising pollution that clogs up your mind is a big part of minimalist and frugal living in my ever humble opinion 😉

None of the links in this article are affiliate links. Be weary of articles with affiliate links. In my mind it creates a subtle shift in the writer’s objectivity and perhaps turns their focus away from their readers and more towards their income and sponsors.

Nova Launcher is crucial, though other customizable launcher apps will also likely work, though I haven’t used them. 

You need Nova Launcher in order to do a couple of things. The first is to create the home screen setup as I show below, and the second is that it allows you a great use of gestures to quickly launch apps. There are probably other ways to do this, but I’m not an advanced user. The benefit of this means that most of you should be able to follow along with me and set up your phone just as I have, if that’s what you want.

Let’s get to it. Enough preamble. This is only how I have set up my phone and I welcome you to take nothing, something or everything from this tutorial for your own use.

Here is a screenshot of my home screen. You’ll notice that it is very minimalist, which is exactly what I was after. I am using a simple black wallpaper that I found on the Backgrounds app.

The home screen of my OnePlus 3T

Yes, there is practically nothing on my home screen. No notifications, I’ve turned those off for everything except telephone messages which I don’t think can be turned off, limited Google Maps notifications and text message notifications. I don’t want to be inundated by notifications. Along with this, my phone is permanently in Do Not Disturb mode where only my favorited people can get through. Everything else is checked when I feel like it.

An additional benefit of a black home screen wallpaper is that it helps with battery life. This is likely only true on OLED screens which my OnePlus 3T has.

What you can’t probably tell very well from this home screen screenshot is that I have also put my phone into monochromacy or grayscale. The screenshots below show you how to do that.

You have to go into your “Settings” and from there scroll down to the bottom of the list where you’ll find “About phone”. Tap on About phone to open up other options. Scroll down to the bottom and tap on “Build number” several times. I believe it takes 7 taps to enable developer options.

Then go back to the main settings menu and above “System updates” you should now see “Developer options”. Tap on this to open it. There are a lot of options under Developer options. About two-thirds of the way down we’re looking for “Simulate color space”. Tap on this and a pop-up box will open with a few button-style options. Tap on “Monochromacy”.

That’s how you get grayscale on Android. At least on Android Oreo as developed on the OnePlus 3T which is fairly close to stock Android. Different skins by different manufacturers might work slightly differently.

Here are the screenshots below to help you.

Settings main menu
About phone main menu
Developer options main screen
Simulate color space pop-up box

Interestingly, the screenshots are capturing full color, and yet what I’m seeing is actually grayscale or monochromacy. You’ll just have to take my word on that.

If you’re wondering how to manage notifications, I’ll explain how I’ve set mine up.

You have to go to “Settings” again and then tap on “Notifications”. From there you’ll get a list of apps in alphabetical order that you have installed on your phone. In the screenshots below, I’ve tapped on my first app in that list which is “Amazon Kindle”. You can see that the notification slider is off.

Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to figure out a way to turn all app notifications off in one go, so I’ve gone into each one to turn them off.

Settings menu
Notifications menu

The obvious question that comes to mind now that I’ve set up my phone, is how do I use the damn thing when I have no apps on my home screen. And I should add, I only have the home screen.

You can’t swipe left or right on my phone to access anything else.

So this is how I use it. At the top you can see the Google search bar. I use that for searching broadly and most often for online content. I don’t use it for searching for apps. Additionally, I should mention that I have disabled Google Assistant to be all hearing. Google assistant only comes up if I double tap the home/fingerprint button on my phone or if I tape the microphone icon in the Google search bar.

Here’s the home screen again, followed by a screenshot of tapping on the Google search bar.

It’s worth mentioning again, that all of these screenshots are in grayscale when I look at them. Not sure why the screenshots re-color the image.

So that’s how I get online to search for anything quickly. If I want to find or open an app that I don’t use very often. I tap the home/fingerprint button from my home screen.

When I tap on that, the below image is what I get.

Home button screen menu

The above screenshot is enabled by the Sesame app as mentioned previously. What this has done, is turn a tap of the home/fingerprint button on my phone into a shortcut.

You can see that it defaults to my most used apps. Often I just tap on the one I need. For example, I use the Netflix app often by tapping it from here.

You can also see there are two other tabs as options as well. Apps that I’ve “RECENT”ly used and apps that are “NEW/UPDATED”.

I can also quickly access the Google Play Store from here.

Additionally, I can quickly access a number of other shortcuts or options by starting to type into the Search bar. In the screenshot below you’ll notice that I’ve just tapped the letter “b” and it has given me a bunch of options including contacts by that name and options and apps that have “b” in their name.

In this instance I was looking for Google Books.

Home screen tap search bar search

Sesame is a great little app for this. I can swipe down the keyboard and it gives me several other options under this search of the letter “b”. The image below shows you what other options come up for that letter when I swipe down and swipe away the keyboard.

Home screen tap search bar search minus keyboard

So that’s how I get to less used apps. Of course, if I just want to scroll through all my apps, I can tap on the small white caret “^” just above my home/fingerprint button as seen on the home screen.

Here’s a screenshot that shows what happens when I tape on the small white caret.

Tapping on the small white caret “^” – all apps search

Again, all of these screenshots should be in grayscale. But you get the idea.

Now to the most important bits, and where Nova Launcher comes in handy. How do I quickly access my most used apps? Easy, with Nova Launcher and the use of gestures.

Here is how you get there. Open up the Nova Settings app, and then tap “Gestures & Inputs”. The screenshots below show you the steps and where you end up.

Nova settings main menu
Nova settings Gestures & Inputs first page
Nova settings Gestures & Inputs second page

As you can see, there are a lot of options for different gestures you can add to the Nova Launcher through the settings of that app. If I swipe up, I have created a short cut that opens Google Maps and automatically starts given me the best route directions to get home.

I chose the single finger swipe up gesture because it’s like a thumb’s up 👍

When I’m heading to work in the morning I just use a single finger to swipe down and that gesture opens up Google Maps and starts directing me on the best route.

The gesture is a single finger swipe down because it represents a thumbs down 👎 You can help me turn that frown upside down by buying one of my books from the links on this site if you’d like to support me 🙏

I haven’t included screenshots because I’m sure you get the picture 😉

Double tap on the home screen somewhere in the general middle area opens up Google Now as you can see in the screenshot below.

A double tap on the home screen brings up Google Now
What the above image actually looks like

I took a photograph of the first image with my work iPhone just to show you that everything is actually grayscale.

Incidentally, the Ted Cruz article bubble is not an indication of my political leanings. Furthermore, I’m not even American, so I’m not sure how Google figures I’m interested in this. Though I do have personalized ads turned off.

A double tap swipe up with one finger brings me to the clock which I use mostly for timers and alarm clocks. “Double tap swipe up” is actually a single finger tap followed quickly after with a single finger swipe up.

Below is a screenshot of what my clock app looks like. Images help break up a long article.

Double tap swipe up to get to the clock app

Double tap swipe down, or in other words, a single finger tap followed quickly by a single finger swipe down brings up the LastPass Authenticator app which I use regularly for obvious reasons.

The LastPass Authenticator app doesn’t allow for screenshots to be taken so I haven’t uploaded one. That’s not a bad safety feature.

The gesture of “Swipe up (Two fingers)” opens up my Kindle app. Kindle is the app I’m using currently to read books I’ve bought from Amazon. I also have a ton of books on my Google Books app and my Apple Books on my computer too.

Here is a screenshot of what I’m currently reading. Can anyone tell which book I’m reading for bragging rights.

Two finger home screen swipe up gesture opens up Kindle

The “Swipe down (Two fingers)” gesture opens up Spotify as you can see in the below screenshot image.

Two finger home screen swipe down gesture opens up Spotify

The “Pinch in” gesture which is done by taking your thumb and forefinger and placing them apart on the home screen and then bringing them together while you drag them over the home screen opens up Gmail.

See screenshot below for this gesture’s result.

Pinch in gesture opens up Gmail

Lastly, the “Pinch out” gesture which is the reverse of the pinch in gesture opens up the Pocket Casts app. 

The pinch out gesture is when your thumb and forefinger are placed together in the middle of the home screen and then dragged apart from each other over the home screen.

Here is a screenshot of the result of that pinch out gesture as it opens the Pocket Casts app.

Result of the pinch out gesture that opens up Pocket Casts

Again, all these screenshots should actually be grayscale as that is how they look to me.

Nevertheless, this gives you a great overview of how I’ve set up my smartphone to be less annoying.

Before we finish up, I need to explain how I set up my home screen to be blank and devoid of any apps. Firstly, you need to open up the Nova Settings app as previously explained.

Then you tap on “Desktop” and then tap on the slider next to “Persistent search bar”.

You’ll also have to head back to the main Nova Settings menu and tap on “Dock” and tap on the slider so that it is off, or in the left position. The screenshots below show you how.

You’ll also have to head back a second time to the main Nova Settings menu and tap on “Look & Feel”. On that screen I believe I’ve changed a few of the settings. Take a look at the screenshots if you want to follow along. I can’t honestly remember what I’ve tweaked here so you might want to play around with it to see what you get.

Nova Settings main menu
Nova Settings Desktop menu
Nova Settings Dock menu
Nova Settings Look & Feel first page menu
Nova Settings Look & Feel second page menu

And that’s how I’ve set up my minimalist smartphone for my own use. I hope this has been helpful and perhaps even given you some grist for the mill to think about how you’d like to engage with your phone.

I have found that creating this minimalist phone setup, I’ve drastically diminished my non-important phone use.

My phone is finally a helpful tool instead of a nagging toddler.

One small issue that I have found has to do with grayscale or monochromacy. It is a great setting to dull the visual addiction that color helps encourage when using our phones. It is also helpful for increasing battery life between charging, especially on OLED screen based phones.

However, the one small problem I have is with Google Maps. When driving around in unfamiliar places, the grayscale diminishes my ability to easily see the upcoming route stream that Google Maps gives you in blue. It is quite a bit harder to see on quick looks while driving when Google Maps is in monochromacy.

That’s it folks. I’m liking not being run by my phone anymore but rather using my smartphone with greater intention. What follows below is the minimalistic setup on my iPhone 6 running iOS 12.0.1

The first image below is a screenshot of my iPhone. You can see this has also been captured in color, and not as it looks which is grayscale. This is how you change your iPhone screen to grayscale. You get there by going to “Settings” and then “General”, then “Accessibility”, then “Display Accommodations”, then “Color Filters” and finally make sure the slider next to “Color Filters” is turned on, or slid to the right.

The following screenshots show you all of the above.

iPhone home screen
iPhone second screen by swiping from right to left on home screen
iPhone third screen by swiping from left to right on home screen
Searching on the iPhone third screen with “w” for weather
iPhone Settings main menu
iPhone Settings -> General menu
iPhone Settings -> General -> Accessibility menu
iPhone Settings -> General -> Accessibility -> Display Accommodations menu
iPhone Settings -> General -> Accessibility -> Display Accommodations -> Color Filers menu

As you can see in the first image, I’ve allowed notifications for mail as you can see. Because this is a work phone, I need to be available more quickly as my role requires.

The iPhone 6 has an LCD screen so the grayscale doesn’t save much battery life if any at all. However, I’ve found it handy in not been attracted to all the fancy colored baubles on my smartphones’ screens.

Android, with the help of apps like Nova Launcher make tweaking your phone to exactly your liking to be quite easy.

I tried to erase all apps from my home screen on the iPhone, but it doesn’t look very good. See below.

iPhone home screen without apps

There are a couple of problems with this look. First of all, I don’t like the gray “blue” bar that the dock becomes. It looks like somebody just tried to spray paint a rectangle over my apps. Apple doesn’t let you remove or hide the dock easily like you can on a MacBook on MacOS.

Secondly, iOS doesn’t allow you the same fine grained control over your experience that Android does.

What I mean by this is that there are no gestures you can create or use to quickly open apps. Not that I’m aware of. 

Thirdly, having to swipe from left to right to get to the notification or search screen to search and open apps is not as convenient or quick for those apps you use often, so I’ve just placed my top three used apps in the dock.

I love Android’s openness, and I love Apple’s focus on privacy. But that’s a rant for another day.

Hope you found this helpful. If you’d like a more thorough tutorial for how I set up the minimalistic iPhone that I use, let me know.