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The best burner phones in 2021: cellphones you can afford to throw away

Best burner phone
(Image credit: Nokia)

There are lots of reasons why you might want the best burner phone – and you don't need to be a drugs dealer! A super low-cost mobile phone that you can afford to lose or break can come in handy even for the non criminally minded. 

After all, if your handset is a luxury model such as the iPhone 12 Pro, there are bound to be times when you'd want to leave such an expensive item at home and switch to something more disposable. 

Even with Gorilla Glass, we’re still not even close to a smartphone screen that definitely won’t smash if you fall over with it while trying to compose a shot with your camera – so there are occasions when it might want to use a phone that you won't matter so much if it breaks. 

Head to a music festival, a photography-filled hike on difficult terrain or a mire ambitious holiday and you might want to consider a second, cheap phone. That way your best camera phone can stay safe and home AND you can also take advantage of a more basic handset that can last for days without the need of recharging. 

Most of our top “burner” phones last up to a week or more before needing a charge. Their plastic build is more forgiving to drops and bashes. And some of them cost less than a cheap bottle of wine at a bar. 

However, there are a few things to consider. Some of these are 2G phones, the kind of connectivity we had before 3G mobile internet was introduced. This isn’t a fundamental issue everywhere, but it is in the US, where most 2G networks have been wound down (this hand table gives the dates for close-down of 2G and 3G networks around the globe). For best coverage worldwide, look for a 4G burner phone.

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The simplest of these phones won’t let you check email, look at websites or use social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. Some of them don’t even have cameras. And those that do won’t take remotely good photos. 

They also tend to use microSIMs rather than the nanoSIMs, now used by almost every single current smartphone. MicroSIMs are larger. You’ll either need to get a new SIM from your phone network or a converter, a little piece of plastic into which your normal SIM slots. You can buy these cheaply on eBay. 

Still want a burner phone? Here are some of the mobiles you might want to consider. 

Best burner phones in 2021

(Image credit: Nokia)

1: Nokia 3310 3G

Best all-round burner phone

Network: 3G | Battery standby time: 31 days | Battery talk time: 22 hours | Screen: 2.4-inch 320 x 240 LCD | Camera: 2MP | Dimensions: 115.6 x 51 x 12.8mm | Weight: 85g | Storage: microSD

Has Snake
Cute retro vibes
3G network
31-day standby
Not the cheapest option

Nokia resurrected the 3310 in 2017. Don’t remember it? The Nokia 3310 was one of the iconic phones of the era in which normal people started buying mobiles and SMS’ing each other. They were heady days of T9 texting, extortionate ringtone “deals” and talking on desktops in chat rooms rather than social media. 

This remake doesn’t look exactly like the original. It gets an upgrade to a 2.4-inch colour screen and a 2-megapixel rear camera — the early version had none — but does roughly imitate its cute curves. And you can, of course, play Nokia favourite Snake. It’s a much fancier, faster version than we had back in 2000 when the Nokia 3310 first arrived. You need a heaped serving of nostalgia to appreciate the original these days. 

We recommend the 3G version of the Nokia 3310, as it makes the phone’s scant connected features much more useful. 

The Nokia 3310 has the Opera browser, which you might want to use for some emergency info gathering when out and about. Plenty of websites won’t work on this WAP-based browser, but the Opera store lets you install some apps. We consider these for emergency use only too, as they are extremely rudimentary (and slow) compared to those of an Android smartphone. 

• Read more Best Nokia phones

You can even use Twitter and Facebook, but these are effectively “web apps”, little more than app menu shortcuts to these services’ websites. However, the plan when using phones like these is often to get away from the social media deluge. And even if you do use them, the clunky experience is unlikely to see you engrossed in the same way as you might be on your iPhone. 

Other Nokia 3310 benefits include a microSD slot for up to 32GB of music storage, a nice-n-loud speaker and FM radio. The camera is, of course, rubbish and the D-pad small and fiddly. But this is one of the only “burner” phones you could call desirable or interesting, if mostly as a turn-of-the century call back. 

(Image credit: Alcatel)

2: Alcatel 1

Super-cheap smartphone which is almost disposable

Network: 4G GSM/HSPA/LTE | Battery standby time: 1 day | Battery talk time: 4 hours | Screen: 5-inch LCD 480 x 960 | Camera: 5MP + 2MP selfie camera | Dimensions: 138 x 66 x 9.8mm | Weight: 134g | Storage: Memory 8Gb + microSD

Bargain access to Android
Camera with flash
Screen brightness a little weak
No fast charge

The 2019 Alcatel 1 is a 4G smartphone which might not quite match one of the flagship handsets from Apple or other leading brands, but you can have twenty of these for the same money as the fruit-based brand’s top model. There are a lot of reasons why you might want a burner like this too; when transitioning kids to smartphones it is best to start with something cheap you wouldn’t mind replacing, but at the same time you know the kids won’t be happy with a simple candy bar – this might be the solution.

Available since July 2018, this handset brings with it Android 8.1 Oreo (Go Edition) which is thoughtfully designed for folk using pay-as-you-go SIMs; the YouTube app even offers you lower video quality to save data charges. The camera is OK (except for real close up, which is unhelpful with small QR codes), and takes decent pics or 1080P video. The very latest Android 10 phones are now starting to become available at bottom end prices, so perhaps look for a Ulefone Note 8 if you can spend a little more, but the Alcatel 1 has everything you need for less. 

(Image credit: Alcatel)

3: Alcatel MyFlip

Particularly low-cost option if you buy refurbished

Network: 4G | Battery standby time: 3 days | Battery talk time: 3 hours | Screen: 240 x 320 pixel 2.8-in (+ 128 x 128 external) | Camera: 2MP | Dimensions: 104 x 53 x 20mm | Weight: 118g | Storage: 4GB

Cheap or very cheap
Sturdy design
4G compatible
Fewer functions than other Alcatel fiip phones you could buy
Tied to one carrier

Tracfone is offering a carrier-locked Alcatel MyFlip 4G handset which, with a 2 megapixel stills-and-video camera, browser, wi-fi and Bluetooth 3 gives you much of what you might want from a modern handset, boosting it with the satisfying option of clapping the phone closed to end a call rather than tapping a red icon on the screen. Hinged handsets might be a bit early 2000s, but they have their advantages.

This isn’t a carrier-free phone – it’s not so much a choice for folk who want to explore their network options, as for those looking to get connectivity with the minimum investment, which is why we’ve included the slightly older version in this list – because Tracfone are already offering renewed (new-speak for used & refurbished) handsets for a similar investment to a large coffee (or you can pay more for an all-new version, should you wish).

(Image credit: Plum)

4. Plum Tag 2

Dependable old form factor, with modern chat tools

Release date: Jan 2019 | Technology: 3G | Screen size: 2.4-in, 240x320 pixel | Rear camera: 1.3MP | Front camera: No | OIS: No | Battery life: 8 days standby / 4h30 talk | Weight: 85 g | Dimensions: 123 x 53 x 13.7 mm | Storage: 512 MB

WhatsApp and Facebook Buttons
Widely Compatible
Wi-Fi Hotspot
Not available in UK

Available with red, blue or orange trim, this is a good-looking candy bar phone built around the Spreadtrum 7715A 1.2GHz processor. Either side of the main control are bright buttons for WhatsApp and Facebook, highlighting this phone’s ability to communicate using popular messaging platforms (albeit via old-school text entry). Battery life may be less stellar than some candy bar phones, but it’s still has over a week on standby and, crucially, the newer 3G technology will survive network switch-offs in major markets.

(Image credit: Ushining)

5. Ushining F280

Best flip phone for emergency calls

Network: 3G | Screen size: 1.8-inch 240 x 320 pixels | Rear camera: VGA | Front camera: None | OIS: No | Battery life: 11 hrs talk / 25 days standby | Weight: 117 g | Dimensions: 94.5 x 47.5 x 17.4 mm | Storage: 4GB

Great backup phone
Available in black or red
Small screen
Limited functions

With gently curved edges and a small overall size, this is a very traditional flip phone which might make an excellent companion on a trip you wouldn’t want to take your main device. Not only that, but the bright red case means it should be easy to find should you end up needing it (and if you prefer, there is a black version too).

Features-wise, there isn’t anything to get excited about, though the headphones to allow you to use the FM Radio are bundled with the handset, which is nice. Other than that calendar, calculator and alarm are about it – digital detox max!

(Image credit: Nokia)

6: Nokia 8110

Best looking burner phone

Network: 4G | Battery standby time: 25 days | Battery talk time: 7 hours | Screen: 2.4-inch 320 x 240 LCD | Camera: 2MP | Dimensions: 133.5 x 49.3 x 14.9mm | Weight: 117g | Storage: microSD

Has 4G
And some basic app support
More expensive than true burner phones
Not as well-made as the 1990s original

Here’s a non-smart phone pick that stretches at the price definition of the kind of phones we’re looking to highlight here. But you will find it online for around $70 / £55. 

This was the follow-up to the Nokia 3310. Nokia was no doubt encouraged by the waves of nostalgic interest the retro phone received. The original Nokia 8110 became famous in part for its use in The Matrix, the phone Neo used to communicate with his handlers out in the “real" world. 

It was also known as the “banana phone” thanks to its curved shape, elongated when the call mic is flicked out. Nokia has leaned into this with the remake, selling a bright yellow version as well as the classic black. 

But unlike the Nokia 3310, the Nokia 8110 is a different prospect to the original. The 1996 version was, at the time, a high-end executive phone. This is more a pastiche or ode to the past than a remake. It is nowhere near as well made, and we’d trust the Nokia 3310 to survive abuse more than the 8110,  although the flick-out mechanism of the call mic does have some of the same satisfying executive stress toy appeal. 

This is a 4G phone that ever-so-slightly blurs the border between feature phones and smart ones. It has GPS, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.1, and baked-in email and Google Maps support. However, it uses KaiOS rather than Android. App support is still very, very limited and the apps you do get feel quite clumsy and slow, not helped by now unfamiliar button-based control. The Nokia 8110 can do more than the other Nokias in this round-up, though.

(Image credit: Nokia)

7: Nokia 110

Phone and radio in a very cheap unit

Network: GSM (2G) | Battery standby time: 25 days | Battery talk time: 14.3 hours | Screen: 1.77-in, 120x160 pixel | Camera: No | Dimensions: 119 x 49 x 14.4 mm | Weight: 73g | Storage: 4MB

Games include Snake
Long standby
Removable battery
Up to 32GB MicroSD for MP3s
Increasing limited number of 2G networks

This phone, available in blue or black, is amongst the cheapest you’ll find so if you’re looking for a burner phone this should definitely be in the running. Despite the minimal barrier to purchase, this is still a fully-functional cell-phone, capable of holding up to 2000 names and numbers and a trail of up to 500 SMS messages.

Unlike its more expensive cousin, the 3310, there is no camera (just a flashlight), nor a web browser, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t any distractions available; there is a 3.5mm headphone jack to let you listen to news, sport and music using the built-in FM radio, or of course the phone is pre-loaded with games including the classic Snake (a little more colorful than you might remember it from the 90s) and some try-and-buy options too.

Durability is good, though the directional button could be a little easier for the big-fingered and, as a 2G phone, you will find that may networks no longer offer coverage, having already shut down their GSM services. But this is a great cheap, throway phone for countries which still offer 2G networks.

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best burner phones - Zanco Tiny T1

(Image credit: Zanco)
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best burner phones - Zanco Tiny T1

(Image credit: Zanco)

8: Zanco Tiny T1

Feel like a secret agent with the world’s smallest phone

Network: 2G | Battery standby time: 3 days | Battery talk time: 3 hours | Screen: 1 line text | Camera: 2MP | Dimensions: 47 x 21 x 12mm | Weight: 13g | Storage: 500 contacts

Unbelievably compact
Voice modulator
Limited feature set
Fiddly buttons
Increasing limited number of 2G networks

Looking more like something created by Q-branch than anything else in this list, the Zanco Tiny T1 is very deliberately the smallest phone you can buy but, despite that, it is still able to make a call using a 2G cellular network. The quality is broadly comparable to any other handset of the era (this phone dates from 2018), and charging is simple via micro USB.

Obviously, being the width of a coin, the phone’s buttons are somewhat compact, but Zanco have managed to include Bluetooth 3 to enable you to copy contacts from another device, and – in keeping with the spy-phone feel – the other technology squeezed into this tiny frame is a voice changer. Squeezing a nanoSIM into the device is only one option; you can also use it as a Bluetooth speaker/mic for your regular phone. If you’re in the market for something to surprise and delight, want a novelty that actually works, or need something very, very discrete, this will work for you.

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Andrew Williams

Andrew is a freelance technology writer specializing in mobile phones. You can find his articles on Wired, Techradar, Digital Spy, Mashable, Stuff and, of course, Digital Camera World.