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 11 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 on your pocket 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 below 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. Most 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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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