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Best dumbphone in 2021: basic down-to-earth cellphones

Best dumbphone
(Image credit: Nokia)

Looking for the best dumbphone? We'll help you pick out the best value non-smart cellphone for your needs – and guide you to getting it at the best price.

Ever since Steve Jobs introduced his ‘internet communicator’ to the world in 2007, the traditional mobile phone has been taking a kicking. Now, though, times have changed; the success of the best smartphones is assured so, rather than eliminating the last memories of dedicated handsets, there are some occasions where it might be better to consider choosing the best phone for the job.

The descendants of the iPhone are good at multitasking, handling simple computing tasks and providing us media on the move (social and traditional). In exchange for that, they’re expensive, have a short battery and shelf life, and are relatively delicate. They’re also potentially problematic if you’re paying your employee’s bills.

On the other side of the coin the name ‘dumb phone’ very much does the devices it encompasses a disservice. Dumb may be the opposite of smart, but what we really mean here are phones which are relatively inexpensive, can handle basic communications, may also include a camera and music player, can be relatively robust, and, in all likelihood, only need charging once a week.

That means for many an either/or choice is replaced with the option of a Smartphone most of the time and something else for a few specialist occasions or times the smartphone is definitely banned. Here are some devices that should open up possibilities and (right at the bottom) a couple of smartphones which you should probably also take a look at before deciding to ‘go dumb.’ 

Best dumbphone in 2021

(Image credit: Nokia)

1. Nokia 225 4G

Classic candy bar feature phone with 4G speed

Specifications
Release date: October 2020
Technology: 4G
Screen size: 2.4-in, 240x320 pixel
Rear camera: 0.3MP
Front camera: No
OIS: No
Battery life: 20 days standby / 6 hours talk
Weight: 118 g
Dimensions: 125 x 51 x 14mm
Storage: 128MB
Reasons to buy
+Excellent battery+Simple and cheap+4G Voice Call Quality+Bluetooth enabled
Reasons to avoid
-Texting frustrating

Nokia may just be a brand name nowadays, but it is still one associated with quality. So if you’re just looking for a simple handset which can take calls, read (but not compose too many) texts, and even browse YouTube and Facebook, then this elegant and relatively up-to-date handset is a good choice. (That’s watch YouTube – the camera only takes stills). If you’re considering switching away from a smartphone to remove distraction, it’s worth bearing in mind that the color screen is good enough for some of Nokia’s famously playable games to work, so you’ll still need to exercise some self control. One lovely nod to feature sets from phones twenty years its senior is the inclusion of an FM radio, a more battery efficient way of getting music, news & entertainment than the average smartphone will offer you, though you can also add 32GBs of MP3s via the MicroSD card slot.

(Image credit: Caterpillar)

2. CAT B35

A candy-bar phone that can take a beating on the site

Specifications
Release date: February 2018
Technology: 4G
Screen size: 2.4-in, 160x120 pixel
Rear camera: 2MP
Front camera: No
OIS: No
Battery life: 30 days standby / 12 hours talk
Weight: 130g
Dimensions: 138 x 60 x 14mm
Storage: 4GB
Reasons to buy
+Rugged+Submersible+Some feature apps
Reasons to avoid
-Not Beautiful-No ‘Home’ button-More expensive than some dumbphones

A brand you might better associate with heavy machinery, the CAT even rumbles like a diesel engine at start up. It’s not actually the company’s only foray into phones, but the B35 is the more feature-rich, in that it includes KaiOS and the collection of Google-owned apps which you’d expect to accompany that (Maps, YouTube, Google Assistant). None operated by a touchscreen, of course, though Wi-Fi, Bluetooth & 4G LTE are on offer. The keys are, just about, operable wearing gloves, and while texting is pretty hard work (as for any ‘dumb’ phone), the apps well behaved on the Qualcomm 8905 Dual-Core 1.3GHz 

Processor. It might not be suitable for every occasion, but the casing (and raised lip around the compact screen) will protect against a drop onto concrete, and the speaker is plenty loud. 

(Image credit: Nokia)

3. Nokia 8110 4G

Are you the one of your friends who still talks about The Matrix?

Specifications
Release date: February 2018
Technology: 4G
Screen size: 2.4-in, 240x320 pixel
Rear camera: 2MP
Front camera: No
OIS: No
Battery life: 25 days standby / 11 hours talk
Weight: 117 g
Dimensions: 133.5 x 49.3 x 14.9 mm
Storage: 4GB
Reasons to buy
+Attention-grabbing design+Yellow version available (as well as black)
Reasons to avoid
-No Selfie Camera-Slow-Quality seems lower than original

So, it’s not a smart phone in the iPhone sense, but it’s definitely still smart in the chic sense, helped of course by the fact that the first Matrix movie left an indelible mark on a generation of nerds. Like the 2720 flip, this is a perfectly serviceable modern 4G phone, with a distinctly ordinary camera, squashed into a form factor and branding that matters to many. Like the flip, the keyboard slider makes this phone not only light and compact but pretty practical too, with no accidental pocket dials (or bag fluff) likely to cause a nuisance. The other side of that argument is that the plastic seems a little more easily scuffed than you’d like, and the processor could be snappier, but the price is very attractive – an ideal backup phone.

(Image credit: Nokia)

4. Nokia 3310 3G

Enjoy the battery life and the styling, but live on into 3G

Specifications
Release date: 2018
Technology: 3G
Screen size: 2.4-in, 240x320 pixel
Rear camera: 2MP
Front camera: No
OIS: No
Battery life: 27-day standby / 6.5 hours talk
Weight: 84.9 g
Dimensions: 117 x 52.4 x 13.3 mm
Storage: 128MB + MicroSD
Reasons to buy
+Will live past 2G+Nostalgia Boost+A design classic+
Reasons to avoid
-Quite pricey-eMail only via web

If you feel you’ve seen the name ‘Nokia’ too many times in this list, just imagine going into a phone shop in the late 90s when the brand truly dominated. The 3310 is perhaps the most iconic of that spate of market leaders, and it has now been revived twice, in 2017 and 2019. This newer model survives the post 2G era, so is more widely compatible. Atop T9 texting, rudimentary browsing and phone calls, you also get Nokia’s special treat: Snake. This time with a bit of color, but unmolested gameplay. This is atop s30+ / “FeatureOS” (and perhaps soon a YunOS 4G edition, at least in China). For now though, it’s fun, allows you to express yourself with coloured shells, and has amazing battery life, but isn’t your friend if you’re composing emails!

• Read more Best Nokia phones

(Image credit: Plum)

5. Plum Tag2 3G

Dependable old form factor, with modern chat tools

Specifications
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
Reasons to buy
+WhatsApp and Facebook Buttons+Widely Compatible+Wi-Fi Hotspot
Reasons to avoid
-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: Uleway)

6. Uleway F3103

Best flip phone for seniors

Specifications
Release date: 2020
Technology: 3G
Screen size: 2.8-in, 240x320 pixel
Rear camera: 0.08MP
Front camera: No
OIS: No
Battery life: 12 days standby / 6 hours talk
Weight: 122 g
Dimensions: 110 x 56.6 x 19.8 mm
Storage: 16GB
Reasons to buy
+SOS button+Simple speed dial+Charging dock
Reasons to avoid
-Not CDMA (No Verizon/Sprint)

Typically sold without a contract, this is a senior-friendly flip phone with all the protection that comes from the clamshell design, plus a few more features designed specifically with more frail users, specifically the SOS button. This automatically reaches out to 5 emergency contacts – but only when it’s very definitely pressed for over a second. There are also two very clearly marked memory numbers – so no diving through contact menus – and, surprisingly useful for many, a charging dock. There was a time when Apple included them! Finally it’s worth noting that the screen is a very good size for a “dumb” phone, as well as the keys, so more usability points! 

(Image credit: Punkt)

7. Punkt MP02

The phone built (and priced) for Digital Detoxers

Specifications
Release date: Mar 2019
Technology: 4G
Screen size: 2-in, 240x320 pixel
Rear camera: No
Front camera: No
OIS: No
Battery life: 180 hours standby / 4 hours talk
Weight: 100 g
Dimensions: 117 x 51 x 14 mm
Storage: 16GB
Reasons to buy
+Stylish design+Can sync contacts on Bluetooth
Reasons to avoid
-Supply issues-No Camera-Expensive

Worthy of a mention more because of its ambition than success, the MP01 (2G) and MP02 are very expensive phones given their stripped down feature sets, but their design is wholly deliberate. These aren’t old designs fished out and re-branded for the elderly; they are new phones designed to serve as a minimal distraction from the modern world and – while the 2017 MP01 was technically unsuited to the post 2G world in North America – the MP02 hits upon a brilliant solution: it is 4G, and it can be a hotspot when needed, but as a phone it’s distraction-free monochrome. Simply being 2G isn’t the solution; sometimes we need to work, but taking the phone out of the equation is appealing, and the design is sharp.

(Image credit: Nokia)

8. Nokia 800 Tough

The phone that’s only pretending to be dumb

Specifications
Release date: Dec 2019
Technology: 4G
Screen size: 2.4-in, 240x320 pixel
Rear camera: 2MP + Flash
Front camera: No
OIS: No
Battery life: 43 days standby / 14 hours talk
Weight: 161 g
Dimensions: 145 x 62 x 16 mm
Storage: 4GB + MicroSD
Reasons to buy
+Good set of features+Epic battery life+IP68 water resistant & dust proof
Reasons to avoid
-Empty List

Occupying a not-fully-justified spot on this list is the new Nokia 800, possibly the 2020 revival of the partly-rubberized 5210. It has features which, in honesty, we have to consider ‘Smart’ like a 4G radio, GPS, WiFi and the ability to create a mobile hotspot, yet at the same time it still looks like a dumbphone (a lot like a blander 5210). The difference is KaiOS and a Qualcomm 205 processor which support those features, but thought has still been given to practical use – you can ask Google Assistant something if typing T9 is temporarily impossible. Nokia even manage to fit in an FM radio and headphone jack. This handset seems built to offer more than nostalgia – it is much stronger than the revived 3310, and can even be used for practical features (e.g. WhatsApp voice messages). 

(Image credit: Inmarsat)

9. Inmarsat IsatPhone 2.1

It’s pretty ‘dumb’ but the network is completely space age

Specifications
Release date: Dec 2019
Technology: Inmarsat satellite network
Screen size: 2.1-in
Rear camera: No
Front camera: No
OIS: No
Battery life: 160 h standby / 8 hours talk
Weight: 318 g
Dimensions: 169 x 75 x 36 mm
Reasons to buy
+Text and Call from anywhere on earth or sea+Search and Rescue services available
Reasons to avoid
-Bulky -Specialist-High call costs

One kind of phone which ought to appear in this list is one of the best satellite phones. Because of the limited bandwidth, this technology hasn’t embraced data transfer with the same enthusiasm as cellular. Physics, however, does give satellites one huge advantage: the infrastructure is just a few satellites able to see most of the earth’s surface. Together and you have the recipe for a dumb-phone like tech best suited to keeping in contact from remote locations, which is just what the IsatPhone 2 does.

The phone is built for adventure with IP65 compliance, a reflective screen with Gorilla glass, a dedicated location sharing button (texting your location as a GPS text to an interested follower), and an SOS button. The giant antenna stops it looking like an average dumb-phone, but put up nearly anywhere in the world and thanks to a network of geostationary satellites you will be able to make a call without fear of the satellite moving out of position.

A little less “dumb”

There are a variety of phones to suit particular needs on the list above, but one that occurs more than once is the now firmly established digital detox market. It’s worth remembering that you can get a relatively ‘light’ phone without depriving yourself of much needed features if you opt instead to exercise your own self-control. The huge advantage of that route is that you remain able to communicate the way most people do now – via a disparate array of messaging apps, typing at speed and rarely speaking. Obviously a smartphone is outside the main list for obvious reasons, but below is one irresistible example. Clearly it’s not here to compete on ruggedness (though of course cases are available) or easy of use, but given that the price is broadly similar to the Punkt MP02 it is an option you may want to consider…

(Image credit: Apple)

10. iPhone SE 2020

Achieve detox and security via apps, not hardware

Specifications
Release date: Feb 2020
Technology: 4G
Screen size: 4.7-in 1334x750-pixel
Rear camera: 12MP 26mm f/1.8 + LED flash
Front camera: 5MP, f/2.2
OIS: Yes
Battery life: 13 hrs video playback
Weight: 148 g
Dimensions: 138.4 x 67.3 x 7.3 mm
Storage: 64/128/256GB
Reasons to buy
+Great hardware+Many apps available to help detox+Won’t miss out
Reasons to avoid
-Not a dumbphone-More expensive than actual dumbphones

The popular iPhone SE, which can be made less intrusive with careful setup of the apps and notifications. These are your choices, after all, but the ability to install them keeps your options open, and Apple’s A13 Bionic chip can run pretty much any app (including the Burner or Flyp apps for those seeking anonymity). The relatively compact 4.7-inch screen still fells generous compared to candy bar phones, the camera is in a different league to those here that even have them, capable of shooting 4K video or 240fps slo-mo. The iPhone SE can also keep its screen playing video for 13 hours, so while the battery won’t beat some of the month-long standby options above, you’re unlikely to run out during the day with a modern smartphone like this.

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Adam Juniper

Adam is Digital Camera World's resident drone expert. He is the author of a number of books including The Complete Guide to Drones, The Smart Smart Home Handbook, 101 Tips for DSLR Video, and The Drone Pilot's Handbook.