The best burner phone isn't just for drugs dealers and cheating husbands. This kind of phone is very cheap, which makes it a great choice as a backup or spare that you don't need to worry too much about losing or breaking. Plus, as a simpler device, it'll have battery life that would puts iPhones to shame!
Think about it. There are places you wouldn't want to take your iPhone Pro Max, lest it get stolen or damaged. And there are times when a smartphone battery just isn't going to last, but you might need to make an urgent call. So the best burner phone comes in handy as a useful backup. Since HBO drama The Wire the term 'Burner’ is the most common, but ‘feature phone’ is an industry favourite meaning a non-smart phone, and ‘pre-paid’ refers to the alternative to contracts with minutes and data paid for in advance.
No, this won't be the best phone, and certainly not the best camera phone. But it may last up to a week or more before needing a charge, and for the cost of a bottle of wine, that can be a great investment. Running, cycling and hiking fans shouldn’t leave home without one, and they’re good transitional devices for kids.
Will you need to check email or social media apps like Facebook and Twitter? A few burner phones will let you do so, but not all, and the ones that do will be slow. Some of them don’t even have cameras at all, And those that do will be pretty low quality.
Most burner phones also use microSIMs rather than nanoSIMs, so 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.
However, you need to be careful about what you buy, especially if you travel widely. In the USA 2G and 3G networks have been retired so 4G-capability is a must just to connect to the network.
In the UK, 2G networks were installed by the first operators, Vodafone and Cellnet, and the technology is widely used in IT technologies like smart home meters. That creates pressure to keep 2G alive. As such, the current planned UK closure, “by 2033,” is a decade away.
3G networks, however, are less essential to infrastructure; arguably 3G was always a bit of a large-scale beta test of technology needed for the 4G era, and as such the 3G switch-off is starting in 2023. And the situation is similar in Australia (see our guide to the 3G phone network shutdown for details)
With all that in mind, here are some of the best 2G and 4G burner phones for your money today.
Best burner phones in the UK in 2023
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This handset is available in striking yellow, cyan or a sightly more respectable black, but whichever look you choose you’re getting a 4G-capable device. That means international borders aren’t a concern as Voice-Over-LTE (the replacement technology for 2G voice) is supported. FM radio and internet are also available (and loading pages is quicker than a 2G burner), and there is 48GB of on-board memory – expandable by MicroSD card.
Announced late in 2021, this is another of Nokia’s revived classic designs and inside are the usual plus points, including FM radio, a 3.5mm jack, a loudspeaker, and physical keys. The slick yellow, dark green or black versions will all suit a stylish detoxer with late 90s nostalgia (then again, that’s so true of Nokia’s phone catalog that it is running out of ways to phrase “The return of an icon”).
On the plus side, the icons in the menu include games like Snake and for most Nokia owners that is what is missed, alongside the gorgeous curved screen. For what it’s worth, we love the green one. Seniors will also appreciate the option to zoom in menus and fonts (in any color).
The Alcatel 1 is a 4G smartphone which absolutely won’t match a 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 and the 2021 edition got a memory boost to 16GB too. There are a lot of reasons why you might want a burner in this category, not least when transitioning kids to smartphones. You can start with something cheap you wouldn’t mind replacing, while offering the kids more than a simple candy bar.
The latest version of this device is based around Android 11 ‘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.
Uleway caters for the elderly with a number of different phone models which place simplicity and button size ahead of other considerations. This is the candy-bar shaped version, but they also offer a flip phone. In this context, we don’t imagine the limited roaming offered by 2G would be a significant problem, while the feature set is on a par with Nokia burners – there is a torch, camera and 32GB memory. The battery’s 800mAh might not be ideal for the most chatty, and the screen size certainly doesn’t match up to the large buttons, but the price is so low it might even be something you could buy for a single hospital visit.
Doro makes phones primarily designed for older people and those with some form of physical impairment. But this makes them deliciously easy to use in a way any set of thumbs can appreciate.
The Doro 1370 does not use a tiny four-way d-pad, unlike almost every other popular feature phone. All its menus use simple up-down scrolling so it only needs two nav buttons.
Buying a Doro phone may seem like one of the least “cool” things you’ll do all year. But our digits are so used to touchscreens these days a phone designed for accessibility like the Doro 1370 may well be a much more comfortable fit than one that mimics feature popular phone designs from 1998-2005.
The Door 1370 also has dedicated shortcut buttons for its torch, the camera and the SMS section. And it is not completely without useful extras, even as a basic 2G mobile.
Bluetooth and music playback are those most likely to be appreciated. The Door 1370 has a microSD slot that supports cards up to 32GB, you can connect Bluetooth headphones or use a wired pair, and there’s a 3MP camera on the back. It’s a poor camera, of course, but some slightly cheaper feature phones do not have one at all.
The Doro 1370 also has an ICE (in case of emergency) button on the rear. A long press on this contacts people you specify in the menu system. This is designed primarily for vulnerable people who might, for example, be prone to falls. It may prove just as useful if your average photographic trip involves climbing up mountains, though.
Do your ageing relatives like the idea of keeping in touch via Facebook and WhatsApp, but don't want the complexity and low battery life of a smartphone? Both these apps are pre-installed on the Doro 7010, which comes with Wi-Fi access as well as support for 4G, GPS, 512MB memory and a 1.1GHz processor. It's also compatible with hearing aids, and the font sizes are adjustible if they have problems reading small type.
If you're worried about them having a fall, there's a response button on the back, which will alert all the ‘responders’ set up in the accompanying app and show their location. With up to 330 hours of standby battery life, it's a great choice for older people, as long as they're at least a bit tech-savvy. (If they've never used a feature phone before, though, they may struggle.)
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.
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.
Maintaining privacy with a burner phone
One of the big appeals of a pre-paid phone, aside from being able to manage your expenditure, is privacy. It is possible to do that with a pre-paid phone, but easy to end up sharing data so here are some tips on using a pre-paid phone as a true burner, just like Stringer Bell would have to in this day and age:
- Pay cash, not so much for the handset but the service. You can buy top-up cards.
- Maintain anonymity on the device by avoiding apps / sites like Facebook which require a log in.
- Power it down when you’re not using it.
If you’re not actually committing federal crimes, then you can manage the financial aspects and share bank details fairly safely with the major brands, saving trips to gloomy retailers at inconvenient times. Sadly most burner phone deals are time-limited; the data/minutes you buy need to be used within a few weeks/months, but you can still save a lot compared to a traditional contract deal.
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