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 other kinds of handset, it’s perhaps worth 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 the UK in 2021
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 flip phone is a good choice. (That’s watch YouTube – the camera only takes stills). The main color screen is safely closed inside the flip shell when the phone’s out of use, but a good quality white on black 240x240 pixel display on the outside lets you know who is calling or just check the time and date. 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.
While some manufacturers have attempted to keep old products alive by looking for niche markets, Doro are committed to helping people use their technology to stay independent and have targeted the over 65s. That is reflected in special Android phones they offer (see below), and also this modestly priced simple handset which might be all many need. They also offer some 4G flip phones, worth looking up, but this is as simplistic as the Swedish brand gets and it’s pleasing to see that the camera still rates a bit higher than other cheap handsets.
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.
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!
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!
The CS182 calls itself a ‘Senior Phone,’ and it has two signature features designed to help the elderly. The first is nice big buttons which you can see take up nearly the whole front of the handset, so no fumbling here, and the second is a dedicated SOS button. The button can be programmed with up to five numbers and, when held down for 1.5 seconds, will message all of the numbers in that list. For less troubling times, a decent battery and a loud speaker are features which serve the indented customer well too, and a charging dock is a nice feature though perhaps could have a slightly more funnelled top. As a 2G dual-SIM phone, you’ll be able to connect to two networks, so long as they’re not exclusively 3G and above.
So, it’s not a smart phone in the iPhone sense, but it’s definitely got a bit of chic about it, thanks to the styling being burned indelibly into the cultural imprint made by the first Matrix movie in 1999. The significance, never completely diminished, is on the rise again because the fourth movie, Matrix: Resurrections, is finally about to get a theatrical release in 2022 (after a covid delay). Anyway, the phone. 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 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.
This phone is marketed for seniors, but comes with support for the age-spanning social media apps Facebook and Whatsapp. Though it sports physical keys, they’re not the biggest, so it’s probably best for more nimble folk than some senior-friendly handsets, but with 512MB memory and a 1.1GHz processor there is definitely enough grunt to get through the apps which will be most important to those looking to receive and share photos and messages, if not play the latest games.
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).
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 are two irresistible examples. Clearly they are not here to compete on ruggedness (though of course cases are available) or easy of use, but they are options that you may want to consider…
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.
It's possible you’re looking for a dumb phone because you think smart phones are, well, that bit too smart. If so, Doro have an alternative approach you might prefer: ‘Response Premium.’ They’ve added a layer to the popular Android operating system that makes it easier to use. It even allows you to program in dedicated assistants – family members – who get remote access to your phone to offer you remote help when needed. It’s not for everyone, but it’s great solution that means you still get access to all the latest tech when it comes to cameras and comms.