With smartphones becoming ever more complex, not to mention expensive, there are certain times when you might not want a device in your pocket that is made of glass and costs a bomb to replace or insure.
Whether you’re off to a music festival, going on a camping holiday or work in environments hostile to smart devices, a simple, old-school, feature phone can be an excellent alternative. Plus, there’s the added advantage of super-long battery life, not to mention prices that make them affordable as a spare or secondary handset – one to leave in the car in emergencies perhaps.
If you can’t live without email, maps or Instagram, then you can always take a look at our separate roundup of the best budget smartphones. But, for those whose needs are basic, here’s our pick of the ultra-cheap phones you can get your hands on today.
Best Basic Phones
Nokia 3310 3G
4in colour display
All aboard the nostalgia train to the year 2000, as the classic Nokia 3310 returns. This updated version of the iconic mobile phones is one of the best-looking devices we’ve seen in many a year, with a choice of four colours (red, blue, yellow, and grey) sure to draw many eyes and remarks when you’re out and about.
It’s got physical keys and a relatively spacious 2.4in colour screen on which you can enjoy the retro-game Snake. Thanks to the recent update to 3G, there is also the ability to use Twitter, Facebook, and basic internet services, but it’s not exactly a fluid experience.
Music is available through the built-in MP3 Player and FM Radio apps, with 128GB of storage available which can be expanded by a further 32GB via the MicroSD slot. Bluetooth 2.1 also means you can hook the 3310 up to speakers wirelessly, or you can keep things old-school by using the 3.5mm headphone jack.
There’s no Wi-Fi and the Micro-SIM slot will make it hard for some users to switch to the 3310 as a backup device, but if you want a pure slice of design history, then the 3310 is a very cool little unit.
Get the Nokia 3310 3G
If you want to take your phone onto building sites or need a device to accompany any Bear Grylls-style activities, then the Cat B25 is a tough handset designed to take a beating. Its rubber protective-coating means it can withstand drops onto hard surfaces that would shatter most smartphones, and the IP67 rating guarantees that it can survive being submerged in water for thirty mins at depths of one metre.
The 2in display is serviceable rather than spectacular, and the 2G network connection delivers texts and calls while limiting any internet use to only the most essential. One nice feature is a hands-free speaker for those times when you need your mitts for other rugged things.
Its thick rubber construction does make the B25 a bit of a chunky device, but if you’re after a phone that you can take anywhere and never have to worry about, then this is a prime candidate.
Get the Cat B25
Great multimedia capabilities
Long battery life
The Nokia 5310 is a great basic phone for everyday use. We like its classic design (inspired by its predecessor), as well as its distinct contrasting colour design (based on the black/red model we tested).
Its 2.4in colour screen is pleasingly sharp and vibrant for a humble feature phone while typing on the keypad is comfortable too.
It also boasts dual-SIM functionality and microSD expandability (up to 32GB). While the removable back does seem a little fragile, it does let you get at the phones replaceable 1200mAh battery with ease.
As you might have expected such a cell offers up incredible longevity with our test unit still having power to spare after two weeks of mixed-use.
As such, you don’t need to worry about being conservative with its feature set, so make as many calls as you like, listen to its FM radio all morning or get stuck into several rounds of Snake without worry!
Get the Nokia 5310
The Matrix phone
Gmail and Outlook compatible
Continuing the trend it began with the 3310, Nokia has recently reissued another of its classic handsets from yesteryear. The 8810 is known as either the ‘banana’ of ‘Matrix’ phone. The former is due to its gently curved shape, while the latter refers to the 1999 breakthrough movie in which Keanu Reeves uses the device for an early pivotal scene.
The design itself is a little unusual as it features a full colour 2.4in display in the top half, with the number-pad below covered by a sliding compartment, all of which is curved banana-style. To complete the motif there’s even a banana yellow model available, alongside the black livery used in the Matrix.
Under the aesthetics, you’ll find more up-to-date components than currently in the 3310, with 4G connectivity being the pick of the bunch. Sadly, the onboard storage is limited to 4GB although this can be expanded by 32GB is you insert a MicroSD card. Dual SIM slots bring the welcome addition of a nano-SIM option, making it easy to switch between modern handsets and the 8810.
One useful software is being able to sync appointments and contacts from Gmail and Outlook, plus you can use the 8810 to create a mobile hotspot through your 4G LTE connection.
It’s not quite as cute as its smaller sibling, but there’s plenty to love about the 8810 is you want a basic phone that can still get handle internet tasks. Best of all, it’s now regularly found on sale for below £50 / $50.
Buy the Nokia 8810
25 days stand-by
Another all-purpose phone with a rugged construction is the Blackview BV1000. The rubberised grip makes it easy to hang onto, but should the device slip from your grasp then Blackview states that it can survives drops of up to 1.8 metres.
An IP68 rating means it can be submerged to a depth of 1.5 metres for up to 30 minutes and is practically impervious to dust, so you’ll be able to wade across rivers, drop it in the snow, or take it to the beach without giving it a second thought.
A top-mounted flashlight is accompanied by a dedicated hardware button, making it a handy torch when wandering around in the dark, plus a built-in FM radio gives you something to listen to on your journey.
The 3000mAh battery is rated to deliver up to 30 hours of talk time and an incredible 25 days on standby. Add to this 32GB of storage (expandable by up to 32GB via microSD), dual SIM slots (although sadly for Standard size), 2G connection, plus Bluetooth 3.0, and you have a durable and capable package for a very reasonable price.
Buy the Blackview BV1000
If you’re after a very basic device for texting and making or receiving calls, then you’ll be hard pressed to find a better option than the Nokia 105. This compact handset features a simple, clean design that belies its inexpensive nature.
The 1.8in display is bright and large enough to display the minimal information required for a phone of this type, and the island-style keyboard makes it easy to type out texts without fumbling over your fingers.
There’s not much in the way of storage, only 4MB which is just enough for phone numbers and contacts, and you won’t find any internet capabilities, but that’s kind of the point. It’s a phone, not a pocket computer, and as such complete its duties without fuss and all for well under £20.
Buy the Nokia 105
TTfone Lunar TT750
Dock charger included
You can’t have a roundup of feature phones without including at least one flip device. The TTFone Lunar might not be the first that leaps to mind but the company has been making a name for itself in recent years with inexpensive products aimed primarily at the elderly and those with less than 20/20 vision.
This is borne out by the large print used on the keypad, making it easy to distinguish one from the other without needing a chunky handset, and a generous on-screen font size as standard. Accessibility features don’t end there, as the TT750 also boasts loud speaker volumes to ensure that text messages and calls aren’t missed, plus a programmable SOS emergency button which means the phone can double as an alert if the user has a fall or other accident.
The clamshell design makes the TT750 easy to fit into bags or pockets, and a desktop cradle dock removes the need to fiddle around with leads when you want to recharge the battery.
If you’re thinking of buying a phone for your elderly relative and want something easy-to-use, then the TT750 should be on your shopping list.
Buy the TTfone Lunar TT750
Vodafone Smart First 7
It’s a smartphone
Vodafone makes a range of budget price smartphones, the cheapest of which is this, the Smart First 7. Never mind the slightly dodgy name, with a bright 3.5in display, Android 5.1 and a basic 2Mp camera all for less than £30 it’s quite a bargain. To achieve this price it does run an older version of Android, but it doesn’t matter on a phone with lower specs like this that isn’t intended to be a powerhouse. And it’ll run virtually all modern apps.
It is amazing that a phone this cheap can support 4G, but it does, so you’ll be able to browse the web and use basic apps. That being said, you can pretty much forget running games on it as the processor is not really up to the job, but social media and music streaming services won’t give it any problems. One thing to note, it’s exclusively for use on the Vodafone network, so don’t expect your EE, Three, or O2 SIMs to work.
Buy the Vodafone Smart First 7
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