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Sometimes a basic cell phone is best. The best smartphones may come with a raft of features, powerful high definition cameras, and a ton of other features, but they also come with a massive price tag. A basic cell phone can be a great solution when you need a second line for work or business but don't want to spend a ton of money, or if you're shopping for someone who's not interested in a stuffed app store or taking crystal clear selfies.
But even a basic cell phone should meet certain quality standards. You want it to excel at the core things every phone should do well: clear call quality, a legible display, and ease of use. We researched some of the best simple phones on the market and plucked out the very best that meet these standards but don't cost a fortune.
Great for kids and seniors
Long battery life
Supports microSD cards
Not compatible with Sprint, Verizon, or AT&T
SIM card not included
In an age where smartphones dominate the market and keep us constantly connected to one another, it can be refreshing to still find basic cell phones. The Ushining U181 is the best basic cell phone for anyone who just needs to text and call friends and loved ones. The easy-to-use menus and large, durable keys are great for seniors looking for a simple phone as well as parents looking for their kid's first cell phone.
The rechargeable battery gives you up to 240 minutes of talk time and can last up to 160 hours on standby. The U181 works on any 2G network that runs on the T-Mobile grid. Even though it's a basic phone, the U181 still gives you plenty of cool user options. It has Bluetooth connectivity for headsets and speakers, a built-in FM radio, flashlight, and even a camera. Along with the phone's internal memory, you can use up to a 32GB microSD card to store additional photos, notes, and phone numbers.
Hearing aid compatible
Not compatible with T-Mobile, Verizon, Sprint, MetroPCS, or Boost Mobile
No SIM card
Reports of bad batteries
If you or your parents are looking for a cell phone designed with seniors in mind, check out the Easyfone A1. Everything about this phone has been designed specifically for senior users; from the large, easy-to-read text and menus to the bigger buttons. The A1 also has a hearing aid compatibility mode to reduce the chance of painful and annoying electronic feedback while talking on the phone.
The phone has both an internal and external screen so that you can check the date and time as well as caller and text ID at a glance. The A1 has a convenient SOS calling feature to rapid dial up to five contacts in case of an emergency, and the phone can store your personal and medical information to make it easier for EMT and ER personnel to help. The Easyfone A1 is compatible with most 2G and 3G cellular networks for reliable service when you need it most.
Full QWERTY keyboard
Compatible with AT&T networks only
No SIM card included
Reports of DOA units
A great choice for avid texters who are reluctant to make the leap to a smartphone, the ZTE Altair 2 has a full QWERTY keyboard that makes texting your friends and family a breeze. The 2.4-inch display lets you clearly read menus, caller ID, and text messages. The ZTE Altair 2 features a slim and compact design that is perfect for slipping into a shirt or jeans pocket, purse, or desk drawer when not in use; it also has a keyboard locking function to prevent accidental dialing to your contacts or emergency services.
Not only does this basic cell phone let you talk and text your friends and family, but it also has a built-in MP3 player, GPS function, and Bluetooth connectivity for headsets and external speakers. You can also supplement the phone's internal storage with a microSD card up to 32GB to store all your favorite photos and songs. The rechargeable battery gives you over four hours of talk time and up to 240 hours of standby time between charges.
Dual SIM card slots
Not compatible with AT&T, Sprint, Verizon, or Boost Mobile
Having a basic cell phone doesn't mean you have to give up cool features like playing music. The DTech One phone is built for playing music as well as giving you great talk and text capabilities. The phone has an MP3 player for all of your favorite music and can even play MP4 video files. It also has a built-in FM radio so you can listen to music and news without taking up storage space. The 1.8-inch display lets you clearly and easily read menus, caller ID, text messages, and song information.
The DTech One even supports microSD cards up to 32GB so you can take all your favorite music with you no matter where you go. It also supports dual SIM cards so you can have one number for business and another for friends and family. The incredibly compact design of the DTech One means it easily fits in your pocket, purse, desk, or car when you don't need it. It also comes in a variety of colors to suit almost any style and personality.
Great first phone for tweens
MicroSD card support
No 3G/LTE functionality
If your child is ready for their first cell phone, but you don't want them to have a smartphone yet, have them try out the BLU Z5-GSM. This phone lets your child call and text quickly and easily to give you peace of mind while they're out with friends or at after school functions. The 1.8-inch display clearly shows menus, caller ID, and text messages without being too crowded or clunky.
The Z5-GSM has a built-in MP3 player, FM radio, and MP4 player so your kids can listen to music and play videos on-the-go. It also has a calendar and alarm clock function so you can set reminders for school activities and family gatherings. The "candy bar" style is simple and compact, making it easy to keep in a pocket, backpack, or locker until it's needed. This phone comes in a range of colors to please almost anyone, and it has a price point that will make parents happy as well.
Prone to accidental dials to emergency services
Reports of counterfeit products being sold under the Nokia brand
May not work with all cell networks
Battery life is an essential factor to consider when choosing a cell phone to fit your needs. That's where the Nokia 3310 comes in. Its rechargeable battery gives you over six hours of talk time, and it can last up to 27 days between charges with minimal use. This makes it ideal to use as an emergency backup phone in your car or home or to use in places where electricity and cell service aren't as reliable as they should be.
Along with the great battery, this basic phone has a two-megapixel camera, a built-in FM radio, and Bluetooth connectivity. The 2.4-inch display clearly shows text and icons for easy menu navigation; it also allows you to play the classic Snake game that Nokia phones are known for. The body of the phone features a tactile finish for a better feel in your hand and to make it easier to hold onto.
Check out our guide for ways to make your cell phone battery last longer.
Dedicated Whatsapp button
Dual SIM slots
No SIM included
May have trouble connecting to your cellular network
Since its launch in 2009, Whatsapp has become a popular app for sending text messages and making calls without the need for a cellular network. The Plum A105RED basic cell phone is built specifically for Whatsapp users, having a dedicated button for quick and easy access to the app.
Using Whatsapp allows you to make phone calls and send text messages internationally for free, making it perfect for overseas travel or studying abroad. It's also great for sending messages and making calls between desktops and mobile devices so you can stay connected to friends and family no matter what devices you all use. The Plum A105RED also has dual SIM card slots to allow for international travel or to let you have one number for business calls and another for personal contacts.
Ushining provides simple, high quality cell phones at bargain-basement prices, and the U81 is a great example of how they manage it without sacrificing the core features you expect from your phone. If you're specifically in the market for an accessible phone for seniors, however, the Easyfone Prime A1 is designed to be incredibly easy to use and versatile for even the most tech-impaired.
Taylor Clemons is tech expert who's been covering the industry for several years, and specializes in games, mobile technology, custom PCs and PC hardware, and more.