The 6 Best Basic Cell Phones of 2020

Sometimes you just need the bare essentials

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The Rundown
Best Overall:
USHINING U181 at Amazon
"Easy-to-use menus and large, durable keys are perfect for those looking for a simple phone."
Best for Seniors:
Easyfone Prime A1 at Amazon
"Everything about this phone has been designed specifically for senior users."
Best for Texting:
ZTE Altair 2 at Amazon
"A great choice for avid texters who are reluctant to make the leap to a smartphone."
Best for Tweens:
BLU Z5-GSM at Amazon
"Lets your child call and text quickly and easily."
Best Battery Life:
Nokia 3310 3G at Amazon
"Its rechargeable battery gives you over six hours of talk time."
Best for Whatsapp:
Plum A105RED at Amazon
"Features a dedicated button for quick and easy access to Whatsapp."

The best basic cell phones focus on the necessities. They allow you to make calls, play music, and run some basic apps, without cluttering up your interface (or life) with a ton of extras. Most importantly, they don't cost hundreds of dollars like the best smartphones from many manufacturers.

That said, unless you're just looking for a disposable burner phone for some illicit activity, you want even a basic cell phone to deliver the goods in terms of clear call audio, a legible display, and ease of use. The best phones in this category cost so little not because they skimp on the basics, but because they're very selective about which features they include (and which they omit).

Read on for our curated list of the best basic cell phones.

Best Overall: USHINING U181

What We Like
  • Great for kids and seniors

  • Long battery life

  • Supports microSD cards

What We Don't Like
  • Not compatible with Sprint, Verizon, or AT&T

  • SIM card not included

  • 2G only

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. 

Best for Seniors: Easyfone Prime A1

What We Like
  • Dual screen

  • SOS function

  • Hearing aid compatible

What We Don't Like
  • 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.

Best for Texting: ZTE Altair 2 Z432

What We Like
  • Full QWERTY keyboard

  • Long battery life

  • MicroSD support

What We Don't Like
  • 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.

What We Like
  • Budget friendly

  • Great first phone for tweens

  • MicroSD card support

What We Don't Like
  • No 3G/LTE functionality

  • Reports of DOA units

  • Reports of bad batteries

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.

Best Battery Life: Nokia 3310 3G

What We Like
  • Long battery life

  • Budget friendly

  • Bluetooth connectivity

What We Don't Like
  • 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.

Best for Whatsapp: Plum A105RED

What We Like
  • Dedicated Whatsapp button

  • WiFi capable

  • Dual SIM slots

What We Don't Like
  • No SIM included

  • 3G only

  • 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.

Final Verdict

UShining may not be a big name in the smartphone game, but the U181 nevertheless delivers quality and usability for a fraction of the price of the major players. If you're specifically shopping for a great, accessible phone for seniors, consider the Prime A1 from Easyfone, with its easy to use interface and excellent volume.

About Our Trusted Experts

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.