The 6 Best Basic Cell Phones of 2021

Sometimes you just need the bare essentials

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The Rundown
Best Overall:
Plum Ram 7 at Amazon
"Designed to withstand anything you can throw at it while still offering advanced features."
"A rugged flip phone design that's certified for use in even the most hazardous locations."
Best for T-Mobile:
Alcatel Go Flip 3 at Walmart
"This flip phone is a well-built and affordable option for customers on T-Mobile's network."
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 Whatsapp:
Plum A105RED at Amazon
"Features a dedicated button for quick and easy access to WhatsApp."
Best for Seniors:
Easyfone Prime A1 at Amazon
"Everything about this phone has been designed specifically for senior users."

The best basic cell phones are a great choice for folks who are primarily concerned about staying in touch with friends, family, and colleagues, and people who don't need all of the extra smartphone features getting in the way. You'll get a lot more battery life out of them—usually days rather than mere hours—plus you'll be able to stay focused on the bare necessities of what a cell phone should do. No matter if you're looking for a basic cell phone for your kids or an elderly family member, one of the best basic cell phones on our list will have you covered.

Best Overall: Plum Ram 7 E700blk

What We Like
  • Extremely durable

  • Dual cameras

  • Dual SIM

  • Supports 4G LTE

What We Don't Like
  • SIM card not included

  • Only 64MB Built-in

It's really hard to beat a basic cell phone when it comes to getting one with a rugged design, since there are no big glass screens or fancy cameras to worry about, but even among basic cell phones, Plum's Ram 7 stands out from the pack as a cell phone that can withstand pretty much anything you can throw at it.

The Plum Ram 7 is not only IP68 certified for water and dust resistance, but it's also Military Grade shockproof, scratch-resistant, and will survive extreme drops unscathed. It can stay submerged in up to 2 feet of water for up to 30 minutes without any problems, so of course extreme elements like rain, snow, wind, and storms are no match for it.

Despite this rugged design, however, the Ram 7 doesn't skimp on features, with a big 2.4-inch display, a 5MP back camera and 2MP selfie camera, and 64MB of RAM for storing your pictures, videos, and music, plus an SD card slot that lets you add even more storage. The 1,700mAh battery will give you 24 hours of talk time or 900 hours of standby time, so unlike the modern iPhone and Android phones of today this one can go weeks between charges, and it also offers dual SIM capabilities, making it great for travellers.

Screen Size: 2.4 inches | Resolution: 320 x 240 | Processor: 460MHz | Camera: 5MP+2MP | Battery Life: 24 hours 

Best for Verizon: Kyocera DuraXV Extreme E4810

What We Like
  • Rugged flip design

  • Certified for hazardous locations

  • Extremely loud dual speaker system

What We Don't Like
  • Limited advanced features

If you're looking for a durable cell phone with a more traditional clamshell design, then Kyocera's DuraXV has you covered, with its Military Standard protection against pretty much everything either you or the elements can throw at it.

This includes dust, shock, vibration, temperature extremes, rainstorms, low pressure, solar radiation, salt fog, humidity, snow and freezing rain, and more. Plus you can drop it from up to five feet onto solid concrete without any serious damage, or drop it into 6.5 feet of water for up to 30 minutes. In fact, it's even certified for use in Class I, Division 2 hazardous locations, which means it's guaranteed to be safe in many industrial areas where flammable gases may be present in smaller concentrations.

This DuraXV Extreme also includes a 5MP auto-focus camera with an LED flash and video recording capabilities, and it's one of the loudest speakerphones on the market, with 100dB+ front-facing speakers, making it perfect for calling in noisy areas. It can also act as an LTE mobile hotspot for up to 10 other devices, and the 1,770mAh battery will keep you going for weeks between recharges.

Screen Size: N/A | Resolution: N/A | Processor: 1.2GHz | Camera: 5MP | Battery Life: 9.5 hours

Best for T-Mobile: Alcatel Go Flip 3

Alcatel Go Flip 3
What We Like
  • Very affordable price

  • Decent specs and capabilities

  • Supports Google Assistant

  • Has 4G LTE

What We Don't Like
  • Subpar camera

The Alcatel Go Flip 3 is a basic cell phone sold on T-Mobile. It has a simple black clamshell design and operates on the carrier's 4G LTE network. That puts it above many other phones on this list that are limited to just 3G. It additionally supports dual-band Wi-Fi, VoLTE, and Bluetooth 4.2 allowing it to work with headphones for music playback.

Specs aren't bad considering how basic the device is. You get a Qualcomm Snapdragon 210 processor, 512MB of RAM, and can expand storage to 32GB. Perhaps most interestingly, the phone supports Google Assistant, allows web browsing, and can handle email and calendar appointments giving you key smartphone features without making it too complicated.

Screen Size: 2.8 inches | Resolution: 320 x 240 | Processor: 1.1GHz | Camera: 2MP | Battery Life: 25 hours

Best for Texting: ZTE Altair 2 Z432

ZTE Altair 2
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

Just because texting is your thing doesn't mean that you need to jump into the world of more expensive and complicated smartphones when there are basic cell phones like the ZTE Altair 2 to cover your needs.

With a full QWERTY keyboard, you'll easily be able to text your friends and family, and some would argue that it's even easier than using a touchscreen. There's also a large 2.4-inch display so there will be plenty of room to read incoming texts, as well as clearly seeing menus and caller ID for incoming calls.

The design clearly borrows from the more traditional Blackberry PDAs of yesteryear, although it's slim and compact enough to fit into a shirt or jeans pocket when not in use, and you can also lock the keyboard so you won't need to worry about pocket dialing or texting.

The ZTE Altair 2 also includes a built-in MP3 player, GPS, and Bluetooth connectivity, and you can add to its internal storage with a 32GB card to store your favourite photos and songs, and while the battery only offers up four hours of talk time, it actually provides a staggering 240 hours of standby time, since this clearly a device that's designed more for texting than talking.

Screen Size: 2.4 inches | Resolution: 320 x 240 | Processor: 460MHz | Camera: 2MP | Battery Life: 4.5 hours

Best for Whatsapp: Plum A105RED

Plum 3G Basic Phone GSM Unlocked Cell Phone Whatsapp Facebook Dedicated Keys ATT Tmobile
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.

Screen Size: 2.4 inches | Resolution: 320 x 240 | Processor: 460MHz | Camera: 2MP | Battery Life: 22 hours

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

While there are certainly some seniors who are tech-savvy enough to enjoy the latest iPhone and Android smartphones, the Easyfone A1 will appeal to the rest, who really just need something they can use to make and receive phone calls from their grandkids and stay in touch with other family members.

As the name suggests, the Easyfone A1 has been built from the ground up to be one of the simplest basic cell phones on the planet, with features like large and easily readable text and menus to larger buttons that have clearly been designed with older users in mind. The A1 even includes a hearing aid compatibility mode to avoid the potential for electronic feedback while talking on the phone.

An eternal screen allows users to check and date and time and the ID of incoming calls and texts at a glance without the need to flip open the phone, and there's also a handy SOS calling feature that will rapidly dial up to five contacts in the event of an emergency, and even a place to store critical personal and medical information for first responders to access.

Screen Size: 2.4 inches | Resolution: 320 x 240 | Processor: 460MHz | Camera: 2MP | Battery Life: 22 hours

Final Verdict

Sonim's XP3 is certified to survive even the most extreme conditions, and it comes with support for Sprint's 4G LTE network giving it great connectivity. As a second option, we like the Plum Ram 7 because of how it can work with multiple carriers without skimping on features.

About Our Trusted Experts

Jesse Hollington is a freelance writer with over 10 years of experience writing about technology and three decades of experience in information and mobile communications technology, including using and supporting cell phones as far back as the Motorola DynaTAC and Nokia 1011.

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.

FAQs

How much does a basic cell phone plan cost?
The price of a basic cell phone plan can vary, but there are a variety cheap cell phone plans if you don't want to pay the price of the major carriers like AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon. Smaller carriers and MVNOs like Cricket Wireless, MetroPCS, Visible, Republic Wireless, and others offer plans that can save considerable amounts for people. Instead of signing up for a full prepaid plan, you have the option of getting a plan that allows you to pay just for the number of voice minutes, texts, and date you need and can use. Some of these plans cost as little as $15-20, making them a great deal cheaper than mainline options.

Can basic cell phones be hacked?
If your main concern is privacy and security, a basic cell phone can offer some advantages because not all of them have full WI-Fi connectivity, GPS, apps, and sophisticated operating systems. But like any cellular device, they can be use to track you and your whereabouts and that's true even of a basic cell phone. That said, if your cell phone has no apps to speak of, and you don't use it for web browsing, that'll limit a good deal of your exposure.

How long will basic cell phones be supported?
Most new basic cell phones come with 4G LTE connectivity at a minimum, and you should avoid buying 2G only devices since those networks have been shut down in the US and many other parts of the world. 3G service continues to be supported, but its end is also scheduled in the next few years, so your best bet is to make sure your device supports 4G LTE.

What to Look for in a Basic Cell Phone

Battery Life

When it comes to basic cell phones, you'll often find that your battery life is measured in days or even weeks, but you'll still want to check out the specs to look for one that offers maximum talk time and standby time, as well as reading the fine print to find out how much advanced features like the camera and built-in MP3 players may cut into your battery life. 

Ease of Use

Let's face it, if you're buying a basic cell phone, it's at least partly because you don't want to deal with the complexities of a modern iPhone or Android smartphone. Not all basic cell phones are inherently simple, however, especially when it comes to features like texting, taking photos, or listening to music, but the best basic cell phones should at least provide an interface that makes it really easy to place and answer calls, if nothing else.

Expandable Storage

Most basic cell phones these days do include a camera, and if you plan on taking any photos or videos you'll want to make sure that enough storage is available for them, especially if you're not going to regularly be near a computer to transfer these off your phone. Getting one with expandable storage can really help in this case, since not only can you add more capacity, but you can also easily swap in another memory card when the current one gets full. 

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