The best simple mobile phones (2023)

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It was Geoffrey Chaucer who wrote, back in 1386, that “familiarity breeds contempt”. Never have those three words been more true than with smart devices in 2019.

Throw a stone in a tech shop these days (please don’t actually do this) and you’ll hit about fifteen ‘smart’ devices, from light bulbs to fridges, toasters to televisions, speakers to security systems. Of course, the most ubiquitous of the lot is the smartphone: the item upon which this smart revolution was founded.

But people aresick of the deluge of information –the constant communications, notifications, and updates –they’re crying out for silence.

Enter, the basic phone (street name:'dumbphone'): an obtuse, analogue throwback to the days when phones were phones, and not cameras, personal assistants, GPS systems, games consoles, fitness trackers, debit cards, shopping websites, and the rest of it.

How much you’ll get out of the basic phone experience will depend on how much you care for all those elements of your fancy phones. As a digital native tech writer who loves sharing a good brunch pic on Instagram or Facetiming my friends on the other side of the planet, the idea of giving it all up to invest in a dumbphone fills me with horror. On the other hand, my Luddite father (and many other people his age)who still doesn’t know why he pays for a data connection on his phone has been crying out for this for years.

One thing for certain is that dumbphones are growing in popularity at the moment. Sales of the products rose by 5pclast year; in contrast, smartphones sales only climbed by 2pc according to a Sky News report.

Which is why I decided to put the best basic phones to the test. In truth, the market isn't that wide – only a handful of manufacturers bother making them – but there is quite a discrepancy from product to product. While reviewing the dumbphones, I found that'dumb' means different things to different people:some of the devices are a lot smarter than they let on; and some really aren't.

Here's what I found, starting with the very best simple mobile phone of them all...

1. Nokia 3310

Why we like it: With a stunning battery life, Snake, and classic texting, this one is a rollicking retro ride

Price: £49.99, Carphone Warehouse

The Nokia 3310 was my first ever phone, a hand-me-down from my older brother when he got a Motorola Razr. As an 10-year-old, I thought it was basically the coolest thing I’d ever owned.

14 years later, lots has changed. This new version, which launched in 2017, is significantly skinnier; it comes in a few more colours too.

The dull navy blue of the original has been replaced with glossy neon red and yellow designs (or more muted black and grey if you’re feeling serious). That plastic body feels a little less durable than the original 3310 – AKA 'The Brick – which was famous for its cockroach-like ability to survive any drop, spill, or crush you could subject it to. There’s also a headphone jack, which is great but might make the phone a little less dust proof than the original. On the plus side, the plastic screen feels significantly more hard-wearing than the touchscreen glass on an iPhone.

Despite the phone itself feeling a little less robust than the original, the battery life is still as long as you remember. Longer, in fact. The original 3310’s battery would last about a week; this new incarnation is ready to party for a full month. You read that right: 31 days. Oh the joy!

Speaking of the screen, it’s in glorious technicolour this time around.It’s also significantly bigger than the original, taking up the majority of the phone’s upper half. As for thekeypad, it's almost a carbon-copy of the original – so, yes, you press the‘7’ key four times to get an ‘s’ when texting. Those were the days.

In terms of software, there’s actually a surprising amount of functionality on offer. A two megapixelcamera can take photos and record video. Obviously you’re not looking at anything close to the quality of the latest products, but they’ll suffice if you just want a quick snapshot.

You can also load a microSD card to play your music through the phone. And there's the ability to listen to the radio, which is a nice touch.

If, like me, the original Nokia 3310 represented your first phone, then this new device is probably closer to how you remember your second or third device in terms of features. The whole thing feels very 2008 –not that that’s a bad thing, it’s just quite a step up from the original 3310. Not so great for the nostalgia factor, but in general we're talking about improvements, not criticisms.

And actually, the nostalgia issue is far from terminal, for one simple reason: this updated Nokia 3310 comes with snake. Snake! Glory be.

Overall, the new 3310 is a quirky delight for those who are sick of the smartphone tyranny. It dials you out of the digital maelstrom – but at the same time has just enough functionality to make you feel in touch with the world. It’s not quite the nostalgia trip it sells itself as, but the new 3310 is a worthy successor to the original phone.

Buy now

2. The Light Phone

Why we like it: No one else has ever dared to strip back mobiles quite so much

Price: $350, Light Phone(plus shipping from the USA)

After raising over £320,000 in a 2015 Kickstarter campaign, the Light Phone has become something of a legend in the dumbphone hall of fame. While devices like the newly remade Nokia 3310 and 8110 are certainly dumber than the average smartphone, they’re positively genius compared to this.

Let’s start with the look. The Light Phone takes its minimalist aesthetic to the extreme. The device comes in two colours: white and night (black). Both are credit card sized (though a little fatter –about four cards thick). There’s an ‘on’ button at the top, and a teeny tiny slider on the side to lock the device, a mic and charging port on the bottom and a speaker on the top. And that's it. There’s not even a screen.

When you press the power button, illuminated numbers appear on the device’s face. Tap those and press the triangle key to dial. Press ‘X’ to hang up.

There’s haptic feedback on the keys, which is a nice feature, but otherwise there's very little going on. It’s a slim device that certainly looks the part, and will actually fit in your wallet – but on the downside, it does feel a little odd in the hand because it’s so small.

You’ll have no camera, no music, no internet, no GPS, no games, no social media. Heck, even texting is off the menu. This device takes and receives calls and that is it. That’s the only thing it can do.

The Light Phone doesn’t even come in a box. It arrives in an art book, whose middle is hollowed out to accommodate the phone and a micro USB charger.

The only thing you’ll need to do to get the phone set up is plug in a Nano SIM card card. Then you’re good to go.

Given that making and receiving calls is literally all this device can do, there’s not a lot else to say. There is an online app where you can set up to nine speed dial contacts which are accessed by with a long press on the corresponding button.

The Light Phone can be used in conjunction with your smartphone, but it also functions as your primary device. And it does work as a standalone product –it’s just very feature-free. If you’re the type of person saying they want a phone that’s just a phone, well, this device will either prove you right in your convictions orremind you how useful all those added features can be. Either way, it's a bold choice to attempt something that no one else seems to have the nerve for.

If you like the concept but you’re looking for something a tiny bit smarter, Light Phone’s second iteration is planned to launch in 2019. The Light 2 is currently funding on Indiegogo and promises features including texting (with a QWERTY keyboard), directions, alarm clocks, and a contact list. The brand is also considering including GPS directions, music, voice commands, a calculator and dictionary, and perhaps a weather app. That device has raised funding of over £1.4m so hopefully it shouldn’t be too long before we get to see it firsthand.

As it stands, it's worth notingthat demand for the original Light Phone seems to be outstripping supply, so you may struggle to actually find one up for sale.

Reserve now

3. Nokia 8110

Why we like it: An iconic design with some useful added‘smart’ features

Price: £54.10, Amazon

Purely in terms of looks, the new Nokia 8110 is one of my favourite phones of the last ten years. The original version was known as the ‘banana phone’ on account of its slightly convex spine. The new one is available is bright banana yellow and definitely lives up to that moniker.

The new Nokia 8110 is the class clown. It’s a silly device, an attention seeker;pull it out of your pocket and it’s sure to become the centre of attention. But like so many class clowns, it’s also a lot smarter than it wants anyone to know.

Sure, this device might be selling itself as a basic phone but, let’s be honest, it’s actually a smartphone without a touch screen. With apps including YouTube, Google Maps, and Google Assistant, plus Chrome and another mobile browser, it can easily do what most smartphones can manage, albeit with fewer apps.

Speaking of apps, there is a rudimentary app store on the device. It’s mostly just games but you can also download a weather app and Twitter too (rumour has it that Whatsapp is coming soon).

All of this works well and exactly as you’d expect it to, but it does rather beg the question: what is the point of this phone? People buy dumbphones because they want to go off grid, or they’re sick of the constant notifications, or because social media is getting too much. But here we have a dumbphone which won’t help with any of those problems. So if this is your dumbphone of choice, why buy it at all?

It sits in an uncomfortable middle ground where it’s not nearly good enough to compete with the most basic smartphones, but it’s not ‘dumb’ enough to help solve any of the problems people associate with those devices.

Even so, there are a few compelling reasons to consider the new 8110. The battery life is very good. I charged it one week before I came to write this and the battery is currently sitting at 49pc. Admittedly I haven’t used it that much but it’s definitely something to consider if you’re camping or at a festival and won’t have access to a charger.

There’s also two sim card slots, if you’re the type who wants to have multiple numbers for one phone. Not too many phones have that feature these days.

Ultimately, the new Nokia 8110can do a lot. Just be aware that you’re getting a smarter device than you might be expecting.

(Also, most importantly, Snake is on the Nokia 8110 but on this version the snake can move in any direction and isn’t bound toa grid by default –an egregious insult to the original game’s legacy!)

Buy now

4. Doro 6620

Price:£52.96, Amazon

A simple phone made for seniors, the Doro 6620 is very easy to understand by design. It’s a simple flip phone with big buttons that are easy to read. Likewise, the screen is well-lit and all the fonts are large. Ideal for those who are partially-sighted or just prone to forgetting glasses.

The other great design feature to set family members’ minds at ease is a simple distress button. It’s located on the back of the phone’s chassis so there’s no need to worry about accidentally hitting it while texting or anything. When pushed, it’ll automatically call selected contacts as well as send each of them a text and the phone’s GPS coordinates.

I’m aware that this might sound like it’s only useful for older folks, but for any backpackers or people who don’t know when they’ll be neara charger anytime soon, it might be worth investing in. The battery life, on standby, is an incredible 380 hours – nearly 16 days. Imagine if an iPhone could last that long…

By virtue of it being a simple phone, there isn’t a huge amount left to talk about with the Doro. It’s got phone-calling, texting, weather, and even a rudimentary camera included, plus FM radio, a calculator, and even games (Snake fans will be pleased). Don’t expect internet connection or anything too highfalutin – but it does what it aims to and does it well.

I also tried dropping it, hurling it and stamping on it and it had no scratches on it, which is great to see. Again imagine if an iPhone was like that.

Arguably my favourite feature was a little dock which came with the device. It is a charger but, probably more importantly, it’s just a handy place for you to put down your phone so you can stop worrying about where you left it. Not bad at all!

Buy now

5. Alba Flip Mobile Phone

Price: £24.95, Ebay

Probably the truest dumbphone that I tested, the Alba Flip fits right between the borderline-brain-dead dumbness of the Light Phone and the smarter-than-you’d-think trickery of the Nokia remakes. Plus, it's a flip phone, which you've got to love.

The Alba Flip is not designed to be a basic phone. Alba are a brand designed for those who struggle with conventional mobile phones, either through technophobia or because of visual impairments. Here you’ll find the buttons are big and everything is as uncomplicated as it possibly can be. There are alsoshortcut buttons that might be helpful for elderly users who are unfamiliar with mobile phones. There are torch, FM radio, and SOS buttons just above the dial pad.

Aside from that, everything is as you’d expect. You can place calls, send texts, store contacts, and even take terrible-quality photographs with the 0.3MP cameras (which can’t record video, if you were wondering.) For those with a bit more technical know-how, you can plug in a microSD card with music on it to listen through the phone.

One odd choice is that opening the flip phone isn’t enough to answer any calls you receive. You actually have to open it and then press a button. Is it a deal-breaker? No. Does it take away a bit of that throwback feeling? Kinda.

As with all of these devices, the battery life is excellent. You should get about a week and a half from a single charge (depending on usage, obviously.) Speaking of charging, it comes with a dock! In an age where most phones charge with nothing but a micro USB, seeing a mobile phone dock out in the wild is rare and gives a very retro feel. It’s probably also helpful for those who are wont to lose their devices frequently.

Look, you won’t pay much for this device, and you won’t get much from it. If you really struggle with mobile phonesthis one is good enough. It feels cheap and disposable, but it serves its purpose.If you’re even slightly tech savvy, do yourself a favour and get a Nokia.

Buy now

6. Cat B35 Phone

Price: £94, Amazon

The first thing you’ll note about the Cat B35 is that it is rugged. While the top of the range smartphones are getting slimmer and slimmer, the Cat B35 is proudly a big device with a thick plastic shell.

To be fair, it’s exactly the phone you’d expect a company best known for its tractors and bulldozers, and could probably survive being run over by one too. For those who work in an industrial setting or simply find themselves out and about in the great outdoors a lot, that ruggedness could definitely come in handy.

Let’s start with the software, as there isn’t too much to say on that. The B35 runs on KaiOS, the same one as Nokia’s dumb phones, so you’re getting a fairly similar experience to what I’ve already described on the aforementioned devices, albeit with fewer apps. Perhaps Cat saw fit to encourage its users to focus on work rather than playing Snake.

Like many of the other phones in this guide, the Cat B35 has a 2MP camera on board which can record photos and videos. It also has GPS, a voice recorder, and you can connect it to your computer with the microUSB which comes in the box to add music to the device. It does have a headphone jack too which is helpful.

The device is dustproof and waterproof (up to 1.2m for 35 minutes) and can survive being dropped from some serious heights. I chucked it off the balcony at the Telegraph office which is about 5-6m off the floor and the phone survived with nary a scratch on it. Admittedly it was dropped onto carpet, so it may not survive a fall from that height onto a harder surface. According to Cat, it can be dropped 1.8m onto concrete before any effects become visible. Apparently it can also survive extreme temperatures, but as September afternoons in London aren’t known for their unusual temperatures, I couldn’t test this myself. Safe to say though, it should be able to survive the vast majority of what you put it through.

The only problem with this durability is that all the ports on the phone are covered by thick caps which can be slightly difficult to budge making it a bit annoying when you just want to plug some headphones in or connect your charger. It’s not a dealbreaker, and it will help your phone keep dust out, but it’s a bit of an annoyance.

Another slightly irksome feature is the bright LED torch. As a torch, it works absolutely fine, the trouble comes with the way of accessing it. You turn it on and off with a long press on the direction pad. So far, so good. However, it will only turn on when the phone’s home screen is on. You can’t turn the torch on with the phone in sleep mode, and you can’t open it when you’ve got an app open. If you want to use the torch while you’re watching YouTube, for example, you’d have to wake the phone, go back to the home screen, turn on the torch, then navigate back to YouTube. Is it a dealbreaker? No. But it could have been much easier. There is no point having a dedicated torch on your phone if it’s going to be that fiddly.

The battery is good although it pales in comparison to the Nokia 3310’s. It should give you 12 hours of talktime before it starts to lag.

Ultimately, if you’re buying a Cat phone, you’re buying it for the durability and the B35 pulls that off with aplomb. It’s also packed with plenty of other features for basic phone users like internet andemails. Unfortunately, Cat lets the phone down with a few poor design choices which, although you can navigate around them, do mar the experience a little.

Buy now

7. Cat B30 Phone

Price: £65.47, Amazon

In terms of basic phones, the B30 is almost as basic as they come. It calls, it texts, and it does not much else. Oh sure, you can see from the feature list above that it does a few other things, but the operating system is so obtuse, you’ll have to go digging for those features and they’re absolutely not worth going out of your way to find.

Essentially, the B30 is a pared down version of the B35. It’s capable of all the same basic functions, but lacks some of the more in-depth ones such as Google Assistant, YouTube, and Google Maps. However, everything else is essentially the same. It’s just as rugged as the B35 (albeit, not as waterproof) put smaller. The torch has the same irksome foibles and isn’t quite as good as the B35’s.

The other thing worth mentioning is the lock function which is by far this phone’s most irksome feature. When you wake the phone you’re prompted to press the ‘unlock’ button and then press the ‘*’ key. Then you’ve got to wait for the prompt to disappear before you can actually do any of this. It’s just an extra step than is really necessary and irritating as a result.

I also question the inclusion of a camera. It’s technically no worse than the camera on the B35, but given the B30 has a much smaller screen, the pictures look much worse. Also, I personally know people who buy Cat phones in addition to their personal phones because they work at sensitive sites which don’t allow phones with cameras. When the camera is this bad quality and the pictures look even worse, why bother at all?

Still, despite these flaws, it’s hard not to be charmed by the Cat B30. It’s probably the purest expression of a dumbphone, a real throwback to the days of the original Nokias. It is basic but has just enough functionality bring it into the modern world. Everything you need to work, nothing else. For those looking for a basic phone to keep them away from the temptation of social media and internet browsing, this would be absolutely perfect.

Buy now

Frequently asked questions:

Is there a basic phone with WhatsApp?

At the time of writing, the answer is no. However, as mentioned above, Juho Sarvikas, chief product officer of HMD Global (the people who make Nokia's new phones) gave a serious hint that WhatsApp would be coming to the Nokia 8110. He tweeted:

Oh look, #Whatsapp on #KaiOS! Looking forward to going 🍌s!

— Juho Sarvikas (@sarvikas) July 5, 2018

If you're not the sort for whom waiting holds much appeal, you could try the Smilyphone. Unfortunately I couldn't get hold of one of these to test it. It does have WhatsApp though, but other reviewers have said it is terrible to type with, so you might want to just cross your fingers that WhatsApp ends up coming to the 8110.

Which basic phone has the longest battery life?

The new Nokia 3310 wins this one by a country mile. On standby, you'll get 3-4 days out of the Light Phone, 7-10 days on the Alba Flip, and somewhere between 21-25 on theNokia 8110. The 3310 will last for 31 days on standby.

Of course, if you're using it frequently you'll get less time than that, but it stills far outshines the leading smartphones. You could talk to someone for a full 32 hours before the 3310 runs out of juice. That'd be a heck of a conversation.

Read more: Best cordless phones for your home landline

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