The best basic phones of 2017/2018


Need a basic feature phone, Android phone or Windows Phone? We round up the 8 best smartphones under £50 you can buy in the UK in 2017.

If you’re looking for a low-cost smartphone, we have smartphone charts covering the best budget phones and the best cheap 4G phones. But not everyone needs the best or the most expensive.

For many people, a truly basic phone that can maybe get them online but allow them to make calls and texts is all they need. Older readers will remember these were once the only type of mobile you could buy! Here we round-up the best cheap basic phones you can buy in the UK in 2017. All the phones in our list cost less than £60.

A super-cheap, simple smartphone may not be top of your wish list, but there are many situations in which one could prove to be very handy. For example, do you need an emergency phone you can leave in the glovebox or use only when you leave the house?

Do you need something to give to young children so they can keep in touch with you as they venture out into the big wide world? Maybe it’s a kid’s second phone for the school run. Have you broken your usual smartphone, and need something cheap to get you through to pay day? Or are you just looking for a cheap phone you can take to festivals and parties and not worry about losing?

Basic smartphones buying advice

Some of the cheapest smartphone deals you’ll find come from China, supplied via sites such as Geekbuying, Gearbest and Coolicool. If you want to take a punt you’ll get a great deal more for your money, but there are risks associated with buying phones in this manner. Before you even consider that option, read up on our advice on buying grey-market phones.

You will also find all manner of cheap deals on new phones on sites such as eBay. These are largely from obscure (at least in the UK) brands, and the deals are changing all the time. In this round-up we’ve considered only cheap smartphones available from UK mobile operators, but if you’re thinking of buying a phone we haven’t listed here use the below buying advice as a guide.

When looking to buy a cheap or basic phone you should consider the difference between cheap smartphones and cheap mobile phones (also known as feature phones), although you will find much crossover between these categories, and in recent years tech has moved on at such a pace that the terms are becoming increasingly blurred. Fortunately, that means you can now buy smartphones at very attractive prices.

Typically speaking, smartphones are high-end devices that function as computers in their own right, whereas feature phones are primarily designed to allow you to make phone calls and texts, but increasingly feature smartphone-like features such as GPS and built-in cameras. 

Traditionally, a key difference has been a smartphone’s ability to download apps via a dedicated app store (Google Play or the Windows Store), plus whether it has a touchscreen or a physical keypad. Even now you will find most feature phones are limited to 2G connectivity, whereas smartphones support 3G (sometimes 4G, but not below £100) and Wi-Fi. If you want to make much use of the web, you’ll need a smartphone rather than a feature phone.

You shouldn’t expect a brilliant specification from a truly cheap smartphone. It will let you get online, check email, download apps (although they will struggle with some games), make calls and texts, and navigate via GPS, but little more. 

Their processors will be slow (1- or 1.2GHz, single- or dual-core), memory limited (512MB), and storage sufficiently low (4GB) that with the operating system preinstalled you won’t be able to fit in all the music, media and apps you’d like to carry. That said, many of the cheapest smartphones support microSD (usually up to 32GB) and all let you stream content from the cloud.

Plus, if you’re worried about audio storage, most cheap phones feature an FM radio, but you’ll need to use it with a pair of headphones (these function as the aerial in any case) rather than whatever tiny, tinny mono speaker may be built into the phone. 

A cheap smartphone will have a touchscreen but it will be no larger than 4in, of a sub-HD resolution and potentially less responsive than you expect (look for capacitive- rather than resistive touchscreens). It may also be dim, so you’ll want to ramp up the brightness, and poor viewing angles will probably limit the enjoyment of photos and videos to a one-man audience. The best you can hope for at this price is around 4in with 480×800 resolution. 

You’ll probably find a fixed-lens camera at the rear, but it’ll be of low quality (no more than 5Mp) and of little use other than to snap and send the odd picture message and capture VGA video clips. Don’t expect to find a camera at the front for selfies or video chat.

Other giveaway signs of a cheap smartphone includes a chunky body and large screen bezels. They will also tend to be very plasticky and toy-like in their appearance. And note that if you’re buying a cheap Android phone its operating system may never be upgraded beyond what comes in the box. 

Take into account that many cheap smartphones are sold on a pay-as-you-go basis rather than SIM-free, and will usually demand that a £10- or £20 top-up is purchased at checkout. We’ve stated where this is the case, but are still including in this round-up those phones where the cost of the top-up takes you over £50 – you’ll get that money back in calls and texts in any case. These phones may also be locked to that operator’s network (Also see: How to unlock your phone).

Nokia 3310

Nokia 3310

Alcatel OneTouch 10.16G

Alcatel OneTouch 10.16G

Nokia 216

Nokia 216

Nokia 130

Nokia 130

Vodafone Smart First 7

Vodafone Smart First 7

Vodafone Smart Prime 7

Vodafone Smart Prime 7

Alcatel 10.35

Alcatel 10.35



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