The best cheap pay-as-you-go phones [Updated]

by , Phones 10/08/2012
The best cheap pay-as-you-go phones

Most people in the market for a new mobile phone nowadays are pushed toward high-end smartphones, but judging from what Which? members tell us, many of you are still simply after a cheap mobile phone on a pay-as-you go contract – i.e. a handset that can make calls, texts, and doesn’t need a manual to understand.

Below is a round-up of some of the best basic mobile phones available from around £10 to £40 on pay-as-you-go. One of the key things to look out for when buying a handset in this price-range is its ease of use and a clear, easy-to-read, screen.

Call quality and battery life are of course very important, but our lab tests usually find very little difference in these areas between handsets priced at the lowest end of the scale.

So turn your back on touchscreens, forgo 3G, and say hello to the best of basic.

For more information read the full range of our basic pay-as-you-go mobile phone reviews.

The best cheap PAYG mobile phones

Nokia 100

Nokia 100

Price range: £10-15

A super cheap and basic phone from Nokia, the 100 only has one big selling point and that is its battery life. With a decent sized battery and no fancy features to drain the power, the Nokia 100 should last more than a few days without charging. The 100 lacks a camera and music player but there is an FM radio to keep you entertained.

Find out how it performed in our Nokia 100 review.

Nokia C1-01

Nokia C1-01 reviewPrice range: £25-40

The C1-01 is a cheap and basic mobile, but it does include a few features for its price including a camera and music player. Don’t expect to get professional pictures from it or it to perform as well as more expensive models, but it is a good simple model.

Read our Nokia C1-01 review to see how it performed in our labs.

Samsung Monte Slide

Samsung Monte SlidePrice range: £25-40

A fairly small, low resolution screen and lack of 3G betray the Monte Slide’s price, but you do still get other features such as a camera and a web browser – although its not an ideal mobile for surfing the web.  As a basic mobile it should be easy to use and the battery life should be healthy.

Get our full lab results in our Samsung Monte Slide review.

LG A250

LG A250Price range: Around £40

Clamshell mobile phones have gone out of fashion in the last few years and they are becoming increasingly rare, but the LG A250 offers this form factor for an affordable price. A second screen means you can see new messages or missed calls without having to open the phone and as it is a quad-band mobile phone it will work abroad.

See how it performed in our lab tests in our LG A250 review.

Nokia Asha 201

Nokia Asha 201Price range: £38-60

A Qwerty keypad isn’t a common site on affordable pay-as-you-go handsets, but the Asha 201 offers a full keyboard to allow people to quickly type out text messages – although some might find the keys too small to use comfortably. A decent sized battery and familiar Nokia menu also come included.

Read our Nokia Asha 201 review for the full lowdown.

More on this…

28 comments

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Chris

Nokia 1661 budget range has a screen so poor, I could not see it during sunny daylight outside,
this made it worse than useless, so I had to retro use a older monochrome version for last summer, which I can see in any light condition.

Poor screen – mostly useless.

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Christopher@Which?

Hi Chris, sorry to hear you had problems with the 1661. Our tests for this device did include viewing the display under bright light conditions. During these tests we found that the 1661′s screen suffered from some reflection issues, but comparatively these issues really weren’t that notable (there were plenty other phones that scored worse in this area).

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David Bailey

Are there any budget PAYG phones with screens visible in any light conditions? I have an ancient basic Nokia phone with monochrome screen which is excellent in this regard. My wife has a Which best buy Tesco phone from sone years ago and finds the screen very difficult to read – almost impossible outdoors. Since her cataract ops, her eyesight is great. We just need to text and make calls – no apps, cameras etc. required

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Christopher@Which?

Hi David, cheaper phones don’t really have the best displays, but our tests found that the Nokia 1208 had a reasonable (but small) screen. Though like many models in the budget price range, it does struggle in very bright sunlight – you can pick it up from Tesco from around £17.

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Ben

Why no unlocked featured?
Wishing to get onto your Best Buy Asda network, but finding their range of phones (inc on-line) useless – no cheap clamshell/slide phones, have had a real hassle with absence of unlocked phones at Tesco & Sainsbury and getting unlocked from purchased T-mobile clamshell. (Flip E100)

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Christopher@Which?

Hi Ben, whether or not the phone is locked or not depends on the retailer you’re buying from.

Some retailers have agreements in place with networks where they get subsidies, so in these cases the phones will generally be locked.

Phones4U and Dial-a-phone (both owned by the same company) sell their PAYG phones locked to the network. However, Mobiles.co.uk and Carphone Warehouse (same company) sell their PAYG phones unlocked.

Retailers that are also networks (i.e. t-mobile, Orange, O2 etc) will usually sell their phones locked.

So, in short, if you buy your PAYG phone from mobiles.co.uk or Carphone Warehouse it should be unlocked.

Unfortunately, since yesterday deals from Carphone Warehouse have not been showing on Which? Mobile due to a technical issue. We are working on fixing this and they should be back up by early next week.

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Eddie

I have studied all of the Which website on mobile phones but am still confused. So far I have had only telephone functions on my mobiles but would like to access the internet on my next one. I have a desktop and notebook computers and feel reasonably computer literate but know little about mobile capability. eg. on pay as you go – do you have to pay also for the services of an ISP ? Do you need a security suite ? Answers to these questions do not seem to be easy to find.

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Christopher@Which?

Hi Eddie. We do have some advice articles on using the internet on mobile phones:

This is a basic overview of using the internet on your mobile.

http://www.which.co.uk/mobile/advice-and-support/mobile-phone-advice/surfing-the-internet-on-your-mobile-phone/

Something on the costs involved

http://www.which.co.uk/mobile/advice-and-support/mobile-tariffs-advice/mobile-phone-internet-costs/

Speeds and usage limits

http://www.which.co.uk/mobile/advice-and-support/mobile-broadband-advice/mobile-broadband-speed-and-usage-limits/

If you’re going to get online with a phone, its probably going to be a smartphone, so this may be useful.

http://www.which.co.uk/mobile/advice-and-support/smartphone-advice/

If you have any other questions feel free to email me – christopher.reynolds@which.co.uk

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John W R Matthews

I am using a Which Best Buy, PAYG Nokia 6303 classic from Tesco.
Excellent phone, cheap to run, excellent battery life, ok 3.2 meg camera (has a slow shutter time lag), easy to text.
Just does what it says on the tin !!!

Which, thanks for another excellent recommendation.

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Chris Bowen

All I want is a decent clamshell, why do manufacturers not make any decent ones any more? Clamshells are still huge in the USA with really good specs, but they’re not sold over here. (Check out the Motorola i680 Bute!) I’m sick of scratched screens, and there’s nothing more satisfying than snapping them shut after a call.

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hicken

i agree clamshells are great so much so im still using my8 year old sharp gx20 on its 3rd battery though. brilliant screen, excellant camera good battery life and clear sound. these screens are hard to find on ordinary button phones and photos viewed on the phone are superb but viewed back on computer are a little grainy but that not a problem as i usually show peolple the pics on the phone like most other people do. thank to everyone dave

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Tim B

Alcatel make cheap clamshell phones, and are available in the UK. The Alcatel 222, and a Samsung model are available.

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sharon

can you tell if any nokia phones have a switch on the side of the phone which enlarges the text? I know there is a Samsung (thinkmits U6900?) as I would find this very useful.thabks

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Christopher@Which?

Hi Sharon. We’re struggling to think of Nokia phones that have a button on the side that allows you to zoom. But the Nokia 2330 does have an option to zoom into texts, which can be accessed from the settings menu. You can pick it up on PAYG from around £20 http://www.which.co.uk/mobile/phones/nokia/2330-classic/deals/payg/

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Jack

I know what features I want and the priority of those featrues for me.

A service that allows me to tick those features will be of value. So far I find Which? Mobile about as useful as the TV Secret Shopper describes phone shops

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Richard Bartram

I would love a new phone like my now dead Sagem my220x. No camera ( I have one ) . No mp3 ( got one also ). No internet ( have home broadband ). Its a mere 65grams and 107x47x10mm ( can you think of anything smaller ).

What would I not give for a tiny and thin well made phone thats just a phone.
Richard

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cecilia Harknett

Would like to buy a Nokia 2310 or 3810 as they were the best for just normal usage, but must be under £15 as these are older models.

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ahardie

Since the instigation of Which? Mobile there has been a serious deterioration in the reports as there is no breakdown of test results as was previously the case. I bought my Nokia 5000 as you reported the very good reception. My old Nokia could only be used in my bathroom as that was the only place I could get a signal. The 500 was a vast improvement with full signal strength anywhere in the house though this may have been partly as a result of a change from Orange to O2. Unfortunately I find the keys on the 5000 to be far too cramped and would like to replace it with a better ergonomic design but with a similar high reception. I am not interested in expensive smart phones just basic phone with no gimmicks. I can find no mention of reception in your current reports. Why is this information no longer available?

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ahardie

Since my last post I have found some more detailed reports on the above phones. This was via the PAYG Deals – hardly intuitive. However reception is only mentioned in passing in one report. As this is THE most important feature for the many people living in poor reception areas I find the lack of comment extraordinary.
Nowhere can I find a list of all the phones tested to enable an easy comparison. As I said previously I find the Which? Mobile site inferior to the old system.

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Christopher@Which?

Hi ahardie.

We stopped including tests for reception in our mobile phone reviews in September 2010. This is because, over the last couple of years, the quality of antenna – practically speaking – has become pretty much indistinguishable between handsets. Under controlled lab conditions we found that there is now hardly any difference between the reception of different mobile phones.

Getting a decent mobile phone signal depends on many variables, including what network you are on, whereabouts in the country you are, whether you’re indoors or outdoors, whether or not your close to a window – even the amount of foliage present in your surrounding environment has an impact (did you know that mobile phone signal is generally worse in summer!).

These days the actual components used in mobile phones have little bearing on any of this. So giving recommendations based on controlled lab tests would be rather redundant (and potentially misleading).

The difference in reception you mention is almost certainly down to the switch between Orange and O2, and not the different handsets.

Hope that helps.

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joe

That is incorrect. There are still significant differences in mobile phone handset reception ability. There are mobile phones that can pick up a signal where other brand or model may get no signal. These tests are very important as most people will not want to spend money on a phone and take it home only to discover that it may have inferior signal performance and prove problematic to use compared to their previous phone. Every mobile phone review site should test phone reception as this will encourage manufacturers not to skimp quality/performance in this area.

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Sue

Why does a basic mobile have to be cheap? I’d love a metal case,5mp camera, quality music player, keyboard for texting and of course great call quality. I’ve tried upgrading my ancient phone 4 times now. 2 HTC wildfires, 1 Blackberry Bold, I Sony Ericsson mini pro, all highly rated, all faulty. Drawn the conclusion the more features, the more unreliable they are, yet manufacturers are obsessed with building more applications at the expense of quality basic compnents. It’s called a phone after all!

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Chris Freeman

My mum is 90 and has a panic button which she wears all the time. However, due to problems with her BT landline, which they seem unable, or unwilling, to fix, we need a VERY basic mobile for her. Big, easy to use buttons would be nice, but her eyesight is pretty good at close range anyway. What she really needs is a very easy phone to use. Any suggestions please?

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a.robinson

My elderly mum is also in need of a phone of the basic easy to read, easy to use variety.I just wondered if you cuold recommend anything? Thanks in anticipation!

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brian laverick-smith

I am hard of hearing do which survey phones so I can tell which is best?

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Smoggybird

I am looking for a decent phone for calls, texts and with a decent camera. No web/wifi/ apps or anything else as it’s not often switched on and is more of an emergency use phone rather than one that is permanently attached to my side.

Any suggestions please?

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Brooke

I’ve recently started a site, the info you cash offer on this
web site has helped me tremendously. Thanks for all of your time & work.

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jak

I just want a mobile phone pay as you go with a camera, long battery life to use soley for texting and emergency calls . What can you recommend please

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