Every South African should have at least one burner phone. Not because we’re all criminals but because of criminals. Or, general clumsiness. We don’t know what sort of situations you get up to. But if you’re out somewhere remote, where the only aspect of your phone you actually need is the ability to call someone, maybe you don’t have to drag along a R25,000 Apple or Samsung flagship. A R500 backup will do just as well.
Basic cellular phones — some of which are even Android smartphones — have the advantage of getting the job done and also not stinging quite so much when someone picks your pocket or demands your device at knifepoint. They’re also easier to let go of if you’ve just dropped it off a boat or completely forgotten it in a pub or something. Here are a few burner phones that won’t set your bank account on fire.
They don’t come much more basic than the Mobicel C1. This dinky little candybar packs a mere 32MB (yes, MB) of RAM and internal storage. Somehow, though, it features Bluetooth support (so you can listen to the radio with your wireless buds) and a camera that we really don’t ever want to see in action. But it’ll make calls, the 800mAh battery will last far longer than you’re expecting, and it’s cheaper than literal dirt.
R200 | Buy it here
Nokia 105 Africa Edition
Nokia used to be the gold standard for smartphones. That’s still true at a certain price point. The Nokia 105 Africa Edition is an excellent purchase for what you’re paying. Build quality is fantastic (plastic), the battery lasts for absolutely ages, it’ll take just about any abuse you can throw at it, and if you do happen to run it over with a bulldozer, its replacement cost isn’t exorbitant. If you left it in your car powered off, it would be months before the battery died. Honestly, your SIM card might expire before you ever have to use it.
R280 | Buy it here
MTN Smart T 3G
We’ve seen this MTN-locked feature phone on sale for as cheap as R180. The trick is finding it in stock at this price. It’s the very definition of basic, though it’s backing more RAM and storage than you’d expect from a gadget this cheap. 256MB of RAM and 512MB of storage is enough to let you load some local music and use this as your running device. Bluetooth, WiFi, and GPS support, plus some basic app functionality thanks to the Smart T’s KaiOS operating system make this a little more versatile than you’d expect.
R380 | Buy it here
BM10 Wireless Dialer
Don’t let the image fool you. This little feature phone may knock off Nokia’s updated 3310 but it’s far smaller than you’d expect. Still, there’s a MediaTek processor, support for an SD card (actually a TF card, so expect it to cap out at 32GB), and also support for two nanoSIM cards. If you’re often conducting business in the field, this should get you by. We’re less than enamoured with the 350mAh battery but it’s not like this phone is running anything too intensive.
R400 | Buy it here
Itel V41 LTE
Now we’re getting somewhere. This is an actual smartphone, even if it’s running Android 10 Go. That’s Google’s low-resource operating system, in case you were wondering. But there’s a full-on 4in touchscreen to handle here, 16GB of storage, and 512MB of RAM to play with. It won’t do anything even remotely close to your main driver unless doom-scrolling or playing music is all you do, but it’s not a feature phone either. Oh, yes, it’s also network locked to Vodacom so you should plan your SIM card purchase accordingly.
R450 | Buy it here
All it takes to get a decent-ish burner smartphone is about five hundred bucks. The Hisense U605 is one of these but you should know what you’re getting into. There’s 8GB of storage and 1GB of RAM behind that 4in touchscreen, and there are even (terrible) front and rear cameras. The phone is MTN network locked but there’s a second SIM slot that will work with another network (provided there’s an MTN SIM in the main slot). A 1,500mAh battery and support for up to 32GB of external storage make this an affordable backup for your travels around the wrong side of the tracks.
R500 | Buy it here
One of the preconditions of cheaper smartphones is that they tend to be network locked. The Vodacom-exclusive Mobicel Oreo is no exception. But it costs R500, so you can probably afford a backup SIM card to keep this thing powered down in your boot or glove box. You know, in case of emergencies. There’s a 4in touchscreen, 1,550mAh battery, 1GB of RAM, and 8GB of storage to look forward to, plus the option to drop an extra SD card or a second SIM into the device. Don’t expect anything marvellous from the camera, though.
R500 | Buy it here
The most expensive phone here is a feature phone from Alcatel. Who would have thought? Actually, we did, back in 2019. This phone is designed to be as accessible as possible to folks who traditionally battle with technology. So it’s easy to hold and use, makes for a great emergency backup, and doesn’t have any distracting complications that could leave you with a flat battery at a crucial moment.
R600 | Buy it here