If you're reading this, you might be interested in what prepaid phone options are available today. While such phones still exist, they might not be as popular as they used to be, and getting information on them can be a bit harder. You do not want to deal with a bad phone, even if you will have it in the short term.
After all, you can probably do better than a flip phone you find at the convenience store, right? And you'd be right, you can do so much better. There are prepaid phone plans that would surprise you and provide you with everything you need from a smartphone, though there are also still the extremely cheap models you can get for a pittance and a prayer. Whatever you are looking for, there is likely an option that will surpass your expectations.
We'll be going over all of it and some tips for picking out your next prepaid phone. Whatever you need, you can also trust our recommendations to follow to push you in the right direction.
Suppose you haven't been phone shopping in a while or are getting your first prepaid phone. In that case, you might think of a prepaid phone as something like a cheap flip phone that you discard once you run out of minutes on it or otherwise don't prioritize as a device worth anything. You think you won't be able to do anything on it, and it's a sign that you're either in a rough spot or it's a backup or emergency device for the family.
Perhaps this used to be the case for prepaid phones, but it isn't anymore. And while such devices are available for sale on the cheap, we wouldn't recommend them for reasons we'll get into shortly.
Instead, you can just get a phone and sign up for a prepaid cell phone service plan. They are available from various providers and work with practically any unlocked phone. Do you want prepaid service on a new iPhone or a Samsung Galaxy S22? Both are absolutely an option. What about an unlocked hand-me-down phone from someone who isn't using it anymore? Chances are it will work, and you only will need to pay for the prepaid service.
Prepaid service is often a more regular cost, but given the need for a smartphone in today's world, it will likely be cheaper in the long run for most people.
You need to know a few things before looking at prepaid phones. The first is that you could be getting a prepaid cell phone or a prepaid cell phone plan attached to an unlocked smartphone.
The prepaid device is the common conception of a prepaid phone from years ago. You buy a device with a limited number of minutes and texting attached (and data, if it is a bit nicer), and you reload it when those minutes run out or expire. However, per minute it is an expensive proposition, especially given any major plan, prepaid or not, has unlimited text and talk.
The prepaid plan, in general, is from a major or MVNO provider and is paid ahead of time for a period of one, three, six, or 12 months. It might look like a phone plan at first, but there is usually no commitment, few extra features or traps, and works a little differently. Often it is an MVNO plan which is deprioritized, but the service will still be better than most, if not all, prepaid devices you will find.
So ask yourself if you're looking for a prepaid phone in a complete package or whether you want prepaid service. You can get a phone, expensive or cheap, to use that service later if you need to.
If you want a prepaid phone with some prepaid minutes attached, there isn't much to review or say, given the price and limited capabilities of such phones. You might need one quickly, so do not worry too much about the differences and get one that looks like it will suit your short-term needs. You will want to investigate further if you wish to reload minutes; otherwise, most are equal, if not perfect, in any regard.
All the above is interesting and might change your perspective on your priorities and what you should get, but it doesn't help solve the issue of what smartphone you should buy and how that can be affordable.
Given that people are generally interested in affordable prepaid phones, we will skew towards the inexpensive side of the smartphone market. However, note that practically any unlocked phone can work with a prepaid plan, so don't limit yourself to these if your budget is much higher, and look for the best overall phone instead.
With everything you have learned, you might need to rethink your budget and your plan for a prepaid phone. It can last longer than you think, and you might find more use cases for it. With all that in mind, here are our top five recommendations for phones with prepaid usage in mind for 2022, ranging from the cheapest available for emergencies to general daily use:
Leading the pack is a slightly more expensive option for a prepaid phone that we think will serve you well for a few years. The S21 is the previous model in the reasonably long running Galaxy lineup, but for current smartphone users looking for a prepaid option, the S21 remains an incredibly competitive option that is only a year or so behind the latest flagship features. And while it is true that the Galaxy S21 was criticized at launch for lacking some features and power that it should have should it be compared to the S20 at the time of its launch, the S21 was also more affordable and still was on par with other excellent smartphones.
Overall, the phone isn't the S22 or even the S21 ultra, which is obvious to most people. Yet chances are you don't need the features of those phones, and most people don't even use them to their fullest potential. Therefore, we think sticking with the basic yet reliable and helpful Samsung Galaxy S21 is your best option for a prepaid phone if you have a little money to spare.
Notable features include:
• The display is the best you'll see on this list overall, with a 6.2" screen with a 2400 x 1080p resolution, making it great for HD content or regular usage. It also has a refresh rate that goes up to 120Hz, a boon for its time and something that is fantastic for gaming.
• The camera setup includes a 12MP wide rear camera, a 12MP ultra-wide camera, and a 64MP telephone camera with 3x hybrid zoom and up to 30x digital zoom. It can actually take up to 8k video at 24fps, though you'll likely be using lower-resolution video settings most of the time. The front camera is a mostly standard 10MP camera. Overall, it is an impressive setup and rivals top camera phones in the price range.
• It uses a Snapdragon 888 chipset that, while not the next-gen option found in the latest phones, is still more than enough to play nearly all the latest games and handle practically any application (and multiple of them). The phone also comes with either 128GB or 256GB of storage and has 8GB of RAM installed.
• Perhaps the phone's main problem today, especially compared with its peers, is battery life. In a world where one can easily find a phone with a battery that lasts 11-12 hours, the Samsung Galaxy S21 lasts less than 10 at 60Hz and much less (6.5 hours) on its adaptive refresh rate setting. People who intend on using this as their primary phone (if you're considering this phone, it should be as your primary phone) will want to invest in extra charging methods and/or a charge pack.
• Regarding the price, as of this writing, the Samsung S21 costs about $400, depending on the retailer and your timing. This is great value for the features and hardware above. The only issue is potentially getting ahold of one, depending on the time and available stock when you read this article.
We recommend the Samsung S21 if:
• You are looking for an all-around decent phone for your prepaid plan and use your phone frequently.
• You have the money to invest in a phone that will provide great value over time and your prepaid service plan.
• You like the sound of what Samsung offers regarding software support and will likely use many of the features on offer.
What makes a phone ultracheap these days? And what is the bottom limit for an acceptable prepaid phone? That was one of our primary questions, and one of our most important recommendations is to be the answer to it, knowing that not everyone has several hundred dollars to spend on a prepaid phone and then on a phone plan.
After reviewing all the options, we think the Samsung Galaxy A01 fits that very nicely. You can currently find it for less than $100, and it still has many components that make it a decent smartphone and something recognizable from Samsung. Note that while the main Galaxy line is currently one of the best and consistently on the cutting edge of smartphone technology, the Galaxy A01 has nothing to do with that. It is designed to be a functional device that makes calls, acts like a smartphone, and is affordable to practically everyone.
If you're looking for a middle ground between the A01 and the S21 (or better), you might be interested in the Samsung Galaxy A51, though that won't be for everyone. Consider the A01, and then make your judgment and move on. We understand that some people want more.
Notable features include:
• The display is a 5.7" LCD screen with a resolution of 1520 x 720p. It is simple, but it will showcase all the information it needs and is responsive enough to avoid being frustrating to use. It's actually a pretty large screen, though it might not get bright enough in some environments.
• The chipset is a Qualcomm SDM439 Snapdragon 439. While it is no surprise that it isn't the best available, the phone does make the most of it in general, and you can usually run the apps you hope to, barring modern games and running multiple apps at once. If you need to check something quick, the phone will serve you just fine. It has minimal internal memory by default at either 16GB or 32GB. The RAM included is 2GB, so as mentioned, don't be expecting to do a lot at once.
• The camera setup includes a 13MP main rear camera and a 2MP depth camera. For the selfie camera, you get a 5MP camera. There is nothing special about this, but the cameras will take photos that can be used for practical purposes, and you can still take a decent selfie in the proper lighting. Think about it like taking a trip a bit into the past of smartphone history, when taking decent photos was harder and not as aided by the many tools and better hardware most phones have today.
• Battery life is equal to most other phones found today, with more than 10 hours of regular usage. You will find that while the battery is nothing special, the processor and screen are not necessarily huge battery drains. This increases the phone's lifespan and makes it competitive in this area.
• Why bother with the phone if all the above isn't that great? Because as of this writing, you can find it for $69, if not cheaper. You won't find a better phone for the price, and it's exactly the price someone is looking for a simple prepaid phone to pair with simple prepaid service needs.
We recommend the Samsung Galaxy A01 if:
• You are looking for the cheapest option we could in good conscience recommend.
• You will likely not be using this phone or your prepaid service plan for very long and need something to get you by for a few months, whatever inconveniences from the smartphone itself might involve.
• You are getting a cheap smartphone for someone else to act as a prepaid phone and pairing it with the most affordable prepaid service plan you can find.
It is possible to have a prepaid iPhone. And while you can make any iPhone a prepaid option with the right plan, for price-conscious people, we recommend the Apple iPhone SE, the latest in a line of iPhones meant to be budget-friendly while still having a fair bit of power behind the hood. And the newest model is the best one yet.
While certainly not as overall groundbreaking as the iPhone 13 or the iPhone 14 upon release, the iPhone SE (2022) is still quite powerful, using the same chipset as the iPhone 13 Pro. The savings seem to come from a smaller and more basic screen, although most casual phone users will still find it does everything you would hope it would and that it makes for a fine phone to pair with prepaid service. You can also expect excellent camera features for everyday use and a small size that makes this phone a good choice for people who prefer compact phones or have small hands.
We want to mention that if you're lucky, you might be able to find an older model of iPhone (as of this writing, perhaps an iPhone 11 or 12 variant) for a cheap price. These are excellent options for your prepaid phone, but make sure to be careful about used or refurbished phones and don't pick out something that will get outdated too quickly.
Notable features include:
• A 4.7-inch Retina HD screen. It has a 1334 x 750p resolution and uses Apple's True Tone Color technology. While the picture will look nice in terms of color, it does leave a bit to be desired regarding picture size and resolution. You will not even be able to get true HD video on this phone. It is decent for most tasks and even basic gaming, but anything more advanced might be hindered by the low resolution and the fact that it only reaches a 60Hz refresh rate.
• There is very little compromise regarding the performance of this phone, as the SE 2022 uses an A15 chipset that is the same as an iPhone 13 Pro (practically the best on the market). This means that the phone will last you for years performance-wise, making it an excellent value proposition. Combine that with Apple's well-known tools and user interface, and you'll often feel like you are using a much more expensive phone. Storage space might be an issue, though, as you'll choose from 64GB, 128GB, or 256GB. We recommend at least 128GB unless you expect to barely use the phone.
• One of the downsides of the excellent performance is that the battery in the iPhone SE doesn't seem up to the task of keeping up with the chipset. The battery can run out quickly and doesn't charge up particularly fast. If this is your primary phone, getting a charge pack or an extra charging cable for two is almost a requirement.
• You will find the camera adequate, with a 12MP rear camera and a 7MP front camera. While these numbers aren't anything particularly impressive, you might be aware that the true camera magic in an iPhone happens in the software. That is the case here, and the A15 chipset allows for great smart camera features that can bring out the most in pictures and give you more options than comparable phones.
• As of this writing, the iPhone SE (2022) starts at $429. You may be able to find it cheaper depending on the retailer, a few options, and your timing.
We recommend the Apple iPhone SE (2022) if:
• You are still hoping to use an iPhone but don't want the constant expense and high entry point that mainline iPhones promise.
• You want an iPhone but don't need the most powerful option and plan to use it sparingly compared to most people.
• A prepaid smartphone that can still take good photos using Apple's software sounds good to you, and you don't mind or prefer a smaller, lighter smartphone.
Some phones are simply ahead of the pack for the price, and that is the OnePlus Nord N20 5G is designed to be a great all-around phone for handling daily tasks and being an option that anyone can use. It is an Android phone currently running Android 12, though it should be noted that there are no plans to update the OS beyond Android 12.
We'll go more into the details below, but note that it has a good camera and fantastic display for the price and enough power to work with most current apps.
Note that the phone used to be available only through T-Mobile, but more recently, the phone has become available unlocked, therefore making it a good option for any number of prepaid service carriers. Double-check when you get the phone that it is correctly unlocked, so you don't get confused and disappointed.
There is competition in the form of other phones that are more specialized and phones that will come out in the future, but those are not for everyone. For the price point, this phone is for everyone, especially for people interested in a prepaid service plan.
Notable features include:
• This is a beautiful phone to look at, at least where the screen is concerned. It has a 6.43" AMOLED display with a resolution of 2400 x 1080p, great for watching HD video or just standard browsing. It might not reach the heights of around a 1440p resolution found on today's flagships, but you also don't have to pay an extra $1000 for your phone. Simply put, the OnePlus Nord N20 has a fantastic display for the price and should serve your needs extremely well.
• The phone uses a Snapdragon 695 chipset and has 6GB of RAM. It might not play your favorite game on the highest settings, but it is still more than enough to handle most tasks and keep a fair number of apps or tools running simultaneously. For storage, you will have 128GB of internal storage, but this is expandable with a MicroSD card, which means you can insert more than enough storage for your needs if required.
• The camera setup includes a 64MP main rear camera, a 2MP monochrome camera, and a 2MP macro lens. On the front, there is a 16MP camera. It might not beat out the $1000 phones with more megapixels than you can count, but it should still take fantastic photos and work as your primary daily camera, whether you're hoping to get a little artistic or not.
• Battery life is sufficient for the phone, with a full charge lasting about 11 hours of regular use. People who plan on using it a lot might want to consider extra charging options, but most people will not have anything to worry about.
• What is most astonishing about this phone is that it manages to keep at the low price of about $260, and with luck, you might be able to get an even cheaper phone. While it is still an investment, what this phone provides is a fantastic value for the price and is overall the best phone you can find under $300.
We recommend the OnePlus Nord N20 5G if:
• You are looking for an excellent phone under $300 but not at the absolute bottom of the quality heap.
• You are not planning on keeping the phone for the extremely long term or don't mind sticking with Android 12 for a few years.
• You are looking for a phone with few strong weaknesses to worry about.
Sometimes you might be looking for the best phone or phone within a price range. Alternatively, you might be looking for a smartphone tailored to a particular set of users. Many people are looking for a camera phone in particular, and the Google Pixel line has been at the top of the pack for cameras, despite being slightly cheaper than most flagships. Still, they are on the expensive end of the smartphone spectrum, so instead of the current Google Pixel 6, we recommend the more affordable Google Pixel 6A.
Users can also expect plenty of support from Google regarding the software and the general longevity of the phone. They can also expect a good screen, an excellent chipset for the price, and some camera features that rival the top options. The phone won't last forever (none do), but you can trust that this phone is a decent investment.
For those with more money to spend on a camera phone, the Google Pixel 6 or a modern iPhone is a great option, but the Google Pixel 6a is just what most people need from a prepaid phone.
Notable features include:
• The display is a 6.1" OLED screen with a 2400 x 1080p. It might not reach the heights of the AMOLED screens you see on current flagships, but it looks great there. The refresh rate is 60Hz, which is enough for most uses, if not the best for gaming or watching some content.
• Performance-wise, the Google Pixel 6a uses the Tensor chips behind the top phones Google puts out. This makes it a great choice for people interested in AI and AI tasks, and the Google Pixel 6a is a good choice for anyone looking for a slightly more powerful phone. Overall, it isn't the most powerful phone on the market, but it is well above average for its price range.
• Likely the best camera features and setup you can find on the phone in the price range. It has a 12.2 main rear camera and a 12MP ultrawide camera. On the front, there is an 8MP camera. While this might not be too impressive on its own, there are processes at work to give photos taken with the phone accurate colors, great ultrawide images, and a solid night mode that allow you to take photos wherever, whenever, and have them come out great. The chipset also allows it to handle high-quality video without issue, letting you shoot 4K video at up to 60 fps.
• Plenty of support from Google in terms of the software and general longevity of the phone.
• The battery is disappointing, with life on full charge of about 6.5 hours of regular usage. Likely this comes from the Tensor chipset being a bit more than the battery was built for. Overall, this puts it in the lower tier of smartphones regarding battery life. Look for an extra charger or charge pack if you use your phone all day.
• As of this writing, the Google Pixel 6a retails for about $449, but as with most phones, with a bit of searching, you can likely find it for a much lower price.
We recommend the Google Pixel 6a if:
• You are looking for the best camera features you can find on a phone in the price range. The cameras might not be the best in terms of hardware specs, but people who want amazing photo processing features should look more closely at this phone.
• You are looking for a phone that will last you for some time and will get support for at least a few years.
• You are looking for a phone slightly above the budget tier with a few of the great features from the best phones available.
While this article isn't about prepaid plans, and there are more in-depth resources on the subject that you should check out, we did want to mention a few prepaid plans that you can use as a jumping-off point should you wish to get one. There are often multiple options and prepaid service lengths, and you'll have to decide what is best for you. However, most people are happy with the following providers:
• Mint Mobile might be the most well-known prepaid company beyond the major providers, and for a good reason. They provide unlimited talk and text with some data for as low as $15. The MVNO provider still has good service, and we recommend the cheapest 4GB/mo. plan or the "unlimited" plan (realistically 35GB/mo.) for $30/mo.
• Visible is a provider owned by Verizon that has grown in popularity for its simple setup and easy service. They offer unlimited prepaid plans that might not have as fast data as you expect from Verizon but are an affordable $30/mo.
• There are also prepaid plans from each major provider (Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile), though they often veer into the territory where they don't feel like a prepaid plan anymore, and they are usually more expensive than other options. One might be the best choice if you're looking for a plan that feels like a hybrid of a major contract plan and a cheaper prepaid plan.
• We would also like to mention TextNow, which is free. Indeed, the plan is ad-supported and has unlimited talk and text, using an app and a 99-cent SIM card to get you started. Note, however, that data costs extra and is expensive. Nonetheless, if you want the cheapest prepaid option or general plan, TextNow literally cannot be beaten.
While they are much improved over the prepaid phones of a decade or two ago, a prepaid phone will still pale in comparison to the high-end smartphones of today. Do not expect the world from them; note that it might not last as long as you would like.
You will want to do a few things if you get the phone as a backup.
• You will want to familiarize yourself with the device as best as possible. If you need it in an emergency, you want to make sure that you can work with it, and you might discover a few things it can do that you assumed it couldn't. Just experimenting with it for a half-hour and reading the manual (if it has one) can go a long way.
• Understand ahead of time your intentions for the device. This will help you avoid needing to make expensive adjustments in the long term and also hopefully let you make a better choice for your device in the first place. We understand you want to save money, but getting good value is key, not paying the lowest price.
• You will still want to maintain and update the prepaid backup phone as needed. While it still might work in an emergency, you will want to ensure it is charged and updated in terms of its software. Having to fix it up when you need it will only be extremely frustrating when that time comes.
• If this is a new phone or your potentially frequently used backup, insert the numbers you might use or call most frequently as soon as possible. If it is for someone who needs a mobile phone for emergencies but otherwise wouldn't use one, then you should program the phone with numbers you know they will use and remind them to add their own additional ones as soon as possible.
• As mentioned, keep it charged and in a safe place. Often a phone will be forgotten and more subject to wear and tear as a result. Most phones built these days are pretty sturdy but not indestructible.
A prepaid plan certainly isn't for everyone, but we hope that with the above information, you know whether it is for you and which phone and plan is best for you. Remember that there are plenty of options and that there is going to be something that works for you. Thank you for reading, and we encourage you to return to this post as you feel the need.