Updated January 01, 2020 by Sam Kraft

The 10 Best Prepaid Phones

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Best High-End
Best Mid-Range
Best Inexpensive

This wiki has been updated 24 times since it was first published in January of 2016. Today's mobile devices have become increasingly addictive and expensive. But with these economical, prepaid cell phones, you not only save on the cost of the device, you pay only for a specific amount of data or minutes in advance, which gives you freedom from long-term contracts and hefty monthly bills. Some of these models will surprise you with an impressive array of features, too. When users buy our independently chosen editorial recommendations, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki. Skip to the best prepaid phone on Amazon.

10. Nokia Lumia 635

9. TracFone LG L441G

8. Total Wireless Moto G6

7. Tracfone LG Rebel 4

6. Motorola G6

5. Verizon Zone 4

4. Samsung Express Prime 3

3. Motorola Moto E4

2. LG Stylo 3 Plus

1. Tracfone Apple iPhone SE

Special Honors

Samsung Galaxy S10+ from Verizon While it’s not as budget-friendly as most prepaid options out there, few of those models can compete with the cutting-edge technology and intuitive operation of the Galaxy S10+. It captures images with impressive clarity, and its photo-editing capabilities give you the power to customize each shot. verizonwireless.com

Editor's Notes

December 27, 2019:

Please note that most of these items are carrier locked to a specific service, such as AT&T Wireless, Verizon, Tracfone, Total Wireless, or Boost Mobile. The device must be activated for use on a plan with that service before it will work.

From poor reception to slow, lagging operation and insufficient memory, many of the items on this list needed to be removed for quality reasons. Some models had become obsolete as well. The LG Stylo 3 Plus, however, remains a reliable option — we noted its long-lasting battery, vivid display screen and sleek design.

In adding replacements, we incorporated several low-cost phones that are best suited for users who value basic calling and texting functionality over intricate features and apps. A few of the options are compatible with micro SD cards, which allow you to add additional memory to the phone.

Reports indicate that the Samsung Express Prime 3 is a nice value for those who enjoy watching video and using social media, as it offers smooth streaming and plenty of storage space for various apps.

Prepaid Phones: What’s The Difference?

Depending on how often you use your phone, this can save you a lot of money, as you only pay for the minutes you use.

Reportedly, the young people that make up the millennial generation are more afraid to commit than those that came before them — to a career, to buying a home, even to a significant other. Articles supporting this notion pop up all over the internet almost daily. I’d almost be willing to accept the “millennials are unwilling to commit” theory if not for one piece of evidence to the contrary that’s very tough to ignore: their utter commitment to the smartphone — more specifically, the smartphone with a contract.

Admittedly, most available models of prepaid phones are not as technologically advanced or equipped with the same bells and whistles as a new contract smartphone, but that doesn’t adequately explain the massive disparity in popularity between the two styles. The prepaid model offers plenty of advantages that you’d think would appeal to a range of phone users, both young and old.

The primary benefit of a prepaid phone is freedom. It all boils down to the plan: while prepaid phones provide the basic services of regular cell phones, they do not come with the long-term contract requirements or overage charges you incur for exceeding the monthly minutes in your plan. Depending on how often you use your phone, this can save you a lot of money, as you only pay for the minutes you use. This also means that you can change carriers or phones at any time without suffering a penalty.

Unlike contract phones, you won’t have to go through a credit check to purchase one of these. There’s also no age limit, which makes the prepaid phone an attractive option for parents who want to buy their child or teenager a phone and maintain control over their minutes, texts, and data usage.

Keep in mind, while the overall price you pay for a prepaid phone will likely be less than that of a new smartphone, the per-minute rate is probably higher. The variety of models available to you — and the range of features that comes with them — is also significantly limited in comparison to contract phones. Because of this, a prepaid phone is most suitable for occasional phone users, those who don’t require constant connectivity, and emergency situations.

Finding The Right Phone-Plan Combination

Today, most major phone carriers offer prepaid plans. However, not all phone models are compatible with all plans, which means you may have to do some mixing and matching before settling on an arrangement that works for you. Some are true pay-as-you-go plans, while others allow you to sign up for monthly payments that you can cancel at any time.

A quick self-assessment before shopping for a prepaid phone will help make the decision-making process simpler and less stressful. First, ask yourself what you need. Do you absolutely have to be able to play music, stream media, and use apps? Do you require a camera? Or will a simple phone that allows you to call and text suffice for now?

However, not all phone models are compatible with all plans, which means you may have to do some mixing and matching before settling on an arrangement that works for you.

You must also consider extra fees associated with your plan. If you want to download and use apps, stream music, access your email, surf the internet, or even send text messages, you'll have to prepay for a messaging or data plan that incorporates those features. Make sure to go through all aspects of the plan with a fine-toothed comb, as some may come with unexpected access fees or charge you for downloading games and ringtones you thought were free.

Once you’ve established which features you require and the types of plans you’re most comfortable with, do some comparisons between different mobile providers online. Each carrier has its strengths and weaknesses; pay particular attention to service cost, network size, call quality, and the bonus features they offer (like unlimited text messaging or unlimited night and weekend minutes).

When you begin using a prepaid phone, it’s imperative that you’re aware of the details of your plan so you’re able to remain cognizant of how many minutes and how much data you've used — especially if you’re switching over from a contract with unlimited data. If you’re used to utilizing every feature of your phone whenever you want, it’s dangerously easy to go overboard very quickly. The potential repercussions — like suddenly losing connection during an important call or getting stranded in an emergency situation — are not pleasant.

A Brief History Of Prepaid Phones

Prior to the early 1990s, contract-based mobile phones were your only option. Several companies providing prepaid phone services emerged during this time, such as Houston Cellular and Banana Cellular. Other American companies joined the fray later in the decade, while a Portuguese company called TMN was the first European operator to offer a prepaid service in 1995.

As the concept gained momentum in the late 1990s, carriers in countries all over the world began to adopt similar systems.

People who lacked credit and minors under the age of 18 were particularly receptive to these offerings, as they were frequently denied contracts up until that point. As the concept gained momentum in the late 1990s, carriers in countries all over the world began to adopt similar systems. The trend continued during the first decade of this century, culminating in the Blackberry becoming the first smartphone to be offered with a prepaid plan in 2009.

Today, developed economies across the world tend to favor contract subscriptions, while the prepaid method is more popular in less developed nations. For example, more than two-thirds of North American phone users are on a contract plan, whereas roughly one in five Latin American users fall into that category. In some countries, the prepaid model is simply more accessible, especially to people who don’t have the means to pay for an expensive phone or the required documentation to enter into a contract.

As modern technology continues to evolve at an exponential rate, we can reasonably expect to see prepaid mobile phones progress in a similar fashion. In just a few years’ time, who knows — you may be able to pick up a prepaid model with an affordable plan that has the same features as the newest version of that smartphone you paid out the nose for last week.

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Sam Kraft
Last updated on January 01, 2020 by Sam Kraft

In addition to his corporate career as a marketing and communications professional in Chicago, Sam runs a popular blog that focuses on the city’s flourishing craft beer and brewery scene. He received his degree in journalism from DePaul University (which spurred his interest in freelance writing) and has since spent years developing expertise in copywriting, digital marketing and public relations. A lifetime of fishing, hiking and camping trips has left him well-versed in just about any outdoors-related topic, and over several years spent working in the trades during his youth, he accumulated a wealth of knowledge about tools and machinery. He’s a travel junkie, a health and fitness enthusiast, and an avid biker.

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