Today’s smartphones offer a legion of features for productivity, and usually have a welcome place in anyone’s pocket. However, even for the biggest technology addicts, keeping a burner phone around is a great idea that could save you someday. Let’s look at a few reasons why you might want to get one for yourself.
What Is A Burner Phone?
Essentially, a burner phone is just another name for a prepaid phone. One of the most common names in prepaid phones is TracFone, which also owns prepaid carriers Net10 and Straight Talk. These aren’t the only types, however; in addition to the best prepaid phones in 2012 that we covered, prepaid Android phones and Windows Phones are also available. Certainly, burner phones aren’t synonymous with barebones anymore.
In this article, we’re going to be focusing on devices with no or limited Internet capabilities. This assumes that you buy a card at a convenience store to load up your burner with minutes that can be used to call or text. While prepaid smartphones are a great option for cutting costs on your mobile bill, they aren’t what’s in mind here.
This is the most obvious reason to keep an old burner, but it’s important. The FCC (and many other similar national governing bodies) mandates that any cell phone must be able to call 911, even if that phone doesn’t subscribe to the carrier’s network. This means that even your outdated Android phone has some use, since 911 can be reached even with a deactivated device. This is also why you see the Emergency Dialer option at the bottom of a locked smartphone — should an emergency arise, a responder could grab any nearby phone and contact 911.
There are a few traits of burner phones that make them useful for this purpose. Since they don’t support 3G, LTE, or GPS functions, you miss out on what these radios give, but receive much better battery life in return. This is important characteristic for a phone that you hardly ever plan to use, but is critical to have operative when you need it. When your main phone dies from overuse, you’ll still have a backup.
Burners are often simple to figure out, too. Even if the person holding the phone isn’t tech-savvy (maybe they haven’t read our Android beginner’s guide) it’s not difficult to work out how to use a burner phone, which operate in virtually the same manner as cordless phones popularised in the 90s.
In addition to battery and ease of use, unlike your smartphone, a burner phone won’t get slow and bloated or require updates every time you turn it on. This still stands even if you keep it shut off for long periods of time, which you likely will. Not having a touchscreen means you can also operate it with gloves easily, an advantage in particularly cold conditions. Furthermore while most smartphones are fragile, cheap prepaid phones are built like tanks and can withstand lots of abuse.
Smartphones are a polarizing topic. We’ve featured some articles on how phones are ruining your life, and our own Justin Pot even explained why he doesn’t own a smartphone. You hear about the evils of the inter-connected world almost daily, highlighted in famous videos like Look Up.
Do you think this video has a point? Justin, who doesn’t own a smartphone himself, wrote why this video has the wrong basis. However you feel about the issue, if you have a smartphone it wouldn’t hurt to take a break every once in a while.
A burner phone is a fantastic way to accomplish this. It’s a means of letting go of the superfluous distractions of social media without forgoing the convenience of being reachable by phone or SMS if you really need to. You can add your most important contacts to the phone or pledge to only use it only for emergencies.
If you do decide to give it a try, I’ll bet that you’ll benefit from staying technology-free for just a bit.
The nature of the word “burner” suggests that such a device would be used for a short time and then discarded. For most people this isn’t necessary or worth the cost, but the especially privacy-conscious might like the idea.
A burner phone doesn’t require a Google account, GPS tracking your location, or ads in every app logging your activities. They just work, and that’s what some people need. If this sounds like you, Kannon has already covered the privacy uses for a burner phone.
Getting Messages Out
Even if your burner phone only has SMS, you’re still able to communicate with social networks. This can be used for the sake of convenience, or to get an emergency alert online if your smartphone is dead.
If you use Twitter, you can set up SMS access easily. Sign into Twitter on the Web and then head to its mobile options page. Follow the steps to add your number to your account, and then you’re all set to get updates by text. To save on prepaid minutes, it’s best to only subscribe to the minimum amount of alerts you need (direct messages and mentions are probably sufficient). Once that’s done, review the list of commands you can use with SMS and you’ll be able to use Twitter on your prepaid device; just text 40404 to send a tweet.
For Facebook, log in and visit your mobile settings page. Follow the wizard to add your number, then you’ll be able to get texts for new messages. Once it’s all set up, you’ll also be able to text FBOOK (32665) to update your status.
Both of these options ensure you have a way of getting information out in case of an emergency, and are also a good way to save battery life on your main device. You don’t have to be dependent on having Internet service, either.
What Burners Are Available?
Earlier, I mentioned prepaid smartphones. They basically defeat the uses proposed in this article, but if you’re still interested the Moto G is a great Android option ($90 at Amazon), and the Nokia Lumia 520 is an inexpensive Windows Phone model ($48 at Amazon).
Now for the clunkers. Price-wise, you can’t beat the $7 Motorola EX431G TracFone. It features a full physical keyboard and comes with triple minutes for life. You can buy airtime online when you need it.
If you prefer a flip phone, the Samsung Entro is a basic model that is just a bit more than the Motorola phone ($15). It’s compact and isn’t ideal for texting due to its keypad, but hey, it’s a phone. A third option is the Kyocera Coast Prepaid Phone ($14).
As these phones are all similar, there’s not much more to say about them. Go with whichever one looks the most comfortable; you won’t be using these often so it shouldn’t matter too much.
A Great Backup
Now you know why keeping an old clunker around is a good idea. Obviously, these phones won’t replace your smartphone, but they’re a cheap addition to your emergency toolkit. Take the time to secure one now; you might be glad you did someday.
Looking for more on phone emergencies? Check out how to charge your phone under emergency conditions.
Do you keep a burner phone around?
Image Credit: Camera via morgueFile