iPhone and iPad

4 Good Reasons To Get an Emergency Burner Phone

Ben Stegner 11-11-2014

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; prepaid Android phones and Windows Phones are also available. Certainly, burner phones aren’t synonymous with barebones anymore.

For more information, see our full guide on what a burner phone is What's a Burner Phone and How Do They Work? You've seen burner phones on TV, but where do you buy a burner phone and how do they work? Should you use a burner phone? Read More .

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 This means that even your outdated Android phone has some use, since 911 can be reached even with a deactivated device.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 New To Android? Make Your Smartphone Work For You, Not Against Do you have a smartphone that you just can't seem to figure out? Learn the basics and start conquering your Android phone now! Read More ) 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 Cracked Your Screen? 7 Things to Do About Your Broken Phone Screen Got a broken phone screen? Don't worry! Here's how you can fix, carry on using, or sell your phone, despite the cracked screen. Read More , cheap prepaid phones are built like tanks and can withstand lots of abuse.

Logging Out

Smartphones are a polarizing topic. We’ve featured some articles on how phones are ruining your life How Smartphones Are Ruining Your Life Your smartphone could be ruining your life, or at least have the capacity to do so in the future. Read More , and our own Justin Pot even explained why he doesn’t own a smartphone Why This Technology Blogger Does Not Own a Smartphone [Opinion] "Do you have a smartphone yet?" It's a question my friends ask often, and it's a reasonable one to ask. I make my entire living writing about technology, explaining how to use software and interviewing... Read More . 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 Your Gadgets Don't Control You: The Problem With "Look Up" [Opinion] Smartphones aren't making us dumb; social networks aren't making us antisocial. Technology is a tool, and it's time we stopped blaming it for our problems and took responsibility for our digital habits. Read More . 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 Benefits Of Taking A Tech-Free Vacation I'll admit -- I'm guilty of taking my work along with me on holiday. Read More .

Staying Private

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 Concerned About Privacy? How To Keep Google At Arm's Length Concerned about Google's data collection policies in light of all privacy issues? It might not be a bad idea to keep Google away from your Internet activities. But just how can you do that? Read More 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 Sick of the NSA Tracking You? Burn Them with a Burner Phone Sick of the NSA tracking you using your phone's positioning coordinates? Prepaid phones known colloquially as "burners" can provide you with partial privacy. Read More . And if you don’t want to purchase a second phone, you could consider a burner app for your smartphone The 5 Best Apps for a Temporary Burner Phone Number Need to stay hidden? These fake number apps let you generate a burner number so you keep your real phone number private. Read More instead.


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 How to Use Twitter Twitter can be overwhelming at first, but we're here to help you make sense of it. Here's a complete guide to using Twitter and understanding how it works. Read More , 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 Types of Internet Access Technologies, Explained What kind of internet access do you have? Broadband? Satellite? Fiber? Here's our breakdown of internet connection types. Read More , 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 How to Connect a USB Keyboard to Your Android Phone Ever wanted to use a real keyboard on your Android device? It's actually pretty easy to set up! Here's a step-by-step guide. Read More and comes with triple minutes for life. You can buy airtime online [Broken Link Removed] 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.

We’ve recommended the best dumb phones The 5 Best Dumb Phones Is a smartphone too much for you? Check out the best dumb phones for texting, minimalism, style, and more. Read More if you’re looking for a burner phone.

Do you keep a burner phone around?

Image Credit: Camera via morgueFile

Related topics: Survival Technology, Travel.

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  1. John C
    January 4, 2018 at 4:15 pm

    Where in the world did you get the prices you cited? The flip phone is almost $170 on Amazon and the cheapest I could find the EX431G on there was $36.

    • Ben Stegner
      January 5, 2018 at 4:16 pm

      Hi John, if you see the date at the top of the article, you'll notice that this article is over three years old. Thus the phones I mentioned in this are now out of date and likely went up in price due to only being available from third-party sellers on Amazon.

      I apologize for the confusion; thank you for reading!

  2. Nick R
    March 15, 2017 at 4:10 am

    Also... Networks always ask if you have a second phone if they need to test your main phone for issues.

  3. Raymond
    March 2, 2017 at 8:31 pm

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  4. Dan
    February 23, 2017 at 5:48 pm

    A burner and prepaid phone are different. A burner is a cheap phone designed to be thrown away when not no longer in use. A prepaid phone you keep buying minutes for it and you have to actually sign up for it. A burner requires no signing up or giving information.

  5. Jim
    December 29, 2015 at 1:11 am

    Can I use my regular cell phone number on a burner phone. Same number on both

  6. Anonymous
    June 12, 2015 at 11:37 pm

    I use a Tracfone in addition to my regular phone because I work the overnight shift and was getting bothered by notifications and calls during the day. I needed key people to be able to get a hold of me in the event of an emergency while I'm sleeping; so they have the Tracfone number, works great!

  7. Heather
    April 25, 2015 at 4:03 pm

    I ended up getting a TracFone for $10 just because I needed a backup for my main phone which is temporarily off until I can pay it. It came with 10 minutes and 30 days, but I added a $10 card and now have no worries for the next 5 months thanks to the extra minutes/service days the phone features as a bonus. It's got great coverage and it provides the peace of mind that if my car breaks down somewhere, I can call for help. It also gives family a backup number to reach me.

  8. Kannon Y
    December 8, 2014 at 5:11 am

    Great write up! Right now, I'm of the mind that FreedomPop and Karma, which offer wireless hotspots, are probably better as burners than so-called burners. The reason: They come without expiry and can be used with any device, including a tablet. And with WiFi calling/skype/etc.. they can be used as phones.

  9. Karen
    November 19, 2014 at 2:44 pm

    Re: emergency use. Another benefit of having a burner phone (or any second cell phone) is to have a phone that's on a different network than your primary phone. Yes, in theory phones share towers, but I've seen occasions when two people were using phones on different providers, one worked and the other didn't.

    By definition, a back-up is something very different than the thing it's backing up.

  10. Anonymous
    November 13, 2014 at 4:12 am

    FreedomPop offers free service which includes 500 text, 200 talk, and 500MB data for free every month. They have hidden fees if used too little or too much I've heard, though.
    They offer a privacy phone which is a galaxy S2 with some security features. The thing is, you have to pay near retail price for the phone which is in the 100's.

  11. Adam
    November 12, 2014 at 12:13 am

    That's a great idea.. awesome write-up.. keep it up.

    • Ben S
      November 13, 2014 at 9:10 pm

      Thank you, I'm glad you liked this idea! I'll continue to write : )

  12. Adam
    November 11, 2014 at 8:07 pm

    The whole purpose of burner phone and emergency is to be able to actually use it when the need arise. If you are stuck in the middle of no-where COVERAGE becomes a huge issue ( which strangely enough you failed to highlight). Pageplus uses Verizon network so they consistently have the best coverage of all the low cost no contract providers. You can get pageplus smartphones for as low as $40 from beigephone.com and you can also sign up for "set it and forget it" plan for $80 lasts a WHOLE YEAR! cant beat that.

    • Ben S
      November 11, 2014 at 10:02 pm

      That's a good point, and I didn't highlight it because if you don't have coverage on your main phone it's unlikely a burner would be much better. An additional tip, then, would be to get a phone on a network that is different from your primary one.

      That's an awesome plan, and I hope interested parties check it out. Thanks for letting me know!

    • Mike K
      November 12, 2014 at 10:17 pm

      I have found that smartphones, especially with their comparatively massive batteries, have a tremendous battery life if you turn all the features off. My old Moto Droid X lasted for 3 weeks with all the radios off. Just turn airplane mode off and-voila!

    • Debbie M
      November 13, 2014 at 8:57 am

      Good point about coverage. My husband prefers a non-smartphone and uses a basic flip phone through Net10 (TracFone). The phone was less than $20 and he gets 200 minutes a month plus taxes for $17. He never uses all the minutes and they carry over. Unless something has changed since he first purchased it a couple years back, Net10 uses the big 4's towers so basically if there's a signal around, you're picking it up with Net10. I use Republic Wireless (Sprint with Verizon roaming) and while my coverage is pretty good, his is better.