Though prepaid cell phones have been slow to catch on the U.S., the country is certainly coming around to the idea of pay-as-you-go cell phone plans. Most of Europe already uses the prepaid system–in fact, 90% of Italy’s cell phone market and 66% of the UK’s market currently use prepaid plans.
If you’re thinking about going the prepaid route, be prepared to do some research: U.S. prepaid phones have come leaps and bounds in just a few years. Prepaid basic phones, smartphones, camera phones and parental control phones all abound in a head-spinning variety. We’ve collected our picks for the best prepaid phone choices for each age group.
- Firefly glowPhone, Firefly.
For parents nervous about buying their child a cell phone, this one can’t be beat. It’s compact and easy to use, with large buttons and tons of parental control features. Nervous about your child dialing or texting someone they shouldn’t be (whether accidentally or on purpose)?
The Firefly glowPhone only supports incoming texts, so your child can receive your texts, but can’t send their own. There’s no keypad, so the phone can only dial numbers you’ve programmed. The glowPhone also comes with two convenient speed dial keys: one for Mom and one for Dad.
- Firefly FlyPhone, Firefly.
Whereas the glowPhone is extremely limited in features and functionality, the FlyPhone is a perfect compromise between parents’ and kids’ demands. No self-respecting tween would get caught dead with something as babyish as the glowPhone.
The FlyPhone, on the other hand, comes with cool features like a camera and music player as well as a keypad for texting. It’s clearly designed for smaller hands, but it comes equipped with a microSD card slot and a headphone jack. Parents will be pleased with the phone’s built-in parental controls.
2. Huawei Ascend, Cricket.
The Huawei Ascend has got some serious playground cred. If your kids are clamoring for a smartphone, this is the one to get. This entry-level smartphone comes with cool, tween-friendly features and a price tag that can’t be beat.
The touch screen is large (three and a half inches) and the virtual keyboard is easy-to-use. Though the camera’s quality can be disputed, it’s doubtful that tweens will care about top-of-the-line photo quality while they’re snapping pictures of their friends. The Ascend does come with a microSD slot and plenty of pre-loaded apps.
3. Samsung SGH-T301G, Tracfone.
If you’re looking for a value phone, the Samsung SGH-T301G‘s $15 price tag can’t be beat. Better yet, this slider phone comes with rave reviews and all the features tweens expect: Bluetooth connectivity, picture and text messaging, speakerphone and a built-in camera. Tweens will no doubt enjoy the hearty battery life: the Samsung SGH-T301G promises four hours of talk time.
- Sanyo Zio M6000, Cricket.
Though the Sanyo Zio M6000 may not be the fanciest Android phone on the market, it is a solid smartphone for a killer price. For teens looking to keep up with their friends’ fancy smartphones, the Zio’s vibrant display, touchscreen and 400 by 240 pixel resolution will more than satisfy.
It’s candy bar design and sleek black aesthetic makes this an excellent choice for teen boys, though girls will enjoy the many apps, widgets and personalization options just as much as the boys. Like most Android phones, the Sanyo Zio M6000 comes with a dedicated Gmail app, making speedy email access a cinch.
2. Samsung Finesse, MetroPCS.
The Samsung Finesse is without a doubt the best phone MetroPCS offers. Though the phone can’t compete with other smartphones on the market (the phone doesn’t even have wi-fi), it particularly shines when it comes to media playback, thanks to its vibrant screen. This phone is perfect for movie buffs craving a phone that’ll let them play their favorite flicks on the go.
The Samsung Finesse comes equipped with GPS, Bluetooth and a 2 megapixel camera. Since the phone comes with limited memory, consider purchasing microSD cards for easy memory expansion, especially for media playback. The Samsung Finesse’s battery life is remarkably healthy for a touchscreen phone: users report experiencing four hours of talk time.
- BlackBerry Curve 8530, Cricket.
Crackberry fans, rejoice: the mega-popular BlackBerry smartphone is now available with no-contract providers. The BlackBerry Curve 8530 comes with all the features and benefits of a contracted Cricket BlackBerry model, including full access to the thousands of apps at the BlackBerry app store. Applications of a cricket blackberry include the flashlight app, which can prove to be useful during emergencies.
Adults generally appreciate the Blackberry’s physical keyboard as opposed to trickier virtual keyboards on touchscreen phones. BlackBerry phones are widely considered the most business-friendly of all the smartphones, so your prepaid phone will definitely fit in at the office.
- Clarity ClarityLife C900, various carriers
The ClarityLife C900 is a cell phone designed especially for seniors, particularly those suffering from arthritis. The phone’s bright display, large buttons and simple design make this phone especially easy to use. It’s specifically designed to be a brick-like phone, making it easy to hold and utilize—though it’s certainly meant to be carried in a handbag, not a pocket.
Useful features include the phone’s built-in flashlight and unique Emergency Button format: instead of dialing 911, the phone will dial up to five stored emergency contacts until someone is reached.
Once considered solely for those with bad credit or limited funds, prepaid phones are becoming increasingly attractive due to their no-strings-attached phone service and lower monthly fees. Still on the fence about getting a prepaid phone? This article may help you decide if getting a prepaid plan is right for you.