There once was a time when cell phones were considered an extravagance, or even frivolous—but that time is long gone. These phones are now a necessity for people in many professions, including rideshare drivers, for whom a good cell phone is every bit as important as a reliable vehicle. Without it, you’d have no way of getting ride requests, navigating, or even making money. But when seeking out a new cell phone, a huge array of options can either make us drool at the bright, shiny screens, or pull our collective hair out in utter exasperation.
We decided to help you out a bit by bringing the process of finding, and buying, the best cell phone for drivers into focus. Here’s what we’ll consider:
- One phone or two?
- Cell phone features: The basics for drivers
- Top phones for drivers: best of the brands
- The best deals
- Must-have accessories
One phone or two?
If figuring out how to buy one cell phone is already an issue for you, it might be hard to imagine why you might want two. But some drivers have good reasons for having more than one cell phone.
Some prefer to keep their business cell phone completely separate from their personal cell phone, while others find that having two phones makes working with more than one driving platform easier to manage. It’s your choice, of course, but it’s one you’ll want to consider before you start to shop. Cell phones aren’t cheap, but there are deals that offer an extra phone for almost no additional cost.
There are good reasons to keep your private phone use separate from your driving business. For one, you can avoid dealing with the distractions of personal communication while you’re driving. Also, you’re able to keep your driving-related expenses completely separate from personal expenses.
If you’re working for more than one platform, a second phone can help make it easier to avoid missing calls. For instance, you might be in the process of accepting a ride when the other app you had open begins to ping you. It’s impossible to take two rides at once, of course, and then … when you don’t respond to that second ping, your acceptance rate goes down the tubes.
Having two phones would allow you to see what’s going on with both apps, and quickly turn one off as soon as you pick up the call on the other. For some of us, this might be even more complicated, but again, personal preference rules. Whether you want one or two phones is just one decision you should make before you go phone shopping.
Cell phone features: The basics for drivers
The gig driving platforms don’t really require a whole lot from their drivers’ cell phones. You’ll need a smartphone capable of running the software, with its own designated SIM card. No dual-card phones are allowed.
Both Uber and Lyft specify the phones that will work best with their apps. For example, Uber advises drivers to use iPhones with iOS 11.0 or higher, and Android version 5 or higher. Lyft’s software will run on iOS 10 or higher, and Android 5 or higher. Check out these links to get specific “do’s and don’ts” for iOS and Android for Uber, and both operating systems for Lyft.
Contrary to popular opinion, not all phones run on iOS or Android software, and those that don’t cannot be used by the driver apps. Here is a list, put together by Hyrecar, of phones you may not use with Uber:
- Motorola Moto E (Dual SIM – XT1022)
- Motorola Moto G
- Samsung Core 2 Duos (SM-G355H)
- Samsung Galaxy Grand Prime
- Samsung Galaxy Core Prime
- Samsung Galaxy E5
- Samsung Entire J Series
- Samsung Galaxy S Duos 3 VE
- Samsung Galaxy Star 2 Plus (SM-G350E)
- Sony Devices
- Xiaomi Devices
Although this may be disappointing, especially if you own one of these phones and planned to use it for driving, there are plenty of other options.
When you first purchase a phone, you’ll want to get one that’s easy to update and has a decent lifespan. Sometimes, buying an older model because it’s cheap could end up costing you more, should you have to buy a new phone again in a year or less.
Screen size is a personal preference, but there are limits. Most drivers will want a screen that’s 4.5 inches (measured diagonally) or larger. Consider factors such as the size of your hands, determining whether or not your fingers or thumbs can quickly and accurately hit the right area of a touchscreen. A larger screen will give you the ability to swipe between apps and read messages more easily, but could also be cumbersome and more costly.
You can buy a phone that’s locked or unlocked, depending on the level of commitment you want to a provider. With an unlocked phone, you can change carriers and keep the same phone. It’s also convenient if you travel out of the country. Always check to see which cellular service providers are compatible with your unlocked phone before buying.
In terms of “nice to have,” 5G is similar. Do you need 5G? For rideshare, probably not— at least for now. But if you’re looking for a phone that will stream data at faster speeds and continue to be supported in the future, you might want to consider 5G phones. This is true even though 5G service is still sparse in the United States. Of all the phones available, 5G are among the newest, and whether you choose to get one will depend largely on how much you want to spend.
If you’re really looking to the future, you’ll want your phone to have C-Band compatibility. In essence, C-Band is a way to get 5G to work more effectively and cover greater distances than it can now. Currently, the iPhone 12s are the only phones that are C-Band compatible, but that will change throughout this year. Other companies will be developing the hardware and will apply for FCC certification. Again, this isn’t a “must-have,” but if you’re investing in a high-end phone you’d like to keep for a few years, C-Band compatibility is a feature you’ll want to consider.
Battery life is another important consideration. You’ll probably connect your phone to a charger while you’re driving, but when you’re spending time parked, waiting at airports or other passenger-rich areas, or mixing in deliveries (and restaurant wait times) with your driving, you’ll need a battery you can depend on.
Durability matters—a lot. The most honest among us will admit to dropping our phones or splashing some kind of liquid on them at least once or twice a shift. So, you’ll want a phone that isn’t so fragile that its screen will shatter on impact. No matter how durable your phone is, you’re smart to get a protective case. And to be fully protected, you might want to look into insurance that would cover mishaps or loss.
Economy is a key phone feature for most drivers. While it’s nice to have the brightest, shiniest gadget out there, it doesn’t make sense to over-extend your budget when you probably won’t be using four camera lenses capable of capturing the intricate patterns in a fly’s wing while you’re doing your rideshare driving. Don’t be cheap, but do be practical.
Considering all that you’ve read so far, here are the basic qualities you’ll be looking for in a phone:
- Compatible operating system
- Reasonable lifespan
- Screen size that’s comfortable for you
- Reliable battery life
- Affordable price
Top phones for drivers: Best of the brands
In this section, we’ll look at the top five phone companies (in alphabetical order) and explore what each has to offer. We’ll then pass along our recommendations for drivers.
This mega-company’s offerings are often considered the gold standard for smartphones, but are they worth the price? If you want the newest iPhone (the 12), prices start at about $730 for the iPhone Mini.
The iPhone 12 Pro Max has a huge screen and all the bells and whistles you could ever hope for, including an amazing camera, but it also sports a price tag of $1,000 and up. There are other models priced between these two, and cost varies based on screen size, storage, and memory size.
Really, the iPhone 12 mini has everything a driver needs, and it’s packed with features. “Apple has managed to stuff every iPhone 12 feature into this phone,” says a November 2020 article in Wired. You get a 5.4-inch, high-density screen, 4GB of RAM, and pocket-sized convenience.
If the Mini’s $730 price tag is a bit steep for you, consider the iPhone SE. Built in an iPhone 8 body, the 4.7-inch screen is good enough for driving and so is the RAM, at 2.0 GB, but there’s no 5G capability. The SE is priced at around $400 and is considered to be the best value for money of all the Apple phones. It compares favorably with other popular brands too.
Best of brand for drivers: Apple iPhone 12 Mini. It has all the latest features, and room for more. It’s also partially waterproof and can be charged wirelessly.
As the creator of the Android operating system, Google knows what a phone needs to make its software run at its best. So, when you buy a Pixel, you’re getting the same kind of uniformity you’d achieve by buying an Apple phone—in both cases, the hardware and software are developed by the same company, which means the phone and operating system are going to work at optimum levels.
The most inexpensive Pixel phone can be yours for as little as $115, with the highest-price models around $700. Most reviewers recommend you choose a phone somewhere in the mid-range, such as the popular and highly functional Pixel 4a. It features 6GB of RAM, a 5.8-inch screen, and can be configured for as little as $349. If you want extra memory (128 MB), the phone will run about $500.
The Google Pixel 4a is a solid phone with some great features, like selective battery power allocation. The phone notices which apps you use the least and directs power away from them, so you can have all the juice you need for those you use all the time, like your rideshare platform. It compares favorably with the iPhone SE, at least in its most basic form. For a little more (about $600), you can buy a Google Pixel 4XL model, which has a 6.3-inch screen. Both of these phones have a reputation for only average battery life.
There are cheaper models but they will be (if they’re not already) incapable of running the latest versions of Android software. If you want to go with an older model, make it the Pixel 3a, because it still stands a chance of lasting another year or two.
Best of brand for drivers: Google Pixel 4a. It’s a budget-friendly, reliable, and durable phone that will serve you well. If you want to have 5G, the 4a 5G is available, and it comes with a faster processor and a price tag of about $500.
This company’s initials don’t really stand for “Life’s Good,” but you might think that when you see its innovative products. LG’s newest offering, the LG Wing (around $1,000), has a T-shaped dual-screen design, while another, the LG GBX ThinQ (about $400), has two screens facing each other. You can also detach one and use the phone on a single screen, or buy a single screen version for about $200.
All of this is interesting, and kind of cool, but do drivers really need two screens?
Well … maybe. If you want to see your music screen while you’re navigating, this phone will do that. You could keep two driving apps up at the same time too. The problem might be finding a way to mount these phones in your vehicle since both, when used with both screens, are very heavy and are not shaped to fit in standard mounts.
Also, with one or two exceptions, the reviews on these and other LG phones aren’t as glowing as phones from other companies. Complaints range from “flimsy” design to “sluggish” performance. Neither of these attributes would endear these phones to a driver’s heart, but if you’re willing to give up performance and durability for two screens and sleek design, you might like an LG phone.
There are other, cheaper LG models, ranging from $175 to $250, but the reviews describe them as less than reliable. Some improvement has been made with the new 5G model, the LG V60 ThinQ 5G. A faster processor and longer battery life make it more appealing, and at about $429 retail, the price is good too.
The deals on LG phones are very tempting, especially if you acquire one through your carrier. You’ll have to decide if it’s worth putting up with the shortcomings of this brand. And even though the professional reviewers are not impressed, we see tons of LG phones on the road, so obviously someone is happy with them.
Best of brand for drivers: Both the LG V60 ThinQ 5G and the LG GBX ThinQ would serve you well. Don’t let the prices on these phones put you off because many of the carriers are throwing them in with service contracts.
If you want to buy a solid phone that’s affordable, Nokia is a great brand to explore. These phones are known for their ability to perform well, without necessarily placing a focus on the fanciest features. For around $250, you can get the Nokia 6.2, which will fill most of your basic needs for driving. You can get it with either 3 or 4 GB of RAM, and it comes equipped with Android 9. Camera quality on this one is a negative, but for $250, you can’t expect a Hasselblad.
If you like the idea of that phone, you might like hearing about the Nokia 5.3 even more. You can go up to 6 GB of RAM, and it has a 6.55-inch display. It comes with Android 10, and you’ll get two free upgrades. There is no 5G potential here, but it will carry you through your driving gigs quite well. It even has a built-in FM radio and a headphone jack, but just like the 6.2, its camera quality is not all that impressive. The price, on the other hand, is stunning—only about $200.
Best in brand for drivers: For economy and function, the Nokia 5.3 has everything you need at an incredibly reasonable price. However, be aware that Nokia phones, as a rule, do not work well on the Verizon network.
Like Apple, Samsung is really proficient at producing high-quality, stunningly beautiful phones with lots of bells and whistles. You can get a Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, with a dazzling display, rapid refresh rate, and dual telephoto lenses, but it’s priced at more than $1,100. Or, you might want to look at a Samsung Galaxy X21, with a slightly smaller, 6.2-inch screen and a price of about $800.
Samsung has so many fascinating and innovative phones, including models that fold in half, and a modified flip phone that’s also a smartphone. It’s unlikely you’re going to need anything that out of the ordinary, which is why you might want to consider some of the more basic Samsung models. For example, the Samsung Galaxy A51 sells for around $400 and is upgradeable to 5G capability. If you want to go more upscale to a 5G phone, consider the Samsung Galaxy A71 5G, which sells for around $800.
Best of brand for drivers: Samsung phones are built for camera quality more than anything, which could be why they’re on the costly side. For function and reasonable price we like the Samsung Galaxy A51, and we think you will too.
The best deals
Before you invest in any phone, you’ll want to shop around. The prices we provided here are in the ballpark of what you’ll pay, but there are deals everywhere. The first place to look is your cellular provider; many are giving away phones with contracts and upgrades to your plan. Also, different retailers sell the phones for varying prices. You might notice wild variations depending on memory size or other features, such as 5G or C-Band compatibility.
You might also be surprised by the affordability of payment plans. You could be the proud owner of a high-end phone for a relatively low cost, so check with your retailer or cellular service provider. You could end up with a fabulous phone for as little as $40 per month.
Re-examine the minimum requirements for your driving platform, and of course, make sure any phone you buy meets those standards and is not on the “Forbidden Phones” list. Also, think about what you want in a phone. For instance, if you want to use it for gaming, you’ll want to go with a faster processor and larger RAM capacity. Factor that in when you make your purchase too.
If you want to use your phone for serious photography, get a good one. You’ll have to pay for it, but if taking photos is important to you, it’s better to make the investment than to have pixelated memories.
Once you get your phone, you’ll want to take good care of it and find safe ways to use it while you’re driving. There are two basic accessories that we believe are absolute must-haves.
A good case. There’s no question that phones get bumped around more than average when you use them for your driving gig. Even if you insure your phone, the hassle of getting it repaired can put you out of business for a few days. Good, solid cases are worth every penny you spend on them. (Consider a screen guard too.)
A secure mount. You already know how important it is to have constant access to your phone. The very best way to achieve this is to get a secure mount, either for your windshield or your dash. You don’t want to take your eyes off the road to accept, reject, start, end, and navigate rides! A good mount will place your phone within reach and at eye level while you’re driving. Check with your state about laws concerning windshield mounts, which are intended to protect you from an obstructed view.
Google Fi. Google Fi is a different kind of cell phone plan that is ideal for drivers. It’s flexible, reasonably priced, and operates on tech’s cutting edge. You don’t have to rely on just one service’s coverage; Google Fi works with three different carriers to bring you the best quality. You can purchase a data plan, or get unlimited data. And what we really like about this deal is, Google Fi gives back your money if you don’t use all your data.
Plus, as a Gridwise driver, you can get $25 toward your first month of Google Fi service. How cool is that?
Learn more about Google Fi today! Also, while you’re in the learning mood, check out the Gridwise and Google Fi partnership offering discounts to rideshare and delivery drivers.
The essential app
Once you get your phone powered up and ready to go for your rideshare gig, there’s one more thing left to do: Download the Gridwise app, which allows you to track your earnings and mileage automatically. Simply connect your driving app to Gridwise, and we’ll calculate your earnings and trips for you. You can also enter your expenses so you’ll get a full picture of what you’re earning in sleek, clear graphs like these:
Gridwise is the ultimate assistant for rideshare and delivery drivers because the app provides so much valuable information. You’ll find out how many people are at the airports, what events are happening in your town, and what traffic and weather alerts you need to be aware of.
The Perks tab offers you even more. Get deals and discounts, direct access to the Gridwise blog, and links to the incredible Gridwise YouTube channel. Join us on Facebook to get in on the driver-centered conversation, and enter our great gas card giveaways. Download the app now, and let Gridwise make your shiny new cell phone work magic on your rideshare driving life.