Burner review: Disposable phone numbers for maximum privacy

burner iphone icon
At a Glance
  • Ad Hoc Labs Burner

    Macworld Rating

    Burner allows iPhone owners to maintain privacy by setting up limited-use alternate phone numbers for calls, texts, and picture messages.

burner details view

Each burner shows the number of remaining calls or texts, along with option to destroy it prematurely or extend it beyond the time limit.

Whether it’s a blind date you’re meeting for the first time or a listing on Craigslist, we’ve all experienced trepidation about handing out private phone numbers to just anyone. There’s now a better way to maintain anonymity by using temporary digits for sending or receiving calls, texts, and picture messages on your iPhone.

The other number

Burner handles this conundrum with grace and style, putting multiple short-term phone numbers at your disposal for any occasion, each of which can be nuked with the tap of a button. Signup is quick and painless, although you are required to share your real iPhone number with the developer, which then becomes your account number.

Although the app is free with a seven-day trial, additional burners require credits, which can be purchased in-app starting at $2. Credits are used to buy packages ranging from 60 texts plus 20 talk minutes for 14 days, up to an unlimited 30-day burner; only the Picture Burner option includes MMS messaging.

burner send picture message

With certain in-app packages, Burner can send MMS picture messages, a feat not even Google Voice can accomplish.

It’s important to note when a burner expires, any history and unused minutes/texts also go up in flames—there’s no undo option available. Users can also choose to extend the life of a burner for 90 days at a time, topping off available minutes and texts in the process, although this gets expensive for long-term use.

Burner uses actual cellular minutes for phone calls, so it can’t be used on iPad or iPod touch, and it currently works only in the U.S. (except for Puerto Rico) and Canada. You create new “burners” by entering a custom name and desired area code, which doesn’t have to match your current location. One of several test burners I set up couldn’t be used at all, which the developer attributed to a rare issue with the numbers assigned by an outside provider (credit refunds are issued in such cases).

Privacy assured

Multiple burners can be managed by horizontally swiping between numbers, or you can display all recent activity from a single page. Each burner offers default or custom voicemail greetings, along with color coding to help identify which one is currently in use. The latest update adds a handy auto-reply option for text messages, Burner’s take on email vacation mode.

burner burn it button

If things go awry with one of your burner numbers, nuking it out of existence is only a tap away.

Calls, texts, and picture messages are all confined to Burner—for outgoing calls, confidentiality is maintained by first dialing the temporary number, then connecting the number being called. Users are alerted to incoming calls via push notification; after answering, you’ll have the option to accept or decline the call with the press of a button.

Speaking of privacy, the entire app can be hidden from prying eyes by setting up a four-digit PIN code and optionally Touch ID on late-model iPhones. One thing I particularly liked was the option to temporarily unlock Burner for certain lengths of time—minutes, hours, or the rest of the day—when you’re frequently using the app.

Bottom line

Burner isn’t the most affordable way to maintain alternate numbers on your iPhone, but it’s definitely one of the most convenient, with a slick UI and loads of delightful conveniences like voicemail, Touch ID, and auto-reply.

This story, "Burner review: Disposable phone numbers for maximum privacy" was originally published by Macworld.

At a Glance
  • Macworld Rating

    Burner allows iPhone owners to maintain privacy by setting up limited-use alternate phone numbers for calls, texts, and picture messages.

    Pros

    • Disposable phone numbers for all occasions
    • Incoming or outgoing calls, texts, and picture messages
    • Auto-reply for texts

    Cons

    • In-app credits expensive for continued use
    • Occasional issue with “bad” phone number assignments
    • MMS messaging limited to single package