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Modern phones are fantastic: they are fast, well-built, and come with a lot of extra features. Mobile technology is always progressing, and most importantly, it is much cheaper. Nowadays, you don’t have to splurge in order to upgrade your mobile device.
Yes, flagship devices are amazing, but you don’t need to spend that kind of money for a premium smartphone experience anymore.
Cheap phones have come a long way in recent years, and the relentless pace of innovation means that cutting-edge technology trickles down from high-end models to entry-level ones really quickly. There are cheap phones that sport better cameras than the flagship models of a few years ago, and fierce competition in the low end of the market means that manufacturers have really raised the stakes to provide excellent cheap phones that do not cut many corners.
The best cheap phones will make you wonder why people still spend $1,000 or more on a new model. Based on our tests, you can get a great budget smartphone for less than $300 that has all the features most buyers need.
Samsung, for example, is spreading the wealth of features enjoyed by its flagship devices to cheaper models. OnePlus, on the other hand, is finding new ways to challenge more established manufacturers, with budget models that make smart sacrifices to keep costs down.
In fact, the best cheap phones boast beautiful screens for watching videos and playing games, fantastic cameras, one-day autonomy, and even 5G connectivity!
You’ll have to agree to a couple of compromises, as you won’t find the most powerful SoCs. But on the whole, you will be pleasantly surprised by what the best cheap phones can offer.
The bad news is that all this makes choosing the best cheap phone much more difficult. Keep in mind that it’s impossible to buy a phone that has no flaws in this price range; instead, you’ll need to prioritize the features that matter most to you.
Cheap phone buying guide
The fact is that if you do your research and know exactly what you need, then you can buy a cheap phone that does 90% of the things of a high-end model but for a fraction of the cost.
Most mobile phone manufacturers know this, with Samsung lately offering solid devices at incredibly low prices. Many of these phones, in fact, are equipped with features that, just a few years ago, we could only find on flagships.
However, choosing the best cheap phone is a complicated matter. The trick is to figure out what trade-offs you are willing to make and for that, you will have to understand exactly what you want/need from your new phone. Some people will prioritize features like photography or a faster panel, others will focus on the price, and most will want to stay with the reliable brand they love.
All cheap phones run Google’s OS, namely Android. Don’t worry though, Android is a great operating system.
While flagship models are equipped with the finest screens on the market, it is also possible to find cheap phones with top-notch displays.
Almost all of them sport an LCD panel. However, there are also models with AMOLED panels that produce better colors and deeper blacks.
Do you want a big screen? Then choose a smartphone with a display larger than 5.5”. If, instead, you prefer handling your phone with just one hand, pick one under 5”.
Cheap phones are typically equipped with one or two lenses, but this is starting to change. The number of megapixels does not matter much; instead, you need to pay more attention to the camera’s capabilities. Check if your device can shoot wide-angle photos, a feature that is becoming more and more common. But don’t expect optical zoom; the digital zoom is the norm below 300 dollars.
Budget smartphones are not equipped with high-end interiors. But that doesn’t mean that they have a sub-par performance — on the contrary, high-speed clock chips are gradually beginning to make their appearance in low-end phones.
Choose a smartphone with at least 4 GB of RAM.
It’s amazing how fast a phone’s storage space runs out between apps, games, and photos. 32 GB is the bare minimum but 64 GB is way better. And if possible opt for a device equipped with a microSD card slot.
A phone’s duration is a huge concern regardless of price, so be sure to check your phone’s autonomy. A 4,500 mAh battery, or more, is ideal.
Last but not least, while 5G connectivity is slowly coming to phones below $300, it has not yet become the norm. This is likely to change this year, now that 5G modems are included on chipsets targeted at mid to low-range smartphones.
Avoid these ones!
A good rule of thumb is to avoid all cheap phones originally released two (or more) years ago. The reason? They will not continue to receive software and security updates for more than a year.
These are the best cheap phones you can buy today
Samsung Galaxy A32 5G: best cheap 5G phone
We have already established that Samsung’s A-series phone range is definitely worth considering, and the A32 5G – not to be confused with the Samsung Galaxy A32 4G (Check on Amazon) – is one of the most affordable among them. For just (Check on Amazon) you get an Android smartphone that supports 5G mobile networks.
The 6.5-inch screen with 720p resolution (1600×720 pixels, 20:9) is not an OLED panel but boasts a high refresh rate display — 90Hz — that provides a smoother experience; if you’ve used something better than 60Hz in the past it’s hard to go back.
The MediaTek MT6853 Dimensity 720 5G SoC that powers it delivers a decent performance and can run most modern mobile games without too many “hiccups”.
The 48 MP primary lens on the back is surprisingly outstanding, capturing a lot of detail, a good dynamic range, and vivid colors, even in low-light conditions using its dedicated Night mode. And to help you expand the types of photos you can take, it also comes with an 8 MP wide-angle camera, a 5 MP macro lens, and a 2 MP depth sensor.
The 5,000 mAh battery cell is excellent, managing to last almost 12 hours with the adaptive refresh rate enabled. And it also supports 15 W fast charging via USB-C cable.
Add to all this the headphone jack, a microSD card slot, NFC, and a side-mounted fingerprint sensor, and you can see why this is the best cheap 5G phone you can buy at the moment.
Especially because Samsung promises to deliver two operating system updates and up to four years of security updates, and this type of software support is very rare on a budget phone (Check on Amazon) like this.
OnePlus Nord N10 5G: a valid alternative
The OnePlus Nord N10 5G is at the top of our ranking of best cheap phones thanks to 5G connectivity and stunning 90Hz display, features only available on smartphones that cost more than $500.
The SoC, for example, the Qualcomm Snapdragon 690, is one of the best in this category, and thanks to 6GB of RAM performance is not a problem, although you will notice some slowdowns here and there.
The 6.46” LCD display is big, crisp, and bright enough, but cannot match the deep blacks of an OLED panel. However, it features a 90Hz refresh rate for super-smooth animations and scrolling. It is also worth noting that the screen has a 20:9 aspect ratio, which makes the phone rather tall, but also slightly narrower and easier to use with one hand.
The camera module is also decent but not spectacular. There are four rear cameras — the main 64 MP camera, an 8 MP wide-angle lens, plus a macro and a monochrome sensor that are not worth talking about — that can produce detailed and colorful (sometimes too colorful) photos. Shooting in low light conditions is also good, thanks to OnePlus’s Nightscape mode, which allows you to capture brighter photos at night.
The 4.300 mAh battery will easily last you a day, and you also get a headphone jack, a microSD card slot – to expand the basic 128 GB of storage -, an NFC, and a fingerprint reader on the back.
The only drawback (besides the lack of waterproofing and wireless charging that we cannot demand at this price) is that OnePlus promises only one update of the Android version (to Android 11, which Google released in September 2020) and only two years of security updates after that.
If saving money is your most important consideration, the OnePlus Nord N10 5G is perhaps the best cheap phone you can buy. It has good performance, a more than decent camera, solid autonomy and is future-proof thanks to 5G. It did not surprise us in any way, but as a whole, it is very difficult to find a better one at this price (Check on Amazon).
Xiaomi Poco X3 NFC: best value
The Xiaomi Poco X3 NFC (Check on Amazon) is perhaps the best budget device you can get right now. In fact, there’s no better phone for you if you can’t spend more than $250.
You get a large 6.67-inch Full HD+ display (2400×1080 pixels) with a 120 Hz refresh rate for buttery smooth scrolling and gaming, solid performance thanks to the Qualcomm Snapdragon 732G SoC, up to 8GB of RAM and 128 GB of storage space, a quad camera that includes a quality 64 MP sensor, a 20 MP selfie camera, and amazing autonomy thanks to the 5,160mAh battery with a 33 Watt fast charge support (from 0 to 100% in just over an hour).
The Poco X3 NFC doesn’t omit anything: it also features an IP53 rating, a side-mounted fingerprint scanner, stereo speakers, a headphone jack, a microSD card slot, an infrared port, and of course NFC.
It has one minor flaw though: its screen is not well optimized for the 120 Hz refresh rate so while scrolling or gaming you might notice stuttering, smearing, or ghosting since the panel (with a fairly slow pixel response time) can’t keep up with the high refresh rate. Anyhoo, it’s a “flaw” that you have to go looking for and even then most users won’t be able to notice it.
If your budget cannot extend beyond $250, then the Xiaomi Poco X3 NFC (Check on Amazon) should be at the top of your shortlist.
Samsung Galaxy A51: best Android phone under $300
If you’re a Samsung fan, but your budget doesn’t extend to the Galaxy S20 (Check on Amazon), Samsung’s A-series is perfect for you.
We really like the design of the A51 that echoes the look of the flagship S20 series. Sure the back panel is made of plastic, which is to be expected from a device that costs so little; still, it feels well built. This phone also sports a beautiful 6.5-inch AMOLED screen with a resolution of 2400×1080 pixels, with very thin bezels and a small punch-hole selfie camera. In addition, there is a fingerprint sensor under the screen.
The Galaxy A51 also boasts very impressive specs for the price. Inside we find a Samsung Exynos 9611 processor with up to 8GB of RAM and Samsung’s One UI 2.0 based on Android 10.
The photos are brilliant. The Galaxy A51 has a rectangular quad-camera module with a 48MP wide-angle lens, that takes photos that can rival those of flagship phones and a 32MP selfie camera that is also good. This is an awesome and versatile camera suite and allows you to take great photos that you’ll be happy to share. On top of that, viewing these photos on its incredible display creates an unrivaled experience in this price range. The only problem, camera performance in low light conditions.
Samsung’s offering isn’t as compelling as the iPhone SE (Check on Amazon), the Pixel 3a (Check on Amazon), or the Moto G8 Power (Check on Amazon), but it’s a good choice, especially if you want a big AMOLED screen for under $300.
TCL 10L: a valid alternative
TCL is known for its affordable TVs but is now selling affordable smartphones as well. Don’t worry, this is no “rookie” manufacturer since it has so far been building cell phones for other brands under its “corporate umbrella” such as Alcatel, Palm, and BlackBerry.
A budget phone doesn’t have to look cheap. The TCL 10L (Check on Amazon) features a design that hides its low price while sporting one of the best displays you’ll find on any phone. The 6.53-inch LCD panel features a wide range of colors, while TCL’s Nxtvision technology lets you play with screen settings such as dynamic adjustment of both color temperature and brightness.
Unfortunately, the other hardware pieces of the TCL 10L do not measure up to the stellar display: the performance of the Qualcomm Snapdragon 665 is what you’d expect from a mid-range SoC (System on a chip), and the autonomy is just average. Nonetheless, it would have finished higher in our list was it not for the Moto G8 Power (Check on Amazon), which costs the same, but can last almost 50% longer.
Furthermore, its quad-camera rear module isn’t that great either. Despite being able to capture beautiful photos in good lighting conditions, the lack of a Night mode means that low-light shots are largely unusable.
Its biggest drawback, however, is that TCL guarantees only one update of the Android OS, which is rather disappointing and does not bode well for the longevity of this device.
Be that as it may, if you usually upgrade your phone every couple of years, this is a very stylish cheap phone and definitely worth its asking price (Check on Amazon).
Nokia 5.3: best Android One phone
Nokia is a brand known for making phones of great value, and the excellent Nokia 5.3 (Check on Amazon) continues the tradition of high-quality hardware with decent performance, paired with Android One software, and all of that enclosed in a beautiful design.
When buying a cheap phone you usually have to lower your expectations but the Nokia 5.3 impressed us. Unlike most cheap phones it is equipped with USB-C charging, a dedicated Google Assistant button, NFC for payments via Google Pay, while HMD Global (the manufacturer) promises two years of Android version updates and three years of security updates. That kind of software support on such a cheap phone is still rare.
The phone’s design is also amazing, with an aspect ratio of 20:9 the device is tall and thin, and the phone’s body is easy to grab and use with just one hand.
Using it we were able to do everything we usually do with phones that cost four times as much. This is thanks to the Qualcomm Snapdragon 665 processor paired with 3GB, 4GB, or 6GB of RAM and 64 GB of internal memory. Yes, we’ve noticed slowdowns here and there and apps don’t launch as lightning-fast as on high-end phones, but this is a problem only for users who make heavy use of multitasking.
The 6.5 inch LCD screen sports an HD+ resolution (1600×720 pixels) but can get bright enough to use outdoors, while the 4,000 mAh battery can last a whole day with average use. It also boasts some other goodies such as a headphone jack, a rear-mounted fingerprint sensor, and a microSDXC card slot.
The only drawback is the camera: the quadruple-camera module (main, ultra-wide, macro, and depth sensors) is very versatile and manages to capture good shots during the day; however, photos in low light conditions are mostly unusable.
If you want a basic phone: messaging, web browsing, social media, streaming videos, and music, then this Nokia 5.3 (Check on Amazon) is an excellent cheap Android phone.