- Budget phones have never been this high-quality while being this affordable.
- We’ve determined that the iPhone SE (2020) is the best budget phone for its performance for the price.
- For Android fans, Google Pixel 4a is best with a reasonable price, excellent camera, and solid performance.
Phones that are less expensive than the iPhone Pro’s and Galaxy S phones of the world are better than they have ever been, and they’re well worth a look to save money.
Indeed, performance is rarely an issue, as most “budget” phones can run the same apps and games as more expensive phones these days. They might not run these apps as quickly or smoothly, but they’re no slouch, either. And, spending less often meant poor camera quality, but that’s no longer the case at all.
Going for mid-rangers does mean compromising on certain features. Most inexpensive smartphones don’t come with 5G, for instance, or wireless charging. Still, you’re getting a core smartphone experience that does pretty much everything you’d need it to do.
We’ve rounded up the very best budget unlocked phones you can buy. Today’s affordable phones are much more powerful than they used to be, and any of our top picks would make an excellent first smartphone for anyone who needs a reliable but inexpensive phone. In fact, we think phones like the new iPhone SE and the Google Pixel 4a would be great for most people in general.
To be sure, you can find cheaper phones than those in this list. With that said, those cheaper low-end phones might be too cheap. That’s to say they won’t last very long in terms of performance, and camera quality simply isn’t there.
Here are the best budget smartphones:
- Best budget phone overall: iPhone SE (2020)
- Best budget phone for photography: Google Pixel 4a
- Best budget phone for battery life: Motorola Moto G Power 2021
- Best budget phone for design: Samsung Galaxy A51
- Best budget-priced flagship phone: OnePlus 7T
The $400 iPhone SE is basically a much cheaper (and smaller) iPhone 11, minus the ultra-wide camera, disguised as an iPhone 8.
Pros: Powerful A13 Bionic processor, compact size, only iPhone with a home button and fingerprint sensor, effective camera for the price
Cons: Design feels dated, lacking some camera features compared to similarly priced Android phones, small screen
For $399, the iPhone SE is among the more expensive budget smartphones, but it still offers incredible value. You get silky smooth performance from Apple’s flagship iPhone 11 series processor in a compact package that will be instantly familiar to iPhone fans.
Taking on a nearly identical look and feel to the classic iPhone 8, the iPhone SE has a 4.7-inch LCD Retina HD screen, an aluminum and glass build, IP67 water resistance, a Touch ID home button, and the excellent iOS mobile operating system. Anyone craving a smaller, pocket-sized phone will appreciate this design, but if a big screen is important to you then keep looking.
There’s a sharp, 12-megapixel camera with Apple’s Smart HDR, portrait mode, and depth control (i.e. adjusting background blur after taking a photo). It takes good photos in a range of situations and is also capable of capturing high-quality video. With that said, if photography is important to you, Google’s Pixel 4a reigns supreme in the budget category.
With the iPhone SE, you’re basically getting the $700 iPhone 11 with a smaller screen, without the ultra-wide camera lens, and disguised as an iPhone 8 for nearly half the price. That does mean you get the big screen bezels instead of the iPhone 11’s sleek all-screen design, but a trade-off on design is common with budget smartphones.
Regular updates to keep the iPhone SE secure and add new features are a part of what Apple is all about. Bargain hunters should also take note of the strong resale value on iPhones compared to their Android competitors.
Apple isn’t known for its budget smartphones, so I can’t believe I’m saying this: It’s going to be tough to out-do Apple’s iPhone SE in the budget smartphone game.
The best budget phone for photography
Google’s Pixel 4a has a flagship-quality camera, great battery life, good performance, and an edge-to-edge screen.
Pros: Sub-$400 price tag, flagship-quality camera, great battery life, good performance, modern edge-to-edge OLED screen
Cons: No water resistance, no wireless charging — minor nitpicks when you’re paying under $400
The Google Pixel 4a is a gem of a smartphone that delivers an excellent core smartphone experience and nails the basics. It doesn’t have some of the iPhone SE’s flourishes like water resistance, wireless charging, or a glass and metal build, but it’s less expensive, and it’s the absolute best option for Android users.
Remarkable value for its $350 retail price tag, the Pixel 4a makes you wonder if premium flagships are really worth the extra money. Google’s budget phone boasts a 5.81-inch edge-to-edge OLED screen with minimal bezels and a refresh rate of 60Hz, which is slower than most flagship phones, but solid for a phone in this price range. It offers a sharp, detailed picture and smooth motion.
The mid-range Qualcomm Snapdragon 730G processor offers surprisingly smooth performance in my experience, and there’s plenty of RAM for easy multitasking. Most people simply don’t need a cutting-edge processor unless they want to play the most demanding of games in the highest graphical quality possible.
Best of all, the Pixel 4a has a flagship-quality 12.2-megapixel dual-pixel camera that takes great photos and an 8-megapixel front-facing cam that takes great selfies. Google’s photography smarts are top notch, so the Pixel 4a offers a strong portrait mode and excellent low light performance.
The Pixel 4a charges up quickly as well via the included 18W charger and USB-C cable. Just like Apple’s iPhones, Google’s Pixel range receives swift and frequent updates for security, which is not something you can say about most Android phones. Ultimately, for Android fans this is the best budget pick right now.
The best budget phone for battery life
Motorola’s Moto G Power is the undisputed choice for battery life and offers excellent value in relation to its performance, camera quality, and design.
Pros: Nice design, good camera, very long battery life, inexpensive, large screen, good performance
Cons: Limited storage
You get a lot of phone for the Moto G Power‘s starting price of $200 — apart from its huge battery life, the capable and power-efficient processor can run almost any app that more expensive phones can, albeit not quite as quickly. It also comes with a good camera, as well as a large, power-efficient 6.6-inch 720p resolution screen.
But, to maximize power efficiency, you’re not getting a lot of frills or premium features, and that’s the way it goes if you value battery life for such a price. You’re not getting a super high-resolution display with a high refresh rate, no 5G connectivity speeds, no wireless charging, no NFC for mobile contactless payments, no telephoto or ultra-wide camera lenses, and not the fastest processor.
What you are getting is a great, basic core smartphone experience that has arguably all you really need in a long-lasting smartphone.
Included with the Moto G Power is a 10W charger that’s not especially fast, but the phone supports up to 15W charging speeds if you happen to have a phone charger that outputs 15W or more.
While three days is the official claim, battery life will likely vary depending on what you do on the phone. If you play a lot of games, you’ll surely experience less than three days. Same goes if you’re a heavy user who keeps the screen on and runs apps all day. Still, no matter what you do on the Moto G Power, you’re still going to get better battery life than any other smartphone we know of.
The best budget phone for design
Samsung’s Galaxy A51 is a great smartphone in almost every respect, with the best screen on any mid-range phone, a premium design, an effective camera system, and impressive battery life.
Pros: Superb AMOLED screen, versatile camera system, gorgeous premium design, impressive battery life
Cons: Stuttered experience during normal usage
The Galaxy A51 from Samsung is a mid-ranger that thinks it’s a premium flagship. It has a beautiful slim and premium design that dismisses the divisive notch and employs Samsung’s signature hole-punch-style selfie camera.
It also has a triple-lens camera system, which isn’t outrageously special on a mid-ranger released in 2020, but it goes to show just how good smartphones can be under the $500 mark nowadays. It has a 48-megapixel standard camera, 12-megapixel ultrawide, and a 5-megapixel macro camera, and it takes pretty good photos with all of the lenses.
Performance is tricky — it runs everything you’d want it to, but it doesn’t look pretty doing it, which is a massive shame. Swiping around apps and general usage can render some stuttered and jittery results that don’t match the quality of the phone or the excellent 6.5-inch AMOLED screen. Still, it’ll run power-hungry games just fine, surprisingly.
Good thing, then, that the Galaxy A51 has all the above to make up for those stutters, as well as an impressive battery life that can last you a couple days on a single charge with normal usage from a 4,000mAh battery.
Updates are something of a question mark with Samsung’s budget range, so you may be waiting a while for security patches and new features, and there’s no telling how long Samsung will continue to support the phone.
If you’re willing to trade a little substance for some style, then the Galaxy A51 might just be the pick for you.
The best budget-priced flagship phone
Think you can’t get a high-powered smartphone for a reasonable price? The OnePlus 7T will change your mind.
Pros: A 6.55-inch AMOLED screen, Face Unlock, dual-cameras, affordable, quick charge
Cons: More expensive than other budget phones, no wireless charging
The OnePlus 7T was the top flagship of 2019, and it’s the best Android phone you can buy if you’re not looking to spend close to four figures. It’s certainly on the expensive side for the mid-range and budget range, and it’s only available on T-Mobile these days, which is why it’s not our top choice.
The OnePlus 7T boasts a beautiful 6.55-inch, AMOLED screen with almost no bezels. It just has a small circle on the front for the 16.megapixel selfie camera. It looks a lot like the new Galaxy S20 from the front. It’s powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 chip and 8GB of RAM, so it performs like flagship phones that cost hundreds more.
The phone’s battery is long-lasting, and OnePlus’ Dash charge tech will give you a full charge in just 30 minutes. But alas, there’s no wireless charging.
The camera on the back has three sensors — one 48-megapixel, one 16-megapixel, and one 12-megapixel lens — which take excellent pictures and produce the blurred background bokeh effect in photos. The camera is on par with other great flagships in most settings, though its low-light performance isn’t as strong as the Pixel phones.
The back of the phone is made from glass and a slick metal band runs around the phone’s edges. It feels great in the hand, though it is fragile, so we recommend popping a case on it.
Powered by WPeMatico