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By Mark Knapp
A few years ago, high-end smartphones cost less than $800. Now, top-end phones will run you $1,000 or more, many of which still lack easily replaceable batteries and other parts—meaning you’ll probably be buying another one in a couple years. If you just can’t stomach the eye-popping prices of today’s flagships, budget smartphones are the perfect alternative to keep you connected and your wallet happy.
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Trying to save a buck on a budget smartphone doesn't mean you have to miss out on all the premium features found only on the most expensive mobile devices. If anything, you'll find that multi-camera systems, extra system memory, and display notches have all trickled down to even the cheapest handsets. While it's easy enough to see the best high-end smartphones sitting at the top of each manufacturer's catalog, pinpointing the best budget smartphones from the herd of cheap handsets is much harder. Well, you can rest easy because we've done all the hard work of picked out the best budget smartphones that won't cost you a fortune or short out on you just because it's cheap.
TL;DR – These are the Best Budget Smartphones:
1. Google Pixel 5a 5G
Best Budget Smartphone
Google Pixel 5a 5G
See on Google Store
Screen size: 6.34″ ● Resolution: 2,400 x 1,080 ● CPU: Snapdragon 765G ● RAM: 6GB ● Storage: 128GB ● Battery: 4,680mAh ● Rear camera: 12.2MP (wide), 16MP (Ultrawide) ● Front cameras: 8MP ● OS: Android 11 ● Size: 6.10″ x 2.90″ x 0.30″ ● Weight: 6.46 oz
The Google Pixel 5a 5G (read our review) simply gives you a ton for your money. You’d be hard-pressed to find a way that this phone isn’t a flagship Pixel smartphone were it not for that little ‘a’ in the name. At $449, the Pixel 5a comes at an affordable price, but there aren’t many features you’ll be foregoing to get it.
The Pixel 5a has a big, bright OLED display that provides plenty of room for gaming, texting, and streaming. It’s actually the biggest display on a Pixel phone yet. You’ll get a decent gaming experience out of it, too, thanks to the modestly powerful Snapdragon 765G chipset, which also enables the 5G connectivity that can let you go for cloud-gaming if you have fast 5G service in your area. Pair all of that with the solid camera performance that Google is known for and you’ve got a solid phone for the price. The budget-worthiness is only driven home further when considering that Google has a strong track record for providing software support long after the launch of a phone, helping stretch its longevity.
2. OnePlus Nord N200
Best Ultra Cheap Smartphone
OnePlus Nord N200
See on Amazon
Screen size: 6.49″ ● Resolution: 2,400 x 1,080 ● CPU: Snapdragon 480 ● RAM: 4GB ● Storage: 64GB ● Battery: 5,000mAh ● Rear camera: 13MP (Wide), 2MP (Depth), 2MP (Macro) ● Front cameras: 16MP ● OS: Android 11 ● Size: 6.42″ x 2.95″ x 0.33″ ● Weight: 6.67 oz
Experience some of the latest smartphone luxuries at an impressive budget price with the OnePlus Nord N200. This phone not only packs a large, sharp display but also lets it run at an extra-smooth 90Hz refresh rate. For under $250, you might expect fairly meager performance, but the Nord N200 runs on a modest Snapdragon 480 chipset. Notably, that chipset is also enabling 5G connectivity, so you can enjoy extra-fast, lower-latency connections to your mobile carrier.
The OnePlus Nord N200 provides a 13MP wide-angle camera on the rear to get decent photos as well as a 16MP sensor on the front for crisp selfies. You’ll be able to text, snap photos, and play games for the long-run with the phone, too, thanks to its 5,000mAh battery.
3. iPhone SE (2020)
Best Budget iPhone
iPhone SE (2020)
See on Walmart
Screen size: 4.7″ ● Resolution: 1,334 x 750 ● CPU: Apple A13 Bionic ● RAM: 3GB ● Storage: 64GB ● Battery: 1,821mAh ● Rear camera: 12MP ● Front cameras: 7MP ● OS: iOS 14 ● Size: 5.45″ x 2.65″ x 0.29″ ● Weight: 5.22 oz
Even as new smartphones get exorbitant prices, Apple saw fit to release an iPhone that can actually be considered a budget option with the iPhone SE 2020 (read our review). This model takes the older desnadechworld.com found on the likes of the
iPhone 7 and iPhone 8, and packs in newer internals. You may be getting the older, 4.7-inch display with a lower resolution, but you'll get the incredible fluidity of the Apple A13 Bionic chip.
The iPhone SE 2020 features a single 12MP rear camera, but it's a newer sensor than that found on the iPhone 7 and it comes with some of Apple's intelligent photo processing to make it a better shooter as well. At $400, you're getting a lot for your money. But, it may be worth it to upgrade to the 128GB model for $450 if you're planning to hold onto your phone for a while.
4. Samsung Galaxy S20 FE
Best Budget Android Smartphone
Samsung Galaxy S20 FE
See on Amazon
Screen size: 6.5″ ● Resolution: 2,400 x 1,080 ● CPU: Snapdragon 865 ● RAM: 6GB ● Storage: 128GB ● Battery: 4,500mAh ● Rear camera: 12MP (Wide), 8MP (Telephoto), 12MP (Ultrawide) ● Front cameras: 32MP ● OS: Android 10 ● Size: 6.29″ x 2.93″ x 0.33″ ● Weight: 6.7 oz
When the Samsung Galaxy S20 (read our review) launched at $999, the price was one of the worse aspects. Since then, Samsung saw fit to pare back some of that phone's excesses to present a more budget-friendly version that's still just about as fast in most cases thanks to the same Snapdragon 865 chipset with a 5G-capable modem. That took the form of the Galaxy S20 FE (Fan Edition) for just $700.
The Galaxy S20 FE dials down the megapixel count on the rear cameras, but it still features a triple-sensor setup on the rear. On the flip side, Samsung bumped up the selfie-shooter to 32MP. This model is actually bigger than the standard S20, so it can pack in a 6.5-inch display, though it skips the price-inflating curved edges (that honestly aren't all that beneficial in practical use).
5. ZTE Nubia RedMagic 6
Best Budget Gaming Smartphone
ZTE Nubia RedMagic 6
See on Red Magic
Screen size: 6.8″ ● Resolution: 2,400 x 1,080 ● CPU: Snapdragon 888 ● RAM: 12GB ● Storage: 128GB ● Battery: 5,050mAh ● Rear camera: 64MP (Wide), 8MP (Ultrawide), 2MP (Macro) ● Front cameras: 8MP ● OS: Android 11 ● Size: 6.69″ x 3.04″ x 0.38″ ● Weight: 7.76 oz
While a lot of budget phones start to spread themselves thin trying to do everything, the ZTE Nubia RedMagic 6 (read our review) goes all-in on gaming. It's truly astounding just how much is packed under the hood when seeing the $599 price tag on this phone. The Nubia RedMagic 6 packs in a Snapdragon 888 chipset that's pretty much the best you can find powering an Android phone right now. And, it puts that power behind a bright, 6.8-inch AMOLED display that can run at a 165Hz refresh rate. If that weren't enough, it's topped off with an even faster 360Hz multi-touch sample rate.
That's just the start of what this phone offers for gaming. On the right side, there are two touch-sensitive shoulder buttons that can be mapped as taps anywhere on the screen, letting you simulate triggers in shooters or quickly and accurately access controls in other games. And, with a 5,050mAh battery, this phone can keep gaming for a while. You might miss out on a powerful camera system or the most polished software, but you won't miss out on gaming prowess.
6. OnePlus 9
Best Budget Flagship Smartphone
See on Amazon
Screen size: 6.55″ ● Resolution: 2,400 x 1,080 ● CPU: Snapdragon 888 ● RAM: 8GB ● Storage: 128GB ● Battery: 4,500mAh ● Rear camera: 48MP (Wide), 50MP (Ultrawide), 2MP (Monochrome) ● Front cameras: 16MP ● OS: Android 11 ● Size: 6.3″ x 2.92″ x 0.34″ ● Weight: 6.77oz
OnePlus put together a great phone when it made the OnePlus 9 Pro, but that phone comes in at a high price that precludes it from landing on this list. However, the standard OnePlus 9 delivers a level of polish similar to the Pro model at a lower price. The OnePlus 9 comes in a slightly trimmer package, as it’s accommodating a 6.55-inch display instead of a 6.7-inch one, yet it’s still a nicely sharp display with plenty of brightness, a high refresh rate of 120Hz, and an AMOLED panel that’s great for games and media alike.
The OnePlus 9 is also brilliantly fast thanks to the Snapdragon 888 chipset it comes running on. That’s the same chipset powering a wide range of premium, flagship Android smartphones in 2021, so it’s got performance potential that will last for some time to come. The OnePlus 9 also has two quality cameras on the rear and a high-res, front-facing camera for selfies and video calls alike.
What to look for in a Budget Smartphone
When buying a budget smartphone, the first questions you should ask yourself is how you’re going to use it and what’s most important to you. If you watch a lot of movies and video, you might want to prioritize getting a phone with the biggest, brightest, and most colorful screen within your available budget. Alternatively, if you find yourself shooting photos with your smartphone all the time, getting a mobile device with a high-resolution camera or more than one camera could be your top priority.One simple trick for saving on your next smartphone is to buy a slightly older model, which will often cost a bit less the latest models. All the smartphones from the past three years have all been spectacular, and they still largely hold up thanks to the incremental performance increase seen with mobile processors.
However, be sure whether the slightly older phone you’re looking at will be eligible for future software updates. The latest versions of Android roll out extremely slowly even on the latest flagship phones and Apple will inexplicably decide when its devices have hit the end of their life expectancy, so you might want to double check whether your budget smartphone will get Android Q or iOS 13, the next iterations of Android and Apple's respective mobile operating systems.
One other simple move that might help you buy a phone for less is to get it on contract. Yes, this method has been around forever (aka the 1990s), but subscription-based discounts have become increasingly rare as service providers move more towards payment plans and subscription services like T-Mobile JUMP! and AT&T Next, which allow users to upgrade to a new smartphone every two years but never truly own their devices.