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What are the best cheap phones? We tested 44, here are our top 8
Choosing the best cheap phone ultimately comes down to a few simple questions:
- How far can you stretch your budget?
- How important are cameras? Performance?
- Will you buy unlocked or via a carrier?
- Do you want an Android phone or an iPhone?
High-end Android phones may come with all the bells and whistles, but if you temper your expectations you can get a great phone for a lot less. Our team has tested countless smartphones in all price ranges over the years, and for this list we’ve picked out the eight very best budget smartphones on the market. These phones offer the best value for your money, ranging from $450 all the way down to $0 (with carrier deals). Check out our buyer’s guide if you’re not sure what to look for, or just keep reading to see our picks for the best cheap phones to buy in 2023. If you’re not looking to spend $400 on a mid-ranger, we also have a list of the best phones under $300.
The best cheap phone is the Pixel 7a
The Google Pixel A series is now known for offering some of the best bang for buck in the smartphone market. The Pixel 6a offered a near-high-end experience at just $449. In 2023, Google is ready to take its budget series to a new level that gets even closer to high-end territory. The Google Pixel 7a starts at $499, which is a price increase. It’s actually now only $100 cheaper than the Pixel 7, but the difference with the Pixel 7a is that it sacrifices very little to reach the slightly lower price point.
For starters, it has a few notable upgrades the community has long been asking for. The display now features a 90Hz refresh rate. While it’s still not quite as good as the 120Hz most flagships offer, it’s a nice improvement over the Pixel 6a. The older phone had a 60Hz screen, which was really starting to feel dated. It also features wireless charging. We’re not fans of the 7.5W wireless charging speeds, but at least the feature is available now. This wasn’t the case with the Pixel 6a. Additionally, the primary camera has been upgraded with a nice 64MP sensor. We found to perform exceptionally well, thanks to pixel binning and the nice 0.8μm pixel size.
You’ll find this to be a near-premium handset in every other department, too. There is a Google Tensor G2 chipset inside, which we still find to get pretty hot, but it performs beautifully and works miracles with the camera quality. The 6GB of RAM isn’t too high, but it’s more than good enough for most casual users, as we didn’t experience any hiccups during our tests.
The battery is a tiny bit smaller at 4,385mAh (4,410mAh on the Pixel 6a), but we still managed to take the phone through a whole day of normal use, with 20% left over at the end of the night. The 18W charging speeds aren’t amazing, but they are pretty good. The display is pretty nice too, offering a 6.1-inch OLED panel with a 1,080p resolution. It even has an IP67 rating.
Overall, we believe this is Google’s most polished mid-range phone yet — check out our Pixel 7a review for more info. And there is now very little to complain about. The only issue we find is that it takes very little money to upgrade to the Pixel 7, which has a better build quality, faster 20W wireless charging, and faster 20W wired charging. There are other very close competitors that cost less, too. We’ll talk more about them later in this list, but know that it’s still very hard to beat the Pixel 7a if you’re looking to get a high-end experience without spending too much.
What makes it stand out
- Great value: The Pixel 7a isn’t the cheapest phone you can buy, but it does offer the most value for the money. It has features and performance that you’ll only find on much more expensive devices.
- Excellent camera performance: With an easy-to-use camera app and Google’s proprietary smarts, the Pixel 7a is easily among the best camera phones you can get in this price range.
- Powerful Tensor chip: Previously only found in the Pixel 7 lineup, the Tensor G2 chip gives this budget phone flagship-level performance.
- Clean software: Coming straight from Android’s source, the Pixel 6a’s software is as clean as it gets. Plus, it will get additional software features for years to come.
- One-handed use: In an age when most phones are massive, the Pixel 7a keeps it manageable. It’s comfortable to use with one hand, easily pocketable, and highly portable.
The best of the rest: 7 other cheap phones worth considering
We recommend the Pixel 6a for most users, but it might not be right for everyone under the sun. To broaden your choices, we’ve picked seven other cheap phones that might better suit your needs, whether budgetary or otherwise. Here’s the best of the rest:
- Galaxy A54 5G: Samsung’s best mid-ranger is one of the only options that gives the Pixel 6a a run for its money.
- Moto G Stylus 5G: This Motorola phone has its flaws, but it offers something no other cheap phone can: a built-in stylus.
- Galaxy A32 5G: While the Galaxy A54 5G is a better overall phone, the A32 5G offers much of the same at an even lower price.
- iPhone SE: iPhones are typically well out of the budget range, but the 2022 iPhone SE bucks that trend, offering a cheap entry point into Apple’s ecosystem.
- Galaxy A14 5G: Offering great battery life and solid performance, the A14 5G is a fantastic value — especially if you can get a good carrier deal.
- Nord N300: The Nord N300 is one of the cheapest phones on our list, and the cheapest 5G phone we recommend.
- Galaxy A03s: The cheapest phone Samsung offers isn’t perfect, but you won’t find anything like it under $200.
The Samsung Galaxy A54 5G is the best cheap phone for Samsung fans
Samsung has long dominated the budget segment in the US, and for good reason. The Samsung Galaxy A54 5G is one of our favorite affordable phones, giving the Pixel 6a some stiff competition. Although it’s still on the higher end of the budget range at $450, we found it to be one of the best-rounded phones you can buy, with industry-leading five-year software support that will keep it going far longer than alternatives.
If you’ve ever ogled one of Samsung’s flagship S23 phones, we’re happy to report that the Galaxy A54 5G gets most of the way there at a much more accessible price. It now has a Gorilla Glass 5 finish on the front and back, adding extra durability and a nicer hand feel than plastic. The smooth-scrolling 120Hz AMOLED panel also impressed us, with more than enough brightness to use in full daylight.
While it doesn’t exactly have the Pixel 6a beat when it comes to camera performance, it did take consistently good photos in our review period. The main shooter is the real star here, with the weaker ultrawide and macro lenses providing some niche backup. We were a bit sad to see that Samsung has returned to its highly-saturated color profile for the A54 5G, although the results might not bother you if you want a little extra punch.
As for battery life, we averaged a respectable day and a half on a single charge in our week-long test period. Charging speeds cap off at 25W if you have a USB Power Delivery PPS Charger, but unfortunately, there’s no charger in the box. This took about 85 minutes to fill from empty in our tests. We were a bit disappointed in the lack of wireless charging, but it isn’t too surprising for phones at this price point.
The Exynos 1380 performed just fine for light gaming and social media, but it doesn’t quite have the smarts of the Pixel 6a’s Tensor chipset. Still, the phone has other advantages, like a microSD card slot and a host of One UI software features.
What makes it stand out
- Versatile cameras: A solid main shooter, capable ultrawide camera, and admittedly niche macro camera make this one of the most versatile camera phones in this price range.
- Gorgeous display: The 120Hz Super AMOLED display is crisp, fluid, and bright in all environments.
- Excellent battery life: Expect the beefy 5,000mAh battery to last for a day and a half, even without battery-saving measures activated.
The most interesting cheap phone is the Moto G Stylus 5G
If you’ve always wanted to try super-premium smartphones with a stylus like the Galaxy S23 Ultra but never had deep enough pockets, the Moto G Stylus 5G might be for you. It’s actually one of our favorite S23 Ultra alternatives on the market. Even if it’s coming in at well under half the price.
The eponymous stylus slips neatly into the body of the phone, which we noted was quite large in our review with a 6.8-inch display. We didn’t think the FHD+ LCD display itself was particularly impressive, although the 120Hz refresh rate provided a smooth scrolling experience in everyday use.
One thing the Moto G Stylus 5G really does right is battery life. Like the option above, it features a 5,000mAh battery that consistently lasted a day and a half in our testing. Performance was also solid, with the Snapdragon 695 5G providing smooth performance and solid framerates in demanding games like Asphalt 9 or Genshin Impact during our testing period.
This device is also a bit more budget-friendly, retailing at $400. However, Motorola has a number of carrier partners in the US that are likely to offer the phone for significantly less than the sticker price. If you’re set on getting an unlocked phone, the non-5G version of the Moto G Stylus is also a decent budget option at $299, although it comes with additional downgrades apart from networking.
What makes it stand out
- Built-in stylus: Very few phones offer this as a feature, and those that do cost more than twice as much. It’s a handy little accessory that’s easy to keep track of thanks to the in-phone housing.
- Excellent battery life: The large 5,000mAh battery regularly beat a day and a half of battery life in our testing.
- Clean software: Forget about bloatware and ads, since Motorola’s software is clean and smooth right from the get-go.
The Galaxy A32 5G hits the right price point for budget phones
The Galaxy A54 5G might offer the best overall experience when it comes to budget Samsung phones, but the Galaxy A32 5G really hits the sweet spot when it comes to price and features. In fact, we consider it to be the best value in Samsung’s entire A-series lineup, despite being a bit long in the tooth.
Although it’s still firmly in the budget category, we found the Galaxy A32 5G pretty enticing. Our tests can attest to its solid performance, decent cameras, and over a day of battery life. We were also very impressed with the inclusion of Gorilla Glass 5 on the screen, which is far more resistant than the Gorilla Glass 3 on our top pick, the Pixel 6a.
We also really liked the elegant look of the Galaxy A32 5G, although we did find the backing material to be quite slippery. Given the phone’s large physical size, we’d recommend buying a case for it to prevent any accidental drops. Either way, the extra resistance from the stronger glass will help keep your device just a bit safer.
Ultimately, we recommend this phone because the $279 price tag is right on the money when it comes to budget phones. Dip any lower and you’re making significant sacrifices. A newer version of this phone, the Galaxy A33 5G, was released in 2022, but not in the US. Instead, the Galaxy A23 5G seems to take its place. Even so, we still think the Galaxy A32 5G is a better buy in 2023.
What makes it stand out
- Impressive budget cameras: While they’re not going to win any awards, the Galaxy A32 5G offers some of the best camera performance in its price range.
- Classy design: The A32 5G design really shines through, and we compared it favorably to even modern flagship designs.
- Fantastic value: As far as budget phones go, this one hits the perfect balance between price and features.
The iPhone SE is the best budget phone from Apple
The iPhone SE (2022) might not have much in common with the latest iPhone 14 lineup physically, but it’s what’s inside that counts. It has the same A15 Bionic processor as the iPhone 14 and 14 Plus, and in our testing, it performed nearly just as well. It only takes a minor hit in GPU scores, but it still punches far above its weight. Needless to say, it’s the most powerful phone on this list.
That power is put to good use with Apple’s renowned ecosystem. We primarily write about Android here at Android Authority, but we remain impressed with what Apple has achieved with iOS. Not only is the app ecosystem extremely developed at this point, but hardware like the Apple Watch and AirPods Pro is regularly among our favorites. All of Apple’s products seamlessly integrate into one another in a way that Android hasn’t matched to date (sorry, Samsung).
However, the design of the iPhone SE is decidedly stuck in the past. The screen is a mere 4.7 inches, with sizeable bezels on the front. We were disappointed to find that the design is identical to the already-dated version from 2020, including the Lightning port. That said, we did love how small and light the phone is. It’s actually one of the smallest and lightest we’ve ever tested, weighing just 144g.
Another problem is that the base version comes with just 64GB of storage. The 128GB version jumps up to $479, which is pretty pricey for what it is. No matter which version you buy, however, you’re getting an incredible level of support. Apple doesn’t officially say how long support lasts, but we’ve found that it averages five to seven years. That’s more than a lifetime in the smartphone industry.
What makes it stand out
- Unbeatable performance: The Bionic A15 is the same found in the iPhone 13, and simply put, it blows the competition out of the water.
- Robust ecosystem: Get more out of your phone thanks to a huge variety of apps in the App Store and some of the best hardware on the market from Apple.
- Long-lasting support: The iPhone SE will get years of software updates, including new features and more.
The Galaxy A14 5G is a great budget carrier phone
If you want a true budget phone from Samsung, the Galaxy A14 5G is a great pick. Without making any major concessions, it managed to hit an even lower price than its predecessor the A13 5G, dropping below $200. Even better, you can often get this phone for free or nearly free via carriers like T-Mobile and AT&T.
In our testing, the basics were all there: good main camera performance, two-day battery life, and the eponymous 5G connection that should keep it going for years to come. Combined with Samsung’s promise of two years of Android updates and four years of security updates, there’s a lot of value to be had here for budget-conscious buyers.
Of course, there are some inevitable drawbacks to such a cheap phone. For example, the plastic back isn’t the sturdiest (buy a case to solve this) and the screen is a bit dim. Other issues, like the poor speakers and paltry 64GB of storage, are made up for with the inclusion of a headphone jack and microSD card slot.
We think the 5G version of this phone is the one to get, but in some regions, there’s also an LTE version that’s slightly cheaper. Again though, check with carriers before you buy this phone unlocked, as there are great deals to be had.
What makes it stand out
- Affordability: While it’s very affordable unlocked, carrier deals bring this 5G phone’s price down to little or even nothing.
- Solid main shooter: The 50MP main shooter takes very nice photos in good light.
- Two-day battery life: The 5,000mAh is capable of lasting two days before needing a top-up.
The Nord N300 offers affordable 5G
If you want a cheap phone with 5G, check out the OnePlus Nord N300. As long as you’re willing to dive into the world of T-Mobile, this is one of the cheapest Android phones with 5G that we can recommend.
The Nord N300 itself isn’t a wild innovation, but it’s hard not to be impressed by its battery and charging. It achieves great longevity from its 5,000mAh cell, and the 33W wired charging easily outpaces rivals from Apple, Samsung, and Google. OnePlus even tapped a 90Hz refresh rate to keep your content feeling smooth.
In our testing, the cameras performed fine for a budget phone, especially in bright outdoor conditions. Dimmer indoor photos were a bit more mixed, and led to uneven results. Still, we liked that the camera app was simple to use, and the Nord N300 doesn’t fuss around with adding a third camera for the sake of aesthetics.
We also loved the simple and bloat-free software in OxygenOS, which is the same you’ll find on flagships like the OnePlus 10 Pro. Just keep in mind that the Nord N300 doesn’t get quite the same lengthy commitment as its flagship family members.
What makes it stand out
- Cheap 5G: Need 5G on a budget? The Nord N300 is one of the cheapest ways to get blazing speeds.
- Great charging: You won’t find 33W speeds from Galaxy or Pixel rivals at this cheap price tag.
- Clean software: OxygenOS is close to clean Android, with none of the bloat and some interesting new features.
The Galaxy A03s is the cheapest phone we recommend
When you start digging into very cheap phones, the Galaxy A03s is the only one we can recommend. Coming in under $200, you’re making some key sacrifices. But we think this can still provide a decent experience as your first smartphone.
Although we did find performance and build quality to be lacking, we did get exceptional battery life out of the A03s. We could make it last two days with moderate use. Don’t expect to play the latest games or anything. But for streaming we found the screen to be large and more than adequate. We also found the main camera to be serviceable, although the other lenses didn’t quite get the job done.
Perhaps our favorite thing about this phone is Samsung’s commitment to updates. It’s slated to receive at least two years of Android version updates, plus four years of security updates. That’s an incredible achievement for a device at this price point, although in all honestly, you’ll probably want to upgrade before then.
What makes it stand out
- Price: This is the cheapest phone on the list, and in our opinion, the cheapest phone you should even consider buying.
- Battery life: The 5,000mAh battery lasted for two days of moderate use, although there’s no charger in the box.
- Updates: Samsung’s signature five years of security updates will keep this phone running for far longer than cheap alternatives from other companies.
The best cheap phones outside of the US
While all of the phones above are sold in the US (and most outside of the US), there are several more great options available to international buyers. Even if you are in the US, importing some of these can be relatively easy, although you will be giving up warranties and ongoing support. Be sure to check networks as well to make sure they’ll work in your local area. Here are our picks for the best cheap phones outside of the US:
- Nothing Phone 1 (~$489): The Nothing Phone 1 is one of the most interesting phones we’ve reviewed in years. In addition to all-around solid budget performance, its unique “Glyph” on the back is sure to turn heads wherever you go.
- Nord 2T (~$405): One of many Nord phones that didn’t make it to the US, the Nord 2T impressed us with speedy 80W charging and clean software that’s hard to find in this price range.
- POCO F4 (~$405): Xiaomi-affiliate POCO makes several excellent cheap phones with flagship-level power. The POCO F4 is our favorite of the bunch, with a snappy 120Hz screen and a powerful Snapdragon 870 processor.
- POCO X5 Pro ($~360): Like the F4 above, the POCO X5 Pro impressed us with a speedy 120Hz OLED screen, and it benefits from a solid processor upgrade over the X4 Pro.
What to look for in a cheap phone
Some of you may be looking to purchase your first smartphone. Others may just want to save some money by buying a cheap phone. No matter where you’re coming from in your buyer’s journey, there are several key elements to consider when it comes to budget phones:
Value over price
It can be tempting to buy the absolute cheapest phone you can find. That said, doing so may give you a phone that needs replacing every year. Buying a good phone with a solid update promise will save you money in the long run. Even if it does mean an initial hit to your pocketbook.
Simple camera performance
How important are cameras to you? You do have a few good options in this price range. Though, for the most part, they’ll be limited to one good camera. Even if the phone has multiple lenses, the main shooter will be pulling most if not all of the weight. That doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing, though.
Unlocked or carrier
When buying a phone, you always have the option of saving a lot of money by buying through a carrier. However, this typically limits your choices and locks that phone to a single carrier for the lifetime of the device. Buying an unlocked phone costs more upfront, but allows you to change carriers whenever you like.
Android vs. iOS
Which platform do you have the most experience with? Changing from Android to iOS or vice versa isn’t too difficult these days, but relearning everything will take time. Apple’s devices tend to cost a bit more. They also last longer and receive better software support than anything on the Android side, although Samsung is getting close.
5G was previously limited to just flagship devices, but now even cheap phones are getting in on the game. Speeds are limited to sub-6Ghz. Regardless, it’s still a nice way to futureproof your device as new networks roll out across the country.
One key area where phone makers typically reduce costs is build quality. Budget phones drop the glass sandwich builds found on flagships and instead employ plastic backings or older Gorilla Glass options. There are a few exceptions. But if you’re going to slap a case on it anyway, plastic builds shouldn’t be a deterrent.
Not necessarily. However, cheap phones will have fewer features and not last as long as their flagship counterparts.
In our testing, we haven’t found cheap phones to have worse reception than more expensive phones. However, most cheap 5G phones do not support mmWave connections.
All of the options listed above have NFC, but we also have a separate list of NFC-compatible phones if you want more options.
Cheap phones can cost anywhere from $150 to $450, although you can get them for significantly cheaper via carriers.