Cheap phones for every budget

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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.

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 3a

The Best Budget Smartphone

Screen size: 5.6″ ● Resolution: 2,220 x 1,080 ● CPU: Snapdragon 670 ● RAM: 4GB ● Storage: 64GB · Battery: 3,000mAh ● Rear camera: 12.2 MP ● Front cameras: 8MP ● OS: Android 9 Pie ● Size: 5.96″ x 2.76″ x 0.32″ ● Weight: 5.19oz

While Google’s Pixel line has traditionally been just flagship phones, its new Pixel 3A comes in right at $400, which is right on the cusp between “budget” and “midrange” (the Pixel 3A XL is $480, which is a bit too high to fit into this list). For the price, you get a Snapdragon 670 processor, 4GB of RAM, 64GB of storage, and a 2220 x 1080 OLED screen. Those are decent specs for the price, but the most shocking inclusion is the Pixel 3A’s camera, which is almost as good as the Pixel 3’s camera, which is one of the best you can buy.

It even has a headphone jack, which is a welcome addition for a budget phone (since if you’re on a budget, it’s unlikely you’re shelling out for fancy Bluetooth earbuds). If you’re looking for something cheaper than today’s high-end models but aren’t willing to make huge sacrifices, the Pixel 3A offers pretty crazy bang for your buck at $400. Of course, nobody has reviewed this phone yet, but on paper it sounds like a heck of a bargain.

2. Nokia 7.1

Pure Android for Less

Screen size: 5.84″ ● Resolution: 1,080 x 2,280 ● CPU: Snapdragon 636 ● RAM: 4GB ● Storage: 64GB · Battery: 3,060mAh ● Rear camera: 12 MP ● Front cameras: 5MP ● OS: Android 9 Pie ● Size: 5.89″ x 2.8″ x 0.36″ ● Weight: 5.64oz

Nokia has made a startling comeback with its new line of Android phones, after a few years producing ill-fated Windows Phones for Microsoft. It dominates the sub-$400 range in the US, with the Nokia 7.1 coming in at $350. As part of Google’s Android One program, Nokia’s phones run the latest version of the OS (9.0 “Pie”) and are guaranteed to get regular updates for two years—which alone is a huge selling point, especially in this price bracket. The 7.1 sports a 5.8” 19:9 HDR LCD display with a tiny “dewdrop” notch along the top for a sizeable but not quite edge-to-edge screen.

Inside you’ll find Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 636 processor, 4GB of RAM, 64GB of storage (expandable with a microSD card), and an NFC chip so you can use Google Pay. It even has dual rear cameras, which is pretty great to see at this price point, and a headphone jack, which is great to see period. It’s not going to kick the pants off a Galaxy S10 or anything, but for less than half the price, you might be surprised at how well this phone will perform.

3. Moto G7

Another Great Option for Slightly Less

Screen size: 6.2″ ● Resolution: 1,080 x 2,270 ● CPU: Snapdragon 632 ● RAM: 4GB ● Storage: 64GB ● Battery: 3,00mAh ● Rear camera: 12MP (+ 5MP depth sensor) ● Front camera: 8MP ● OS: Android 9 Pie ● Size: 6.18″ x 2.96″ x 0.31″ ● Weight: 6.07 oz

Motorola is the other big player in the US’ Android-on-a-budget space, and their brand new G7 line is a solid alternative to Nokia’s lineup. For $300, Motorola’s G7 gets you a 6.2” LCD screen with a small dewdrop notch along the top, plus a Snapdragon 632 processor powering its internals. It has the same 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage (plus expandability) that you get with the Nokia 7.1, though it lacks NFC, a HDR display, and likely won’t get software updates as swiftly or as long, if Motorola’s recent track record is any indication.

Frankly, the 7.1 is a better buy in pretty much every respect, but if that last $50 is going to break the bank, the G7 will serve you well enough with just a few sacrifices. (Sadly, the better G7 Plus is not sold in the US, though you can still buy an international version on Amazon if you’re willing to scrap the warranty and deal with spottier carrier compatibility.

4. Moto G7 Power

Battery Life on a Budget

Screen size: 6.2″ ● Resolution: 720 x 1,570 ● CPU: Snapdragon 632 ● RAM: 4GB ● Storage: 32GB ● Battery: 5,000mAh Rear camera: 12MP ● Front cameras: 8MP ● OS: Android 9 Pie ● Size: 6.28″ x 2.99″ x 0.37″ ● Weight: 6.81oz

While the G7 can’t quite overtake Nokia’s awesome 7.1, the G7 Power—which is very similar to the G7—has a killer feature that makes it stand out from the crowd: battery life. Lots of it. At the expense of a bit of added thickness, the G7 Power boasts a 5,000 mAh battery that Motorola claims can last two full days—and at $50 less than the Moto G7. Sure, it has a larger notch and cuts the RAM to 3GB, but c’mon—two full days of battery life! For $250, that’s nothing to sneeze at. (It also cuts storage to 32GB, but with a microSD card slot, that isn’t a deal breaker by any means.)

5. iPhone SE

iOS For Less

Screen size: 4″ ● Resolution: 640 x 1,136 ● CPU: Apple A9 ● RAM: 2GB ● Storage: 32GB ● Battery: 1,624mAh ● Rear camera: 12MP ● Front cameras: 1.2MP ● OS: iOS 12.2 ● Size: 4.87″ x 2.31″ x 0.30″ ● Weight: 3.99oz

While Apple isn’t exactly known for selling budget-oriented devices, we’d be remiss not to include its lower-end iPhone SE, which packs the guts of an iPhone 6s into the body of ye olde iPhone 5s. Its hardware is certainly a little long in the tooth (and Apple’s short supply seems to imply it’s not long for this world, either) but if you’re an Apple loyalist and just can’t spend the money for an iPhone Xr, Xs, or Xs Max—or even an iPhone 7 or 8, for that matter—the now-$250 iPhone SE will still get the job done. iOS 12 brought noticeable speed increases to older devices, making it a decent device for basic use as long as you don’t expect it to last forever.

6. Nokia 6.1

A Decent Option on the Lower End

Screen size: 5.5″ ● Resolution: 1,080 x 1,920 ● CPU: Snapdragon 630 ● RAM: 3GB ● Storage: 32GB ● Battery: 3,000mAh ● Rear camera: 16MP ● Front cameras: 8MP ● OS: Android 9 Pie ● Size: 5.86″ x 2.98″ x 0.32″ ● Weight: 6.07oz

If you like the cut of Nokia’s jib but can’t quite afford the 7.1, Nokia’s more budget-oriented 6.1 costs only $200, and comes with the same near-stock Android experience (with the same frequent updates). It lacks the dual cameras and NFC of the 7.1, and the camera isn’t quite as good, but it’s a force to be reckoned with at its price range. Inside, you get a Snapdragon 630 processor and 3GB of RAM, plus 32GB of storage (expandable up to 256GB with a microSD card). The Nokia 6.1 also shrinks the screen a bit, opting for a more traditional 16:9 display with bezels on the top and bottom (which notch haters will probably be just fine with).

7. Alcatel 1X Go Edition

For Less Than $100

Screen size: 5.3″ ● Resolution: 480 x 960 ● CPU: Mediatek MT6739 ● RAM: 1GB ● Storage: 16GB ● Battery: 2,460mAh ● Rear camera: 8MP ● Front cameras: 5MP ● OS: Android 8.1 Oreo ● Size: 5.81″ x 2.78″ x 0.36″ ● Weight: 5.33oz

Look, I’m not going to sugarcoat this. Once you get below $100, things get rough. All of the super-budget phones out there are going to be slow, even the ones that come with the pared-down Android Go operating system. They’ll have ugly screens and weak cameras, and you just won’t have a good time. The Alcatel 1X, like other $100 phones, has all these things plus a fingerprint sensor, which at least makes it easy to keep your phone secure. But seriously, if you can spare even $30 more, last year’s Moto E5 Play is a better, if still an imperfect, option. But for the sake of being a completionist, yes: you can buy a phone under $100, and it will work. Just don’t expect much.

What to look for in a Budget Smartphone

by Kevin Lee

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.

iPhone SE

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.

Whitson Gordon is a writer, gamer, and tech nerd who has been building PCs for ten years. He eats potato chips with chopsticks so he doesn’t get grease on his mechanical keyboard.

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