You don’t need to splurge on the iPhone 14 or Galaxy S23 to get the latest version of iOS or Android, or perks like multiple cameras, photography tools and access to your favorite apps and games. When it comes to the basics, the best cheap phones provide plenty of value but cost noticeably less than their flagship competitors.
Our top picks come as cheap as $160, while more advanced models will run you $600 — which is substantially cheaper than top-of-the-line models from Apple, Samsung and Google. If you have a specific budget in mind, you can also check out our best phones under $200 and best phones under $500 lists for other affordable phone options.
What is the best cheap phone?
Even without discounts, you can find brand-new phones for less than $200. But when a phone’s regular price is set under $400, you’ll start to notice concessions a company makes to offer a more affordable phone. That’s why the $449 Google Pixel 6A is our favorite best cheap phone. Google delivers all the big features that matte, such as a peppy processor, great cameras and years worth of software support. And to keep the price low, Google makes smart compromises, most notably a display that looks dim under direct sunlight. The Pixel 6A accomplishes its intended purpose of providing a lot for less. The camera may be a step down from the Pixel 7, but it takes crisp and colorful photos for its price. You also get the same eye-catching design and Pixel-specific software features like Magic Eraser and Live Translate.
Best cheap phones of 2023
Samsung’s Galaxy A03S at $160 (£139, roughly AU$240) includes great features and could be a fit for someone in need of a cheap phone that can handle essential tasks. The phone’s 6.5-inch screen, capped at 720p resolution, is great for reading news, watching videos and playing games. Despite some performance lag during our review, the phone is good at multitasking. But the tiny 32GB of storage space could fill up fast, so if you’re considering this phone, you might want to expand the storage with a microSD card.
Samsung also plans to support this phone with at least four years of security updates, which in this price range is as good as it gets. On the software side, it’s less clear how many Android versions are scheduled, but the phone initially ships with Android 11.
Apple’s new iPhone SE for 2022 is a mix of an older design with the latest smartphone features, including Apple’s A15 Bionic chip and 5G support, for $429. It’s also one of the few phones on the market that includes a smaller, 4.7-inch screen.
Its throwback design, which continues the general shape that Apple has used since 2014, could be what you love or hate about it. If you want a larger iPhone in this price range, you can also consider the $599 iPhone 12 for a bigger screen and Face ID.
The $449 Pixel 6A is the newest device in Google’s more affordable A series, replacing the Pixel 5A. CNET’s Lisa Eadicicco called it the “best Android phone under $500” in her Pixel 6A review, noting how it keeps the same Tensor chip as the $599 Pixel 6 and many of its best features.
The phone is slightly smaller than the Pixel 6, featuring an 6.1-inch OLED display and a refresh rate of 60Hz. It also has a similar camera system as the Pixel 5A, which includes a 12.2-megapixel main camera and a 12-megapixel ultrawide camera. But the Tensor chip brings additional benefits you won’t get on the Pixel 5A, such as Real Tone for more equitable skin tones, Face Unblur, Night Sight for low-light photography and the Magic Eraser for removing unwanted elements from a photo.
The Galaxy A53 gets you an abundance of Samsung features and power at a fraction of the S-series price. It boasts a larger screen and a more versatile camera cluster than the iPhone SE, though Apple’s budget model delivers snappier performance.
Still, Samsung fans will appreciate what they’re getting at an affordable price. The Galaxy A53 5G has an ultrawide lens for taking photos with a broader field of view and also supports night-mode photography. Image quality isn’t as good as what you’d get on a more expensive Samsung phone like the Galaxy S21 FE or Galaxy S22, but it’s clear and colorful for basic shots. Other highlights include a long-lasting battery, four guaranteed generations of Android operating system updates and a microSD card slot for expandable storage.
Overall, the Galaxy A53 5G is a suitable choice for those who prioritize having a large screen and long battery life for less than $500. You might have to deal with some occasional lag, and the camera isn’t as advanced as those found on pricier phones. Read our Samsung Galaxy A53 5G review.
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Google’s Pixel 7 refines the design formula introduced with last year’s Pixel 6, while also throwing in the company’s new Tensor G2 processor. The phone keeps the $599 price as last year’s Pixel 6, but new Pixel-exclusive features like Photo Unblur add even more value.
Every phone on this list has been thoroughly tested by CNET’s expert reviews team. We use the phone, test the features, play games and take photos. We assess any marketing promises that a company makes about its phones. And if we find something we don’t like, be it battery life or build quality, we tell you about it.
We examine every aspect of a phone during testing:
Design and feel
We test all the phone’s cameras (both front and back) in a variety of conditions: from outdoors under sunlight to dimmer indoor locales and nighttime scenes (for any available night modes). We also compare our findings against similarly priced models. We have a series of real world battery tests to see how long a phone lasts under everyday use.
We take into account additional phone features like 5G, fingerprint and face readers, styluses, fast charging, foldable displays and other useful extras. We weigh all our experiences and testing against the price so you know whether a phone represents good value or not.
Yes, many of the cheap phones included in this list are available at a discount during shopping events. For instance, Google’s Pixel 6A received a $150 discount that temporarily brought its price down from $449 to $299. If you have a phone in mind but also have the flexibility to hold off for a shopping event like Black Friday, it may be worth it to wait for a price reduction.
Are cheap phones available unlocked?
Yes, many cheap phones are available unlocked by the manufacturer. This allows you to use the phone with nearly any wireless carrier by inserting your SIM card. If you want the flexibility to switch carriers, make sure you buy an unlocked model.
Are cheap phones good for kids?
Buying a cheap phone could be a great option when shopping for a kid or teenager, but that doesn’t mean the phone is customized to have a kid-friendly experience. Parents should still set up any necessary parental controls, restrictions or apps on an iPhone or Android to make sure it’s appropriate for kids.
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