A decent smartphone used to cost upwards of $500, but thankfully those days are over. It is now possible to find something that meets most of your needs starting at $160. However, navigating the market for budget phones can be tricky. Many options that look good on paper often aren’t very useful, and some phones will end up costing you more when you consider that many come with limited storage space. This guide will help you find a bargain and highlight our top picks for the best cheap phones you can buy right now.
What to look for in a cheap phone
For this guide, our tips cost between $100 and $300. Anything less and you might as well buy a dumb phone or a high-end calculator. Since they’re meant to be more affordable than their flagship and mid-range siblings, entry-level smartphones come with tradeoffs; the cheaper a device is, the lower your expectations for performance and experience should be. For this reason, the best advice I can give is to spend as much as you can afford. In this price range, even an extra $50 or $100 can get you a significantly better product.
Second, you should know what you want most from a phone. When shopping for a budget device, you may have to sacrifice a decent camera for a long-lasting battery or trade in a high-resolution display for a faster processor. That’s just what comes with the territory, but knowing your priorities will make finding the right phone easier.
It’s also worth noting that some features can be hard to find on budget phones. For example, you won’t have to look far for a device with all-day battery life, but if you want a great camera, you’re better off shelling out one of the recommendations in our guide to mid-range smartphones, all of which come in at $600 or less. . Wireless charging and waterproofing are also not easy to find in this price range and forget about a fast processor. On the plus side, all of our tips come with headphone jacks, so you won’t need wireless headphones.
iOS is also out of the question, since the cheapest phone Apple sells is the $400 iPhone SE. That leaves Android as your only option. Thankfully, in 2023, there’s little to complain about Google’s operating system, and you might even prefer it to iOS. Finally, keep in mind that most Android manufacturers typically offer much less robust software support for their budget devices. In some cases, your new phone may just get a major Android update and a year or two of security patches beyond that. This applies to recommendations from OnePlus and Motorola in our list. If you want to keep your phone as long as possible, Samsung has the best software policy of any Android manufacturer in the budget space, offering four years of security updates on all of its devices.
The best budget phone: OnePlus Nord N30 5G
The recently announced $300 OnePlus Nord N30 5G offers the best bang for your buck of any smartphone on our list. No other phone in the price range has a processor as fast as the N30’s Snapdragon 695 5G. Additionally, OnePlus has equipped the N30 with a whopping 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage, meaning you probably won’t need to budget for a microSD card or cloud storage. It also comes with a 120Hz IPS display, which is great for both gaming and everyday use. Best of all, the N30 comes with a 50W power adapter that you can use to get a full day of battery life in 30 minutes. The N30 would be almost perfect if it had waterproofing and OnePlus was committed to sending more than one major Android update to the phone.
Another great option – Samsung Galaxy A14 5G
Don’t let the modest price and uninspired design of the Samsung Galaxy A14 5G fool you, it has a lot going for it. For $200, you get a phone that’s surprisingly fast and has a competent camera. Plus, it has NFC connectivity for contactless payments, something you won’t find on many phones in this price range. Battery life is also excellent, clocking in at two days with moderate use. Plus, there’s that awesome software policy I mentioned above, with Samsung promising to support the A14 with two major Android updates and four years of security patches. The only thing the A14 lacks is waterproofing, so you might want to go for something more rugged if you live near the beach or like to doomscroll in the tub.
An ultra budget choice: Samsung Galaxy A03s
If you want to spend as little as possible but still want something from a reputable brand, the $160 Samsung Galaxy A03s is your best bet. Thanks to its MediaTek Helio P35 processor, the A03s performs better than you’d expect. Unfortunately, the phone looks as cheap as it costs, and the camera isn’t much better. Oh, and did I mention the A03 comes with a measly 32GB of internal storage? In other words, get ready to buy a microSD card to store all your photos and music. Thankfully, the A03, like its pricier sibling, will get four years of security updates from Samsung. You won’t find that kind of software support on any other phone in the sub-$200 category.
Honorable Mention: Motorola Moto G Stylus
The $200 Motorola Moto G Stylus offers something none of the other picks on this list do: a built-in stylus. If you love to doodle and take notes, then this is the budget phone to buy. Thankfully, it has a few other things to do as well. The Moto G Stylus sports a large, responsive 6.5-inch display and a long-lasting 5,000mAh battery. Plus, it comes in two adorable colors: Midnight Blue and Glam Pink.
As with other options in this price range, it would be nice if the Moto G Stylus came with a more capable camera, a fast charger, and better protection against water. One word of advice: stay away from the Moto G Stylus 5G. It doesn’t offer enough of an upgrade to justify the $400 cost.
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