The best cheap phones in 2021

The best cheap phones we’ve tested will make you wonder why people spend $800 or more on a new smartphone. Based on our reviews, you can get a very good phone for under $400 with all the features most buyers need, whether you’re an iPhone fan or prefer Android.

Those on a budget will find that the best cheap phones offer capable cameras, big-enough displays for watching video and playing games and plenty of battery life to get you through most of the day. And 5G connectivity is starting to become standard for cheap phones. 

You do need to make some trade-offs in this price range, as you won’t always find the most powerful processors, 120Hz displays or versatile zoom cameras. But overall you’ll be pleasantly surprised by what the best cheap phones deliver. Read on for our top picks under $400.

What are the best cheap phones?

The best cheap phone you can buy right now is the Google Pixel 4a. It has one of the best cameras you’ll find on any phone, and at $349, it’s $50 cheaper than the iPhone SE. The newer Google Pixel 5a is fantastic, and it comes with 5G, but it starts at $449 and is just outside the price range for this roundup.

If you want a 5G phone for less than $300, we recommend the Samsung Galaxy A32 or OnePlus Nord N200. They’re both remarkable values.

The Phone SE is another great option for a cheap handset. Apple’s $399 phone includes a blazing fast A13 Bionic processor, very good rear and front cameras and a bright and colorful 4.7-inch display. And it’s all wrapped up in a compact design that’s waterproof and supports wireless charging. An iPhone SE 3 is rumored for early 2022 with 5G, but it may not arrive until March.

If you want to spend even less on your phone, get the new Moto G Power, which features outstanding phone battery life for less than $200. If you’re looking for a cheap phone in the U.K, the OnePlus Nord 2 is a strong option at £399.

The best cheap phones you can buy today

(Image credit: Tom’s Guide)

1. Google Pixel 4a

The best cheap phone you can buy

Specifications

Display: 5.81-inch OLED (2340×1080)

CPU: Snapdragon 730G

RAM: 6GB

Storage / Expandable: 128GB / No

Rear camera: 12.2MP (ƒ/1.7)

Front camera: 8MP (ƒ/2.0)

Weight: 5.04 ounces

Reasons to buy

+Best-in-class camera+Attractive design+Low price

Reasons to avoid

Subpar battery lifePerformance lags iPhone SE

At $349, you won’t find a better value than the Google Pixel 4a. Google’s latest budget phone recaptures all the things that made the Pixel 3a such a hit, but in a device that costs $50 less.

There’s just the one 12.2-megapixel rear camera as before, but Google augments that with some software smarts such as Super Res Zoom and Live HDR+. Many of the photographic features you’ll find in the more expensive Pixel 4 are on display here, and the result is some of the best photos you’ll see from a phone at any price.

The Pixel 4a can’t match the performance of the iPhone SE, but for most smartphone users, Google’s phone has enough processing power from its Snapdragon 730G chipset to handle most tasks. Throw in an attractive design, a bright OLED screen and 128GB of storage, and you’ve got a phone in the Pixel 4a that delivers a lot for a low price. The Google Pixel 5a is rumored for later this year, but that’s not expected until late spring at the earliest. 

The Pixel 4a won the best phone value award from Tom’s Guide.

Read our full Google Pixel 4a review.

(Image credit: Tom’s Guide)

2. iPhone SE

The best cheap iPhone

Specifications

Display: 4.7-inch LCD (1334×750)

CPU: A13 Bionic

RAM: Unknown

Storage / Expandable: 64GB, 128GB, 256GB / No

Rear camera: 12MP (ƒ/1.8)

Front camera: 7MP (ƒ/2.2)

Weight: 5.22 ounces

Reasons to buy

+Very affordable+Fast A13 Bionic performance+Supports wireless charging

Reasons to avoid

Big bezelsNo camera night mode

The iPhone SE 2020 is what happens when you make a cheap phone that isn’t cheap. For $399, this iPhone offers the same fast performance as the iPhone 11 and iPhone 11 Pro, thanks to is A13 Bionic processor. And that same chip gives the iPhone SE photography capabilities that most budget Android phones lack. This includes Portrait Mode for the front and rear cameras, Smart HDR and extended dynamic range when shooting videos.

With its 4.7-inch display, the iPhone SE is best for those who prefer smaller phones, but the screen is bright and colorful. You also get a Touch ID button for unlocking the device, Apple Pay and entering passwords, as well as a water resistant design. The new iPhone SE supports wireless charging as well. 

The new iPhone SE is well made with its glass and aluminum chassis, but the bezels are on the big size. Plus, you don’t get the Night mode for the camera offered by the iPhone 11. But overall this is easily the best cheap phone yet, but be sure to check out our Pixel 4a vs. iPhone SE camera face-off.

Read our full iPhone SE review.

(Image credit: Tom’s Guide)

3. Moto G Power (2021)

A cheap phone with the best battery life

Specifications

Display: 6.6 inches (1600 x 720)

CPU: Snapdragon 662

RAM: 3GB, 4GB

Storage / Expandable: 32GB, 64GB / Yes

Rear camera: 16MP wide (ƒ/1.7); 8MP ultrawide (ƒ/2.2); 2MP macro (ƒ/2.2)

Front camera: 16MP (ƒ/2.0)

Weight: 7 ounces

Reasons to buy

+All-day battery life+Low price +Attractive design

Reasons to avoid

Only one Android updateLackluster display

A really long-lasting phone endures for more than 11 hours on our battery test. The new Moto G Power blows them away with a runtime of 14 hours and 4 minutes. That’s among he best phone battery life we’ve ever seen, which is really remarkable when you consider the Moto G Power costs under $250. (And there’s a $199 version if you can live with less RAM and storage.) But that’s not the only reason this Android phone made our best cheap phone list.

The Moto G Power also features a large 6.6-inch display with full HD resolution, and fairly capable cameras with triple lenses, including a 48MP main camera, a 2MP macro lens and 2MP depth sensor.

At 7.3 ounces, the beefy 5,000 mAh battery inside the Moto G Power certainly contributes to its weight. And the screen on this phone could be brighter. But overall the Moto G Power is easily one of the best cheap phones around.

The Moto G Power (2021) won the best phone battery life award from Tom’s Guide.

Read our full Moto G Power 2021 review.

(Image credit: Tom’s Guide)

4. Galaxy A32 5G

The budget 5G option from Samsung

Specifications

Screen size: 6.5 inches

Android version: 11 with One UI 3.1

Processor: Dimensity 720

Cameras: 48MP main, 8MP ultrawide, 5MP macro, 2MP depth (Rear); 13MP (Front)

RAM/Storage: 4GB/64GB

Reasons to buy

+Very low price+Four years of security patches+Great battery life+90Hz refresh rate

Reasons to avoid

Subpar HD+ display

We’re starting to see more and more affordable 5G phones popping up, and one of the best of the bunch is the Samsung Galaxy A32 5G. At $280, it’s one of the best bargains on this list, if you’re willing to put up with a mediocre display. However, if you’re strapped for cash and want a phone with decent cameras, the Galaxy A32 5G is one you should consider.

With its big 6.5-inch screen, the A32 is not a small phone. But it packs a 5,000 mAh battery that lasts a really long time — almost 12 hours in our testing with its adaptive refresh rate enabled. You can also expect the Galaxy A32 to last longer overall than many other budget options, with Samsung promising three years of Android updates and four years of security patches.

Read our full Samsung Galaxy A32 5G review.

(Image credit: Tom’s Guide)

5. TCL 10 5G UW

A great cheap phone with 5G

Specifications

Display: 6.53-inch LCD (2340 x 1080)

CPU: Snapdragon 765G

RAM: 6GB

Storage / Expandable: 128GB / Yes

Rear camera: 48MP main; 8MP ultrawide; 5MP macro

Front camera: 16MP

Weight: 7.4 ounces

Battery life (Hrs:Mins): 11:07

Reasons to buy

+Inexpensive 5G phone+Excellent battery life

Reasons to avoid

Dim screenExclusive to Verizon

You won’t find too many 5G-capable devices on the list of best cheap phones — 5G modems can be a pretty pricey add-on. And yet, here’s the TCL 10 5G UW, which can connect to Verizon’s super-fast 5G network while still costing you less than $400.

There’s more to 5G to explain the appeal of TCL’s phone. The 6.53-inch display, while a little dim, produces great colors and gives you a lot of screen real estate. The TCL 10 5G UW has the same Snapdragon 765G processor you’ll find in more expensive phones, delivering comparable performance. That 5G connectivity doesn’t impact battery life, either, as TCL’s phone lasted more than 11 hour on our battery test.

Read our full TCL 10 5G UW review.

(Image credit: Tom’s Guide)

6. Moto G Stylus

A cheap Galaxy Note alternative

Specifications

Display: 6.4-inch LCD (2300×1080)

CPU: Snapdragon 665

RAM: 4GB

Storage / Expandable: 128GB / Yes

Rear camera: 48MP main (ƒ/1.7); 16MP ultrawide (ƒ/2.2); 2MP macro (ƒ/2.2)

Front camera: 16MP (ƒ/2.0)

Weight: 6.8 ounces

Battery life (Hrs:Mins): 12:13

Reasons to buy

+Comes with a stylus+Long battery life+Triple rear cameras

Reasons to avoid

Colors aren’t very vibrant on screenNo optical zoom or ultra wide angle lens

You don’t have to spend big bucks for a phone like the Galaxy Note 10 to get a stylus with your handset. The Moto G Stylus costs $299 and there’s a handy stylus tucked right into the bottom right corner of the phone. While you won’t get S Pen levels of functionality, you will be able to remove the stylus and start jotting down notes on the Motorola phone’s screen, all without having to unlock your device. The stylus also can help you take screenshots and edit photos.

In many ways, the Moto G Stylus is exactly like last year’s edition of the Moto G Power. They’ve got the same screen size and processor, though the G Stylus comes with more storage and a bigger main camera sensor. The biggest tradeoff, though, is battery, where the Moto G Stylus makes do with a 4,000 mAh power pack. Even with the smaller battery, the G Stylus still lasted more than 12 hours on our battery test, making this a long-lasting phone for people who want a productivity-boosting stylus.

Read our full Moto G Stylus review.

(Image credit: Tom’s Guide)

7. OnePlus Nord N200 5G

The cheapest 5G phone right now

Specifications

Screen Size: 6.49 inches

Processor: Snapdragon 480 5G

Size / weight: 6.42 x 2.95 x 0.33 inches / 6.67 ounces

Battery life (Hrs:Mins): 10:28

5G networks supported: T-Mobile

Reasons to buy

+90Hz display+Decent battery life+5G device for less than $300

Reasons to avoid

Cameras don’t impressUnderwhelming performance

The OnePlus Nord N200 succeeds the affordable Nord N100 from 2020, but adds 5G. It delivers a lot of great features for the money, giving you a 90Hz display, 5G, and a big battery for just $240. However, you’ll need to make some compromises.

Notably, the camera performance on the Nord N200 is quite lacking. And while the Snapdragon 480 5G processor gets the job done for basic task, anything intensive like gaming brings it to its knees, however. That said, if budget is your chief concern, and you want 5G, this is the phone to get.

The OnePlus Nord N200 5G won a highly recommended award from Tom’s Guide.

Read our full OnePlus Nord N200 5G review.

How to choose the best cheap phone for you

Picking the best cheap phone can be tricky, because it’s really all about figuring out which trade-offs you’re willing to live with. But it’s important to start with the basics. Do you prefer a bigger screen? Opt for a cheap phone with a display over 5.5 inches. Those who want to use a phone comfortably with one hand will likely prefer a phone under 5 inches.

Next up is the camera. Budget phones will typically feature one or two lenses, but that’s starting to change. The megapixel count doesn’t matter that much; pay more attention to the capabilities of the camera. See if the phone can shoot ultra-wide shots, which is becoming more common on cheap phones. But don’t expect optical zoom; digital zoom is the norm under $400.

As for storage, 32GB is okay but 64GB is preferred for budget phones. And if possible see if that handset offers a microSD card slot for expansion. Battery life is a huge concern regardless of price, so check the battery capacity on the phone. In general, anything above 4,500 mAh is preferred.

While the TCL 10 5G UW means that 5G compatibility is coming to phones under $400, don’t expect 5G speeds as a rule. That’s likely to change in the coming year, now that 5G modems are included on chipsets aimed at cheaper phones. Lastly, check to see which carriers the phone supports. Ideally, the handset should work with both GSM and CDMA networks all the big four providers in the U.S.

How we test cheap phones

We evaluate budget-priced phones the same way we do flagships. We perform real-world testing and synthetic benchmarks over several days to evaluate it’s performance and value. This includes our own battery test, which involves continuous web surfing over cellular at 150 nits of screen brightness. The devices that make our best phone battery life list tend to last over 11 hours.

In terms of performance, we use Geekbench 5 to measure overall speed and compare versus phones in the same price range. And the same thing goes for GFXBench for graphics testing. We also perform our own video editing/transcoding testing using the Adobe Premiere Rush app to gauge real-world speed.

For evaluating cameras on cheap phones, we will take multiple photos in different conditions and will use other affordably priced phones in the same scenarios in order to make side-by-side comparisons.

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