Best Budget Smartphones 2023 – IGN

Best Budget Smartphones 2023 – IGN

High-end smartphones will cost you, but many of their impressive features are available on just as capable, budget-friendly options. The Google Pixel 7a is our favorite affordable pick, though we’ve included alternatives to keep you connected and your wallet happy. Jump to detailed looks at the best budget smartphones or check the list below:

TL;DR – These are the Best Budget Smartphones:

Multi-camera systems, powerful processors, and top-notch displays have trickled down to the cheapest handsets, but pinpointing the best budget smartphones from the herd is much harder. Well, you can rest easy because we’ve done all the hard work of researching and reviewing affordable phones, bringing you options ready to keep up with all your needs.

Best Budget Smartphones

1. Google Pixel 7a

Best Budget Smartphone

Google Pixel 7a

Google Pixel 7a

A slightly cheaper and toned-down version of the Pixel 7, the Pixel 7a offers the same powerful processor, impressive AI features, and decent cameras.

You’ll be hard-pressed to find a way that the Google Pixel 7a isn’t a flagship Pixel smartphone were it not for that little ‘a’ in the name and the $499 price tag, which is a $50 price hike from the Pixel 6a when it launched last year. You get the same Google Tensor G2 chip found in the Pixel 7, giving you an upper-mid-range performance to cruise through games and open multiple apps at a time. That Tensor G2 Chip also powers the bright 6.1-inch Full HD OLED display with a 90Hz refresh rate, making for smooth, enjoyable doom scrolling, streaming, and gaming.

This Android phone is full of quality-of-life features, including call-enhancing tools, an impressive voice-to-text experience, and cool camera functionality, among other conveniences. Speaking of cameras, it’s got a 64MP main camera, which is more pixels than the Pixel 7, though it’s physically smaller than the flagship. Still, you’ll get some great shots on this phone. However, we have to fault the less-than-stellar battery life, but at least there’s wireless charging.

2. OnePlus Nord N20 5G

Best Ultra Cheap Smartphone

OnePlus Nord N20 5G

OnePlus Nord N20 5G

For $300, you get a phone running on a mid-range Snapdragon 695 processor and 6GB of RAM ready to take on all your everyday tasks.

Experience some of the latest smartphone luxuries at an impressive budget price with the OnePlus Nord N20 5G. For $300, it runs on a mid-range Snapdragon 695 chipset and totes 6GB of RAM. Therefore, you not only get 5G connectivity but also enough oomph for scrolling the web, video chatting with friends, and even some light gaming. Those internals help power a large, bright AMOLED FHD+ display. And, that’s just the beginning.

The OnePlus Nord N20 5G provides a 64MP wide-angle camera on the rear to get great photos and videos, as well as a 16MP sensor on the front for crisp selfies. You’ll be able to run around all day snapping pics thanks to its 4,500mAh battery. And if you forget to charge your phone overnight, with a 33W fast charging feature, it’ll be ready for the day in 30 minutes. Plus, there’s ample room to store everything with the 128GB of space that’s expandable up to 512GB with a micro SD card.

3. iPhone SE (2022)

Best Budget iPhone

iPhone SE (2022)

iPhone SE (2022)

Get Apple iOS on the cheap with this phone running on an A15 Bionic chip but be prepared for a lackluster screen.

Though most of Apple’s latest iPhones tend to head towards the more exorbitantly priced end of the market, the recently announced third-gen iPhone SE (2022) manages to remain one of the cheapest iPhones worth buying. This model takes on the incredibly fluid A15 bionic chip, which is found in the iPhone 13. But the design itself sticks to previous iterations of the SE with a 4.7-inch screen and thick bezels – similar to the now very outdated iPhone 7 or iPhone 8. Luckily, it at least now comes toting 5G support.

The iPhone SE(2022) still offers the same 12MP rear camera seen in the 2020 model, but its new chip provides some photo software improvements like Smart HDR 4 and Deep Fusion for better-looking shots. There has also been a slight improvement to battery life. And, 64GB of storage comes standard on it, so if you’re just looking to keep a smaller collection of photos, videos, games, music, and podcasts on your phone that should be enough. Otherwise, you can bump up to 256GB of storage. Starting at just $429, you’re getting a lot for your money, and you won’t find a more affordable iPhone than the SE.

4. Google Pixel 7

Best Budget Android Smartphone

Google Pixel 7

Google Pixel 7

Running on a G2 Tensor chip, you’ll enjoy fantastic cameras, speedy smart AI functions, and a bright, beautiful display for an affordable price.

Google is splitting the difference between its premium Pixel Pro line and its more budget-friendly A series devices with the Google Pixel 7. Running on Google’s Tensor G2 chip, you get an incredibly fast phone that also lets you take advantage of AI features like speech recognition and Night Sight photography. And your photos will be stunning day or night with an incredibly sharp 50MP main camera and serviceable 12MP Ultrawide camera, along with a Super Res Zoom feature that captures images with up to 8x zoom—though shots stop looking so great after 5x zoom.

The Pixel 7 slightly shifts the design of last generation’s model, instead delivering a smaller 6.3-inch OLED display in a classier, more aluminum-rich frame. You still get a respectable 1080 x 2400 resolution, but the panel now hits up to an even brighter 1400 nits to shine in the sun, too. What’s more is the display’s refresh rate varies from 60Hz to 90Hz for super smooth scrolling, and you get it all for under $600—and the phone is often on sale—undercutting the competition.

5. Asus ROG Phone 5S

Best Budget Gaming Smartphone

Asus ROG Phone 5S

Asus ROG Phone 5S

This beastly gaming phone can keep up with all your favorite mobile titles thanks to a powerful processor and 16GB RAM alongside a 144Hz AMOLED display and 6,000mAh battery.

The Asus ROG Phone 5S is a couple of years old now—but that just means you can enjoy its wealth of gaming features on the cheap. Boosting its performance is a whopping 12GB of RAM, and the Snapdragon 888 Plus chipset gives it that extra bit of power to really shine in games. The phone is loaded up with 256GB of UFS 3.1 storage, and we struggle to imagine a situation where that’s not enough memory for mobile multitasking and storage of the biggest mobile game library.

All that brawn drives the 6.78-inch AMOLED display at serious speeds—we’re talking 144Hz. That’s plenty of screen space to let you use the improved 360Hz touch sample rate with the on-screen controls and still see your games. This phone even includes ultrasonic side buttons that can use taps to simulate triggers or detect swipes. And the ROG Phone 5S has motion sensors for special gesture controls that register movements.

See our guide to the best gaming phones

6. OnePlus 11

Best Budget Flagship Smartphone

OnePlus 11

OnePlus 11

With a powerful processor, a large QHD+ AMOLED display, and a long battery life, this mid-range flagship is a true gem.

Just because it’s a flagship smartphone doesn’t mean you need to fork over a ton of dough. Look at the OnePlus 11, a premium option with an insanely capable processor, and pricing starts at $699. Rocking the latest Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 chip and 8GB of memory means this phone will breeze through games, editing, and other heavy tasks. That also helps power the vivid QHD+ 6.7-inch AMOLED display with a 1000Hz touch response rate and an adaptive 120Hz refresh rate, making it ideal for gaming.

Given all that performance prowess and stunning display, you’re probably wondering if the battery can keep up, but it’s equipped with 5,000 mAh of juice that should have no issue lasting through the day with average usage. But if it happens to run low, 80W SuperVOOC charging takes the phone from 0% to 100% in 27 minutes. The OnePlus 11’s sleek design and impressive high-resolution camera system round out this budget-friendly, high-end smartphone.

7. Poco X5 5G

Best Budget 5G Phone

Poco X5 5G

Poco X5 5G

Ultra cheap phone offering 5G, smooth performance, and a crisp display, but be prepared for underwhelming cameras and modest gaming performance.

Want a 5G for a shockingly cheap price? The $220 Poco X5 5G supports the high speed, low latency connection for a more enjoyable mobile experience. Just be sure your provider supports this phone, as there’s limited US functionality. Beyond 5G, the device emphasizes performance more than anything else, so it runs relatively smooth with quick app loads thanks to a Snapdragon 695 chipset. You can even get in some gaming, albeit at modest settings.

There’s no denying this is a budget phone with its plastic build and thicker bezels, but its 6.67-inch AMOLED display is surprisingly crisp and responsive. Unfortunately, the Poco X5 5G’s cameras are lackluster. You get three sensors on the back of the phone: a wide, ultrawide, and macro with a selfie camera at the front that performs the best out of all four. However, if you’re looking for a super affordable phone that can stand up to daily use, this is one of your best options.

What to look for in a Budget Smartphone

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 than 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.

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 14 or iOS 17, 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 Up, which allow users to upgrade to a new smartphone every two years but never truly own their devices.

Mark Knapp is a regular contributor to IGN and an irregular Tweeter on Twitter @Techn0Mark