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.
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Our top picks come as cheap as $160, while more advanced models will run you $500 — 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 $349 Google Pixel 6A is our favorite best cheap phone. Google delivers all the big features that matter, 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. Even though Google’s Pixel 7A, at $499, is also a very good value, the Pixel 6A still 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.
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.
The $349 Pixel 6A holds its value really well, even after Google’s release of the $499 Pixel 7A. In her Pixel 6A review, CNET’s Lisa Eadicicco called it the “best Android phone under $500,” noting that it keeps the same Tensor chip as the $599 Pixel 6, and many of the 6’s best features. Plus, the 6A is often discounted to $299, at which price it becomes an amazing phone for under $300, thanks to its excellent software support.
Even if you’re considering the $800 Samsung Galaxy S23, you should take a look at the $450 Samsung Galaxy A54 5G, since it might have all the features you want, for less money. It comes in a variety of bright colors and includes a vibrant 6.4-inch display that runs at a 120Hz refresh rate. Its screen is also a little bigger than what’s offered on Google’s Pixel 6A and 7A.
Google’s budget phone took a leap forward in 2023 with the Pixel 7A, which offers many of the same benefits as the Pixel 7 but at a cheaper price. Like the Pixel 7, the Pixel 7A runs on Google’s Tensor G2 processor, meaning it has many of the same photo editing and language translation features as its pricier sibling. The Pixel 7A’s 64-megapixel camera also takes excellent photos, which rival the Pixel 7’s in quality.
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How we test phones
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.
Readmore: How we test phones
Best cheap phones FAQs
Can you find cheap phones on sale?
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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