There’s a fierce battle for the best cheap phones title, and who you pick comes down to how much you want to pay for your phone. The Google Pixel 7a delivers premium features in a sub-$500 phone, but it costs more than its predecessor. And with the Galaxy A54 also offering a top experience for $50 less, it’s hard to deny that phone’s appeal to budget-minded shoppers.
No matter which of those devices you ultimately pick, you can’t really lose. And that underscores what we’ve been saying for some time: Opt for one the best cheap phones, and you’ll find enough high-end capabilities to make you feel like you’re getting plenty for your money.
After testing multiple phones that cost less than $500, we believe that most shoppers can find everything they need in these lower-cost devices, whether you’re looking for an affordable iPhone or an inexpensive Android handset. No matter the model, no one needs to spend upwards of $800 on a flagship device when you can easily find a handset that delivers comparable features while costing hundreds of dollars less.
You’ll need to make some trade-offs to get a cheap phone — forget about the most powerful processors or versatile zoom cameras — but in many cases, you’ll find cameras that are good enough to get the job done and even big displays with adaptive refresh rates. And 5G connectivity is basically a given these days.
Here are our picks for the best cheap phones under $500. If that’s still too much to pay, check out our guide on the best cheap phones under $300.
The best cheap phones you can buy today
As good as last year’s Galaxy A53 was, the Galaxy A54 improves upon that midrange device in all the critical areas for smartphone users. The main camera is now the same 50MP shooter that Samsung uses on the more expensive Galaxy S23, and that helps the Galaxy A54 take on the Google Pixel 6a’s impressive cameras. In head-to-head shots, the Galaxy A54 holds its own, even surpassing the output of the Pixel 6a in some cases, particularly when it comes to low-light shots.
The 6.4-inch OLED panel is brighter than the Galaxy A53’s screen, and it’s as colorful as ever. Battery life is better, too, as the Galaxy A54 outperforms the average smartphone on our battery test by half-an-hour. (Battery life improves even further when you turn off the Galaxy A54’s adaptive refresh rate.) We also like the colorful look of the Galaxy A54, particularly the Awesome Violet variant.
We wish the Exynos 1380 processor boosted performance more than it does, and as good as the Galaxy A54’s display is, those bezels are very noticeable. Still, with the Galaxy A54 price holding at $449, this is an impressive phone that delivers plenty of value for bargain hunters.
Read our full Samsung Galaxy A54 review.
The Google Pixel 7a sees a $50 price hike from its predecessor — and more crucially, it costs $50 more than the Galaxy A54. But you can see how Google’s justifying that price. The budget phone now has a bright display with a 90Hz refresh rate and it supports wireless charging, too. Even with those additions, it still costs less than $500 even though it runs on the same Tensor G2 chipset that powers the more expensive Pixel 7.
The best change of all involves improved cameras, specifically the 64MP main shooter on the back of the phone. That’s a larger sensor than what you get with the Pixel 6a, so the Pixel 7a thrives in low-light settings. It’s a neck-and-neck competition with the Galaxy A54 as to which phone takes the better photos, but you won’t be disappointed with the Pixel 7a’s efforts, particularly with Tensor-powered tools like Magic Eraser and Photo Unblur at your disposal.
If you absolutely want to spend the least amount of money for top features, the Galaxy A54 is the best cheap phone to get, but the Pixel 7a offers the most premium features for the money.
Read our full Google Pixel 7a review.
The Pixel 7a may be here, but that doesn’t mean the Pixel 6a has to go away. Google’s keeping the phone around for $349, so you can still get an excellent if older devices, provided the 7a’s new features don’t matter to you.
The Tensor G1 chipset inside the Pixel 6a adds to its appeal. That’s the same silicon inside Google’s more expensive Pixel 6 flagships. As a result, the same AI-powered tricks Google’s flagship phone can pull off are available to the Pixel 6a, too, including the photo-editing Magic Eraser tool and on-device translation.
Even as an older device, the Pixel 6a provides excellent photos that measure up well against other budget devices. Android OS support will run out in two years, so this phone won’t have the shelf life of the Pixel 7a, but it’s still a viable option among the best cheap phones.
Read our full Google Pixel 6a review.
The iPhone SE 2022 takes cheap phones to the next level of performance by including Apple’s powerful A15 Bionic chip. This is the same processor found in the iPhone 13 series and the iPhone 14, and it blows all Android phones away, whether you’re playing games or editing video on the go.
This chip also gives the new iPhone SE 2022 a number of photography powers that the previous model lacked, including Smart HDR 4, Magic Fusion for better detail and Photographic Styles. In fact, in some scenarios the iPhone SE takes better pics than the Google Pixel 6a, as you can see in our Pixel 6a vs. iPhone SE 2022 face-off. Unfortunately, Apple didn’t include Night mode for low-light situations.
The latest iPhone SE features the same design as before, so that means a small 4.7-inch display and big bezels, but some may prefer the old-school Touch ID button for quickly unlocking the device. Despite some trade-offs, the iPhone SE 2022 is a great choice for people who like small phones. With rumors circulating that an iPhone SE 4 likely won’t ship until 2024, it may be your best option for a cheap iPhone for the foreseeable future.
Read our full iPhone SE 2022 review.
Forget about the disappointing OnePlus Nord N300 — the older OnePlus Nord N20 is the phone to get when you’re strapped for cash. That’s even more true now that you’re not limited to buying the phone at T-Mobile (though you will need to use your Nord N20 with a T-Mobile MVNO to enjoy 5G speeds). This is a sub-$300 phone that looks like it’d cost way more. It has a beautiful AMOLED display, even though it’s locked at 60Hz. There’s also an in-display fingerprint sensor, not something you typically see on a phone this cheap.
Sure, the cameras are pretty underwhelming, but for $282, you can’t expect too much. You do, however, get 33W fast charging, which outpaces even some of the top flagships like the Galaxy S22 Ultra and iPhone 13 Pro Max. That’s saying something.
Obviously, there are better phones under the $500 mark, but if $300 is your cap, then the Nord N20 should be your top consideration.
Just one thing to note: the OnePlus Nord CE 3 Lite, previously exclusive to Europe and India, is now coming to the U.S. as the OnePlus Nord N30. In theory it should replace the N20 outright, but we’ll save our verdict for when we’ve got it in for testing.
Read our full OnePlus Nord N20 5G review.
All on its own, the Motorola Edge 2022 would be a fine choice for a midrange phone that delivers some premium features without costing you more than $500. Yet, at $498, it’s brushing up against the ceiling for what the best cheap phones should cost. (Many retailers list the 256GB version of the phone, which costs $599.) Even more worrisome, it can’t really top the Pixel 6a or Galaxy A53 — let alone the successors to those phones — making it hard to pick over those phones.
And that’s a shame because the Motorola Edge does get a lot of things right. Its 6.6-inch display is both big and bright, and it supports wireless charging — a feature you don’t always find in cheaper phones. While MediaTek chipsets haven’t fared well in our testing, the Dimensity 1050 powering the Edge turns in very solid performance, particularly when it comes to graphics. And Motorola offers more generous software support than it has with other devices.
If only the cameras didn’t struggle with color, we’d be a lot more enthusiastic about the Motorola Edge 2022. As it is, this is a decent midrange phone that is outflanked by more impressive devices that cost even less.
Read our full Motorola Edge 2022 review.
Verizon customers who want a long-lasting 5G phone that’s capable of taking advantage of the carrier’s fastest speeds should consider the TCL 30 V 5G. It’s another example of a 5G phone that won’t break the bank, as you can find this particular handset for less than $300.
As is typical of TCL phones, you get a big, expansive display with accurate colors. The Snapdragon 480 5G silicon powering the phone doesn’t exactly offer blazing performance, but that’s a trade-off you make for a cheaper device. You will be pleased with the phone’s battery life, which hit 11 hours and 46 minutes in our testing.
The TCL 30 V 5G isn’t an option if you prefer other wireless carriers, but if you’re committed to Verizon and don’t mind buying the TCL 30 V 5G straight from the carrier, this is a solid budget buy.
Read our full TCL 30 V 5G review.
What to look for in the best cheap phones
After you’ve found a phone at the right price for your budget — that’s why you’re considering one of the best cheap phones in the first place, after all — consider what features one of these devices has to offer and which ones you’re sacrificing for a lower price tag. Battery life, the number and types of cameras, display refresh rate and the type of chipset powering the phone are all ways that cheap phones can distinguish themselves.
In some cases, you’ll be able to compare phones to more expensive options to help crystalize what compromises you’re making for a lower-cost model.
Generally, one area in which phone makers cut back for budget models is materials. They’ll use plastic for the phone’s case instead of metal and glass. Cheaper phones may also turn to LCD panels instead of OLED screens, though that’s becoming less frequent among some of the best cheap phones running Android.
One other area to consider is software updates and support. We’ve seen cheaper Android phones either ship with older versions of Android or promise very few upgrades to future versions. Samsung has one of the better upgrade policies with its Galaxy A lineup, and the iPhone remains a standout for usually supporting five years of iOS updates.
How we test the best 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 3DMark’s Wild Life Unlimited 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.
For more information, check out our how we test page for Tom’s Guide.