The best phones under $500 include so many features that you want to see in an excellent phone, with sacrifices that you might not even notice. These are phones that include displays with high refresh rates, modern chips, good cameras and 5G. They even get several years of software and security updates.
These phones do make cuts that justify why they’re cheaper than phones that cost more than $500, but those cuts are increasingly in areas that might not raise any particular flag when you just want a reliable device. Apple’s iPhone SE and Google’s Pixel 6A and 7A phones, for instance, have smaller screens, but all run on newer processors and software. Samsung’s Galaxy A series of phones often look just like the Galaxy S line, but instead run on a less powerful processor. And the Moto G Stylus 5G takes nice photos, provides a roomy 256GB of space and throws in a stylus, but Motorola doesn’t provide software support for as long as its competitors.
Photography and video in particular are areas where the phones in this price bracket take a noticeable hit in comparison to their more expensive counterparts. However, photo-processing software should help pick up some of the slack. For instance, while the iPhone SE has a single 12-megapixel camera that doesn’t support night photography, its A15 Bionic chip does allow for Apple’s Deep Fusion processing. It’s a similar situation for the Pixel 6A, which uses a 12-megapixel main camera and a 12-megapixel ultrawide camera, yet can enhance those photos with processing powered by the phone’s Tensor chip. However, the new Pixel 7A offers a 64-megapixel main camera, which some might consider an upgrade from the Pixel 7’s 50-megapixel main camera.
You can see the pros and cons of each of these phones below, with more details available in our full reviews.
What is the best phone under $500?
Google’s $499 Pixel 7A compares so closely to the $599 Pixel 7 that it’s now tough to recommend the more expensive option. The Pixel 7A includes the same Tensor G2 processor that powers Google’s Pixel-exclusive features, gets wireless charging, a 90Hz refresh rate and a 64-megapixel main camera paired up with a 13-megapixel ultrawide camera. My colleague Lisa Eadicicco said that the Pixel 7A does miss out on the Pixel 7’s battery-share feature, the camera’s Action Pan mode and slightly faster charging, but none of those features feel like major omissions.
And if you want to save even more money, last year’s Pixel 6A has received a permanent price drop to $349 and still has a lot to offer. It runs on the Tensor chip, includes many of the same Pixel features like Real Tone for photography and Hold for Me for phone calls, and takes crisp and colorful photos for a phone of its price. This is especially true when it gets discounted to $299, which it often is, making it the best phone for under $300 as long as it’s on sale.
Best phones under $500
How we test phones
Every phone on this list has been thoroughly tested by CNET’s expert reviews team. We actually 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 all about it.
We examine every aspect of a phone during testing:
- Design and feel
- Processor performance
- Battery life
- Camera quality
We test all of a phone’s cameras (both front and back) in a variety of conditions: from outdoors under sunlight to dimmer indoor locales and night time 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. And we, of course, weigh all of our experiences and testing against the price so you know whether a phone represents good value or not.
Read more: How we test phones
Phones under $500 comparison
Google Pixel 7A vs. Google Pixel 6A vs. Samsung Galaxy A54 5G vs. Motorola Moto G Stylus 5G (2023) vs. Apple iPhone SE vs. Apple iPhone 11
|Google Pixel 7A||Google Pixel 6A||Samsung Galaxy A54 5G||Moto G Stylus 5G (2023)||Apple iPhone SE (2022)|
|Display size, resolution||6.1-inch OLED; 2,400×1,080 pixels; 60/90Hz||6.1-inch OLED; (1080 x 2400); 60Hz||6.4-inch Super AMOLED; 2,340×1,080 pixels; 120Hz Adaptive Refresh Rate||6.6-inch LCD display; 2,400×1,080 pixels; 120Hz refresh rate||4.7-inch LCD; (1,334×750 pixels); 60 Hz|
|Pixel density||361 ppi||429 ppi||403 ppi||399 ppi||326ppi|
|Dimensions (inches)||6.00 x 2.87 x 0.35 in||6.0 x 2.8 x 0.35 in||6.23 x 3.02 x 0.32 in||6.41 x 2.9 x 0.37 in||5.45 x 2.65 x 0.29 in|
|Dimensions (millimeters)||73 x 152 x 9.0 mm||152.2 x 7.18 x 8.9 mm||158.2 x 76.7 x 8.2 mm||162.8 x 73.8 x 9.3 mm||138.4 x 67.3 x 7.3 mm|
|Weight (ounces, grams)||193g (6.81 oz)||6.3 oz; 178g||202 g (7.13 oz)||202 g (7.13 oz)||5.09 oz; 144g|
|Mobile software||Android 13||Android 12||Android 13||Android 13||iOS 15|
|Camera||64-megapixel (main), 13-megapixel (ultrawide)||12.2-megapixel (wide), 12-megapixel ultra wide)||50-megapixel (wide), 12-megapixel (ultrawide), 5-megapixel (macro)||50-megapixel (main), 8-megapixel (ultrawide)||12-megapixel (wide)|
|Front-facing camera||13-megapixel, 4K @ 30fps||8-megapixel||32-megapixel||16-megapixel||7-megapixel|
|Video capture||4K at 30/60fps||4K||4K||4K at 30 fps||4K|
|Processor||Tensor G2||Google Tensor||Exynos 1380||Snapdragon 6 Gen 1||Apple A15 Bionic|
|RAM/Storage||8GB / 128GB||6GB RAM/128GB storage||6GB + 128GB; 8GB + 256GB||4GB RAM + 128GB; 6GB RAM + 128GB; 6GB RAM + 256GB||64GB, 128GB, 256GB|
|Expandable storage||None||None||Micro SDXC||Yes||NA|
|Battery/Charger||4,385 mAh (18W fast charging 7.5W wireless charging)||4,410 mAh capacity; 18-watt fast charging (adapter sold separately)||5,000 mAh (25W wired charging)||5,000mAh (20W wired charging, 10W adapter included)||Batttery NA (20W wired charging — charger not included), 7.5W wireless charging)|
|Fingerprint sensor||Side||Under display||In-display||Side||Home button|
|Special features||5G (5G sub6 / mmWave), IP67 rating, 18W fast charging, 7.5W wireless charging||5G-enabled, 18W fast charging, WiFi 6E, security updates for 5 years, Android OS updates for 3 years, dual SIM, IP67 water resistance||5G (mmw/Sub6), IP67 rating||Stylus, Moto Gestures, stereo speakers||5G-enabled; supports 25W wired fast charging; Water resistant (IP67); dual-SIM capabilities (nano-SIM and e-SIM); wireless charging|
|Price off-contract (USD)||$499, $549 (mmW)||$349 ($299 when on sale)||$449 (6GB/128GB)||$400||$399 (64GB), $449 (128GB), $549 (256GB)|
|Price (GBP)||£449||£349||£449 (6GB/128GB)||Converts to £317||£419 (64GB), £469 (128GB), £569 (256GB)|
|Price (AUD)||AU$749||AU$599||AU$649 (6GB/128GB)||Converst to AU$590||AU$749 (64GB), AU$829 (128GB), AU$999 (256GB)|