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Best budget smartphone 2021: The best cheap phones you can buy in the UK

Best budget smartphone 2021: The best cheap phones you can buy in the UK

Aren’t modern smartphones excellent? It’s like having a mini-supercomputer in your pocket compared to the bulky handsets of old. Technology, on the whole, has been getting better every year and – crucially – much cheaper, too. You no longer need to hand over wallet-wilting sums of cash for your annual upgrade. Move your gaze away from those usual smartphone flagship big-hitters and you’ll find yourself a fantastic bargain, as there are some cracking budget smartphones to be found.

Yes, headline-grabbing flagships such as the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra and the iPhone 12 Pro Max are wonderful, but you no longer have to spend top dollar for a superb smartphone experience. Want to know more? Well, that’s where we come in. These are the very best budget smartphones you can buy.

Every year, Expert Reviews puts hundreds of smartphones to the test so you don’t have to, with the best coverage in the UK. That means we can definitively tell you which budget smartphone is perfect for you. Take a look below and you’ll spot our regularly curated list of the best budget smartphones you can buy, as well as a helpful budget smartphone buying guide.

Best budget smartphone: At a glance

How to choose the best budget smartphone for you

Picking the perfect budget phone isn’t easy and there are all sorts of factors to consider when making your purchase. Before you head to the checkout, you’ll want to make sure you have all the bases covered. To make your decision a bit easier, we’ve highlighted the main criteria you need to look out for.

Should I buy a phone on contract or SIM-free?

Budget smartphones are, as you’d expect, cheaper to buy outright than other handsets, with prices starting at around £50 in some cases. As a result, if you have the cash, we recommend you buy one SIM-free. You can then find the right SIM-only deal from any network and sell your phone when you want to upgrade. If you don’t have the cash, you’ll need to go for a contract deal, but these don’t tend to be great value for budget phones as you end up spending much more by the time your contract ends.

Which smartphone operating system do I need?

With budget phones, there isn’t much choice when it comes to mobile operating systems. Bar one exception, every budget smartphone runs Google’s OS, Android. Rest assured, though: Android is easy to use, whether you’re a first-time user or mobile veteran. Just check which Android version the phone is running as older versions may no longer be supported with regular security updates and lack essential features.

If iOS is more your thing, you only have one choice. Apple’s iPhone 6s might begin to be showing its age, but it’s still on sale and remains an excellent budget Apple device. Generally speaking, iOS offers a far more streamlined experience, with apps appearing first on Apple’s storefront, but lacks the customisability of Android.

What should I look for in a smartphone display?

While flagship phones are fitted with the best, biggest and highest resolution screens, you can still find budget smartphones with high-quality displays. Cheap handsets usually have a minimum screen resolution of 1,280 x 720, but some slightly more expensive alternatives offer Full HD (1,920 x 1,080) resolution displays for sharper viewing.

Nearly all of the budget smartphones we recommend use LCD panel technology, which is more than good enough. However, we’re starting to see AMOLED displays crop up at the lower end of the scale as well, which produce even better colours and deeper blacks. Read our full reviews if you want to know how good a phone’s screen is.

Battery life and performance

Budget phones aren’t equipped with top-end internals. But that’s not to say their performance is bad – far from it as we’re starting to see reasonably high clock speed chips make an appearance in handsets at the bottom end of the spectrum. To get an idea of what to expect from a phone’s performance, look at the clock speed of the chip (measured in GHz) and how much RAM is inside (anything more than 4GB will suffice).

Battery life is crucial and each phone’s stamina is different. When considering your next budget phone, keep an eye out on the phone’s battery capacity (in mAh) – the higher the number, the longer you can expect the battery to last on a single charge. If you’re stuck, we’ve rounded up the longest-lasting phones in one place.

How much storage do I need?

It’s amazing how much storage you can eat through on a phone with apps, games and images. You’ll want at least 16GB of onboard storage and look out for phones with a microSD card slot, as you can cheaply add more space when your internal storage eventually fills up.

Best budget smartphones to buy

1. Xiaomi Redmi Note 9T: The best budget phone in 2021

Price: £149 | Buy now from Amazon

Xiaomi hit a rich vein of form with the first few of its budget handsets to reach UK shores, and its newest smartphone is no different. The Xiaomi Redmi Note 9T is far, far better than it has any right to be for a phone that costs less than £250, and the fact that it now supports the 5G network makes for an even more tantalising option.

Yes, the phone we’d recommend above all other wallet-friendly options on the market is the Xiaomi Redmi Note 9T. Xiaomi’s latest budget handset is powered by a speedy MediaTek Dimensity 800U processor, which not only has a bundled 5G modem, but performance easily matches handsets that cost twice the price. Its triple camera array, which includes a massive 48MP sensor is also remarkable for the price, and it has a large 6.53in FHD+ screen too. 

You might think to see these sorts of high-level specs in a flagship phone, so it’s a proper treat to see these features in a phone that costs this little. The Xiaomi Redmi Note 9T is the very definition of a budget smartphone – setting the benchmark for upcoming handsets – and at this price, you can’t do much better.

Read our full Xiaomi Redmi Note 9T review for more details

Key specs – Processor: Octa-core 2.4GHzMediaTek Dimensity 800U; Display: 6.53in 2,340 x 1,080; Storage: 64GB or 128GB; Camera: 48MP, 2MP (macro), 2MP (depth); Operating system: Android 10; Weight: 199g

2. Nokia 1.3: The best budget smartphone under £100

Price: £80 l Buy now from Amazon

Latest Nokia 1.3 contract deals

A sub-£100 smartphone used to bring about negative connotations, but the Nokia 1.3 is far better than its bargain price suggests. Running a specially tweaked version of Android that caters to low-powered devices, the Nokia 1.3 exceeds all expectations for a phone so cheap. Despite the comparatively weak hardware (it only has 1GB of RAM and 16GB of storage), it runs surprisingly well, has a bright IPS display and has a camera that isn’t half bad for the price.

Its sturdy build materials and compact design should help it last the test of time, too, and the replaceable battery is great for future-proofing. It may be lacking when it comes to raw performance, and there are far better alternatives if your buying budget can stretch beyond £100, but when it comes down to sheer affordability, you can’t do much better than the Nokia 1.3.

Read our full Nokia 1.3 review for more details

Key specs – Processor: Quad-core 1.3GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 215; Display: 5.7in 1,520 x 720; Storage: 16GB; Camera: 8MP; Operating system: Android 10 Go; Weight: 155g

3. Samsung Galaxy M31: The best budget battery life

Price: £245 l Buy now from Amazon

Samsung’s well-priced Galaxy M31 is the very best when it comes to battery life. With a gigantic 6,000mAh battery, the Galaxy M31 outperformed every single phone we’ve ever tested, lasting over 30 hours in our video playback test. There’s simply nothing else quite like it at the moment, so if battery life is at the top of your smartphone-buying agenda, then there’s no need to look elsewhere.

If it isn’t, then there’s still a whole lot to love about the Galaxy M31. It has an excellent screen, decent performance and a quadruple-camera setup (with a massive 64MP sensor) that’s among the very best for the price. The only thing we didn’t like is its rather plain design, but this can be excused when you consider everything else it has going for it – even more so if you decide to pop it in a case.

Read our full Samsung Galaxy M31 review for more details

Key specs – Processor: Octa-core 2.3GHz Samsung Exynos 9611; Display: 6.4in 2,340 x 1,080; Storage: 64GB; Camera: 64MP, 8MP (wide), 5MP (macro), 5MP (depth); Operating system: Android 10; Weight: 191g

4. Motorola Moto G9 Power: The budget Moto to beat

Price: £156 | Buy now from Amazon

Latest Moto G9 Power contract deals

Motorola has outdone itself yet again with the Moto G9 Power. The middle child of the new budget trio, the moto G9 Power is the best value, with astonishing battery life and solid performance. 

It might be difficult to pick between the three, but there’s absolutely nothing bewildering about the Moto G9 Power’s cutthroat value proposition. With cuts in just the right places, the Moto G9 Power hits the nail on the head in a number of areas, with respectable performance, a battery life of just under 27 hours in our tests, and a decent suite of cameras. The only reason it isn’t higher in this list is that the video quality isn’t the best for the price, and its display could better. 

Regardless, if battery life and performance is at the top of your list of priorities, then the Moto G9 Power is a standout choice in the budget category. 

Read our full Motorola Moto G9 Power review for more details

Key specs – Processor: Octa-core 2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 662; Display: 6.8in 1,640 x 720; Storage: 128GB; Camera: 64MP, 2MP (macro), 2MP (depth); Operating system: Android 10; Weight: 221g

5. Samsung Galaxy A21s: Samsung’s best-value phone yet

Price: £159 l Buy now from Amazon

Latest Samsung Galaxy A21s contract deals

Samsung’s smartphone offering doesn’t begin and end with the pricey Galaxy S line of handsets, and the savvy buyer can scoop us some well-made, affordable options for not much money. The Galaxy A21s is one such device, with an eye-catching design, massive 6.5in screen and exceptionally long battery life.

If you aren’t keen to hand over flagship-sized sums for your latest phone upgrade, then the Galaxy A21s is a fashionable choice. What’s most impressive, for instance, is that the Galaxy A21s benefits from a total of four rear cameras, with a massive 48MP sensor sitting among its photographic arsenal. Capturing detail-rich photos with plenty of vibrancy, the Galaxy A21s is a top-notch smartphone snapper for the price.

It may have some difficulty competing against budget hallmarks from rivals such as Motorola and Xiaomi, but where it counts the Galaxy A21s is a solid choice, excelling in most areas. If your buying budget simply can’t stretch above £200, then this is the phone to get.

Read our full Samsung Galaxy A21s review for more details

Key specs – Processor: Octa-core 2GHz Samsung Exynos 850; Display: 6.5in 1,600 x 720; Storage: 32GB; Camera: 48MP, 8MP (wide), 2MP (macro), 2MP (depth); Operating system: Android 10; Weight: 192g

6. Motorola Moto G 5G Plus: Another 5G phone for less than £300

Price: £250 l Buy now from John Lewis

Latest Motorola Moto G 5G Plus contract deals

The price of entry into the world of 5G smartphones in the UK used to be well out of reach of most buyer’s wallets, but it’s beginning to slide downwards. The Moto G 5G Plus was the first 5G-equipped handset to break the £300 mark, and it’s a fraction of the cost of the usual 5G handsets currently floating around in the market.

Even if you aren’t fussed about 5G, the Moto G 5G Plus is a phenomenal phone in all other respects. It’s stupendously fast for the price, has a large, colour-accurate screen, a big, long-lasting battery and a decent suite of cameras. Whatever your needs, the Moto G 5G Plus is one of the best smartphones you can buy for around £300.

Read our Motorola Moto G 5G Plus review for more details

Key specs – Processor: Octa-core 2.4GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 765; Display: 6.7in 2,520 x 1,080; Storage: 64GB, 128GB; Camera: 48MP, 8MP (wide), 5MP (macro), 2MP (depth); Operating system: Android 10; Weight: 207g

Buy now from John Lewis

7. Apple iPhone 8 (renewed): The cheapest iPhone

Price: From £179 | Buy now from Amazon

It might not be Apple’s most up-to-date iPhone, but the iPhone 8 is still a solid buy. If your smartphone buying budget can’t quite stretch to the new iPhone SE (£409), then the iPhone 8, despite launching in 2017, will still serve you well so long as you don’t mind buying a renewed model.

The iPhone 8’s build quality holds up in 2021, as does its lovely-looking 4.7in Retina display. Likewise, the iPhone 8’s A11 Bionic processor, while no match for the iPhone 11 and its A13 Bionic chipset, is still more than capable with a variety of intensive tasks. The iPhone 8 also supports the newest version of Apple’s mobile operating system, iOS 14, if you were worried that you might be outdated on the software side of things.

If you want an Apple phone on a budget and aren’t fussed about it being slightly outdated, then the iPhone 8 is clearly your best bet.

Read our full iPhone 8 review for more details

Key specs – Processor: Hexa-core 2.39GHz Apple A11 Bionic; Display: 4.7in 1,334 x 750; Storage: 64GB, 256GB; Camera: 12MP; Operating system: iOS 14; Weight: 148g

8. Motorola Moto G10: The cheapest Moto

Price: £130 | Buy now from Amazon

The Moto G10 is, even by Moto G standards, exceedingly cheap. It costs even less than the Moto G9 Power, but this budget phone still holds its own. For its affordable price, you’ll get a handset that looks good, packs a decent screen and camera considering its low cost of entry, and a formidable battery life.

You’d be forgiven for mistaking the G10 for a device from the G9 series, with the only real giveaway being the couple of millimeters of bezel which double around the chin area and the plastic back. Performance leaves something to be desired, but it makes up for it with a decent display and pleasantly surprising four-camera array. All-in-all, the Moto G10 is superb value for money. 

Read our full Motorola Moto G10 review for more details

Key specs – Processor: Octa-core 1.8GHz Snapdragon 460; Display: 6.5in 1,600 x 720; Storage: 128GB; Camera: 48 MP (wide), 8 MP (ultrawide), 2 MP (macro), 2 MP (depth), 8 MP (selfie); Operating system: Android 11; Weight: 200g

9. Realme 7: The cheapest 90Hz phone around

Price: £199 | Buy now from Amazon

The Realme 7’s main attraction is its smooth 90Hz 6.5in display, a feature that until recently only flagship phones carrying price tags well north of £500 were capable of. This lends onscreen animations extra fluidity that other budget phones simply can’t match. CPU performance is on a par with the slightly more expensive Xiaomi Poco X3 NFC, battery life is better than its predecessor at 18hrs 26mins and for graphics performance, the Realme 7 beats pretty much all its rivals.

Couple that with a set of four rear cameras – including a 48MP main shooter, an ultra-wide-angle, a macro and a depth snapper – and you have one hell of a good-value phone. The only significant thing missing is water resistance but not many budget phones have that. It’s a stunner.

Read our full Realme 7 review for more details

Key specs – Processor: Octa-core 2.05GHz Mediatek Helio G95 ; Display: 6.5in 2,400 x 1,080; Storage: 64GB; Camera: 48MP, 8MP (wide), 2MP (macro), 2MP (depth); Operating system: Android 10; Weight: 197g

10. Apple iPhone SE (2020): The best-value (new) iPhone

Price: £395 l Buy now from Amazon

Latest iPhone SE (2020) contract deals

The iPhone SE (2020) might be stretching the definition of a “budget” smartphone, but Apple’s idea of what constitutes as cheap isn’t exactly the same as everyone else’s. If you want a new iPhone – the iPhone 6s above is getting on a bit – then your best-value option is the iPhone SE.

Despite having the look and feel of a phone from days gone by, the iPhone SE is a formidable small-sized handset that benefits from Apple’s fastest-ever mobile chipset, the A13 Bionic. That’s the same processor found inside the iPhone 11, which costs more than double the price. The cheapest iPhone by quite a distance, the iPhone SE’s 12MP camera is also absolutely exceptional. The only fly in the ointment is the short battery life, but if you are able to spend twice as much compared to other phones on this list, then the iPhone SE (2020) is well worth considering.

Read our full iPhone SE review for more details

Key specs – Processor: Hexa-core 2.65GHz Apple A13 Bionic; Display: 4.7in 1,334 x 750; Storage: 64GB, 128GB, 512GB; Camera: 12MP; Operating system: iOS 13; Weight: 148g

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