Best Budget Smartphones 2021: Cheap iPhones and Android Phones
A few years ago, high-end smartphones cost less than $800. Now, top-end phones will run you $1,000 or more, many of which still lack easily replaceable batteries and other parts—meaning you’ll probably be buying another one in a couple years. If you just can’t stomach the eye-popping prices of today’s flagships, budget smartphones are the perfect alternative to keep you connected and your wallet happy.Trying to save a buck on a budget smartphone doesn’t mean you have to miss out on all the premium features found only on the most expensive mobile devices. If anything, you’ll find that multi-camera systems, extra system memory, and display notches have all trickled down to even the cheapest handsets. While it’s easy enough to see the best high-end smartphones sitting at the top of each manufacturer’s catalog, pinpointing the best budget smartphones from the herd of cheap handsets is much harder. Well, you can rest easy because we’ve done all the hard work of picked out the best budget smartphones that won’t cost you a fortune or short out on you just because it’s cheap.
TL;DR – These are the Best Budget Smartphones:
1. Google Pixel 4a 5G
Best Budget Smartphone
Google Pixel 4a 5G
Screen size: 6.2″ ● Resolution: 2,340 x 1,080 ● CPU: Snapdragon 765G ● RAM: 6GB ● Storage: 128GB · Battery: 3,885mAh ● Rear camera: 12.2MP (wide), 16MP (Ultrawide) ● Front cameras: 8MP ● OS: Android 11 ● Size: 6.10″ x 2.90″ x 0.30″ ● Weight: 4.94 ozIf you’re on a budget, there’s pretty much no phone that delivers as much for the money as the Google Pixel 4a 5G (read our review). For just $500, you’re getting a stunningly capable smartphone that’s even prepared to connect to 5G networks. Since this handset comes by way of Google, it comes with Android 11 and will generally get updates before just about any other manufacturer’s phones.
The Pixel 4A 5G features a large 6.2-inch OLED display, and that’ll help you compose the brilliant photos you’ll be able to take with it. The Pixel 4a keeps a lot of the photographic capabilities of the non-‘a’ Pixel models, so you’ll be shooting photos like no other $500 smartphone can manage.
2. Motorola Moto G9
Best Ultra Cheap Smartphone
Motorola Moto G9
Screen size: 6.5″ ● Resolution: 1,600 x 720 ● CPU: Snapdragon 662 ● RAM: 4GB ● Storage: 64GB · Battery: 5,000mAh ● Rear camera: 48MP (Wide), 2MP (Macro), 2MP (Depth) ● Front cameras: 8MP ● OS: Android 10 ● Size: 6.50″ x 2.98″ x 0.36″ ● Weight: 7.05 ozTo be sure you’re getting a phone that actually works decently well when you’re on a very tight budget, you’ll likely want to turn to Motorola. The company’s budget phones have long been a safe bet, and the Moto G9 is another example of that. For just about $200, you get a large phone with a display to match and a beefy, 5,000mAh battery.
Inside the Moto G9, you’ll find a Snapdragon 662 chipset with 4GB of RAM for smooth performance in general use. The phone only comes with 64GB of storage, but it has a microSD card slot that makes it easy to top up the storage space for very little money. Even on a phone this cheap, Motorola offers a small degree of water resistance to keep it protected.
3. iPhone SE (2020)
Best Budget iPhone
Screen size: 4.7″ ● Resolution: 1,334 x 750 ● CPU: Apple A13 Bionic ● RAM: 3GB ● Storage: 64GB · Battery: 1,821mAh ● Rear camera: 12MP ● Front cameras: 7MP ● OS: iOS 14 ● Size: 5.45″ x 2.65″ x 0.29″ ● Weight: 5.22 ozEven as new smartphones get exorbitant prices, Apple saw fit to release an iPhone that can actually be considered a budget option with the iPhone SE 2020 (read our review). This model takes the older design found on the likes of the iPhone 7 and iPhone 8, and packs in newer internals. You may be getting the older, 4.7-inch display with a lower resolution, but you’ll get the incredible fluidity of the Apple A13 Bionic chip.
The iPhone SE 2020 features a single 12MP rear camera, but it’s a newer sensor than that found on the iPhone 7 and it comes with some of Apple’s intelligent photo processing to make it a better shooter as well. At $400, you’re getting a lot for your money. But, it may be worth it to upgrade to the 128GB model for $450 if you’re planning to hold onto your phone for a while.
4. Samsung Galaxy S20 FE
Best Budget Android Smartphone
Samsung Galaxy S20 FE
Screen size: 6.5″ ● Resolution: 2,400 x 1,080 ● CPU: Snapdragon 865 ● RAM: 6GB ● Storage: 128GB · Battery: 4,500mAh ● Rear camera: 12MP (Wide), 8MP (Telephoto), 12MP (Ultrawide) ● Front cameras: 32MP ● OS: Android 10 ● Size: 6.29″ x 2.93″ x 0.33″ ● Weight: 6.7 ozWhen the Samsung Galaxy S20 (read our review) launched at $999, the price was one of the worse aspects. Since then, Samsung saw fit to pare back some of that phone’s excesses to present a more budget-friendly version that’s still just about as fast in most cases thanks to the same Snapdragon 865 chipset with a 5G-capable modem. That took the form of the Galaxy S20 FE (Fan Edition) for just $700.
The Galaxy S20 FE dials down the megapixel count on the rear cameras, but it still features a triple-sensor setup on the rear. On the flip side, Samsung bumped up the selfie-shooter to 32MP. This model is actually bigger than the standard S20, so it can pack in a 6.5-inch display, though it skips the price-inflating curved edges (that honestly aren’t all that beneficial in practical use).
5. ZTE Nubia Red Magic 5G
Best Budget Gaming Smartphone
ZTE Nubia Red Magic 5G
Screen size: 6.65″ ● Resolution: 2,340 x 1,080 ● CPU: Snapdragon 865 ● RAM: 8GB ● Storage: 128GB · Battery: 4,500mAh ● Rear camera: 64MP (Wide), 8MP (Ultrawide), 2MP (Macro) ● Front cameras: 8MP ● OS: Android 10 ● Size: 6.64″ x 3.07″ x 0.39″ ● Weight: 7.69 ozNormally gaming products cost more than their standard counterparts, right? Well, that’s not quite the case with the ZTE Nubia Red Magic 5G (read our review). It’s truly astounding all that ZTE has been able to pack into this phone while keeping the price below $600. At the heart of the Nubia Red Magic 5G is the same Snapdragon 865 chipset that powers the most powerful Android smartphones on the market right now. And, ZTE amps it up for performance with active cooling.
The Nubia Red Magic 5G offers up a gaming-ready display that’s a large 6.65 inches and offers a 144Hz refresh rate. It can detect inputs quickly with a 300Hz touch sample rate. And, the phone features pressure-sensitive zones to serve as shoulder buttons for easier control in games.
6. OnePlus 8T
Best Budget Flagship Smartphone
Screen size: 6.55″ ● Resolution: 2,400 x 1,080 ● CPU: Snapdragon 865 ● RAM: 12GB ● Storage: 256GB · Battery: 4,500mAh ● Rear camera: 48MP (Wide), 16MP (Ultrawide), 5MP (Macro), 2MP (Monochrome) ● Front cameras: 16MP ● OS: Android 11 ● Size: 6.33″ x 2.92″ x 0.33″ ● Weight: 6.63ozSo, you want to get a flagship-level smartphone that doesn’t make some of the sacrifices of a phone like the Galaxy S20 FE or iPhone SE? Well, luckily OnePlus is still doing that, and the OnePlus 8T is the latest option to hit that mark. This phone starts at just $750, so it may be the most expensive phone on this list (though there’s a discount right now). But, you’ll quickly see it’s offering an experience closer to what you’d find on a $1,000 phone.
The OnePlus 8T features the powerful Snapdragon 865 chipset with 5G support. You’ll get 12GB of RAM for excellent multitasking performance, and this model comes with 256GB of storage by default – no pricey upgrade just to have room for your photos. And you’ll enjoy some great photos on this thanks to a quad-sensor array on the back and a 16MP selfie camera. On the surface of all that is a stunning OLED display measuring 6.55 inches with a sharp resolution and a 120Hz refresh rate for fluid motion.
7. OnePlus Nord N10 5G
Best Budget 5G Smartphone
OnePlus Nord N10 5G
Screen size: 6.5″ ● Resolution: 2,400 x 1,080 ● CPU: Snapdragon 690 ● RAM: 6GB ● Storage: 128GB · Battery: 4,300mAh ● Rear camera: 64MP (Wide), 8MP (Ultrawide), 2MP (Depth), 2MP (Macro) ● Front cameras: 16MP ● OS: Android 10 ● Size: 6.42″ x 2.94″ x 0.35″ ● Weight: 6.7 ozThere’s a new 5G phone on the market, and it’s cheaper than the rest. The OnePlus Nord N10 5G makes the new network standard more accessible than ever at just $299 for the phone. Best of all, it’s no slouch of a phone. The OnePlus Nord N10 5G is a big phone with a 6.5-inch display and Full HD+ resolution, so you won’t be missing out on screen space by going with a budget 5G phone – a good thing too, since one of the big benefits of 5G’s speeds is for streaming and gaming. That display even runs at 90Hz, another rare feature for a phone in this price bracket.
The OnePlus Nord N10 5G runs on a fairly powerful Snapdragon 690 chipset with 6GB of RAM, and it even includes a sizable 128GB of storage. You’ll get sharp photos out of the 64MP wide-angle camera or fit tons into your shots on the 8MP ultrawide. A depth sensor can augment your photos and a 2MP macro camera will let you get close to your subjects.
What to look for in a Budget Smartphone
by Kevin Lee
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 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 Q or iOS 13, 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, which allow users to upgrade to a new smartphone every two years but never truly own their devices.
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Mark Knapp is a regular contributor to IGN and an irregular Tweeter on Twitter @Techn0Mark