The best cheap phones of 2021 are as powerful as the best flagship phones of just a few years ago. That’s because the market moves so quickly now that the technology that debuts in the best phones today trickles down to more affordable options tomorrow. And that’s brilliant news for anyone who wants a really great phone that won’t cost a fortune.
Our buying behaviour plays a part too. In the last five years or so, most of us have decided that the best phones are the best cheap phones – and that means the more affordable end of the market is incredibly competitive, with manufacturers battling to make the very best cheap phone without cutting any important corners. Even premium brands such as Samsung and Apple are making affordable phones now, and they’re very good indeed.
In our best cheap phones guide you’ll find the best affordable smartphones around.
In a hurry? Here’s the top three from T3’s best cheap phones guide.
The best cheap phone for most people is the Apple iPhone SE (2020). This delivers a genuine all-round Apple iPhone experience, with a stylish handset, fast performance and strong software combining for very little money. iPhone quality and simplicity but for far from a premium price point.
The best cheap Android phone is the OnePlus Nord 2, which punches so far above its price point it isn’t even funny. You get great hardware, software and cameras, as well as 5G connectivity and even advanced stuff like Wi-Fi 6. OnePlus is very much the Apple of the Android world, and right here it shows.
The best premium cheap phone is the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE. This Fan Edition version of the excellent S20 delivers 5G, a 120Hz screen, premium internal hardware and a strong camera system all for a very approachable price point. The screen is also HDR10 rated, so get ready for awesome colors and contrast.
The best cheap phones you can buy today
The Apple iPhone SE (2020) is the best cheap phone in the world. That’s because it delivers a near-flagship iPhone experience but does so for a fraction of the cost. Indeed, the SE is so cheap that is rings in for under half that if the flagship iPhone 11 Pro, and for that reason alone it demands checking out by any prospective phone upgrader.
It really does deliver in terms of phone experience, too, with the exact same benchmark-crushing processor installed in it iPhone 11 range making its way into the 2020 SE, too. That means that this phone delivers A13 Bionic-levels of speed and energy efficiency, which combined with the butter smooth and super intuitive and feature packed iOS 13 operating system, makes using the iPhone SE an absolute joy.
Yes, the iPhone SE (2020) cuts a few corners when compared to the flagship iPhone devices, with a slightly weaker camera system, screen and battery, but considering just how remarkably cheap the phone is, and that all its components deliver strong performance, it is really hard to overlook it.
For iPhone users this is a no-brainer cheap phone upgrade, and even for Android users, we suggest at least checking out the handset before pulling the trigger a new phone, as you might be surprised at just how much quality Apple has laid down here for, comparatively, very little money.
Read our full iPhone SE (2020) review for even more on why we think this is such a good choice, and check out our iPhone SE vs OnePlus Nord breakdown for how it compares to our top Android pick.
Hunting for a cheap phone may feel like sacrifice after sacrifice, but that’s actually not the case when it comes to the OnePlus Nord 2. In fact, you get a hell of a lot for your money, it could have fooled me as being worth twice the price.
It follows on from the immensely popular first-generation Nord with even faster speeds, an even bigger battery and even more features. Performance-wise, it’s miles ahead of most cheap phones and is actually just as good as some flagships. That’s a massive plus-point, you’ll be able to use it for just about anything, including mobile gaming!
You might be suspicious about a cheap phone with such impressive performance, but you shouldn’t be because this is a genuine all-rounder.
To name a few of its other benefits: the battery life lasts more than just a day, its camera will easily deliver social media-worthy shots and Oxygen OS is one of the smoothest user interfaces there is.
Unfortunately, there’s still no official waterproofing nor can you charge it wirelessly but this time around OnePlus has added in Wi-Fi 6 alongside the 5G connectivity, so you will get the best internet speeds wherever you go (as long as your router and area support it).
This phone continues the OnePlus Nord legacy, it‘s a true champion and is one of the best cheap phones this year.
Samsung surprised everyone when it dropped the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE (that stands for Fan Edition, by the way) late last year, with the phone delivering the best core S20 functionality along with 5G but for a more affordable price point.
The S20 FE is in terms of where it fits into the S20 range technically the S20e or S20 Lite, but aside from a few things that have been cut from the more expensive models, it is actually nothing like a budget handset, as it is still loaded with premium hardware and features.
Take the S20 FE’s large 6.5-inch HDR10+ rated screen, for example – it boasts a 120Hz refresh rate which is buttery smooth and shared with many of the very best flagship phones that cost significantly more. Heck, even the brand new iPhone 12 Pro (the top phone Apple makes) only has a 60Hz screen!
Then when you go inside the phone you find a flagship grade Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 processor and Adreno 650 GPU, as well as 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage space at entry level. Strong specs all-round.
The camera system on the S20 FE is also a good all-rounder, with a trio of rear facing cameras joined by a high-definition 32MP selfie camera.
Throw in a brand new copy of Android 10, the very latest Android operating system, a stylish design (with plenty of colorways to choose from, too) and a rock solid 4,500 mAh battery (good for about a day and a half of medium usage), and you’ve got yourself a great smartphone package.
Read our Samsung Galaxy S20 FE review for more on why we think it’s the best premium cheap phone on the market today. We’ve also got our Samsung Galaxy S20 FE vs iPhone SE guide, to explain how these two options shape up against each other.
The Honor 50 goes way beyond its price tag when it comes to its design and performance. This looks and feels like a premium handset, covered in glossy glass and featuring a curved OLED screen on the front. There’s even a maximum refresh rate of 120Hz so it feels so smooth to use, especially when you open up mobile games.
Packing a mid-range CPU, the Qualcomm Snapdragon 778G, it is fast and efficient enough for the majority of tasks while the battery is seriously impressive and will easily last you the whole day.
For the amateur photographer in you, the camera system is good enough for landscape shots and portraits. The shots won’t be as detailed as on a flagship handset but for the price, they come out looking great.
There are a few small downsides like the fact that there’s no wireless charging and it’s not waterproof but I’m you’ll be able to look past that because it’s a great all-around device that won’t cost you the earth.
Take a look at the specs sheet of the Xiaomi Mi 10T Lite and you’d think it costs a lot more than it actually does – and you could say the same about when you take a look at the polish and finish of the physical hardware too. However you weigh it up, this is a smartphone that gives you a lot of handset for your money.
You get some decent battery life, some respectable specs (including 6GB of RAM) and a quad-lens rear camera with the Xiaomi Mi 10T Lite, as well as 5G connectivity – if the next-gen network is up and running where you live, then this phone is one of the cheapest ways to take advantage.
A special mention too for that big, sharp, bright 6.67-inch screen, which is great for everything from watching movies to browsing the web. It’s not a perfect phone – there’s no wireless charging, for example – but you’ll struggle to find a device that stretches your money further. See our full Xiaomi Mi 10T Lite review for more info and, to see how this handset compares to our number one cheap phone choice, scope out T3’s Apple iPhone SE (2020) vs Xiaomi Mi 10T Lite comparison feature. We’ve also got a guide to see how it compares to the Android competition: OnePlus Nord vs Xiaomi Mi 10 Lite.
The Google Pixel 4a was delayed several times before it saw the light of day, but we’re glad that it’s here now – it follows on from the template set down by the Pixel 3a, in that it combines a great camera with a decent design and pure Android software. Perhaps the best part is the price though: just $349/£349.
That makes it a very attractive proposition: it’s capable of taking some fantastic photos, especially in low light, and with enough performance to handle the majority of smartphone tasks, what else do you need? It’s not quite as polished or as powerful as the flagships of course, but it costs an awful lot less.
Google is adding an increasing number of exclusives to the Pixel too: the Night Sight mode for the camera for example, and the Recorder app that can convert speech into text in real time. You don’t get 5G, but there is a different (more expensive, but still affordable) model that does come with 5G though. Read our full Google Pixel 4a review for an in-depth look at this model, but we also have our Google Pixel 4a 5G review if you want to see what that can do.
We’ve also got our Google Pixel 4a vs iPhone SE explainer for these two very similar phones, plus a Samsung Galaxy S20 FE 5G vs Google Pixel 4a guide if you want to see how these two big-name Android phones stack up.
The Samsung Galaxy A52 5G echoes the look of the flagship S21 series, with an enormous 6.5″ Super AMOLED 120Hz display disturbed only by Samsung’s tiniest punch-hole front camera. On the rear, you’ll find a rectangular module housing some great camera tech, that blends well into the plastic casing of the phone.
The photos are brilliant on the camera’s default point-and-shoot settings, with a 64MP main camera leading the charge worthy of most flagships and a high-quality 32MP selfie cam not far behind. Snapping great landscape shots, and viewing them on that incredible display, creates an experience unbeaten in its price range.
Naturally for this price, there needed to be some downsides. The Samsung A52 5G isn’t as fast as its flagship counterparts, and the design is clunkier too. Despite that, this is a fantastic mid-range phone with some high-end specs – it’s definitely worth considering.
Although the OnePlus Nord CE 5G is a great cheap phone, it’s not quite as good as the original OnePlus Nord. the clue’s in the name ‘Core Edition’ which immediately implies it has been stripped back somewhat to keep the price low.
There are a few areas it thrives in. Like its battery life which matches up to some of the best flagship phones you can buy, and it charges up super quickly too. You’ll also be able to enjoy streaming TV shows and movies on the large, bright Full HD screen, and take advantage of smooth control in mobile games thanks to the 90Hz refresh rate.
Having said that, OnePus has clearly cut a few corners. The most obvious is the design, they’ve swapped out the glass back for plastic and simplified the controls. It’s also got a less sophisticated camera system, which is a shame but makes sense considering the lower price.
Overall this is a good phone for anyone on a tight budget, it may not stand out against the crowd but it will certainly do everything you need it to and it will do it relatively well. It’s a solid, capable handset you can rely on.
While the Vivo V21 5G isn’t the best cheap phone you can buy, it does have a lot to say for itself especially when it comes to the design. It could fool you into thinking it costs a lot more than it does. The matte glass back shimmers in the light while the 6.44inch FHD+ display delivers accurate colours, plenty of brightness and sharp refined details.
Granted the rear camera leaves a lot to be desired, so don’t go for this if you’re an amateur photographer. But if you’re more of a selfie snapper then the good news is that the front camera is incredible considering the price, with a 44MP OIS lens and two LED flashes, you’ll get flattering shots of yourself and your friends pretty much every single time.
You won’t be blown away by the speed of the Vivo V21 5G so mobile gamers should steer clear but if you just need a phone for texting, scrolling social media and watching YouTube or Netflix then this is worth considering.
The Realme 8 Pro is packed with a 108MP camera, the highest resolution you can get from a smartphone camera. So we expected big things when it came to its photos.
It didn’t disappoint. Perfect if you are on a tight budget but want a smartphone with a great camera for point-and-shoot photography, shots came out looking super sharp and lifelike in natural light. It didn’t cope so well when it came to ultrawide photography though, so bear that in mind if you take a lot of those.
With 1,000 nits brightness, the 6.4 inch AMOLED display was incredibly vibrant, although truth be told did lack the clarity of other, more expensive handsets. One area it truly excelled at though was in battery life, it’ll last you about 20 hours of video playback and can recharge in as little as 47 minutes. So if you’re the type who constantly forgets to give your phone some juice, it’s hard not to recommend.
The Sony Xperia L4 has a 6.2inch screen with a 21:9 aspect ratio, its long slender display is immersive and makes it ideal for watching TV shows and movies. Perfect for a long commute!
You won’t get the best of everything with this phone though. Sony has definitely cut some corners to keep the price so low. Mobile gamers will find its speeds frustratingly slow, while those who are constantly scrolling through social media may find that they’ll have to recharge it a couple of times a day. Then, when it comes to the camera, it copes well with point-and-shoot photography in bright daylight but not so well at night.
Overall this phone is fine, you get what you pay for when you spend so little on a smartphone. Anyone on a very tight budget should add it to their shortlist.
You might have scrolled down this list and thought to yourself “these phones are still too expensive.” In which case, consider the Motorola Moto G10. It’s a seriously cheap handset.
Because the price is so low, there are some sacrifices to be made. The main one being performance, this phone is by no means speedy. It’ll cope with basic tasks like casual web browsing and messaging, but don’t expect to play big mobile games on it.
Overall though, considering how inexpensive it is, the Moto G10 is a very capable smartphone. The battery will last you a full day, the screen is big enough to watch video on and the camera is alright too. It’s no rival to the mid-range phones above but for this price, you won’t get much better.
It may be on the more expensive end of this list, but the TCL 20 Pro 5G is a very capable handset with a display that looks like it should cost twice the amount.
Glossy, curved and smooth, the 6.67-inch screen is perfect for streaming TV and movies. You won’t need to worry about that draining your battery, as in testing it lasted a massive 20 hours of video playback. Downloading shows won’t clog up the phone’s memory either, it has 256GB of in-built storage and that’s expandable with a MicroSD card. It really is a phone well suited to the daily commute.
Admittedly the camera on this phone isn’t going to win any prizes, it did alright in natural light but was fairly hopeless at night. However, if you care more about the screen and battery life anyway, that won’t be a big deal. Overall, it’s a fantastic looking phone.
There are cheap phones, and then there are very cheap phones: the Vivo Y20s won’t cost you much at all, and while you have to live with some compromises as a result, this phone will still do just about everything that you need an Android handset to do (albeit a little bit more slowly than normal in some circumstances).
Besides the low, low price of the Vivo Y20s (check the widget above for the best online deals right now), it also excels in terms of its battery life – you can often get a couple of days of use out of this phone, we found in our testing. You don’t get wireless charging or even particularly fast wired charging unfortunately, but you can’t have everything in a budget phone like this.
With no 5G, modest specs, and a camera that doesn’t go much beyond satisfactory, this isn’t a handset that’s going to appeal to power users – but it is going to appeal to anyone on the hunt for the best cheap phone of the moment, especially if it’s the cheapness that’s the priority.
Considering the money you’re paying for the Oppo Find X3 Lite, you get an awful lot back in return, including a competent camera, 5G support and a rather nice screen. A fantastic wired charging speed – up to 65W – is another reason to put this on your shortlist of the best budget phones of the moment, although there’s no wireless charging available here.
The screen is another highlight, with the 6.43-inch AMOLED display, running at a 90Hz refresh rate, very good for just about anything – watching movies, browsing the web, flicking through social media feeds, and so on. The size and quality of the display certainly makes you feel like you’re using a more expensive phone.
Of course there are compromises to get to this price point, as there always are, but we think that the ones that the Oppo Find X3 Lite makes are clever ones. It’s significantly less than the other models in the Oppo Find X3 range, and if you can live with its drawbacks, you’ll find it an excellent smartphone.
The Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Lite is one of the budget phones that has impressed us most over the last 18 months (it was the best handset we saw at CES 2020), and the reasons should be fairly obvious: it has a huge, gorgeously vibrant screen, it comes with an S Pen stylus (unique in the cheap phone market), and it has all the Samsung style on the software side as well.
This being the Lite model, you get an older processor under the hood, but that’s not going to worry too many people once you take into consideration the large price savings over the devices like the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra. There’s no 5G or wireless charging here, though, and the storage space is lowered to 128GB (you can expand that with a memory card though, if you need more).
Even with those older components inside, the Note 10 Lite still races along through any task or game, and it’s definitely going to turn heads the next time you get it out in front of family or friends. It’s one of the best Samsung phones in the business and it’s one of the best cheap phones on the market right now.
If you want 5G tech on a budget, then the Motorola Moto G50 should be playing a part in your deliberations: as well as all the standard Motorola value-for-money quality, this is also ready for the future, whenever 5G might make its way to where you live.
The phone boasts a nice and big 6.5-inch screen with an impressive 90Hz refresh rate, and you get the very capable Snapdragon 480 processor inside – a quality screen, a fast processor, what more could you ask for? There are some compromises to be made of course, to get under the £200 mark, and you won’t find any wireless charging or waterproofing here.
Around the back, there’s a triple-lens rear camera but there’s no optical zoom or ultrawide lens, it performs okay but it’s hardly going to deliver professional-looking shots. The phone is basic across the board so you won’t confuse this for a flagship phone in a hurry.
The Honor Play, despite being pitched as a mobile gaming powerhouse, is actually just a fabulous all-round Android phone that delivers a stunning package for a very, very low price point of only £279.95 – or even less at some outlets.
Seriously, you get some incredibly tasty technology in the Honor Play, including the rapid Kirin 970 CPU, 4GB of RAM, and a very spacious 6.3-inch FHD+ screen. Solid if not spectacular dual rear cameras and a single selfie camera are partnered with 64GB of internal storage space, while the phone’s in-built GPU Turbo tech means that mobile games run incredibly well, too.
And, with immersive 7.1 Histen audio and a 89 per cent screen-to-body ratio in play, enjoying those games, or any other media, really is a super enjoyable experience.
Simply put, the Honor Play seriously makes you question why anyone would spend more on a mobile phone, which in some flagships means a price 3 or 4 times that of this phone. Read our full Honor Play review for all the ways this is less a gaming phone and more just a… really good phone.
We’re big fans of Realme’s approach to phones, which seems to be to pack in as many good-quality components as possible while keeping the price reasonable. The Realme X3 SuperZoom comes in at a low-to-mid-range price point, but still offers plenty of power and performance.
Take that SuperZoom rear camera, for example, which gives you the flexibility of both the 5x optical zoom and an ultrawide lens, so you can zoom in or out as necessary. The Snapdragon 855 Plus processor is no slouch either, and the phone should be able to cope with everything you can throw at it.
At first or indeed second glance you could be forgiven for thinking this phone is a lot more expensive than it actually is, and that’s credit to the way that Realme has styled this handset: we’re particular fans of the Arctic White look shown above. Read our full Realme X3 SuperZoom review here.
Poco has now fully spun out of Xiaomi, and the Poco F2 Pro is the result: a well-designed, very well-specced mid-range phone that has plenty to offer if you’re looking for value for money. Indeed, some of the specs are top tier, like the Snapdragon 865 processor running under the hood.
We really like the big, bright 6.67-inch Super AMOLED display, which has no notch to spoil it thanks to the motorised pop-up selfie camera hidden in the chassis. Battery life is really good too, and you might even be able to get two days of use between charges if you go easy on the gaming and the GPS mapping.
You miss out on extras like wireless charging, and the quad-lens rear camera is good rather than great, but you have to make some compromises at this end of the market, and the Poco F2 Pro picks the right corners to cut. Even without Xiaomi’s direct help, this is a phone that offers excellent value for money – read more in our full Poco F2 Pro review.
If you want the phone that gives you biggest amount of battery per pound, look no further. The 6,000mAh battery here is simply colossal – that’s 20% more than the ultra-expensive Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra gives you, let alone most of the budget phones in this list. It’s more than three times the capacity of the iPhone SE (2020), in fact.
Of course, it needs to be big, partly because the only part of this phone as generous as the battery size is the screen size. At 6.8 inches, it’s truly a beast, and makes for a big canvas for video and games. The downside is that it’s not very high resolution – it has fewer pixels than a lot of the phones here, but it’s also one of the biggest sizes, so you really notice the lower resolution. It shouldn’t be a dealbreaker, but you can definitely get strong screen quality elsewhere.
It’s a similar story for most of the rest of this phone, in fact – its performance is fine, but not quite as snappy as some of the other options. The cameras are good in bright light, but really struggle in low-light conditions. It’s a good buy, especially if you want really long battery life, but it just comes with compromises. Read our full Moto G9 Power review here, and see our Moto G9 Power vs iPhone SE (2020) comparison here.
OnePlus first made its name by offering very good phone specs at very good prices, so it’s fitting that it’s now back in that groove with the OnePlus Nord. While OnePlus phones have slowly got more expensive over the years, the Nord goes the other way and is a fantastic mid-ranger.
Starting at just £379 in the UK, you get a powerful Snapdragon 765G processor, at least 8GB of RAM, at least 128GB of storage, and 5G thrown in as well. Now that the second generation has been launched, you’re likely to see some great deals on this across the web.
It has a sharp, bright 6.44-inch display that zips along thanks to its 90Hz refresh rate – everything on this screen looks stunning.
Some compromises have been made to get the OnePlus Nord to this price: there’s no wireless charging and no waterproofing, and the camera and battery life are good rather than great. All in all though, this is an amazing package that OnePlus has put together for the price.
Check out our full OnePlus Nord review for even more on why we rate it so highly, and don’t miss our OnePlus Nord vs Pixel 4a breakdown to see how these two similar Android budget handsets compare.
The OnePlus Nord has also won the Best Value Phone award at the T3 Awards 2021, which is another huge reason to consider this handset as your next phone upgrade.
We’ve written this guide to encompass the best cheap phones on the market right now, but if you like a specific manufacturer or operating system then we have plenty of specialist phone guides here too.
For example, our best gaming phones guide covers the high-powered handsets that we’ve found to be the best battlers in mobile gaming, and our best Android phones guide isn’t going to offer you an iPhone if your heart is set on Android. If you prefer to buy a particular brand, check out our guides to the top-rated Samsung phones, best iPhone, and Nokia phones and many more. We’ve also got a guide to the best small phones for those of us who prefer our phones to fit in our pockets or purses.
You’ll find that most of the phones here are using 4G technology, not 5G. That’s unlikely to be an issue for most of the UK, where 5G is still relatively patchy, and 4G is fast enough for things like video streaming. However if you really want 5G speeds then check out our best 5G phones guide.
How to choose the best cheap phone for you
Flagship smartphones are great: they’re lightning fast, well designed, and come with a ton of extra features, too. But they come at a cost, and that cost is a lot of money. Most flagship smartphones now cost north of £1,000 to buy and, while the value you can get out of them can justify the cost, there is no getting away from the fact that it is big outlay, and especially so when contract costs then have to be added in on top.
The thing is, though, if you do your research well and decide exactly what you prize and need from a phone, then you can shop in the mid-range or budget phone market and get 70-90 per cent of the same experience as you would get if you owned a high-end phone, but for literally a fraction of the cost.
Most phone makers are cottoning on to this, too, with everyone from Xiaomi to Samung, and Google to Sony now offering some truly incredible handsets at fantastically low prices. Many of these handsets come with features that, only a few years ago, would be purely the domain of flagships, too, and in some cases we’re now seeing entirely new technology actually debut in these cheaper devices. Just look at the Samsung Galaxy A80 and its unique pop-up and rotating camera system as proof.
As such, the first step to deciding which cheap smartphone is right for you is to work out exactly what you value most from a handset. If it is the ability to play games on the go, for example, then that will help you lean toward a device like the Honor Play that specialises in running games at high frame rates and with eye-popping visuals.
Equally, if you absolutely must have liquid-smooth core operation, with fast app loading and UI navigation, then you know you need to look for a device that comes with a powerful processor and slick OS skin, such as the OnePlus 6.
Maybe you actually prize taking pictures more than anything else, and need a phone that despite being cheaper than a flagship device still delivers a powerful and versatile all-round camera system. If so, then a phone like the Samsung A9 with its stacked quadruple camera system will be more down your street.
Creating a list of primary and secondary features you’d like to have works well in our opinion when balancing want and budget, and then where possible try to pick up a device that delivers at least one feature from your primary list, and two or more from your secondary list. Naturally, many smartphones in our best cheap phones guide deliver numerous excellent features at very competitive price points, so we’re guessing you won’t have too much trouble balancing your needs with your budget.
How we test cheap phones
Smartphones today are incredibly powerful tools that act like small form factor computers, and as such there is a lot to consider when testing one.
Here at T3 we go about testing a smartphone in a five-stage process. Firstly, we evaluate the phone’s build quality and fit and finish. At this stage we’re looking to see how the phone feels in the hand and looks to the eye, as well as if it suffers from obvious defects such as a spongy screen or cheap-feeling plastic backplate or frame.
From this point we analyse the handset in terms of its core internal hardware and specifications. We’re looking to see what processor, RAM, storage, GPU and battery the phone comes with, and then test out how that package combines in terms of benchmark scores and real world performance. The benchmarks we use to test each phone are Geekbench 5 and 3DMark.
Next we take a closer look at the phone’s screen, which is so important on any handset. We’re looking to see what it delivers on paper as well as how it looks in real life in a variety of applications, such as streaming videos, viewing images, navigating the phone’s UI and playing mobile games.
We then spend time exploring everything the phone has to offer in terms of camera system. This involves utilising the phone’s shooting modes to capture a series of photographs, both inside and outside, as well as in good light and low-light environments. We test out the quality of key modes, like portrait, independently.
Finally, we take a look at the handset’s software and any notable features. We then bestow a star score on the phone and, if it is high, consider it for out best cheap phones buying guide.