Best cheap phones Australia 2023: the top budget smartphones, ranked

These affordable handsets will give you impressive hardware and features without breaking the bank

OnePlus Nord CE 2 Lite review: blue phone held up against blue wooden wall
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(Image credit: Future)

When it comes to the best cheap phones available right now, there is actually a breadth of choice. Indeed, the current crop of cheap phones certainly proves the concept of expensive = best, isn’t always true. 

The best cheap phones of 2023 are as powerful as the best flagship phones of just a few years ago, because the market moves so quickly that the technology that debuts in the best phones today trickles down to more affordable options tomorrow. 

Buying behaviour plays a part too. Over the last five years, buying trends have shown that the best phones overall are some of the best budget phones. This means the more affordable end of the market has become 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 relatively affordable phones now (like the Galaxy A series and the iPhone SE) and they're very good indeed.

For the penny savers amongst us, it’s common knowledge that timing can be crucial in securing excellent deals, so be sure to check out our roundup of the best deals on phones whenever large sales are upon us.

Here's the creme de la creme from T3's best cheap phones guide.

The best cheap phone for most people is the Apple iPhone SE (2022). 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 CE 2. Not only is it incredibly affordable, but we also deemed it to be "charming" in our review. It balances features and price really well, and costs less than the next-best Samsung. 

The best ultra-affordable cheap phone is the Motorola G31. Coming in at less than AU$200, this Motorola is oh so capable, and provides a good smartphone experience for those on a tight budget.

The best cheap phones you can buy today

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iPhone SE 2022 reviewT3 Award


(Image credit: Future)
The best cheap iPhone

Specifications

Dimensions & Weight: 138.4 x 67.3 x 7.3mm / 148g
OS: iOS 13
Screen: 4.7 inches, 750 x 1334 pixels
CPU: Apple A13 Bionic, 3GB RAM
Storage: 64GB / 128GB / 256GB
Battery: 2018mAh, 25W charging
Rear camera: Single: 12MP
Front camera: 7MP

Reasons to buy

+
Fast performance
+
Lower price point for Apple

Reasons to avoid

-
Average battery life
-
Dated design compared to flagships

If you want the iPhone experience without the associated cost, Apple still has something for you in the form of the the iPhone SE (2022), which still delivers a near-flagship experience but for a fraction of the cost.

The design may be bordering on dated now, with the Touch ID home button still hanging on, but it's not exactly an ugly phone, and it costs half as much as the company's latest flagship offering. And yet, it still delivers cutting-edge performance for a cut-price iPhone, with a superb camera and speedy A15 chip, all wrapped into a nice small-scale design that's easy to pocket.

If you're not sold on Apple, however, then there are plenty of Android alternatives that we explore in this list that will suit your needs. 

Read our full iPhone SE (2022) review 

OnePlus Nord CE 2T3 Approved badge


(Image credit: Future)
The best cheap Android phone

Specifications

Dimensions & Weight: 160.6 x 73.2 x 7.8mm / 173g
OS: Android 11 / Oxygen OS 11
Screen: 6.43 inches, 2400 x 1080 pixels
CPU: MediaTek Dimensity 900, 8GB RAM
Storage: 128GB
Battery: 4500mAh, 65W fast-charging
Rear camera: Triple: 64MP + 8MP + 2MP
Front camera: 16MP

Reasons to buy

+
Excellent 6.43-inch FHD+ display
+
Long battery life and fast charging 
+
Slim and compact design

Reasons to avoid

-
Average camera
-
Not waterproof 

You may have expected a Samsung phone to take our crown for best cheap Android phone, but it's actually this rather excellent device from OnePlus. Based around the already-affordable OnePlus Nord 2, but even cheaper still, the OnePlus Nord CE 2 fits perfectly into the top cheap Android phone slot for its balance of features to price. 

As we said in our review: "anyone on a budget who wants a small, light phone with decent battery life and a good display will be happy" - because OnePlus gets all the fundamentals right. All while hopefully leaving some spare change in your pocket. 

Read our full OnePlus Nord CE 2 review

Moto G31T3 Approved badge

(Image credit: Future)
The best ultra-affordable phone

Specifications

Dimensions & Weight: 161.9 x 73.9 x 8.6mm / 181g
OS: Android 11
Screen: 6.4 inches, 1080 x 2400 pixels
CPU: MediaTek Helio G85, 4GB RAM
Storage: 64GB / 128GB
Battery: 5000mAh
Rear camera: Triple: 50MP + 8MP + 2MP
Front camera: 13MP

Reasons to buy

+
Very affordable price point
+
Impressive battery life
+
Vibrant display

Reasons to avoid

-
Display is 60Hz (older G30 was 90Hz)
-
Performance lags a little at times

The Moto G31 doesn't stray from the usual Motorola formula: it's an affordable Android smartphone that serves up a performance that belies its price. And it's really this ultra-affordable asking price that seals the deal in locking this handset into this slot in our guide. 

You get a long battery life and a bright 6.4-inch display, although the lower-end processor can mean some less-than-perfect performance at times, but you can still casually game, take successful snaps with the cameras, and not feel like there's excessive compromise. 

Read our full Moto G31 review 

Best cheap phone 2023: The best of the rest

Samsung Galaxy A53 5G review: peach phone on leafy backgroundT3 Approved badge


(Image credit: Future)
The best cheap phone for point-and-shoot photography

Specifications

Dimensions & Weight: 159.6 x 74.8 x 8.1mm, 189g
OS: Android 12, One UI 4.1
Screen: 6.5 inches, 1080 x 2400 pixels
CPU: Samsung Exynos 12980, 6GB RAM
Storage: 128GB
Battery: 5,000mAh, 25W charging
Rear Cameras: Quad: 64MP + 12MP + 5MP + 5MP
Front Cameras: 32MP

Reasons to buy

+
6.5-inch Super AMOLED display, 120Hz
+
Fantastic three-lens rear camera 
+
Astonishingly good battery life

Reasons to avoid

-
10x digital zoom is very grainy
-
Lacking in performance

The Samsung Galaxy A53 5G echoes the look of the tech giant's flagship S series, resulting in flagship-quality appearances for a fraction of the cost. We're big fans, and we especially love the stunning 6.5-inch Super AMOLED display with 120Hz refresh rate, putting it on par with many flagship handsets. 

On the back, you'll find a quad-camera array, all housed inside a module that blends well into the plastic casing of the phone - the photos come out well with the 64-megapixel main camera leading the charge. Complementing that is  5,000mAh battery that will easily last you between charges.

So what's the catch? Well, the performance won’t blow you away, but let's get things in perspective: it's too easy to think this is a flagship handset when it actually costs a whole lot less. A sophisticated option if you're not on team iPhone.

Read our full Samsung Galaxy A53 5G review

Oppo Find X5 Lite held up against a windowT3 Approved badge

(Image credit: Future)
The best cheap phone for battery life and charge time

Specifications

Dimensions & Weight: 160.6 x 73.2 x 7.8 mm, 173g
OS: Color OS 12
Screen: 6.43-inches, 2400x1080p
CPU: MediaTek Dimensity 900, 8GB RAM
Storage: 256GB
Battery: 4,500mAh, 65W fast-charging
Rear camera: Triple: 64MP + 8MP + 2MP
Front camera: 32MP

Reasons to buy

+
6.43-inch FHD 90Hz screen
+
Long battery life and fast charging
+
Good camera system

Reasons to avoid

-
Limited zoom 
-
Not waterproof 

Oppo regularly sets out to prove you don’t need to spend loads of money to get a phone with impressive features - and the company's Find X5 Lite continues the trend. Combining two-day battery life with 65W charging that takes just over 30 minutes to fully charge, we're blown away by what it has to offer. 

Even though there are some compromises to make, such as it not being waterproof and the camera's zoom is admittedly quite weak, it's still really good value thanks to a lovely 6.43-inch screen with a 90Hz refresh rate for smooth scrolling, a decent main camera, and very capable performance. 

Read our full Oppo Find X5 Lite review

Nokia G21 best cheap phonesT3 Approved badge

(Image credit: Future)
The best ultra-cheap Android phone

Specifications

Dimensions & Weight: 164.6 mm x 75.9 mm x 8.5 mm / 190 grams
OS: Android 11
Screen: 6.5-inch, 1600 x 720 pixels
CPU: Unisoc T606, 3GB / 4GB / 6GB RAM
Storage: 64GB / 128GB
Battery: 5050 mAh, 18W charging
Rear camera: 50MP wide + 2MP macro + 2MP depth
Front camera: 8MP wide

Reasons to buy

+
Very appealing price
+
Solid build quality
+
Excellent battery life

Reasons to avoid

-
There's no 5G here
-
Sluggish performance

The big selling point when it comes to the Nokia G21 is the very, very low price – you can pick one up for very little, with prices start around AU$199 in Australia at the moment. With a lot of us watching our bank balances carefully right now, that's certainly appealing.

Of course you do have to make certain compromises to get down to that price point. There's no 5G here, and the performance is on the sluggish side: it'll still do everything you need it to do, but you might notice the occasional stutter when playing games or quickly switching between a lot of apps.

But, having said that, battery life on the Nokia G21 is excellent, and as you would expect from Nokia the build quality is really good too – this is a phone that doesn't feel as cheap as it actually is.

Read our full Nokia G21 review

Google Pixel 6a best cheap phones

(Image credit: Future / Mike Lowe)
The smartest cheap phone

Specifications

Dimensions & Weight: 152.2 mm x 71.8 mm x 8.9 mm / 178 grams
OS: Android 12
Screen: 6.1-inch, 2400 x 1080 pixels
CPU: Google Tensor, 6GB RAM
Storage: 128GB
Battery: 4410 mAh, 18W charging
Rear camera: 12.2MP wide + 12MP ultrawide
Front camera: 8MP

Reasons to buy

+
Android running at its best
+
Impressive camera setup
+
Decent battery life

Reasons to avoid

-
Only 60Hz refresh rate display
-
Pixel 6 doesn't cost much more

By now we pretty much know what to expect from Google's mid-range phones: they offer a clean, slick Android experience and some very good photo and video capabilities for not much money at all.

The phone uses the same Google Tensor processor that's in the Pixel 6 and the Pixel 6 Pro, and that means lots of AI goodness for powering Google Assistant, photo processing, and so on. If you're heavily invested in Google's apps and services, then this is the perfect mid-ranger.

Of course if you've got more money then the Pixel 7 and the Pixel 7 Pro are superior phones, but at this price point the Pixel 6a is difficult to beat – and its battery life between charges impresses as well.

Read our full Google Pixel 6a review

Xiaomi 11T Pro review

(Image credit: Future)
Flagship specs for a mid-range price

Specifications

Dimensions & Weight: 164.1 x 76.9 x 8.8mm / 204g
OS: Android 11, MIUI 12.5
Screen: 6.67 inches, 1080 x 2400 pixels
CPU: Qualcomm Snapdragon 888, 8GB/12GB RAM
Storage: 128GB / 256GB
Battery: 5000mAh, 120W fast-charging
Rear camera: Triple: 108MP + 8MP + 5MP
Front camera: 16MP

Reasons to buy

+
Astounding flagship-like specs
+
Price has come down, so it's a great buy

Reasons to avoid

-
Software can irk

Flick your eyes over the Xiaomi 11T's spec sheet and you'll be left scratching your head wondering why it's not classed as a flagship device. There's a 6.67-inch OLED screen with 120Hz refresh rate, a top-tier (for yesteryear) Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 processor, stacks of RAM, and a high-resolution main camera. 

Well, we'll let you into a little secret: the 11T did originally cost a lot more when it first launched, but has now seen its price drop rather dramatically, making it a steal.

So what's not to like? The MIUI software can be irksome, as notification delays aren't uncommon, but that's about all. Everything else about this device shouts 'flagship', except the updated price. 

Read our full Xiaomi 11T Pro review 

TCL 20 Pro 5G reviewT3 Approved badge


(Image credit: Future)
A premium cheap phone with a curved screen

Specifications

Dimensions: 164.2 x 73 x 8.77mm / 190g
OS: Android 11, TCL UI
Screen: 6.67 inches, 1080 x 2400 pixel
CPU: Qualcomm Snapdragon 750G 5G, 6GB RAM
Storage: 256GB
Battery: 4500mAh, 18W charging
Rear cameras: Quad: 48MP + 16MP + 5MP + 2MP
Front camera: 32MP

Reasons to buy

+
Stunning 6.67-inch curved display
+
Long-lasting battery
+
Effective selfie camera

Reasons to avoid

-
Average camera
-
Slow charging
-
No waterproofing

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 good enough that it could warrant its price being doubled. 

Glossy, curved and smooth, that 6.67-inch screen is perfect for streaming TV and movies. You won't need to worry about that draining the battery, either, as in our testing it lasted for a massive 20 hours of video playback. Downloading shows won't clog up the phone's memory either, as it has 256GB of in-built storage and that's expandable with a microSD card. 

Admittedly the camera isn't going to win any prizes, as we found it fairly hopeless in low-light conditions and at night. However, if you care more about the screen and battery life anyway, that won't be a big deal. 

Read our full TCL 20 Pro review 

best cheap phones 2021 Nokia 7.2

Looking for one of the best budget phones? The following tips will help you.

(Image credit: Nokia)

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. But they come at a cost, and that cost is a lot of money. Most flagship smartphones now cost north of AU$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 on top.

But, 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 a fraction of the cost.

Most phone makers are cottoning on to this, too, with makers from Xiaomi to Samung, and Google to even Apple 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.

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.

best cheap phones Apple iPhone SE

(Image credit: Apple)

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.

 The art of choosing a phone 

This guide exists to help you work out what you can, and can’t, live without. Going for a budget phone necessitates that you knock some of the bells and whistles off for your handset. We understand that people also have a variety of needs in their budget builds, and want to help you hone in on what you’re looking for. If it's the pure price factor you’re looking at, we’ve got you. If you’re looking for the nicest camera without breaking the bank, never fear, T3 is here! All of these options come from brands with name-recognition, so here’s the best from Apple, Samsung, Nokia and more. Yes, Nokia still makes phones, and no, they’re not bad!

All of our top picks have gone through a series of rigorous tests in the hands of our reviewers across the full spectrum of usage to give you real-world information on battery life, speed in general use, camera and screen quality. You won’t find duds here. 

Cheap does not equal bad! 

With the speed at which the world of smartphones works, the cheap phones of today are the luxury goods of yesterday, top-tier becomes middling in a matter of months, which is excellent for you, the price conscious bargain hunter.  The best budget phones now will have cameras equal to, or better than, the creme-de-la-creme of just a couple years ago. This leads to intense competition in the budget phone market – manufacturers are coming out swinging to deliver solid products, at great prices. For comparison's sake, feel free to have a look-see at the differences in our best phones list.

Knowing what you need 

This guide exists to help you find the best all-rounders, at the best price points. If you know yourself and have a particular love for any specific manufacturers or have particular needs, we’ll have you covered in one of our specialist guides. For example, our best gaming phones guide covers the handsets that we've found to be the best performers in mobile gaming, and our best Android phones guide won't tempt you to buy an iPhone when your heart is set on an Android one. 

We’ve built guides for the top-rated Samsung phones, best iPhone, and Nokia phones and many more. We've even got a guide to the best small phones for those of us who prefer our phones to fit in our pockets.

You'll find that most of the phones here are 4G, not 5G, but if you really want major download speeds then check out our best 5G phones guide.

An important thing to note, in your bargain hunting you may find ‘excellent deals’ on phones on the imported grey market for Australians. You won’t find them here. We avoid including any imported overseas models for Australian consumers. While there may be some models which normally would feature on our list, they aren't always going to give you the best experience on Aussie networks, so they may leave you slightly disappointed or, in rare cases, entirely not work on Australian shores. 

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Robert Jones

Rob has been writing about computing, gaming, mobile, home entertainment technology, toys (specifically Lego and board games), smart home and more for over 15 years. As the editor of PC Gamer, and former Deputy Editor for T3.com, you can find Rob's work in magazines, bookazines and online, as well as on podcasts and videos, too. Outside of his work Rob is passionate about motorbikes, skiing/snowboarding and team sports, with football and cricket his two favourites.