Within the tech world there are whole teams of people trying to convince you that expensive = best. At T3 we don’t always believe this to be the case and have rounded up the best cheap phones for those on a budget. 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.
All of these devices offer very good user experiences and, on occasion, will give pricier options a decent run for their money.
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.
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.
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 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 AU$599.
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.
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.
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.
The Vivo Y70 delivers a handset with solid all-round hardware specs and performance for a very affordable price point.
The 6.44-inch AMOLED 1080 x 2400 screen is the highlight of the package, which makes streaming content and playing mobile games a joy. This screen is backed up with the mid-range Qualcomm Snapdragon CPU and Adreno GPU, as well as 8GB of RAM.
Combined that is rock-solid core hardware package and, while this handset isn't going to win benchmark competitions, in terms of real world usage it offers plenty. A fast and fluid handset all round, and one that doesn't leave you waiting for things to load.
In terms of notable absences, this handset doesn't come with a 5G modem, and its screen while large has a 60Hz refresh rate rather than 90Hz or 120Hz. That said, the far more expensive flagship Apple phone on the market right now also has a 60Hz screen, so not too much can be held against the Vivo Y70 on this point.
Overall, a good cheap phone that will please users who enjoy large screens.
If you want 5G tech on a budget, then the Moto G 5G Plus 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 6.7-inch screen with an impressive 90Hz refresh rate, and you get the very capable Snapdragon 765 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 AU$500 mark, and you won't find any wireless charging or waterproofing here.
Around the back there's a quad-lens rear camera with an ultrawide lens but no optical zoom, and it performs pretty well. Camera, battery, screen, performance – it's all impressive for the price you're paying, though you won't confuse this for a flagship phone in a hurry. Our Moto G 5G Plus review reveals all the ups and downs.
There are cheap phones, and then there are super-cheap phones... you can pick up the Nokia 1.3 for AU$149 or even less at the moment, so you're looking at the minimum you can spend and still get a smartphone in return. Don't expect too much though, and you won't be disappointed.
Sure, the specs, performance, camera capabilities and screen quality are all no more than satisfactory – but we're talking about a phone that's less than a tenth of the price of the top flagships here. It's still going to play your Spotify playlists and let you send your emails, the same as the Galaxy S20.
The Nokia 1.3 has cut a lot of corners to get to this price, and you only get the cut-down 'Go' versions of the Google apps by default, but it's still worth a look for those on a budget. Thanks to the Android One programme, you're guaranteed two years of Android updates as well. Read our full Nokia 1.3 review for more.
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.
We’ve been impressed by Nokia’s phones in recent years: while none of them are quite as iconic as the Nokias of the pre-iPhone era, the logo has become a recognisable mark of no-fuss phones that are well made and offer a decent specification for very little money. The late 2020 Nokia 5.4 is a great example of that: it’s a very cheap phone but the specification is good for the price.
Many recent Nokias have had fairly poor cameras but the Nokia 5.4 has a four-camera setup with up to 48MP on the back, and there’s a 16MP camera on the front.
Picture quality isn’t up there with the big-name flagships, but then neither is the price tag. For most people the quality is just fine and the 21:1 aspect ratio Cinema Mode is fun for making home movies. The 4,000mAh battery delivers a promised two days of battery life, although a day and a half is more realistic.
The Nokia 3.4 is similar to the newer Nokia 5.3, but it's even cheaper. If you want to spend as little as possible on your next smartphone then the Nokia 3.4 deserves a place somewhere on your shortlist: you can't really buy a handset for much less than this, and considering its bargain basement price, it's perhaps no surprise that the specs are pretty much the bare minimum too.
You still get some bang for your buck though, even at this level – the triple-lens rear camera comes with an ultrawide mode, the display is nice and big and crisp, and you get the clean and bloat-free stock version of Android that Nokia phones all come with (an upgrade to Android 11 is in the pipeline).
As long as you don't expect too much in terms of power and performance, the Nokia 3.4 will take care of all the smartphone basics for you for less money than most other smartphones – and for a lot of people, that's one of the main considerations when it comes to weighing up a purchase. Read our full Nokia 3.4 review here.
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 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 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.
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.