Welcome to our guide to the best cheap phones of 2021! Our list of the best budget phones is designed to help you get exactly what you want from your new phone, whatever price limit you have mind and for whichever brands you prefer. You'll find the best cheap iPhones, best cheap Samsung Galaxy phones, best cheap Google Pixel phones, and more great potential buys.
To make sure that we're recommending only the best cheap phones, we've given them thorough real-world testing on everything from camera quality, to battery life, to speed in general use, to screen quality… and more. We've put these phones through their paces to make sure that they're really worth buying – we're not interested in false economies, just great-value phones.
Cheap phones have come a very long way in recent years, and the relentless pace of smartphone innovation means technology gets passed down from high-end models really quickly. Some budget phones have better cameras than the smartest smartphones of just a few years ago, and intense competition in the budget phones market means manufacturers have really upped their game to deliver great cheap phones that don't cut any important corners. There are handsets here that give the phones in our best phones guide a very good run for their money.
The choice of cheap phones in 2021 is very wide, and you can chose from a vast selection of budget Android phones as well as a growing number of affordable iPhones. If you're looking for the best cheap phone for the kids, for work or for photography we think you'll find the perfect cheap phone right here.
We've written this guide to encompass all the best cheap phones around right now, but if you have a particular preference for a specific manufacturer or operating system T3 has plenty of specialist phone guides here too, and one of these might actually better suit you right now. 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 try and tempt you to buy an iPhone when your heart is set on an Android one.
And if you're loyal to a particular brand, check out our guides to 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. That's unlikely to be an issue for most of the UK, where 5G is still relatively patchy, but if you really want 5G speeds then check out our best 5G phones guide.
Best cheap phones: budget but brilliant mobile phones
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.
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. That's not to mention the sharp, bright 6.44-inch display which 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.
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.
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.
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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.
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.
Anyone who tells you that getting 5G on a phone is going to cost you a lot of money hasn't come across the TCL 10 5G: not only does it offer 5G, you also get a very decent screen, processor and camera as well, all for a little under £400 if you're buying direct and SIM-free.
Some corners are cut to get the phone to this price – no waterproofing, no wireless charging – but you can't have many complaints considering the amount you're paying. TCL is relatively new to the smartphone scene, even though it's a veteran in the electronics industry, and we're impressed with what it's pulled off here.
Apart from the 5G that's on board, it's perhaps the display that has the most appeal here. It's bright and vivid, and you get a host of software tweaks that you can apply to really make the colours pop if you need to (when watching Netflix, for example). Be sure to check out our full TCL 10 5G review if you're interested.
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 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 £300 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 £80 or even less in the UK 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.
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.
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.
The Samsung Galaxy A51 echoes the look of the flagship S20 series, with an enormous 6.5" Super AMOLED display disturbed only by Samsung's tiniest punch-hole and a rectangular rear module housing some great camera tech.
The photos are brilliant at most ranges, with a 48MP wide-angle lens 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. Only small niggles such as the lack of RAM stop it from assaulting the top entries on this list. A real strong contender – read all about it in our Samsung Galaxy A51 review.
Realme is another company making a name for itself when it comes to budget phones, and while you might not think you can get a decent handset with a premium feel for less than £200, the Realme 7 shows that it's possible.
Okay the specs aren't market-leading, but then again you wouldn't expect them to be at this price. The design and build quality are good, and the battery life really impresses. The rear camera attached to this phone could be a lot better, but it'll get you photos and videos good enough for social media more often than not – and that's all that a lot of people need.
As is often the case with phones from China, the software is a little quirky, and you might have to trim down some of the bloat on it. There's no waterproofing or wireless charging either, but everything considered, we'd say it's is one of the best cheap phones on the market right now. Read our full Realme 7 review for more.
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.
If the OnePlus Nord is a little on the expensive side for your budget, then the OnePlus Nord N10 5G might be perfect: it'll cost you less money and it doesn't make too many compromises along the way, though you should make sure you understand what you get and what you don't get with this phone.
What you do get is 5G and some very decent specs for this price point, as well as a large 6.49-inch screen that has a 90Hz refresh rate for super-smooth animations and scrolling (that's definitely above average for what you're paying). During our time testing the phone we were also impressed with the lengthy battery life.
The camera is decent without being spectacular though, and there's nothing here in terms of waterproofing and wireless charging. You might find the original OnePlus Nord suits you better, but if not then this is a fine alternative – especially in the US, where the first Nord didn't go on sale. Here's our full OnePlus Nord N10 5G review.
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 £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.