What's the best cheap iPhone? I'm a phone expert – here are my top 3 picks

Newer isn't always smarter. These are some of the best cheap iPhone options for buying on a budget in 2022

iPhone XR
(Image credit: Apple)

The Apple iPhone is a great bit of kit but one thing it's rarely called is cheap, especially if you're looking at the latest model. But that doesn't mean you should be paying full price. As the iPhone has been going since 2007, there are quite a few older models to look at, as well as contract deals on newer options. 

If you want the very best iPhone, Apple's top-of-the-line iPhone 13 is easily one of the best smartphones available right now – and there's a bit of a wait for the iPhone 14 – but you might be thinking that it's above and beyond your price range. It's true: the latest iPhone models are always pricey, despite there always being good iPhone deals available.

Of course, the best cheap smartphone will likely be an Android – that's just a reality. By contrast, Apple doesn't stretch to truly budget ends, prioritising the design, feel, and overall experience, meaning its devices end up costing more – even with the entry-level iPhone SE

In this round-up article I'm going to run through my pick for the best cheap iPhone options. Fortunately, because Apple is good with its software support, all three models listed below can run iOS 15.5, the latest version of Apple's operating system, and should be eligible to upgrade to iOS 16 too.

1. Apple iPhone XR 

iPhone XR

(Image credit: Apple)

I think the iPhone XR is one of the best iPhones ever made: it's got a great design, features the new all-screen display with Face ID, has a great camera (although not the dual system), and incredible battery life. 

Released in 2018 alongside the iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max – remember those? – it was one of the first high-end smartphones from Apple that didn't really compromise on features. To this day, the iPhone XR feels fresh and new, while remaining in line with the iPhone 13 models thanks to the large display and Face ID. 

But the main innovation from Apple was the fact that the iPhone XR came in a beautiful rainbow of colours – black, white, blue, yellow, coral, Product Red – meaning that, for one of the first times, I could match an iPhone to my outfit. 

The iPhone XR was such a hit that Apple kept it on for a few years after the iPhone XS was succeeded as the cheap option in the lineup, alongside the iPhone 11. It's a strong sign of just how good this phone is – even today.

Nowadays, you can get some really good contract options for the iPhone XR or grab one for pretty cheap SIM free. There are many refurbished options for really cheap prices too. That said, just avoid the 64GB version and plump for a 128GB or 256GB model, given that the base model will fill up pretty quickly. 

2: Apple iPhone SE (2022)

iPhone SE 2022

(Image credit: Apple)

If you want something smaller then the new iPhone SE (2022) is absolutely superb, offering the internals from the iPhone 11 in the smaller iPhone body. Lots of people prefer a smaller handset because, well, not everyone has massive hands and pockets. 

The 4.7-inch display will be familiar to anyone who owns an older iPhone 7 or iPhone 8, but the internals and camera of the SE are basically brand new – no surprise, given its 2022 launch date. It's a really neat choice for anyone looking to save without compromising on features too much, and I personally find having Touch ID to unlock, not Face ID, is actually pretty convenient in today's world. 

The iPhone SE (2022) is available for some really good prices on contract with oodles of data included, even though Apple only released the phone in March. It's that "newness factor" that'll make it many people's number one pick.

3. Apple iPhone 12 mini 

iPhone 12 mini

(Image credit: Apple)

Much as I would recommend the iPhone 13 mini instead of the iPhone 12 mini, the contract and SIM free prices are too high for the "budget" label. If you can, I'd recommend waiting until the iPhone 14 arrives and then grabbing an iPhone 13 option instead. But if you're in a rush then the 12 mini is a great option right now.

The beauty of the iPhone 12 mini is that it has everything the iPhone 12 had but in a smaller, lighter frame. It's 5.4-inches, so sits neatly between the budget 4.7-inch iPhone SE and 6.1-inch iPhone 12. That's right: it's actually bigger than the SE. 

Because the iPhone 12 mini is a generation older than the current crop, you can get some really good deals, especially refurbished models, meaning you get a basically-new iPhone with high-end specs (including the dual camera system) for a lot less than you'd imagine. 

If you plan on keeping the phone for a while, going for the A14 Bionic-powered iPhone 12 mini is a smarter choice than the A12-powered iPhone XR, if you want the bigger display and Face ID. You'll be paying slightly more if you go on contract, but that might be worth it for you – I certainly think so.

Max Slater-Robins has written for T3 now on and off for over half a decade, with him fitting in serious study at university in between. Max is a tech expert and as such you'll find his words throughout T3.com, appearing in everything from reviews and features, to news and deals. Max is specifically a veteran when it comes round to deal hunting, with him seeing out multiple Black Friday campaigns to date.