The best cheap phones demonstrate that cheap doesn’t need to mean nasty: you can buy absolutely beautiful devices with great screens, fast processors and brilliant cameras without having to take out a second mortgage or sell the cat. And of all the cheap smartphones you can buy right now, our picks include the Apple iPhone SE (2020) and the Xiaomi Mi 10T Lite.
One is Apple and the other is Android, but they both deliver superb value for money with the Xiaomi costing much less than its Apple rival. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not as good, as we’re about to discover.
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iPhone SE (2020) vs Xiaomi Mi 10T Lite: design and display
The iPhone SE looks like the iPhone 4 or iPod touch, which is no bad thing: it’s small and strong, and it’s absolutely gorgeous in red. It’s an old design, admittedly, but it’s good for small hands, small bags or small pockets and the Touch ID sensor is useful in these mask-wearing times.
It’s a small phone by today’s standards and the screen is just 4.7 inches, although with a 1,334 x 750 pixel resolution it’s pin sharp. It’s an IPS LCD so it’s not as good as the OLED screens in the higher end iPhones, but it does have True Tone colour and a good contrast ratio and it’s exceptionally bright too.
The Xiaomi is significantly bigger than the iPhone thanks to its 6.67-inch display delivering 1,080 x 2,400 pixels. The screen is great, with a 120Hz refresh rate for smoother gaming and HDR10. It’s not as bright as the iPhone, though: brightness here is 450 nits compared to 600 for the iPhone.
The Xiaomi looks very like the most recent Samsungs, although the design on the back is a bit ugly thanks to an odd-looking camera bump and the materials lack the premium feel of more expensive Androids.
iPhone SE (2020) vs Xiaomi Mi 10T Lite: cameras, specifications and performance
Before we get into the detailed specifications, there’s one really important difference between the two phones here: the Xiaomi is a 5G device and the iPhone SE is 4G, so if your heart is set on a 5G phone then the iPhone SE is not the phone for you. In addition to the Xiaomi you might want to check out the budget phones in our guide to the best 5G phones 2021.
The iPhone SE may look old on the outside but it’s pretty modern inside, with an A13 Bionic Chip just like the one in the iPhone 11 and 11 Pro. In benchmarks it comfortably outperforms the Snapdragon used in the Xiaomi. The camera is a 12MP wide angle with a f/1.8 aperture and portrait mode, and its image stabilisation is optical. The iPhone supports Smart HDR for photos and can record 4K video at up to 60fps. The front camera is 7MP, again with portrait mode. Battery life is up to 13 hours of video or 8 hours of streaming.
The Xiaomi has a Snapdragon 750G processor with an Adreno 619 graphics processor and 6GB of RAM. Storage is 64GB or 128GB. The main camera is a quad-camera assembly with HDR, 64MP, wide, ultra wide and macro lenses and it can shoot 4K video at 30fps. The selfie camera is also HDR and delivers 16MP. The battery here is good for around 10 hours of streaming: although it’s much bigger than the battery in the iPhone, it’s also driving a bigger screen.
iPhone SE (2020) vs Xiaomi Mi 10T Lite: pricing and verdict
The Xiaomi Mi 10T has an RRP of £299 but is widely discounted: check out our Xiaomi Mi 10T Lite deals here. The iPhone SE is £399; deals are fairly rare on the handset itself but you’ll often find it at the heart of good contract bundles. We have a dedicated iPhone SE deals page here that keeps you up to date with the best ones.
Of course price is a pretty important consideration here: we’re looking for the best budget buy, and while the iPhone SE (2020) is a lovely thing the difference between the iPhone and the Xiaomi is pretty significant. The Apple is without a doubt a nicer device to hold and a nicer device to use. But if you don’t have a strong preference for iOS over Android, the Xiaomi offers a better specification for less money.
However, there are some important caveats. First of all, the camera may have more megapixels than the iPhone but that doesn’t necessarily translate into better photography: in our Xiaomi Mi 10T Lite review we noted that HDR processing was hit and miss and the camera can struggle in night mode. We’re not huge fans of Xiaomi’s MIUI interface either. But you can swap that with something nicer, and you can’t deny that getting this spec of 5G phone for well under £300 is mightily impressive.