Just because you don't want to spend £800 on a new phone doesn't mean you can't get something good and that's why we've put together our T3 guide to the best cheap phones in 2020. Here we list the best mid-range and budget smartphones that, in terms of bang for your buck, deliver massively.
The prices here range from just £80 to around £480, meaning there's something for everyone. Our choices pack quality screens, fast internal hardware, and good camera systems. Yes, they may miss out on one or two high-end features, such as reverse wireless charging, but they absolutely don't compromise on core functionality and, as a result, have scored well on review.
As such, no matter if you are looking for the best cheap phones running Android, the best cheap iPhone, or the best cheap phone for photography, then this guide to the best cheap smartphones is a great place to start your research.
And, speaking of research, we've also included some very handy buying advice to help you find the best cheap smartphone for you in 2020. These tips range from how to decide which phone is right for you, through to up-to-date pricing and contact information.
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.
The very best cheap phones you can buy today: get a great cheap mobile phone deal
1. Samsung Galaxy S10e
The best cheap phone in the world
Reasons to buy
The Samsung Galaxy S10e isn't a budget blower, with its price point right now placing it firmly in the mid-range in terms of financial outlay, however it is in our mind the very best non-flagship level phone in the world in 2020. So if you can afford to stretch to it then you really won't be disappointed.
Indeed, T3 loved the S10e on review, granting it a maximum score of five stars and concluded that, "it certainly holds its own in terms of performance and design, and won't let you down with battery life, software, or camera quality, either."
And, for a phone that costs under half many other flagships (the Apple iPhone XS Max starts at £1,099), we think that competitiveness is simply remarkable and something that Samsung should be well and truly proud of.
The thing we arguably love most about the Samsung Galaxy S10e, though, is that in an industry where screen-size wars seem to be getting well and truly out of hand, with each maker constant making phone screens bigger and bigger across their entire ranges, the modestly sized and pocket friendly 5.8-inch, 19:9, 438 ppi, 2,280 x 1,080 resolution display on the handset is such a breath of fresh air. Along with Samsung's impeccable levels of fit and finish, this device truly is an ergonomic and aesthetic joy.
Wrapping up the S10e package, of course, is a powerful internal hardware suite that includes a Exynos 9820 CPU, up to 8GB of RAM and a 3,100mAh battery, plenty of internal storage (up to 256GB) and what is probably the most slick OS skin on the market running on top of Android 9.0 Pie.
A truly fantastic smartphone package, and one that is available at far from a flagship asking price.
2. Google Pixel 3a
The best cheap Android phone for photography enthusiasts
Reasons to buy
The expression "cheap and cheerful" perfectly encapsulates Google's cheapest Pixel device. If you're unfamiliar with the brand, it's basically Google's way of setting the trends for the rest of the Android manufacturers, showing what could be if they put their minds to it. While the others in the lineup are really expensive, the 3a just, well, isn't.
The 64GB model, which is the only one you can buy, will set you back around £399 which, considering you're guaranteed at least three years of Android updates, is certainly good value. This phone is so good, in fact, that we included it on our list of the best Android phones in general.
But what do you get? Well, besides the Android updates – which can be hard to come by – you get a best-in-class camera, snappy performance, and free Google Photos cloud storage, alongside a great display. It doesn't get much better than that...
3. Honor Play
The best cheap phone for gamers
Reasons to buy
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.
A powerhouse cheap phone that hits hard across the board
Reasons to buy
This handset builds on the excellent Xiaomi Mi 9 to add even more in the way of functionality and features – and it ditches the front display notch to give you even more in the way of screen (the 20MP selfie camera is moved to a motorised pop-up unit).
Like its predecessor, the Xiaomi Mi 9T Pro combines flagship-level specs with a design that's guaranteed to turn heads wherever you get this phone out. Combine that with a very appealing price and it's a fantastic all-round package from Xiaomi – one that's well worth a place on our best cheap phones of 2020 list.
Admittedly we do get some cutting of corners, like the lack of waterproofing and wireless charging, but at this sort of price it's difficult to grumble. Xiaomi continues to outdo itself and give Apple, Samsung and Google plenty to worry about.
If you can live with Xiaomi's rather haphazard take on Android then this is a phone that's going to give you several years of top-notch performance. The camera is another point in the positives column too, giving you very decent results most of the time (even in low light).
The best cheap phone for incredible speed and style
Reasons to buy
The OnePlus 6T is no longer the newest phone on the OnePlus block, but that doesn't mean it shouldn't be considered for your next phone purchase: it remains one of the best cheap phones on the market, with a gorgeous 6.41-inch screen, some nippy internals, and a stylish design.
You don't get wireless charging or IP68 waterproofing with the OnePlus 6T, and this year's OnePlus phones have better cameras, but this is an excellent option if you're shopping down at the cheaper end of the market. We're big fans of the OxygenOS software OnePlus makes too.
6. Apple iPhone XR
The best cheap phone for ease of use
Reasons to buy
iOS is without a shadow of a doubt the most fluid, straightforward mobile operating system in existence. Pair that with the durable, capable hardware found on the iPhone XR, and you have one of the best affordable smartphones money can buy.
Performance is fantastic, fuelled by a 6.1-inch LCD screen, Apple's A12 Bionic CPU, 3GB of RAM and a 2942mAh battery that supports wireless charging. You're also getting Face ID (face recognition) for authentication instead of Touch ID (a fingerprint reader).
The camera isn't half bad, either.
While it comprises of a lone 12-megapixel sensor on the rear, it's much larger (in physical size) than anything Apple had used at the time – letting in more light and offering a wider viewing angle than earlier iPhone models. The result? More detail.
Rest assured, you aren't sacrificing a feature-rich experience by opting for a cheaper iPhone versus a higher-end variant like the iPhone 11 or iPhone 11 Pro – all the basic features you'd expect to use are there, including FaceTime and iMessage.
7. Samsung Galaxy A9
The best cheap phone for photography enthusiasts
Reasons to buy
Now available for close to £300 SIM-free if you shop around, the Samsung Galaxy A9 could tempt those who’ve resisted plumping for a second-hand flagship Galaxy.
The star of the show on the Samsung Galaxy A9 is its rear-mounted quadruple camera system, which delivers a 24-megapixel primary sensor with f/1.7 aperture, a depth-sensing 5-megapixel camera, an 8-megapixel telephoto sensor for long-range shooting, and finally a 10-megapixel ultra wide angle 120-degree sensor for capturing breathtaking panoramas and tall landmarks.
Oh, and that's not forgetting that the A9 also comes with a 24-megapixel front selfie camera as well - that's a five sensor camera system on a phone that costs just over £300. Madness!
It's not just about the camera, though, on the Samsung Galaxy A9, with the handset also coming loaded with a 6.3-inch FHD+ screen, solid Snapdragon 660 processor, a generous 6GB of RAM, and a well-sized 3,800mAh battery, too.
The best cheap phone for Android One speedy updates
Reasons to buy
You can rely on Nokia for some excellent value-for-money phones, and the Nokia 7.2 certainly fits into that category: it's not a stand-out phone in any particular department, but the combination of design, specs, and camera quality mean that you get a decent amount of bang for not much buck.
The battery life on this 6.3-inch handset can stretch well into a second day, so it has the edge over most modern smartphones there, and it's part of the Android One program – that means a lightweight, bloat-free operating system, and guaranteed updates for two years.
9. Huawei P30 Lite
A great alternative best cheap smartphone all-rounder
Reasons to buy
If the Huawei P30 and Huawei P30 Pro are too rich for your blood, may we recommend the Huawei P30 Lite? Huawei's well-established manufacturing abilities are still present and correct, you just don't get the top-end processors or cameras of the more costly models.
The 6.15-inch screen gives you plenty of space, the specs (including 6GB of RAM) are very competitive at this price point, and you do get a triple-lens rear camera thrown in as well – the cameras on the other P30 models outperform it, but it's still a very capable snapper.