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 in 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 extensive real-world testing on everything from camera quality to battery life, 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. If you really want 5G speeds then check out our best 5G phones guide.
The very best cheap phones: get a great cheap mobile phone deal
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 it rings in for under half that of 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 its 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 on a new phone, as you might be surprised at just how much quality Apple has laid down here for, comparatively, very little money.
While the first OnePlus Nord wasn't released in the US, we did get the OnePlus Nord N10 5G which is a little cheaper and it doesn't make too many compromises along the way.
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. If you want to spend a little less, there's also the Nord N100, which drops the 5G and has a lower res – but still 90Hz – screen. Here's our full OnePlus Nord N10 5G review.
Samsung surprised everyone when it dropped the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE (that stands for Fan Edition, by the way) late in 2020, 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!
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-around.
The camera system on the S20 FE is also a good all-arounder, 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.
If you're looking for a phone that gives you a lot of bang for your buck then you simply can't go wrong with a Moto-branded handset these days, and the Moto G8 Power is one of the most recent from the stable. The big selling point here is that huge 5,000mAh battery.
According to the manufacturer, that means you can look forward to up to three days of battery life – this is a phone that can get you through a camping weekend without a charger. Elsewhere the rest of the specs are perfectly respectable too, and we like the spacious 6.4-inch display.
It's worth noting the details of the rear camera too, a quad-lens affair with 2x optical zoom and AI assistance to help you capture the best shot every time. If the G8 Power isn't quite the best cheap phone for you, then the other G8 models are well worth looking into as well.
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 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.
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.
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 colors 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 Galaxy Note 10 Lite is one of the phones that has impressed us the most this year (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, 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 price saving over the standard Note 10 models. There's no 5G here or wireless charging here either, 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 – our full Galaxy Note 10 Lite review explains more.
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, 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 $100 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 program, 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-around Android phone that delivers a stunning package for a very, very low price point.
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 an 89% 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.
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 complaints such as the lack of RAM stop it from taking over the top entries on this list. A real strong contender – read all about it in our Samsung Galaxy A51 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 recognizable mark of no-fuss phones that are well made and offer a decent specification for very little money. The 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.
Though launched in Europe in late 2020, the Nokia 5.4 is finally coming to the US on March 1.
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 a big cost outright, 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 percent 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 picking up on 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 specializes 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-around camera system. If so, then a phone like the Samsung A9 with its stacked quadruple camera system will be more up your alley.
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.