The best cheap phone you can buy right now is the Asus Zenfone 6. With an unusual and innovative flip camera design, clean software, slick performance, and bags of stamina, it keeps up with flagships that cost twice its price. If $500 is still a bit steep for your liking, don’t worry, because we have a host of alternatives at cheaper prices.
With more than 50 years of combined experience on the mobile team, and hundreds of reviews to our names, you can trust Digital Trends to put every phone we recommend through stringent testing. We use these phones as our daily drivers and debate their merits and pitfalls at length to ensure we pick the best in each category with confidence.
The best cheap phones at a glance
- Best $500 phone: Asus Zenfone 6
- Best $400 phone: Google Pixel 3a
- Best $300 phone: Moto G7
- Best $200 phone: Moto G7 Play
- Best $100 phone: Moto E5 Play
- Best cheap iPhone: iPhone 8
- Best cheap Samsung Galaxy phone: Samsung Galaxy A50
- Best cheap battery life phone: Moto G7 Power
Best overall: Asus Zenfone 6
Why you should buy this: The Asus Zenfone 6 has a large screen, it has plenty of processing power and stamina, and it boasts a clever flip dual-lens camera.
Who it’s for: Anyone who wants a flagship smartphone with a near-stock Android experience, at a lower price than the Google Pixel 3.
Why we picked the Asus Zenfone 6:
Coming in at $500, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a more powerful option than the Asus Zenfone 6 at a comparable price. This phone combines solid hardware with an innovative design and slick software, and it manages to avoid slavishly following trends set by Apple and Samsung.
Curved glass front and back slide into a metal chassis. There’s a fingerprint sensor in the middle of the back with a clever dual-lens camera module above it. The combination of a 48-megapixel lens and a 13-megapixel wide-angle lens gives you lots of photography possibilities, but what’s really clever about the camera is the fact that it’s motorized so it can flip up to face forward. This means you get the same great camera for taking selfies. You can expect plenty of detail and a strong portrait mode that blurs the background.
The Asus Zenfone 6 has Qualcomm’s 2019 flagship processor, the Snapdragon 855. It’s the same chip that powers the Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Plus, Sony Xperia 1, and the LG V50 ThinQ— phones that cost more than $800 a pop. That’s backed by an ample 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage, and there’s still room for a MicroSD card slot.
The 6.4-inch LCD screen has a 2340 x 1080-pixel resolution. It doesn’t match OLED screens and the brightness doesn’t go as high as we’d like, but it’s big and sharp. There are stereo speakers and a headphone jack. But the real standout on the spec sheet is the whopping 5,000mAh battery that’s capable of seeing you through even the busiest of days; it managed 12 hours 37 minutes in our battery test which puts it near the top. It supports fast wired charging at 18W.
One of the biggest draws of the Asus Zenfone 6 is its smooth and accessible user experience. Asus has stripped back ZenUI which sits atop Android 9 Pie, and the user interface doesn’t stray far from the stock Android experience you’ll find on a Google Pixel phone. It’s quick and fluid with only a few Asus additions including an AI Boost feature.
The Asus Zenfone 6 is available at Asus, Amazon, B&H, and Mobile Advance. It should work on AT&T and T-Mobile, but check the model version and supported bands before you buy. Downsides include the phone’s lack of an IP rating for water resistance and the lack of support for wireless charging. But for $500, you’re getting equal, if not better performance, than far more expensive phones. It’s a real bargain, and a phone you won’t regret buying regardless of your budget.
Our full Asus Zenfone 6 review
Runner up: ZTE Axon 10 Pro
If you can find another $50, the ZTE Axon 10 Pro could be worth looking at. It boasts a sharp, 6.47-inch AMOLED screen, stereo speakers that support DTS:X Ultra for surround sound, and Bluetooth with AptX HD for high-quality music streaming. It matches the Snapdragon 855 with 8GB of RAM and 256GB of internal storage and ups the ante with a triple-lens camera. The battery is a little smaller at 4,000mAh, but there is support for wireless charging.
Best cheap Android phone: Google Pixel 3a
Why you should buy this: The Google Pixel 3a offers many of the same features as Google’s flagship for much less.
Who it’s for: Anyone with a budget of $400 who simply wants the best phone they can buy at that price.
Why we picked the Google Pixel 3a:
The Google Pixel 3a costs $400 and it’s an impressive package for the money. There’s a Qualcomm Snapdragon 670 processor inside with an ample 4GB of RAM. It won’t quite match high-end chips, but it’s fast enough to run challenging games at high graphical quality. You also get an excellent 5.6-inch OLED screen with a resolution of 2220 x 1080 pixels. It’s sharp, with amazing contrast, and you won’t find anything better at this price.
Perhaps the biggest attraction is the camera. The Pixel 3a is packing a single lens 12.2-megapixel camera with all the same A.I. features you’ll find in the Pixel 3. Google’s flagship is our camera phone champion right now as it’s capable of capturing great shots in a wide variety of settings. The Pixel 3a might not have the same raw processing power and it lacks the Pixel Visual Core, so image processing is a bit slower than it is on the Pixel 3, but this is still easily the best camera you’ll find anywhere near this price. The front-facing camera is rated at 8 megapixels.
Naturally, Google’s Pixel 3a comes with the very latest flavor of Android and it’s guaranteed to get swift version updates and a steady supply of security patches. You’ll also enjoy super smart features like Now Playing, which recognizes music playing in your vicinity, and Call Screen, which filters out incoming spam calls for you. Active Edge allows you to squeeze your Pixel 3a to launch Google Assistant.
The Pixel 3a packs 64GB of storage and comes with free unlimited high-quality photo storage in the cloud with Google Photos. It has an audio jack, Bluetooth 5.0 support, and comes with a fast charger that can restore 7 hours worth of battery in just 15 minutes. There’s also NFC support for Google Pay, dual front-facing stereo speakers, and a fingerprint sensor on the back.
This phone really raises the bar for what you can expect to get for $400. If you prefer a bigger screen and your budget will stretch, then consider the Pixel 3a XL for $480.
Our full Google Pixel 3a review
Runner up: Nokia 7.2
The Nokia 7.2 is close to being the perfect budget phone and it’s $50 cheaper than the Pixel 3a. The build quality is superb, the 6.3-inch screen may be LCD, but it supports HDR10. Perhaps the best part of the Nokia 7.2 is software because it runs Android One. It will get fast version updates for two years, and security updates for three years, which is rare for budget phones. Performance is solid, with the Snapdragon 660 processor and 4GB of RAM. The camera is quite capable too, combining a 48-megapixel lens with an 8-megapixel wide-angle lens, and a 5-megapixel depth sensor.
Who it’s for: Anyone seeking a stylish budget phone with a big screen.
Why we picked the Moto G7:
The Moto G range has been our go-to budget smartphone pick for the past few years, and while Motorola is facing more competition every year, the Moto G7 is still excellent value for the money. It’s a really good-looking phone with a curved glass construction, a metallic body, and a teardrop notch carved out of the screen.
Plenty of screen real estate is a definite draw for this phone and the Moto G7 boasts a 6.2-inch display with a 2270 x 1080-pixel resolution. Take a look under the hood and you’ll find a Qualcomm Snapdragon 632 processor inside with 4GB of RAM, making this a real step up over last year’s sluggish Moto G6 in terms of performance. Motorola adds a couple of gesture shortcuts and apps like Moto Voice on top of Android 9.0 Pie.
The Moto G7 also has a dual-lens camera, pairing a 12-megapixel lens with an f/1.8 aperture, and a 5-megapixel secondary lens for depth. In good conditions with plenty of light, it can capture some lovely shots and the portrait mode is great for snapping shots of friends and family with blurred backgrounds. The front-facing camera is rated at 8 megapixels.
We had some minor issues with the software and would prefer this was offered as an Android One phone. We’re not sure about the likelihood of software updates for the Moto G7 and think you’re likely to get better software support from HMD Global. Frustratingly, the Moto G7 doesn’t have NFC support in the U.S.
If you have a strict budget of $300, then the Moto G7 will give you the most for your money right now. It offers a big display, strong performance, and a decent camera wrapped in a stylish body.
Our full Moto G7 review
Runner up: Nokia 6.1
The Nokia 6.1 has a chunky body that’s elevated by eye-catching anodized copper, iron, or gold accent lines. You’ll find a 5.5-inch IPS LCD screen with a resolution of 1920 x 1080 pixels. It’s a little dull, but perfectly legible in most conditions. The processor is a Qualcomm Snapdragon 630, backed by 3GB of RAM and 32GB of storage or 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage. Like most budget phones, the camera is a bit of a weak link, but the 16-megapixel lens with an f/2.0 aperture and Zeiss optics is capable of capturing occasionally great shots — if you’re in good lighting. As an Android One phone, there is no manufacturer skin and you can expect speedy, long-term software updates, which is a rarity for budget phones. You will also find NFC, offering support for Google Pay.
Moto G7 Play
Why you should buy this: The Moto G7 Play boasts great performance and loads of stamina.
Who it’s it for: Anyone with a strict $200 budget seeking the best for their money.
Why we picked the Moto G7 Play:
When top-of-the-range phones reach $1,000, paying $200 for one must mean it’s rubbish, right? Wrong. You can actually pick up some impressive devices in this price range now. Motorola has consistently turned out great budget devices that give you real value for the money.
For your $200, you get a 5.7-inch screen with a 1512 x 720-pixel resolution, a speedy Snapdragon 632 processor with 2GB of RAM, and a 3,000 mAh battery that offers impressive stamina. There’s also a 13-megapixel main camera, which isn’t too bad unless there’s a lack of light, and an 8-megapixel front-facing camera.
The performance is one of the highlights, almost matching the much more expensive Moto G7. There’s also a USB-C port for charging, which means the cable is always the right way up. It comes with Android 9.0 Pie and a few Motorola extras and is due to get an update to Android Q, though we doubt it will get anything beyond that.
Naturally, there are compromises here. There’s just 32GB of storage, though it does have a MicroSD card slot. It also has a plastic back, a big notch, and there’s no support for NFC. Having said all that, it’s a good option if your budget won’t stretch any further.
Our full Moto G7 Play Review
Runner up: Nokia 3.1 Plus
The affordable Nokia 3.1 Plus boasts great build quality and battery life. There’s a big, 5.99-inch screen with a 1440 x 720 resolution, a dual-lens camera, a 3,500mAh battery, and support for NFC. It also has near-stock Android, though it’s sadly not part of the Android One program. Unfortunately, performance isn’t great, with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 439 processor and 2GB of RAM. We also felt let down by the camera, and this phone is only available on Cricket Wireless.
Moto E5 Play
Why you should buy this: The Moto E5 Play is ultra-affordable, and it still provides a perfectly satisfactory smartphone experience.
Who it’s for: Those who want a phone capable of texting, calling, web browsing, and running social media apps without paying more than $150.
Why we picked the Moto E5 Play:
The Moto E5 Play is the most affordable phone Motorola offers, which means you have to accept a few compromises. For example, this phone won’t get updated to the upcoming version of Android, and the camera isn’t strong.
The Snapdragon 425 (or 427 depending on the carrier) and 2GB RAM do a good job of offering manageable performance — enough to scroll through apps like Instagram and Facebook without too many problems. There’s 16GB of storage onboard, but a MicroSD card slot lets you add more if you need it. There’s also a headphone jack and a fingerprint sensor on the rear (though some carriers have models without fingerprint sensors). The software experience is very close to stock Android without a lot of bloatware, running Android 8.0 Oreo.
There’s a 2,800mAh removable battery inside, and we found that it got through about a full day of use. It can stretch to two days with light usage.
The Moto E5 Play is available through a variety of different carriers such as Verizon, T-Mobile, and Sprint — though you can’t buy it unlocked yet — for as low as $70 (the price is even lower on other carriers if you sign up for a new service).
Our full Moto E5 Play review
Apple iPhone 8
Why you should buy this: It’s relatively affordable for an iPhone, with many of the same specs as the 2017 iPhone X and a strong camera.
Who it’s for: Anyone who wants an iPhone, but has limited cash.
Why we picked the iPhone 8:
This is the best choice for bargain-seeking Apple fans who have their hearts set on an iPhone. While it’s the most expensive phone on this list, it’s still our top pick as the iPhone you should buy if you’re on a budget. It boasts many of the same features as the iPhone X, but in an older, more familiar design. If you feel like modern smartphones are getting too big, or you don’t care for the bezel-less trend or Face ID, then the iPhone 8 will suit you perfectly.
It has the same A11 Bionic processor as the X and 8 Plus, backed by 2GB of RAM. On paper, that doesn’t sound impressive, but in terms of real-world performance, it’s lightning-fast and beats many more expensive phones.
There is a great 12-megapixel main camera that takes sharp, crisp, natural-looking photos and has support for Live Photos. There’s a solid 7-megapixel front-facing camera. Sadly, there’s no support for portrait mode. But you do also get Touch ID, Siri, and NFC for Apple Pay.
The 4.7-inch screen is sharp and clear, the iOS platform is easy to use, and you get access to an excellent library of slick apps and games. The battery is only rated at 1,821mAh, but it generally lasts at least a day, and there’s support for wireless charging. You can also fast charge this iPhone, but that’s only if you spring for the cable and adapter.
There’s 64GB of base storage inside, which is sufficient for most people. The iPhone 8 is also IP67-rated, which means you don’t need to worry if it goes for a dunk. A potential downside? There’s no headphone jack here, but a 3.5mm to Lightning adapter is included in the box.
Our full iPhone 8 review
Runner up: iPhone 7
Unless you want to delve into the secondhand or refurbished market, your only cheaper options are the iPhone 7 at $450, or the iPhone 7 Plus, which comes in at $570. They’re both still good devices, especially the dual-lens-camera-toting 7 Plus, which does have portrait mode support, but we think it’s worth paying a little more for the iPhone 8 because the extra processing power will allow it to last a good bit longer.
You may also be wondering if you’re spending $600, why not spend $150 more for the iPhone XR? It’s a valid question. If your budget stops at $600, then go for the iPhone 8. But if you can spend just a little more, it’s absolutely worth shelling out for the more colorful iPhone XR. It has the powerful A12 Bionic processor, with Face ID for Portrait Mode selfies. There’s also Smart HDR and an artificial intelligence-powered Portrait Mode on the rear camera that works well in low-light. At $750, this is the best iPhone you can buy. The upgrades provided in the XS and XS Max don’t justify the $250 price jump.
Samsung Galaxy A50
Why you should buy this: Get a taste of Samsung’s style without breaking the bank.
Who it’s for: Anyone fixed on a Samsung Galaxy, but with a limited budget.
Why we picked the Samsung Galaxy A50:
If you’re a fan of Samsung phones, but your budget simply won’t stretch to a Galaxy S10 Plus or even a Galaxy S10e, then Samsung’s mid-range A series could be for you. The Galaxy A50 boasts very impressive specs for the price. There’s a Samsung Exynos 9610 processor inside with 4GB of RAM. You’ll also find 64GB of storage with room for expansion via MicroSD card. There is also a more expensive version with 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage.
The phone has a beautiful gradient finish on the plastic back and there’s no fingerprint sensor because it’s in the display. The large, 6.4-inch AMOLED screen boasts a 2,340 x 1,080-pixel resolution. It almost entirely covers the front of the phone, save for a thin bezel at the bottom and a teardrop notch at the top to accommodate a 25-megapixel front-facing camera.
Speaking of cameras, you get a triple-lens shooter here with a 25-megapixel main lens, an 8-megapixel ultra-wide-angle lens, and a 5-megapixel depth sensor. That’s an impressive, versatile camera suite for a midrange phone.
There’s a big battery here, too, rated at 4,000mAh and you get 15W fast charging kit in the box. All that’s obviously missing is support for NFC, which means no Samsung Pay.
Our full Samsung Galaxy A50 review
Moto G7 Power
Why you should buy this: It’s an affordable phone that offers good performance and unsurpassed battery life.
Who it’s for: Anyone who wants their phone to last longer between charges.
Why we picked the Moto G7 Power:
If stamina is top of your feature list, then there is no better budget phone than the Moto G7 Power. The 5,000mAh battery in this phone has outlasted every other smartphone we’ve tested in our streaming video test, managing to continuously stream video from YouTube at maximum brightness for 13 hours and 59 minutes. This phone can go two days between charges, maybe even longer depending on how you use it.
Inside there’s the same Qualcomm Snapdragon 632 processor you’ll find in the regular Moto G7 with 3GB of RAM and 32GB of storage. The Moto G7 Power offers great performance at this price, in fact, you won’t find better.
Trade-offs are inevitable somewhere and with the Moto G7 Power, you may not appreciate the chunky plastic body or the notched, 6.2-inch display which only has a 1,570 x 720-pixel resolution. The phone runs Android 9.0 Pie with a handful of Motorola’s extras on top.
There’s a 12-megapixel camera that performs reasonably well when there’s plenty of light, but the portrait mode is far from flawless and it can’t cope with low light environments at all. The 8-megapixel front-facing camera is perfectly adequate for selfies or video calls.
The G7 Power also supports Motorola’s TurboPower charging standard and charges at 15W with the kit in the box, which can take the battery from zero to 58% in an hour. If it’s battery life you’re after, this is the phone for you.
Our full Moto G7 Power review
Research and buying tips
- Where do I buy cheap phones?
- Who has cheap phone plans?
- How do you get a new phone for cheap?
- Should you buy a cheap phone or wait for last year’s flagship to get cheaper?
You can always find bargains at online retailers, but be careful to do your research and order the model number you need. In particular, check that the model you are buying supports the bands your carrier operates on. The major carriers sometimes run good promotions, but if you find a phone you like in-store it’s worth doing a quick search online to see if you can find it for less. You’ll often find cheaper options at MVNOs (Mobile Virtual Network Operators) and we have a list of the best MVNOs to check out.
There are lots of different cell phone plans out there, so take your time and do some research before picking a plan. We have a breakdown of the best cell phone plans to help you get started. If you go for a family plan, then you can often secure good deals on additional lines. Consider the coverage in your area before deciding on a carrier.
The most obvious way to score a bargain is to buy second-hand. If that appeals to you, then we have a guide on how to buy used smartphones that you’ll want to read. You may also consider online retailers, just make sure that you check the model of the phone you are buying supports the bands your carrier operates on.
Flagships have been climbing in price recently, but if you’re willing to wait and look at flagship phones from a year or two ago, then you can get them much cheaper. Almost all Android phone manufacturers offer discounts on older flagships and those discounts get deeper the older the phone gets. On the other hand, the general quality of budget phones has improved greatly in recent years and phone design moves very quickly, so a midrange device today will likely match a two-year-old flagship on performance and may boast a more modern design.
How we test
We’re fanatical about our phones here at Digital Trends. Every phone we test serves as our main device for at least a week, often longer, so we can get a real feel for what life would be like living with it. We read on them, game on them, shoot video and photos, navigate, organize, and occasionally even make calls. Every facet is explored, every manufacturer claim is challenged, and we’re careful to take the intended audience and price tag into account when judgment time comes.
Debates on the best phones in different categories are a regular occurrence and no one on the mobile team is shy about sharing their opinion. When we find flaws, we tell like it is. Ultimately, we’ll never recommend any phone that we wouldn’t be happy using ourselves.
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