Digital Trends may earn a commission when you buy through links on our site.

The best cheap phones for 2021

A new smartphone can cost a lot of money. But you don’t always have to buy the latest and greatest. If you just use your phone to accomplish basic tasks and can’t justify buying a brand new flagship model, there are some budget options to consider. An entry-level smartphone might not take stunning photos, but there are no differences when it comes to calls and texts. One of the best on our list, the Google Pixel 5a 5G, offers a bigger battery than the Pixel 4a, excellent camera performance, and 5G.

When you’re looking for an inexpensive phone, nowadays you don’t have to give up 5G. Our top pick here has 5G, and we’ve also compiled a list of cheap 5G phones if it’s a requirement for your next purchase.

We’ve compared different budget phones and selected the best devices in different price ranges. Our top picks are a great place to start if you’re in the market for a new phone and don’t want to overspend.

The best cheap phones at a glance

Best cheap phone: Samsung Galaxy A52 5G

Galaxy A52 Colors
Samsung Galaxy A52

Why you should buy this: With a modern design, solid camera, and good performance, this is the best phone for under $500.

Who it’s for: Anyone that wants a powerful phone with a solid design and 5G support at a low price.

Why we picked the Samsung Galaxy A52 5G:

The Samsung Galaxy A52 5G is currently the best phone you can get for under $500. With a modern design, good performance, and a versatile and high-quality camera, this phone punches above its weight class for a device in its price range.

The performance in particular is one thing that makes the Galaxy A52 5G such a great phone. The device comes with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 750G processor, and the 7-series has proven itself as a solid alternative to Qualcomm’s flagship 8-series. That’s coupled with either 6GB or 8GB of RAM, which should be enough for most. And, there’s either 128GB or 256GB of storage, which again, is more than enough for most peoples’ files and music.

Perhaps even better is how incredibly versatile the camera is. The device comes with a quad-camera system, including one 64-megapixel main camera, one 12MP ultrawide camera, one 5MP macro camera, and one 5MP depth camera. There’s no telephoto camera, which is a bit of a bummer, but it’s hard to complain given the price.

The display experience on the Galaxy A52 5G is awesome too. The phone comes with a 6.5-inch 1080p display with a hefty 120Hz refresh rate, which should make for an incredibly smooth and responsive experience. In fact, the display on the Galaxy A52 5G is very similar to that on the much-loved Galaxy S21.

Other details on offer include a 4,500mAh battery and the fact that it comes in a range of stunning colors.

The Samsung Galaxy A52 5G is a great way to get a nearly top-tier phone at a relatively low price.

Our full Samsung Galaxy A52 review

Best under $450 Android phone: Google Pixel 5a 5G

Google Pixel 5a showing apps.
Ajay Kumar/Digital Trends

Why you should buy this: The Google Pixel 5a 5G offers a bigger battery than the Pixel 4a, plus an awesome camera that you would expect from a Pixel device, and 5G to boot.

Who it’s for: Anyone with a budget of $450 who simply wants the best 5G phone they can buy.

Why we picked the Google Pixel 5a 5G:

The Google Pixel 5a 5G costs $449, and it’s an impressive package for the money. Under the hood, there’s a Qualcomm Snapdragon 765G processor with 6GB of RAM. Everything runs smoothly, and it even handles demanding games like Genshin Impact, though you won’t find the Pixel 6’s 90Hz refresh rate here, just 60Hz. You also get a 6.34-inch, 2400 x 1800 resolution, OLED screen that looks great indoors and out.

Perhaps the biggest attraction is the camera, which (on paper) is identical to the Pixel 4a: A single-lens 12.2MP camera with all the same A.I. features you’ll find in the Pixel 5, a front-facing camera 8MP camera, and a 16MP ultrawide lens with a 117-degree field of view. But it’s the software here that makes the cameras stand out. Low-light photography, in particular, is the 5a 5G’s strong suit, with Night Sight automatically enabled in darker conditions. There’s astrophotography for vivid night sky shots and 1080p and 4K at 60 frames per second video recording, too.

Battery life’s a step up over the Pixel 4a, with a 4,690mAh battery that should give you between one and a half to two days of regular usage. There’s 18W fast wired charging but no wireless charging to be found here.

The Pixel 5a 5G comes running Android 11 and is guaranteed to get three years of OS updates and security updates. You’ll also get Google Assistant smarts and integrations like “Hold for Me,” which lets Google Assistant screen calls and put callers on hold.

This phone packs 128GB of storage and has an IP67 water and dust resistance rating, meaning it’s fine for a day at the beach or a quick dunk in the bath. There’s also a headphone jack, sub-6 5G, dual-band Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 5.0, and NFC.

If you’re on a $450 budget, the Pixel 5a 5G really delivers what it promises and offers improved battery life compared to the 4a 5G, excellent camera performance, and waterproofing.

Read our full Google Pixel 5a 5G review

Runner up: Nokia 7.2

The Nokia 7.2 is close to being the perfect budget phone, and it can be yours for under $350. The build quality is superb, and the 6.3-inch screen may be LCD but it supports HDR10. Perhaps the best part of the Nokia 7.2 is the software — 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 48MP lens with an 8MP wide-angle lens and a 5MP depth sensor.

Read our full Nokia 7.2 review

Best under $400 iPhone: Apple iPhone SE 2020

Andy Boxall/DigitalTrends

Why you should buy this: It’s affordable for an iPhone, with the same A13 Bionic processor as the iPhone 11 and iPhone 11 Pro.

Who it’s for: Anyone who wants an iPhone but has limited cash.

Why we picked the iPhone SE (2020):

This is the best choice for bargain-seeking Apple fans who have their hearts set on an iPhone. The new iPhone SE takes the timeless design of the iPhone 6, iPhone 7, and iPhone 8, then puts the Apple A13 Bionic processor inside. Yes, that’s the same chip as the iPhone 11 and iPhone 11 Pro. It’s the compact iPhone many have been waiting for.

The 4.7-inch screen is sharp and clear, iOS 14 is easy to use, and you get access to an excellent library of slick apps and games, plus features like Apple Pay. The battery is small, but it generally lasts for a day with moderate use, and there’s support for wireless charging.

There is a great 12MP main camera that takes sharp, crisp, natural-looking photos and has support for Live Photos. There’s a solid 7MP front-facing camera, too. There’s a portrait mode on the front and rear cameras as well, plus support for Apple’s most recent camera improvements including Smart HDR and improved stabilization for video.

There’s 64GB of base storage inside, which is sufficient for most people. The Apple iPhone SE 2020 is also IP68-rated, which means you don’t need to worry if it goes for a dunk. It’s small by modern smartphone standards, and the battery life isn’t the best, but otherwise, it still gives you that superb Apple iPhone experience for very little money.

Our full iPhone SE (2020) review

Best under $300 phone: Samsung Galaxy A32 5G

Why you should buy this: The Samsung Galaxy A32 5G performs decently well, plus it offers a modern design and 5G connectivity.

Who it’s for: Anyone who wants 5G and a relatively modern design.

Why we picked the Samsung Galaxy A32 5G:

The 2021 iteration of the Samsung Galaxy A series offers some killer handset options, and if you’re looking for the best phone you can get under $300, the Galaxy A32 5G is the way to go. The device offers a modern design, decent specs, and comes at an affordable price.

The new Galaxy A series in general offers a solid design this year. You’ll get a small teardrop notch for the front-facing camera, along with a quad-camera module on the back that sits flush, instead of in a raised camera bump.

Under the hood, the Galaxy A32 5G offers decent specs. You’ll get a MediaTek MT6853 processor, coupled with either 4GB, 6GB, or 8GB of RAM, and either 64GB or 128GB of storage. That should be more than enough for the vast majority of users.

The camera looks to be relatively versatile too. The device has a quad-camera system on the back, which consists of a 48MP main camera, with an 8MP ultrawide camera, a 5MP macro camera, and a 2MP depth sensor. There’s no telephoto camera, which is a little frustrating, but it’s hard to count that against Samsung in this price range.

You’ll also get 5G connectivity, and while that won’t radically change your smartphone experience in 2021, it might come in handy over the next few years.

If you have a strict budget of $300, then the Samsung Galaxy A32 5G will give you the most for your money right now.

Best under $200 phone: Moto G Power

Moto G Power 2021
Why you should buy this: The Moto G Power is a bargain that looks much more expensive than it is and has few weaknesses in this price range.

Who it’s for: Anyone seeking a stylish budget phone with a big screen.

Why we picked the Moto G Power:

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 G Power is still excellent value for the money. In fact, this year’s model is even cheaper than last year’s, starting at $199. We, however, suggest buying the $249 model, which ups storage to 64GB and RAM to 4GB. It’s a great-looking phone, with a strong build and a hole-punch cutout for the front-facing camera. And, it has a massive 5,000mAh battery, which should last at least two days of use.

Plenty of screen real estate is a definite draw for this phone and the Moto G Power boasts a 6.6-inch display. Even though it has a 720p resolution, that lower resolution should help make the battery last even longer — and it still does the job just fine. Take a look under the hood and you’ll find a Qualcomm Snapdragon 662 processor inside with either 3GB of RAM and 32GB of storage, or 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage.

The Moto G Power also has a triple-lens camera, with a 48MP main camera with an f/1.7 aperture, a 2MP macro camera, and a 2MP depth sensor. 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.

Motorola has always offered a relatively stock software experience, and that remains true with the Moto G Power. The device comes with Android 10, and while Motorola hasn’t made any announcements yet, we do expect it to eventually get Android 11.

If you have a strict budget of $200, then the Moto G Power 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 G Power review

Best under $100 phone: Moto E6

Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

Why you should buy this: The Moto E6 is ultra-affordable, and though it’s lacking in some areas, it provides a 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 $100.

Why we picked the Moto E6:

The Moto E6 is the most affordable phone Motorola offers, which means you have to accept a few compromises. For example, this phone isn’t scheduled to receive the latest Android updates, and the camera isn’t the greatest.

Under the hood, there’s a Snapdragon 435 chipset and 2GB of RAM — so scrolling through social media apps and browsing the web shouldn’t be an issue. There are only 16GB of storage onboard, but a microSD card slot lets you boost this up to 256GB if need be. There’s also a headphone jack on the rear, but no fingerprint sensor. There’s also no USB-C charging, so you’re stuck with a Micro USB port instead. The software experience is very close to stock Android without a lot of bloatware, running Android 9.0 Pie. NFC is also missing, which means no contactless Google Pay payments, but there is a handy splash-resistant coating that means the E6 should survive rainy days.

There’s a 3,000mAh removable battery inside and up to 29 hours of battery life promised, so you can expect it to make it through the day. As you’d expect at this price point, the camera is nothing to write home about, but it’s perfectly serviceable, with a 13MP main and 5MP selfie cam.

This version of the Moto E6 is exclusive to Verizon, although you can also pick up the phone on Simple Mobile or Total Wireless.

Our full Moto E6 review

Runner up: Nokia 2.3

It’s a bit more expensive, but as an Android One smartphone, the Nokia 2.3 runs Android 10. In fact, you can expect a minimum of two years of OS upgrades and three years of monthly security updates.

It has a 6.2-inch screen, a MediaTek processor, 2GB of RAM, and 32GB of storage expandable to 512GB with a microSD card. There’s also a 4,000mAh battery, a 13MP main camera, a 2MP depth camera, and a 5MP front-facing camera. There’s even a headphone jack.

You can buy the Nokia 2.3 from Amazon.

Research and buying tips

Where do I buy cheap phones?

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.

Who has cheap phone plans?

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.

How do you get a new phone for cheap?

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.

Should you buy a cheap phone or wait for last year’s flagship to get cheaper?

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 videos 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.

Related content

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.

Editors' Recommendations