26 Feb Best cheap phones 2021: 9 impressive handsets that won’t break
Flagship smartphones are commanding some seriously high prices – which can be a daunting prospect if you’re in the market for a new phone. Thankfully, such devices aren’t your only option, with some excellent phones available that include a smattering of flagship features for far less money. There’s a wide selection of handsets to choose from – and, following thorough testing, below you’ll find a list of the very best cheap phones you can buy.
When we say flagship phones are pricier than ever, it’s no exaggeration, with devices such as the iPhone 12 Pro Max and Galaxy Z Fold 2 costing £1149 and £1900 respectively. However, there’s been a steady trickle-down effect of some exciting flagship features, which means you can snap them up for a fraction of the price.
The best budget handsets available right now will truly make you question whether you should spend more than £400-£500 on a phone ever again, threatening not only the flagships, but mid-range devices too.
If you’re looking for a phone with an advanced camera, or other higher-end features, check out our best Android phones guide. And you won’t need to spend too much more to grab even more of those flagship features, as our best mid-range phone guide details.
1. Realme X50 5G
The best cheap 5G phone
- Excellent battery life
- Low price for a 5G phone
- Well-specced 120Hz screen
- Strong general and gaming performance
- Two of the rear cameras are filler
- No headphone jack
The Realme X50 5G truly deserves your attention if picking between the best cheap phones, with the handset bringing together a truly stunning feature set for less than £300.
You get 5G connectivity, an impressive 120Hz panel, excellent battery life and decent Snapdragon 765G performance.
And these features don’t come in a budget hardware package to save money, either. Realme delivers a curved glass back (not often seen on most cheap phone rivals) as well as a surprisingly premium all-around design, all while keeping the price down. The Realme X50 5G is one of the biggest phone bargains of recent years.
2. Pixel 4a
The best cheap camera phone you can buy
- Great camera
- Refreshingly small size for an Android phone
- The promise of fast updates
- Nice, sharp OLED screen
- You’ll find competition with far larger spec sheets and feature lists
- Some mild performance and touch latency hiccups
- As well as being a Pro, the small screen might put some off
The Pixel 4a was a long time coming and, thankfully, it lives up to the acclaim of its Pixel 3a predecessor. It earned its spot on our best cheap phones roundup, delivering a remarkable camera experience at a super-low price.
While it’s that combo of affordable price and top-notch Google camera capability that will woo many, there’s plenty more to like from the Pixel 4a besides. In a world of super-sized devices, the new mid-range Pixel offers a pocketable experience for those longing to return to the days of smaller handsets.
Google may have saved some money in the performance area, by including the Snapdragon 730 processor, but the Pixel 4a screen isn’t an area that suffers. It may not be 90Hz, but the OLED panel is sharp and the inclusion of HDR is another nice bonus.
Think Pixel and you think of the snappy stock Android experience, and that’s just what you get here. It may not be as ultrafast as some flagships costing twice its price, but it’s more than capable – and you can rest easy knowing updates will come thick and fast.
3. Moto G8
A capable and affordable phone
- Good camera
- Big battery
- Great Motorola software
- The screen is far from the best
It might now be treading back into the flagship space, but Motorola’s finest phones remain its budget options – at least in our eyes. The Motorola Moto G8 ticks many of the boxes we look for when it comes to picking an easy to recommend entry for best cheap phones.
It offers a decent main 16-megapixel camera, paired with an 8-megapixel ultra-wide, impressing with both its performance and battery life. In terms of specifics, you’re looking at a Snapdragon 665 with 4GB of RAM and a 4000mAh battery.
Our only real qualm is the screen, which lacks the high-resolution of some of the other Moto G8 entries.
4. iPhone SE 2
iPhone 11 performance for a lot less
- Fantastic performance
- Great camera
- iOS update
- Good value for an iPhone
Apple’s latest phone isn’t flashy, yet it manages to offer a number of flagship features for a price that makes it hard to ignore, earning it a place on our list of the best cheap phones.
Instead of mirroring the old iPhone SE, the iPhone SE 2 looks identical to the no-longer sold iPhone 8. Curved sides, glass back, chunky bezel and a circular Touch ID sensor give it a familiar feel, even if it may appear a little dull to some.
However, below the surface this is a great phone. The 12-megapixel camera performs admirably in daylight and captures excellent 4K 60fps video, although we do wish low-light performance was better.
You’ll find the same A13 Bionic chip as the iPhone 11 Pro, a sharp 4.7-inch display with fantastic colour reproduction and handy extras such as Qi wireless charging and an IP67 rating for water- and dust-resistance.
5. Moto G Pro
- Great value
- Decent design
- Future-proof software
- Main camera is good for the money
- Poor palm detection
- Back up cameras are pretty pointless
Selling for around £300, the Motorola Moto G Pro isn’t the most wallet-friendly phone on this list. But it’s the only one with an included stylus.
The stylus works like the S Pen that accompanies Samsung’s Galaxy Note line of phones, sitting neatly in a dock on the Moto G Pro’s bottom-right side. Its inclusion may not sound like anything to shout about, but thanks to clever work by Motorola, the G Pro is a great productivity aid and work phone on which you can quickly jot down handwritten notes.
If that isn’t enough to tempt you, this device is also part of Google’s Android One initiative. This means it’s one of the only affordable phone’s around with a completely clean Android install and is guarantee to be updated to the next version of the OS.
These above two features, plus its excellent specs sheet and main camera, easily earn it a place as one of the best phones you’ll find at this price.
6. Oppo A5 2020
Big screen and huge battery
- Generous sized screen
- Big battery
- Sensible price
- Smart looks
At £179, the Oppo A5 2020 is a great buy if you’re after a budget phone that will comfortably go the distance. This handset achieved one of the best battery life scores in our tests, and it will also tick the box for those looking for a bigger screen – even if the resolution is fairly low.
Elsewhere, the Snapdragon 665 chipset, 64GB of storage and 3GB of RAM result in decent performance – certainly nothing to sniff at when you take the price into consideration, and a big reason that this phone earns its place on this list. In addition, you’ll find four cameras on the rear of the device, with another around the front. These include two 2-megapixel sensors, a main 12-megapixel unit and an 8-megapixel sensor as well. We were impressed by the photo quality here, even if those dual 2-megapixel sensors proved disappointing.
7. Moto G8 Power
Battery life for days
- Massive battery
- Reasonable price
- Good camera
- Unremarkable design
- Long charging time
The battery is the headline-grabbing spec of the Motorola G8 Power – and in our tests, it certainly lived up to the hype. Its impressive endurance will easily last the day and into the next one, too. Fortunately, this phone has more to offer besides.
The camera is pretty good and versatile for the price, including four different snappers to suit a variety of shots. The screen, too, is crisp and clear, and at 6.4 inches, it’s a great size for watching content or playing games.
Drawbacks include its conservative, uninspired design; however, this is unlikely to be a dealbreaker for many consumers looking for a budget device. Second, charging times compared to rival devices are slow; you’ll probably need to plug in the G8 Power overnight for full recharging – but, fortunately, the generously sized battery means this isn’t a compromising factor, either.
8. Xiaomi Redmi Note 7
A big camera at a small price
- Long-lasting battery
- Impressive performance
- Great screen
- No NFC
- Mono speaker
- Busy interface
This model by the relatively new Chinese brand isn’t one of the better-known on this list, but it’s a worthy pick for our best cheap phones roundup. And that’s because if you’re looking for a killer camera, but you’re on a particularly tight budget, the Redmi Note 7 offers astounding value for money. Xiaomi’s own MIUI 10 software does weigh the phone down slightly, but, other than that, this is an impressively well-rounded device.
The blockbusting 48-megapixel primary camera (which is supported by a 5-megapixel depth module) is a real highlight. The sensor is the same as you’ll find in everything from the Motorola One Vision to the OnePlus 7 Pro and, while there’s no optical image stabilisation (OIS) to speak of here, as on more expensive handsets, it’s a superb snapper setup all the same.
The Redmi’s extended Full HD+ IPS screen is equally impressive, offering great colour reproduction, good viewing angles and decent legibility outdoors – not always a certainty with more budget-friendly phones. Check out more below.
9. OnePlus Nord
- Great quality OLED panel
- Super-quick charging
- Lovely version of Android
- Attractive, ergonomic design
- 5G and great performance
- Screen seems to mark very easily
- Secondary cameras are pretty much useless
OnePlus’ mid-range Nord is an excellent all-rounder with a low price tag. While it lacks any one standout feature, the combination of a high-quality OLED display, quick charging and next-gen 5G performance makes this phone a clear contender when it comes to value for your money.
The build is less luxurious than that of the OnePlus 8, and the OnePlus camera isn’t our top choice – but if you’re looking for flagship-like performance on a budget, the OnePlus Nord is definitely worth a closer look.
How do we select the best budget smartphones?
We selected this list based on the price and the performance of the phones rated in our full reviews (we link to each full review below so you can find out more).
- When we test a phone, we transfer across all of our data, then use each of the smartphones for a week as our main handset.
- We also benchmark each phone using industry-standard software, which enables us to test the accuracy of the maker’s performance claims, and we use specialised hardware to check the performance and colour reproduction of the screen. This also enables us to make fair comparisons between brands.
- Dedicating so much time to each model in this way means we can build an accurate picture of how the phones will perform in the real world. We’re able to get a solid reading of how long the battery will last on a single charge, how much strain you can put on the processor before it starts to break a sweat, and how well the camera performs in a range of conditions and setups.
- You can find out more about how we test phones here, or click on each review link below for the full performance details of each one.
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Deputy and mobile editor
Max Parker is the Deputy Editor for Trusted Reviews and Recombu. He also directly manages Trusted Reviews’ mobile, wearables and tablet sections. Max joined Trusted Reviews as a features writer in 201…
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