A decent smartphone used to cost upwards of $500, but those days are thankfully over. Now it’s possible to find something that meets most of your needs for as little as $160. However, navigating the budget phone market can be tricky. Many options that look good on paper often aren’t great in use, and some handsets will end up costing you more when you consider many come with restrictive storage. This guide will help you find a bargain and highlight our top picks for the best cheap phones you can buy right now.
What to look for in a cheap phone
For this guide, our recommendations cost between $100 and $300. Anything less and you might as well go buy a dumb phone or high-end calculator instead. Since they’re meant to be more affordable than their flagship and midrange siblings, entry-level smartphones involve compromises; the cheaper a device, the lower your expectations around performance and experience should be. For that reason, the best advice I can give is to spend as much as you can afford. In this price range, even $50 or $100 more can get you a dramatically better product.
Second, you should know what you want most from a phone. When buying a budget device, you may need to sacrifice a decent camera for a long-lasting battery or trade a high-resolution display for a faster processor. That’s just what comes with the territory, but knowing your priorities will make it easier to find the right phone.
It’s also worth noting some features can be hard to find on cheap handsets. For instance, you won’t need to search far for a device with all-day battery life — but if you want a great camera, you’re better off shelling out for one of the recommendations in our midrange smartphone guide, which all come in at $600 or less. Wireless charging and waterproofing also aren’t easy to find in this price range and forget about a fast processor. On the bright side, all our recommendations come with headphone jacks, so you won’t need to get wireless headphones.
iOS is also off the table, since the most affordable handset Apple sells is the $400 iPhone SE. That leaves Android as the only option. Thankfully, in 2023, there’s little to complain about Google’s OS – and you may even prefer it to iOS. Lastly, keep in mind most Android manufacturers typically offer far less robust software support for their budget devices. In some cases, your new phone may only receive one major Android update and a year or two of security patches beyond that. That applies to the OnePlus and Motorola recommendations on our list. If you’d like to keep your phone for as long as possible, Samsung has the best software policy of any Android manufacturer in the budget space, offering four years of security updates on all of its devices.
The best budget phone: OnePlus Nord N30 5G
The recently announced $300 OnePlus Nord N30 5G offers the best value of any of the smartphones on our list. No other phone in the price bracket features a processor as fast as the N30’s Snapdragon 695 5G. Moreover, OnePlus has specced the N30 with a generous 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage, meaning you probably won’t need to budget for a microSD card or cloud storage. It also comes with a 120Hz IPS display, a feature that’s great for both gaming and everyday use. Best of all, the N30 ships with a 50W power adapter that you can use to get a full day of battery life in 30 minutes. The N30 would be almost perfect if it had waterproofing and OnePlus had committed to pushing more than one major Android update to the phone.
Another great option: Samsung Galaxy A14 5G
Don’t let the Samsung Galaxy A14 5G’s modest price and uninspired design fool you — it has a lot to offer. For $200, you get a phone that is surprisingly fast and features a competent camera. Additionally, it has NFC connectivity for contactless payments, something you won’t find on a lot of phones in this price range. Battery life is also excellent, coming in at two days with moderate use. Plus, there’s that great software policy I mentioned above, with Samsung promising to support the A14 with two major Android updates and four years of security patches. The only thing missing from the A14 is waterproofing, so you may want to opt for something sturdier if you live by the beach or like to doomscroll in the tub.
An ultra-budget pick: Samsung Galaxy A03s
If you want to spend as little as possible but still want something from a reputable brand, the $160 Samsung Galaxy A03s is your best bet. Thanks to its MediaTek Helio P35 processor, the A03s performs better than you would expect. Unfortunately, the phone feels about as cheap as it costs and the camera isn’t much better. Oh, and did I mention the A03s ships with a measly 32GB of internal storage? In other words, be prepared to buy a microSD card to store all your photos and music. Thankfully, the A03s, like its more expensive sibling, will receive four years of security updates from Samsung. You won’t find that kind of software support on any other handset in the sub-$200 category.
Honorable mention: Motorola Moto G Stylus
The $200 Motorola Moto G Stylus offers something none of the other picks on this list do: a built-in stylus. If you love doodling and jotting down notes, then this is the cheap phone to buy. Thankfully, it has a few other things going for it too. The Moto G Stylus sports a big and responsive 6.5-inch display and a long-lasting 5,000mAh battery. Plus, it’s available in two lovely colors: midnight blue and glam pink.
As with other options in this price range, it would be nice if the Moto G Stylus came with a more capable camera, a fast charger and better protection against water. One word of advice: steer clear of Moto G Stylus 5G. It doesn’t offer enough of an upgrade to justify costing $400.