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Best budget phones in 2022

Google Pixel 6a review
(Image credit: Laptop Mag/Sean Riley)

The best budget phones are a vital part of the market as not everyone wants to spend $1,000 on a flagship phone and even the newer budget flagship realm can be pricey. For our purposes we set the upper limit for budget consideration at $500, there are a number of options for much less, but that's the ceiling.

If you are fine spending more than $500 you can check out our best smartphones, you'll find a few of the budget options there along with the $600 to $1,200+ flagship phones. With that said, stick around and see if you can save yourself a lot of money with one of these more affordable phones. There are budget phones that offer you a great camera, some of the best battery life, or even a stylus, no matter what your interests are we'll find the best budget phone for you.

What is the best budget phone?

The best budget phones offer a mix of performance to price that make them an excellent value without leaving you feeling like you are missing out on all of the great features of modern smartphones. 

At $449 the Pixel 6a is at the upper-end of budget phones, but it earns its top spot on this list by coming pretty close to the Pixel 6, which I've called the best Android value ever. The camera hardware is the one trade-off, but Google's computational photography remains second to none and the improved performance from the Tensor chip and five years of security updates make the Pixel 6a a standout in the budget realm.

If performance and software support are your biggest concerns for your budget phone then look no further than the iPhone SE (2022). It has the best overall performance due to its A15 Bionic chipset which outclasses any other mobile chip on the market, but the cameras, outdated design and relatively weak battery life all put it a step below the Pixel 6a.

Samsung's Galaxy A53 is another potentially compelling budget option with a 120Hz display that puts the Pixel and iPhone to shame, strong software support and a premium look and feel that holds up against Samsung's best. Weaker performance compared to the Pixel and iPhone hold it back, but for Samsung fans, it's a solid value.

The best budget smartphones

  1. Google Pixel 6a
  2. iPhone SE (2022)
  3. Moto G Power
  4. Samsung Galaxy A53 5G
  5. Moto G Stylus
  6. OnePlus Nord N200 5G

(Image credit: Laptop Mag/Sean Riley)
The best budget phone under $500

Specifications

Display: 6.1-inch OLED (2400x1080)
CPU: Tensor
RAM: 6GB
Storage: 128GB
Rear camera: 12.2MP wide (ƒ/1.7); 12MP ultrawide (ƒ/2.2)
Front camera: 8MP wide (ƒ/2.0)

Reasons to buy

+
Excellent software support
+
Unique AI software features
+
Bright and colorful display
+
Affordable $449 price
+
Solid performance

Reasons to avoid

-
Older camera sensors
-
Lacks wireless and true fast charging
-
60Hz display

The Pixel 6a brings many of the best features of Google's flagship phones to a sub-$500 price point. While that description also fit for the Pixel 5a, this year's model has the benefit of following in the footsteps of the much more successful Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro, which means it gets Google's powerful new Tensor chipset.

This is a dramatic performance boost from the Snapdragon 765G in the Pixel 5a and catapults the Pixel 6a to near the top of the performance charts in this price range. The cameras and the 60Hz display are the biggest sacrifice you are making by going with the a-series, but thanks to Google's computational photography prowess it is still considerably better than its budget competition.

Unlike some other budget models, you also get the exact same modern design as the flagship Pixel phones and with its more modestly sized camera array and 6.1-inch display, the Pixel 6a is more pocketable than its siblings. Top all of this off with five years of security updates and Google's handy Pixel "Feature Drops" and it's easy to see why the Pixel 6a is the best cheap phone around.

See our full Pixel 6a review.

(Image credit: Future)

2. iPhone SE (2022)

The best (and only) budget iPhone

Specifications

Display: 4.7-inch Retina IPS LCD (1334 x 750)
CPU: A15 Biotic
RAM: 3GB
Storage: 64GB/128GB/256GB
Rear camera: 12MP wide (ƒ/1.8)
Front camera: 7MP (ƒ/2.2)

Reasons to buy

+
A15 Bionic performance
+
Premium design
+
Great price-performance ratio
+
Wireless charging

Apple’s latest iPhone SE makes one major hardware update to the iPhone SE (2020) with the leap to the same A15 Bionic chipset found in the iPhone 13. It makes multitasking and mobile gaming a breeze on its bright and colorful 4.7-inch Retina display. It’s not the only premium feature that was transplanted over from other premium devices, with the SE able to use wireless charging and retaining the signature iPhone glass and metal design.

However, the SE’s camera remains its downfall, at least on paper. We know the brains of the iPhone 13 managed to make the jump to the SE, but the eyes didn’t. While the 12MP rear camera is fine, that’s about all it is. The SE’s powerful SoC will attempt to boost that relatively weak camera with enhanced computational photography prowess, but we'll need to see it in practice.

(Image credit: Motorola)

3. Moto G Power

Best battery life in a budget phone

Specifications

Display: 6.4-inch LCD (2300x1080)
CPU: Snapdragon 665
RAM: 4GB
Storage: 64GB
Rear camera: 16MP (ƒ/1.7), 8MP ultrawide (ƒ/2.2), 2MP macro (ƒ/2.2)
Front camera: 16MP wide (ƒ/2.0)

Reasons to buy

+
Incredible battery life
+
Very affordable
+
Bright LCD screen

Reasons to avoid

-
Lackluster colors
-
Lacking more stand-out features

Motorola’s primary selling point of the Moto G Power is its claimed 3-day battery life. Motorola even says that with one charge you’ll be able to stream 150 hours worth of music, and most battery tests I’ve come across manage to squeeze somewhere between 16 to 18 hours out of the Moto G Power’s 5,000 mAh battery with in-house testing.

The Moto G Power is priced at $249.99, and if you’re looking for a budget buy that you can rely on to hold a charge, very few smartphones come close to the same endurance on offer here, let alone budget smartphones.

While the battery is a crowning feature for this device, you may find that the rest of the Moto G Power’s offerings are not a standout affair. Its 6.4-inch LCD display is bright but doesn’t impress in terms of colour. The internal 64GB of storage is lower than most in the same price category, and the Snapdragon 665 CPU with 4GB of RAM isn’t exactly going to stand out as a powerhouse against the competition either. 

If you’re on the move a lot throughout the day or are a heavy smartphone user who's tired of reaching for the charger every few hours, this is your battery solution. But, if you’re looking for the wow-factor in other areas also, there are other smartphones out there.

(Image credit: Samsung)

4. Samsung Galaxy A53 5G

Best budget Samsung phone

Specifications

Display: 6.5-inch AMOLED (2400 x 1080)
CPU: Exynos 1280
RAM: 6GB
Storage: 128GB/microSD expansion
Rear camera: 64MP main (f/1.8), 12MP ultrawide (f/2.2), 5MP macro (f/2.4), 5MP depth (f/2.4)
Front camera: 32MP (ƒ/2.2)

Reasons to buy

+
Solid 120Hz refresh rate display
+
Expandable storage via microSD 
+
Four years of software support
+
Durable and modern design

Reasons to avoid

-
Weak performance
-
Cameras fall short of top competition

The Samsung Galaxy A53 5G is cursed with strong competition at its roughly $450 price point. It offers an excellent 120Hz display, an impressive four years of OS and security updates and a modern design that doesn't look out of place next to Samsung's flagships. 

The Galaxy A53 also boasts a bevy of cameras, but of the four lenses on the back you will only care about the wide-angle and ultra-wide and they come up significantly shy of the results you get from the Pixel 6a. Performance is the biggest downfall for the Galaxy A53, the iPhone SE 2022 naturally blows it out of the water with its industry-leading A15 chip, but even the Pixel 6a's Tensor ship leaves the A53 in the dust.

While I try to stick to the retail pricing looking at these phones, I'd be remiss to ignore the fact that the Galaxy A53 is often available for closer to $350, which may tip the scales for you. While it may not quite match up to the top options from Google and Apple, the Galaxy A53 is an excellent budget choice.

(Image credit: Motorola)

5. Moto G Stylus 5G (2021)

Best budget phone with a stylus

Specifications

Display: 6.8-inch LCD (2400 x 1080)
CPU: Snapdragon 480 5G
RAM: 6GB
Storage: 256GB
Rear camera: 48MP wide (ƒ/1.7), 8MP ultrawide (ƒ/2.2), 5MP macro (ƒ/2.2)
Front camera: 16MP wide (ƒ/2.2)

Reasons to buy

+
Very good battery life
+
Solid storage and RAM
+
Bright LCD screen
+
Stylus is unique at this price

Reasons to avoid

-
Disappointing camera performance
-
Weak processor

If the Moto G Power caught your attention but seemed to be lacking anything that made it truly stand out, then Motorola has another budget phone that may be of more interest to you. For $400, the Moto G Stylus 5G adds a stylus, 5G, 6GB of RAM and an impressive 256GB of base storage to the mix.

While a stylus isn't something that everyone is clamoring for on a phone, Note owners would tell you it's an awesome addition. On removing the stylus from the body of the smartphone, Motorola’s proprietary sketching software opens up, allowing you to jot, sketch or doodle without delay. 

While the original $400 price point was a bit tough to swallow, you can find it for less than $350 now and that's an excellent value for this unique budget offering.

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)
Best cheap 5G phone

Specifications

Display: 6.4-inch FHD+ LCD (2,400 x 1080)
CPU: Qualcomm Snapdragon 480
RAM: 4GB
Storage: 64GB (microSD for expansion)
Rear camera: 13MP wide (ƒ/2.2); 2MP macro (ƒ/2.4); 2MP monochrome (ƒ/2.4)
Front camera: 16MP (f/2.05)

Reasons to buy

+
Gorgeous, premium design
+
Vivid 90Hz 6.4-inch display
+
Affordably priced
+
microSD and 3.5mm headphone jack

Reasons to avoid

-
Cameras are below average
-
Only one software update

The OnePlus Nord N200 5G is easily the most affordable 5G phone that we've seen so far at just $240. The phone boasts a premium look that holds up to phones that sell for 2-3x as much.   

This is the best sub-$250 phone I’ve used all things considered. I am still blown away by the fit and finish OnePlus delivered in a phone this cheap, but of course there are some tradeoffs to hit that price point.

The camera is my biggest complaint camera, if photos and videos are a major concern for you with your phone then the Nord N200's cameras fall flat. It’s always possible for OnePlus to improve the software, but don’t buy the phone counting on that happening. 

Software support is my other major critique. It’s a budget phone, but you only get one software update which is arriving within a few months of this phone launching — that's unacceptable even at this price point.

If you can look past those two flaws, this is an otherwise fantastic phone. If you want a premium-looking phone without spending a premium price then this belongs on your short list. 

See our OnePlus Nord N200 5G review