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Best budget phones in 2021

Pixel 4a 5G - best budget phones 2021
(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

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 $499 the Pixel 4a 5G is at the upper-end of budget phones, but it absolutely earns its top spot on this list with features that rival the much pricier Pixel 5. You get identical cameras that can go toe-to-toe with many flagships, the best software support available on Android and are future proof with 5G, something you won't find on many budget phones today.

If you’re looking for the best performance and software support in a budget phone then look no further than the iPhone SE (2020). It looks great, feels great, and has the best overall performance due to its A13 Bionic chipset, it may be one generation old now, but it still outclasses virtually every other CPU.

The OnePlus Nord N10 5G is perhaps the best all-around budget smartphone you can find from a pure price to performance standpoint. Cramming in as much premium quality and performance as possible, all for a very modest budget price tag.

The best budget smartphones

  1. Google Pixel 4a 5G
  2. iPhone SE
  3. Moto G Power
  4. TCL 20 Pro 5G
  5. Samsung Galaxy A71 5G
  6. Moto G Stylus
  7. OnePlus Nord N10 5G

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

The best budget phone under $500

Specifications
Display: 6.2-inch FHD OLED (1080 x 2340)
CPU: Snapdragon 765G
RAM: 6GB
Storage: 128GB
Rear camera: 12.2MP wide (ƒ/1.7); 16MP ultrawide (ƒ/2.2)
Front camera: 8MP wide (ƒ/2.0)
Reasons to buy
+Flagship tier camera+Colourful display+5G capable+Great value
Reasons to avoid
-Middling performance

For $499, the Pixel 4a follow-up, the Pixel 4a 5G adds... well, 5G support for a start. Other new additions include a second rear-facing ultrawide 16MP camera; a Snapdragon 765G CPU upgrade; an expanded 6.2-inch FHD display; and a slightly increased battery capacity.

The Pixel 4a 5G’s predecessor was lauded for its use of software and hardware to produce fantastic results from a single 12.2MP camera, and the 5G isn’t resting on its laurels, having further improved your ability to capture the moment. The newer model now features cameras identical to those found on the Pixel 5 with Night Sight, HDR+, and the ability to adjust lighting post-snap. This results in flagship-level photography from a device at a fraction of the price.

The Pixel 4a 5G — as hinted to in its wildly creative name — includes a built-in 5G modem, meaning you can take advantage of the network’s lightning-fast, roaming internet speeds wherever you find yourself in its coverage. This will be great for uploading pictures and videos you’ve taken, or enjoying Duo calls on the move.

(Image credit: Apple)

2. iPhone SE (2020)

The best (and only) budget iPhone

Specifications
Display: 4.7-inch Retina IPS LCD (1334 x 750)
CPU: A13 Biotic
RAM: 3GB
Storage: 64GB/128GB/256GB
Rear camera: 12MP wide (ƒ/1.8)
Front camera: 7MP (ƒ/2.2)
Reasons to buy
+A13 Bionic performance+Premium design+Great price-performance ratio+Wireless charging
Reasons to avoid
-Battery life could be better

Apple’s site claims they took the brains of the iPhone 11 Pro and placed it into the body of the iPhone SE. An impressive feat considering Apple sells this device for only $399.

The brains in question, Apple’s A13 Bionic chipset, give the SE an incredible price-to-performance ratio. It makes multitasking and mobile gaming a breeze on its bright and colorful 4.7-inch Retina display, even with just 3GB of RAM. 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 is its downfall, at least on paper. We know the brains of the iPhone 11 Pro 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 and next-gen Smart HDR work in tandem to make the most of what’s on offer though, with portrait mode and intelligent relighting giving your pictures and videos a little extra pep in their step.

(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: Laptop Mag)

Best 5G phone under $400

Specifications
Display: 6.7-inch FHD+ AMOLED (2,400 x 1080)
CPU: Qualcomm Snapdragon 750G
RAM: 6GB
Storage: 256GB (microSD)
Rear camera: 48MP wide (ƒ/1.8); 16MP ultra-wide (f/2.4) 5MP macro (ƒ/2.2); 2MP depth (ƒ/2.4)
Front camera: 32MP (f/2.5)
Reasons to buy
+Unique and stunning design+Bright/vivid display+Solid camera performance+MicroSD and 3.5mm headphone jack
Reasons to avoid
-Disappointing battery life-60Hz refresh rate

The TCL 20 Pro 5G is the best-looking phone that costs less than $500. And that beauty isn’t just skin deep, either, as it offers solid camera performance and a vivid (if slow) display. 

With that said, the $499 price point is a difficult one. It’s knocking on the door of some affordable flagship phones like the Galaxy S20 FE, which can frequently be found for $549 or less now. And on the other end, challengers like the OnePlus N200 5G or OnePlus Nord N10 5G offer 5G and solid hardware for under $300. 

The TCL's build quality, cameras and software support give it a leg up on that budget competition, but that is expected for an extra $200. Battery life and mid-tier performance are revealing of this as a budget phone, but otherwise, it manages to deliver well beyond its price.

This isn't the best sub-$500 phone overall, but it isn't too far off and if you value the look of your phone this is the only phone in the price range that delivers flagship-level design.

See our full TCL 20 Pro 5G review.

(Image credit: Samsung)

5. Samsung Galaxy A71 5G

Best budget Samsung phone

Specifications
Display: 6.7-inch FHD OLED (2400x1080)
CPU: Snapdragon 765
RAM: 8GB
Storage: 128GB
Rear camera: 64MP (ƒ/1.8), 12MP ultrawide (ƒ/2.2), 5MP macro (ƒ/2.4), 5MP depth (ƒ/2.2)
Front camera: 32MP (ƒ/2.2)
Reasons to buy
+Solid performance+Above average battery life+5G compatible
Reasons to avoid
-No standout feature-Pricey for a budget smartphone

The Samsung Galaxy A71 5G is the jack-of-all-trades budget smartphone, flaunting speedy Snapdragon 765 performance paired with a generous 8GB of RAM; a bright, 6.7-inch FHD, OLED screen; 5G modem; and around 10 hours of battery life all comes together nicely. The problem? The same as with any jack-of-all-trades: you tend to be a master of none.

While the Samsung Galaxy A71 5G can do a little bit of everything well, there’s no one avenue it goes down where it excels over the competition. If you want the best camera, while the A71 5G is no slouch, it simply can't beat the Pixel 4a 5G. If you want to get the most out of gaming, the iPhone SE’s A13 Bionic chipset has you beat dead to rights. Even with its above-average 10-hour battery life, this Samsung falls short of the Moto G Power’s impressive longevity.

On the flip side of this, there’s no one area that the Samsung Galaxy A71 5G fails at either. It’s a solid all-rounder and a reliable smartphone that has you covered on multiple fronts. The main consideration with this one is price, at $499 if you are a big Samsung fan you should definitely consider paying up $50 to $100 for the Galaxy S20 FE.

(Image credit: Motorola)

6. Moto G Stylus

Best budget phone with a stylus

Specifications
Display: 6.4-inch LCD (2300 x 1080)
CPU: Snapdragon 665
RAM: 4GB
Storage: 128GB
Rear camera: 48MP wide (ƒ/1.7), 16MP ultrawide action cam (ƒ/2.2), 2MP macro (ƒ/2.2)
Front camera: 16MP wide (ƒ/2.0)
Reasons to buy
+Very good battery life+Bright LCD screen+Camera improvements
Reasons to avoid
-Stylus feels unnecessary

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 $300, the Moto G Stylus is essentially the same phone beyond some minor improvements. The rear-facing cameras have been updated to feature 48MP and 16MP cameras, and the internal storage has been doubled to 128GB. Outside of this, the devices’ internals remain pretty much the same.

That is, aside from one other new addition: a built-in stylus. It seems a strange decision, one that doesn’t add much to the experience other than having a slightly more convenient way of jotting something down quickly. 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. 

Moreover, the increases in storage and adjustments to the cameras are welcome changes, and if you believe them to be worth the $50 increase in price, then the Moto G Stylus might be the better option for you.

(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