The 9 Best Cheap Smartphones
This wiki has been updated 25 times since it was first published in December of 2015. Calling them "cheap" may not be totally accurate, but these smartphones are certainly much more affordable than the leading flagship models, yet they offer many of the same features, including bright displays and capable cameras. They're the perfect choice for kids and teens who need an entry-level device, or for anyone on a budget who doesn't want to sacrifice too much performance. When users buy our independently chosen editorial choices, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki.
December 25, 2020:
If you're on a tight budget, there are more high-quality smartphone choices available than ever before. To put it bluntly, you will probably not find anything as nice as the Xiaomi Poco X3 NFC for less then three hundred, and in fact, it offers features that even some premium devices don't have, such as a 120-hertz refresh rate. The Xiaomi Redmi 9C is notably less expensive, but is almost as nice. It's essentially an open secret that Xiaomi has some of the best affordable mobiles available right now. The Moto G Power is another high performer and boasts impressive battery life, while the Blu G90 Pro is surprisingly effective at gaming for its price point.
May 07, 2019:
Frugal gadget lovers rejoice! Over the last year we've seen the market basically saturated with incredibly powerful, low-cost smartphones from companies like Huawei, Xiaomi, and Honor. You'll notice a number of fantastic Xiaomi phones on our list. These are some of the most popular ones they offer, specifically because they're exceptional balances of price and performance. There's such a varied selection of features that you're almost certain to find one that fits your needs. If Xiaomi can't do it for you, check out the Honor 8A, which is one of the least expensive, or the Huawei Mate 20 Lite, which is a bit on the costly side, but checks a few more technological boxes than most others.
But that's not to say there aren't a bunch of great options from the more familiar brands; actually, they've all had to step their game up to stay competitive. As such, the Nokia 5.1 Plus is one of the most impressive devices in its price range, boasting a range of high-tech features. The Motorola Moto G6 is a little older, but it's one of the most affordable around, and the powerful hardware inside it should remain useful for years. If you want a little more future-proofing and a ton more battery performance, the Moto G7 Power has one of the largest batteries ever put in a phone. And while Samsung's Galaxy A7 just barely qualifies as a budget-friendly phone, it's a highly refined unit that's certainly worth considering if you're willing to spend a little more.
Beat Back The Bill
That's why it can be so much smarter to get your hands on one of these phones on your own, and then walk into the wireless provider's office with all the power.
It's long been a dirty little secret that when you buy a cell phone along with a calling plan from a given distributor, whether it's Verizon, AT&T, or any of the other big players on the market, the sticker price is rarely what you actually pay for a phone.
If you're looking for a budget phone, you can easily walk into a brick-and-mortar shop and get a surprisingly good deal on a phone that costs notably more than what you have to spend out-of-pocket. All you have to do is sign a contract.
In the fine print of your contract, however, is the remaining cost of the phone, divided up over the course of two years. This means that while most of your money is going toward your the wireless bill and its many hidden fees, a not insignificant amount is going toward the cost of your phone.
If you forget that you're due for an upgrade after the first two years are up, the phone company doesn't graciously reduce your bill to reflect the fact you've already paid off your device. They keep charging you the full amount until you come in for an upgrade, raising the cost of your phone higher and higher the longer you wait to switch.
That's why it can be so much smarter to get your hands on one of these phones on your own, and then walk into the wireless provider's office with all the power. Each of the companies present on our list go about reducing the cost of their phones in a variety of ways. Sometimes it's a little reduction in speed from a slower processor. Other times it's the camera that takes a hit in the quality department, or the battery life that doesn't quite compare to the more expensive phones on the market.
Whatever the reason for the reduced price, it's important to remember that the tech specs of these so-called cheap smartphones are mostly the same ones for which consumers paid quite a bit, just a couple of years ago.
Each smartphone is essentially a little handheld supercomputer. But, for all the technical nuances going into them that might tip your decision in the direction of that phone or the other, picking a cheap smartphone from the options on our list should start with the one thing we started with: connectivity.
For example, if you're a Macbook owner and a consummate Gmail user running Google's calendar and spreadsheet programs for work, you might not want a phone that runs Windows.
I don't mean the interconnected people each of whom has his or her smartphone out and at the ready. I mean the connection your phone makes between its operating system and the system you have on your computer. The days of having to plug a phone into your computer to update music libraries and contacts are fading into history as cloud computing technology gets faster and capable of holding more data. But that doesn't mean the interface between your phone and your computer is any less vital.
You know your computer's interface pretty well. If there's a problem, you can usually figure out what it is, or at least you know who to ask that knows how to fix it. You've also become familiar with the services you use online, regardless of your computer's operating system. That familiarity is priceless when choosing among smartphones.
For example, if you're a Macbook owner and a consummate Gmail user running Google's calendar and spreadsheet programs for work, you might not want a phone that runs Windows. That would be the least connected option. Android interfaces with Google platforms more smoothly than Windows, and it's much friendlier when plugged into a Mac. Conversely, if you do everything Microsoft, from your laptop to your email, using a phone that runs Windows will be second nature to you.
Of course, you want to keep an eye on specs like battery life, camera megapixels, processor speed, and internal storage, making sure you get the highest combination of them all for the best price, but if you can't figure out how to get the thing to sync with your email, all those specs will mean precisely nothing.
A Long Drum Roll
Many years before the iPhone swept into our lives and made us all slightly more alienated from one another while at the same time creating the illusion of greater connectivity, IBM introduced a touchscreen smartphone that had the ability to make calls, send email, and even send faxes. That's right: faxes. After all, this was back in 1993, when fax machines were still a thing.
They were truly innovative machines that didn't stand a chance against what was coming.
The phone was called Simon, and 17 years before the introduction of the iPhone, it cost a significant amount. Adjusted for inflation, in fact, it cost nearly two grand.. A little less expensive, and stripped of the ability to make calls, the Palm Pilot came along a few years later and introduced everyone to a more affordable, more complete mobile computing platform that launched an entire industry of personal digital assistants, or PDAs.
Then came the Blackberry devices and Palm's attempt at a phone in the early 2000s, both of which boasted better processing power and the ability to make and take calls, as well as surf the web. They were truly innovative machines that didn't stand a chance against what was coming.
In 2007, the iPhone appeared, and ever since, anyone in the market has only had the iPhone to compare itself to, to look to for the next thing it'd have to integrate into its system lest their company fade into obsolescence. It's a sad tale, in a way, but the makers of these cheap smartphones go about competing with the giant in a way that's more affordable, and in that sense perhaps more charitable, than the megalith.