Friday, December 8, 2023

The best budget Android phones you can buy in 2021, ranked


As high-end phones get more expensive, awesome budget Android phones get even better. We’ve researched and ranked all of the best cheap Android phones you can buy today. And with our buyer’s guide, you’ll be sure to find the perfect phone for you. Here are some of our top choices for the most inexpensive phones available now.

What are the best budget Android phones?

Last year was tremendous for Android phones in the budget space, and fortunately, this trend continued well into 2021. You’re seeing features like multiple cameras, faster processors, and 5G hit price points that would have been unheard of just a couple of years ago. Because of that, there’s a wealth of quality options in the $200–$450 range that won’t make you feel like you’re compromising.

For our top picks, you can’t go wrong with either the Google Pixel 4a and Google Pixel 5a. The 2020 model hits the perfect balance of performance, camera quality, and battery life, with a clean build of Android that you’re sure to love and the same camera as the 5a. Go with the new model, and you’ll get a much larger screen, 5G support, waterproofing, and amazing battery life — though it stretches the definition of a “budget” Android phone.

Further down the list, we really love the Nokia G50 5G. It has a lower-resolution display, plastic back, and slightly less RAM and storage than some other phones on this list. Still, overall it’s a package that we can absolutely recommend, especially if you’re looking to save as much money as possible on an unlocked Android phone with good cameras, 5G support, great battery life, and smooth software.

We also recommend the Samsung Galaxy A52 5G. This phone surprised us with its beautiful display and tremendous performance, although you’ll want to make sure you’re ready for a phone this size — it’s a big one.


Google Pixel 4a

The overall best budget Android phone you can buy

Bottom line: The Pixel 4a has one of the best cameras on this list, but it’s so much more than that. It’s a fantastic overall device that doesn’t cut any crucial corners to hit that sweet price point.

Display 5.81-inch OLED, 2340×1080, 60Hz refresh rate
Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 730G
Storage 128GB
Cameras 12.2MP primary, 8MP selfie
Charging 18W wired
Battery 3,140 mAh
Water Resistance
Dimensions 144 x 69.4 x 8.2mm
Weight 143g


  • Incredible camera
  • Excellent build quality with polycarbonate shell
  • Three years of updates
  • Clean Android build
  • Has a headphone jack


  • Lacks wireless charging
  • Lacks water resistance
  • Only available in one size option

Google didn’t change much about the Pixel 4a over its predecessor, the Pixel 3a. It kept the plastic body, the austere design, and the no-nonsense approach to Android. But what it did change, it improved on a wide scale: it’s faster, has more RAM and memory, a nicer display, and three additional years of Android platform and security updates to soothe even the most critical of users.

The Pixel 4a limits user choice, though: it only comes in in one storage variety, 128GB. Unfortunately, it’s also only available in one size, a 5.8-inch model that’s easy to hold and use in one hand.

Where the Pixel 4a excels is in the basics. Its 3,180mAh battery lasts all day, thanks to the power-sipping properties of its upgraded Qualcomm Snapdragon 730G processor. Its 5.8-inch OLED display goes edge-to-edge, with only the slightest hint of a bezel and a camera cutout near the top left. There’s only a single camera on the back, too, but that 12MP sensor combines with Google’s best-in-class post-processing for the best photos you’ll find in a phone at this price point. It’s so good. In fact, you’ll have a hard time telling the difference between photos produced on the Pixel 4a and those from the much more expensive Pixel 4.

So, where does the Pixel 4a cut costs? There’s no wireless charging or water resistance, and the plastic body, despite a premium matte finish, can feel a little less premium than its metal-and-glass counterparts. Otherwise, this is a near-perfect phone for its very reasonable price and should be at the top of your list if you can spring the extra money over the Moto G Power.

The best overall budget Android phone you can buy

Google Pixel 4a 5G


$319 at Amazon
$300 at Best Buy
$350 at Target

The uncontested photography king

Thanks to a lower price over the Pixel 3a, this is the best phone on this list if you can swing it in your price range.


Google Pixel 5a

The upgrade Pixel pick

Bottom line: While some may not consider it to be “cheap,” the Pixel 5a packs a big punch for its $400 asking price, including a powerful Snapdragon processor, 5G connectivity, stunning cameras, water resistance, and more.

Display 6.34-inch OLED, 2340×1080, 60Hz refresh rate
Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 765G
Storage 128GB
Cameras 12.2MP primary, 16MP ultra-wide, 8MP selfie
Charging 18W wired
Battery 4,680 mAh
Water Resistance IP67
Dimensions 156.2 x 73.1 x 8.8mm
Weight 183g


  • Simply amazing cameras
  • Fast performance across the board
  • Large OLED display
  • Unbelievable battery life
  • Supports 5G networks


  • Only a 60Hz display
  • Not “cheap” for all shoppers

We already mentioned the Google Pixel 4a above, but it’s also worth discussing its more expensive sibling — the Pixel 5a. It’s a lot like last year’s Pixel 4a, but with a few key upgrades in important places.

First thing’s first, there’s the processor. The Pixel 5a steps up to the more impressive Snapdragon 765G, which allows for better performance and 5G connectivity. Of course, 5G still has a lot of growing pains it needs to work through, but if you plan to keep your phone for the next few years and take advantage of those faster network speeds as they become more widely available, it is something to consider.

The larger size of the 5a allows for a bigger display and battery, making it better-equipped for watching movies, playing games, and doing all of that while not having to stress about how much gas is left in the tank. You get the same top-notch 12.2MP camera from the regular Pixel 4a, but there’s also a 16MP ultra-wide camera that allows for even more shooting possibilities. In fact, during our review of the 5a, our colleague could not kill the battery even after two days of intense usage. That’s huge, especially for a phone that lacks wireless charging. The 5a also is the first a-series Pixel to have an official IP67 rating for water resistance.

If you’re weighing the Pixel 5a vs. Pixel 4a, that linked guide should tell you more about how the two phones compare.

The upgrade Pixel pick

Google Pixel 5a 5G


$399 at Google Store
$425 at Amazon (International Version)

5G speeds for less

Want 5G connectivity on a budget? Look no further than the Pixel 5a from Google.


Moto G Power (2020)

Best cheap budget Android phone

Bottom line: The Moto G Power (2020) sacrifices very little to hit its $250 retail price. As a result, this is the best cheap phone for most people with a speedy processor, excellent cameras, and great battery life.

Display 6.4-inch LCD, 2300×1080, 60Hz refresh rate
Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 665
Storage 64GB
Cameras 16MP primary, 8MP ultra-wide, 2MP macro, 16MP selfie
Charging 10W wired
Battery 5,000 mAh
Water Resistance Water-repellent coating
Dimensions 159.9 x 75.8 x 9.6mm
Weight 199g


  • Great build quality and design
  • Three rear cameras are a lot of fun
  • Up to three-day battery life
  • Moto Display and Moto Actions are great
  • Compatible with all major U.S. and international carriers


  • Moto G line isn’t known for swift software updates
  • Lacks NFC

Year after year, Motorola stands out as one of the best companies to watch for delivering great budget Android phones. 2020 saw the Moto G Power release, and if you’re in the market for an affordable smartphone, it’s hard to do much better than this. Although there is a newer Moto G Power (2021), its predecessor is still the better budget phone.

The Power name is a reference to the phone’s best feature — battery life. With a 5,000 mAh battery crammed inside, you can easily get two or three days of use on a single charge. In a world where it’s the norm to throw your phone on the charger every single night, being able to go a few days without worrying about that is a dream come true.

The rest of the G Power’s hardware is just as good outside of the legendary battery life. The 6.4-inch Full HD display is easy on the eyes, performance is plenty fast thanks to the Snapdragon 665 processor and 4GB of RAM, and graphical performance in mobile games is impressive at this price range. The G Power also has a trio of solid cameras, which allow for a wide variety of different types of shots you can take with the phone. Image quality is also pretty good, considering how cheap the G Power is.

Tying all of this together is Motorola’s excellent software. The user interface is nearly identical to what you’d find on a Pixel, meaning it’s clean, pure Android as Google intended it. In addition, Motorola throws in a few software tweaks to further enhance your experiences, such as Moto Display and Moto Actions. The former is arguably the best always-on display out there, with the latter allowing you to move the phone in a chopping motion to turn on the flashlight or twist it to open the camera.


We have two complaints about the Moto G Power, the first of which is its lack of NFC. Contactless payment solutions like Google Pay are becoming more and more commonplace with every day that passes, and buying a phone in 2021 that doesn’t support this feels kind of silly. There’s also the fact that Motorola only promises one major OS update for the G Power, meaning it likely won’t be updated beyond Android 11 — a potential deal-breaker if you plan on keeping the phone for a long time.

However, if neither of those two things bothers you, the Moto G Power is a wonderfully complete package that we think many people will be overly happy with.

Just a heads up that this is the 2020 version of the Moto G Power. The Moto G Power (2021) was released, but it’s actually a worse product with a lower-resolution display and a slightly weaker processor. As such, we’re going to keep recommending the Moto G Power (2020) over it.

Best cheap budget Android phone

Moto G Power (2020)


$150 at Amazon

The best affordable Android phone for most people

If you need a cheap phone, you want the Moto G Power. It’s built well, has a good display, and has insane battery life.


Samsung Galaxy A52 5G

A premium 5G pick under $500

Bottom line: Want the Samsung experience without the added cost? The Galaxy A52 is a fantastic value.

Display 6.5-inch AMOLED, 2400×1080, 120Hz refresh rate
Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 750G
Storage 128/256GB
Cameras 64MP primary, 12MP ultra-wide, 5MP macro, 5MP depth, 32MP selfie
Charging 25W wired
Battery 4,500 mAh
Water Resistance IP67
Dimensions 159.9 x 75.1 x 8.4mm
Weight 189g


  • Good-looking hardware
  • Vibrant AMOLED display with 120Hz refresh rate
  • Four excellent rear cameras
  • Large 4,500 mAh battery
  • IP67 water and dust resistance


  • 5G is only for sub-6

Samsung has many decent offerings in 2021, with one of its better options being the Galaxy A52 5G.

You’ll find a lot of specs to keep you interested, including a gorgeous AMOLED display with a 120Hz refresh rate, a large 4,500 mAh battery for long endurance, and a Qualcomm Snapdragon 750G processor. It’s a decent chipset, but on the A52, it results in some laggy performance now and then.

The A52 is touting a total of four sensors on its backside. There’s a 64MP primary camera, 12MP ultra-wide camera, 5MP macro camera, and a dedicated 5MP portrait camera. Not only does this setup allow for virtually endless possibilities with the kinds of photos you can take, but the 64MP primary camera is a fantastic shooter that captures wonderful detail and dynamic range.

A premium 5G pick under $500

Samsung Galaxy A52 5G


$425 at Amazon
$400 at Best Buy
$500 at Samsung

Samsung packs quite a punch

Want a flagship Samsung phone without paying premium prices? Make sure to check out the Galaxy A52!


Samsung Galaxy A32 5G

The cheap Android phone with versatile cameras

Bottom line: The Pixel 4a may have the best camera quality, but the Samsung Galaxy A32 5G has the versatility. With four cameras overall, though, you’ll definitely get your shot. Plus, the rest of the phone is great, too.

Display 6.4-inch TFT, 720×1600
Processor MediaTek MT6853 Dimensity 720 5G
RAM 4/6/8GB
Storage 128GB
Cameras 48MP primary, 8MP ultra-wide, 5MP macro, 5MP depth, 13MP selfie
Charging 15W wired
Battery 5,000 mAh
Water Resistance IP67
Dimensions 164.2 x 76.1 x 9.1mm
Weight 205g


  • Attractive design
  • Great cameras
  • 90Hz AMOLED display is excellent
  • Three platform updates
  • Long battery life


  • Can be a bit laggy with heavy use
  • “Fast” charging is only 15W

Samsung’s lineup of mid-tier Android phones has gotten a lot better in recent years, with one of the latest examples being the Galaxy A32 5G. This is at the mid-range of Samsung’s more affordable Galaxy phones, and it should absolutely be on your shortlist.

As hinted at above, this is the cheap Android phone to get if you care about cameras. The heart of the Galaxy A32 5G is its 48MP primary camera, and photos taken with it look excellent. There’s a lot of detail, good dynamic range, and vibrant colors. To help expand the types of pictures you can take, the A32 5G is also equipped with an 8MP wide-angle camera, a 5MP macro camera, and a 5MP portrait camera.

Outside of the camera department, the Galaxy A32 5G is just as impressive. It delivers a quality 6.4-inch TFT display at 720p, decent performance in day-to-day tasks thanks to its MediaTek MT6853 Dimensity 720 5G, and a beefy 5,000 mAh battery that allows long endurance. Tie all of that together with USB-C charging and a headphone jack, and you end up with quite the package.

The cheap Android phone with versatile cameras

Samsung Galaxy A32 5G


$280 at Samsung
$280 at Best Buy
$375 at Amazon (International Version)

An excellent camera package, regardless of price

Samsung went all out with the Galaxy A32’s cameras, giving you a 48MP primary lens and three other ones to play around with.


Nokia G50 5G

A great option for clean software under $300

Bottom line: Nokia’s known for making great value Android phones, and the excellent Nokia G50 5G is another example. Expect decent performance, clean Android One-based software, and a lovely design.

Display 6.82-inch LCD, 1560×750, 60Hz refresh rate
Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 480 5G
Storage 64GB/128GB
Cameras 48MP primary, 5MP ultra-wide, 2MP depth, 8MP wide selfie camera
Charging 18W wired
Battery 5,000 mAh
Water Resistance
Dimensions 173.8 x 77.7 x 8.9mm
Weight 6.7oz


  • Fast processor
  • Solid camera system
  • Two-day battery life
  • Fingerprint sensor
  • NFC for Google Pay


  • Display is only HD+
  • No wireless charging

Nokia makes solid Android phones that don’t cost too much, and the Nokia G50 5G continues that tradition of high-quality hardware with clean Android One-based software. The phone’s design is striking, too, with a tall-and-thin 19.5:9 aspect ratio that makes the metallic-looking body easy to grasp and use in one hand. And because the Nokia G50 5G runs Android One, it will get platform updates until the end of 2023 and security patches until 2024.

On the hardware front, the Nokia G50 5G packs some serious power. The 5G-enabled Snapdragon 480 processor and 4/6GB of RAM allow for reliable performance, the 5,000 mAh battery easily provides two days of use per charge, and you get a total of four cameras for endless picture-taking possibilities, including an excellent 48MP primary sensor and an 8MP wide front camera. Throw in smaller features like NFC, expandable storage, and a headphone jack, and you end up with a really complete package.

A great option for clean software under $300

Nokia G50 5G


From $231 at Amazon
$300 at Best Buy
$300 at Walmart

Nokia delivers the goods

The Nokia G50 5G shines as an excellent low-cost Android phone. It has three rear cameras, a headphone jack, and clean software.



A big phone with lots of features

Bottom line: If you’re looking for features galore, from video-enhancing modes to excellent camera and battery optimizations, the TCL 20S is a fantastic option.

Display 6.67-inch FHD+ LCD, 2400×1080, 60Hz refresh rate
Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 665
Storage 64GB
Cameras 64MP primary, 8MP ultra-wide, 2MP macro, 2MP depth, 16MP selfie
Charging 18W wired
Battery 5,000 mAh
Water Resistance
Dimensions 162.2 x 76.9 x 9.1mm
Weight 199g


  • Crisp and vibrant display
  • 5,000 mAh battery
  • Has an NFC chip
  • Improved primary camera
  • OTG reverse charging


  • No 5G
  • No official IP water-resistance rating

TCL has been at the helm of phones under the Alcatel and BlackBerry brands, but with the TCL 20S, the company is finally entering the Android space with a device under its own name. Surprisingly, it’s one of the most feature-rich cheap handsets you can buy right now.

Starting with its display, the TCL 20S offers a 6.67-inch FHD+ LCD panel with its NXTVISION screen technology — offering true-to-life colors, great viewing angles, and support for HDR video content. If you want to use the display to showcase games, the Snapdragon 665 processor with 4GB of RAM offers more than enough horsepower to keep everything running smoothly.

Also offered are four rear cameras, including a 64MP primary camera, 8MP ultra-wide camera, 2MP macro camera, and 2MP depth camera. Actual image quality isn’t the very best we’ve ever seen, but the fact that you have so many sensors to work with allows for lots of shooting possibilities. Rounding out the feature list is a huge 5,000 mAh battery, USB-C charging, NFC for Google Pay, and it comes in two fabulous colors, North Star Blue and Miky Way black. Plus, you can use your 20S to charge another device thanks to its OTG reverse charging capability.

A big phone with lots of features



$250 at Amazon
$250 at Best Buy
$270 at Walmart

One phone, so many features

Whether you want a vibrant display, lots of cameras, or Google Pay support on a budget? The TCL 20S does it all.


Moto G Stylus (2021)

A decent performer with a trick up its sleeve

Bottom line: If you’re burning for a Moto G Power with an included stylus, à la Samsung’s Galaxy Note line, the Moto G Stylus (2021) will be your perfect phone.

Display 6.8-inch LCD, 2400×1080, 60Hz refresh rate
Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 678
Storage 128GB
Cameras 48MP primary, 8MP ultra-wide, 2MP macro, 2MP depth
Charging 10W wired
Battery 4,000 mAh
Water Resistance Water-repellent coating
Dimensions 169.8 x 77.9 x 9mm
Weight 213g


  • Included stylus for writing/drawing
  • Four rear cameras
  • Good all-around specs
  • Works with every U.S. carrier


  • No NFC
  • Only one promised OS update

It can be challenging to keep track of all the value phones Motorola has in its lineup, but one that manages to stand out is the Moto G Stylus (2021). Along with being one of the few Android phones that comes with a built-in stylus, it’s also just a perfect combination of specs, features, and value.

You’re getting a large 6.8-inch display for housing all of your media, and thanks to a Full HD+ resolution, everything looks excellent. There’s also ample performance thanks to the Snapdragon 678 processor, along with 128GB of built-in storage and a large 4,000 mAh battery. Given the low price of the G Stylus, these are all powerful specifications.

As the name implies, the main draw to the Moto G Stylus (2021) is its built-in stylus experience. It’s certainly not the most premium stylus we’ve ever used, but it works well enough for drawing, note-taking, etc. It can also be stored seamlessly at the bottom of the phone when you aren’t using it, which is a nice touch that ties the whole experience together.

Just like the Moto G Power (2020), you’re still missing NFC on the Moto G Stylus and need to put up with Motorola’s disappointing software updates. However, if those aren’t deal-breakers for you, there’s a lot to like here.

A decent performer with a trick up its sleeve

Moto G Stylus (2021)


$183 at Amazon
$200 at Best Buy
$215 at B&H

Draw and doodle the day away

It’s not as good a deal as the G Power, but the Moto G Stylus offers some fun and unique features.


OnePlus Nord N10 5G

Excellent performance for the price

Bottom line: The OnePlus Nord N10 5G anchors OnePlus’s affordable push into the U.S. market. It’s one of the best value flagship devices you can buy and a striking Pixel 4a competitor.

Display 6.49-inch FHD, 2400×1080, 90Hz refresh rate
Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 690
Storage 128GB
Cameras 64MP primary, 8MP ultra-wide, 2MP macro, 2MP monochrome, 16MP selfie
Charging 30W wired
Battery 4,300 mAh
Water Resistance
Dimensions 163 x 74.7 x 8.95mm
Weight 190g


  • FHD display with 90Hz
  • Excellent performance
  • Long battery life
  • 30W wired charging
  • Great OxygenOS software


  • Won’t upgrade past Android 11

2021 has seen plenty of Android phones released, with one of the most noteworthy being the OnePlus Nord 2. The Nord series marks OnePlus’s return to truly affordable smartphones, and in just about every regard, it’s a home run. But, unfortunately, that affordable flagship never made its way to many parts of the world, including North America. Thankfully, OnePlus has expanded the Nord lineup bringing two Nord phones to the U.S., including our favorite, the Nord N10 5G.

Even though it’s priced as a budget phone, the OnePlus Nord N10 5G packs a big punch on the hardware front. The 90Hz AMOLED display looks fantastic, giving you rich colors and smooth animations. Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 690 allows for fast 5G performance, battery life is reliable, and OnePlus’s 30W wired charging continues to be one of the best on the market. The phone ships with a generous 6GB of RAM, 128GB of storage, and high-end features like a quad-camera setup and dual stereo speakers. We’re also quite fond of the new Midnight Ice color, which is downright beautiful.

Regarding software, the OnePlus Nord ships with OxygenOS based on Android 10, only recently upgraded to Android 11/ OxygenOS 11, and won’t upgrade to version 12. Still, OxygenOS is one of the best Android interfaces on the market. Or at least it was, before being reabsorbed by OPPO and merging with ColorOS. So in this case, not getting Android 12 isn’t a terrible problem to have. The Nord 10 strikes a near-perfect balance of offering many extra features while retaining a clean user interface, and it’s something we cannot get enough of.

Excellent performance for the price

OnePlus Nord N10 5G


$238 at Amazon
$250 at Best Buy

A Nord for North America

OnePlus finally brought a Nord phone to the U.S., packed with a quad-camera system, 90Hz display, and 5G compatibility.



A striking design and a huge battery

Bottom line: With a lovely design, striking AMOLED display, and plenty of power and cameras to turn heads, the POCO M3 is a fantastic option.

Display 6.53-inch IPS LCD, 2400×1080, 60Hz refresh rate
Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 662
Storage 64 or 128GB
Cameras 48MP primary, 2MP macro, 2MP portrait, 8MP selfie
Charging 18W wired
Battery 6,000 mAh
Water Resistance ❌ no official rating
Dimensions 165.8 x 76.7.2 x 8.8mm
Weight 208g


  • Superb battery life
  • Stunning design and colors
  • Passable camera setup
  • Stereo speakers
  • Built-in headphone jack


  • Ships with Android 10
  • Tons of bloatware
  • No NFC or official IP rating

POCO gained notoriety a few years ago as Xiaomi’s breakout budget brand and earned even more respect after outperforming many other flagships in MKBHD’s annual blind camera tests on YouTube. Its phones also typically have a flair for the dramatic in terms of their design. That is most certainly the case with the eye-popping POCO M3, particularly in its POCO Yellow color variant.

In addition to bold colors, the camera housing on the back of the M3 is visually distinct — you’ll either love it, or you’ll hate it. It takes up nearly a quarter of the rear panel and houses a triple camera system with a 48MP primary lens, along with a 2MP macro camera and a 2MP portrait camera. In addition, you get an 8MP selfie shooter on the front, all powered by a mid-range Snapdragon 662 processor. The phone comes with 6GB of RAM and either 64GB or 128GB of storage.

The M3 is capable of 18W wired fast charging, but it’s not likely you’ll need to top up too much. This battery champ packs a 6,000mAh cell, which with its 1080p display and modest SOC, should keep you powered for up to two full days.

The biggest downsides to the phone are a lack of NFC, no official IP rating, and it ships with Android 10. On the plus side, though, you do get a built-in headphone jack!

U.S. buyers take note: The version on Amazon U.S. is an international model and won’t work on Sprint, Verizon, or any of their MVNOs. It will work perfectly on AT&T and T-Mobile. It also has no U.S. warranty.

A striking design and a huge battery



$230 at Amazon
$352 at Walmart

Take a look at what POCO’s offering

POCO continues to innovate in the affordable space, and its M3 is one of the most eye-catching Android at any price point.


iPhone SE

The best cheap iPhone

Bottom line: Owning an iPhone has gotten much more affordable in recent years, and right now, the best way to get an iPhone while spending as little as possible is the iPhone SE. So long as you don’t mind the outdated design, the iPhone SE gives you amazing performance, a good camera, and all of the iOS features you could ever want — all for just $400.

Display 4.7-inch LCD, 1334×750, 60Hz refresh rate
Processor Apple A13 Bionic
Storage 64GB, 128GB, or 256GB
Cameras 12MP primary
Charging 18W wired, 7.5W wireless
Battery 1,821 mAh
Water Resistance IP67
Dimensions 138.4 x 67.3 x 7.3mm
Weight 148g


  • Perfect size for smaller hands
  • Unmatched performance at this price
  • 5+ years of software updates
  • IP67 water resistance
  • Qi wireless charging


  • Massive bezels
  • Battery life isn’t anything special

An iPhone on a list of the best Android phones? Yeah, we know. But hear us out because many people who buy iPhones use Google services, and we feel pretty confident in saying that the iPhone SE is among the best budget phones to run apps like Gmail, Google Maps, YouTube, and more.

Shoppers that want into the Apple ecosystem and can afford the iPhone 12 mini should get that phone. Still, if you’re working with a smaller budget, the iPhone SE is a stupendous value that makes it possible for more people than ever to jump aboard the Apple bandwagon finally.

Let’s get the bad stuff out of the way first — the iPhone SE’s design is pretty dated by 2021 standards. Its huge bezels look like they’re from another planet compared to everything else on this list, and depending on who you are, that’ll either be a deal-breaker or a small design detail you couldn’t care less about. However, assuming you’re OK with some chunky bezels, the rest of the iPhone SE experience is kind of magical.

Here’s the thing about the iPhone SE: no Android phone touches it in terms of performance for the price. It starts with the processor, which is the Apple A13 Bionic. This is the same chip powering 2019’s iPhone 11 and iPhone 11 Pro, so in other words, the iPhone SE is a performance beast. No matter what apps/games you throw at it, it’ll eat everything up with ease and refuse to break a sweat. When it comes to smartphones in the $400 price range, nothing comes close to the raw power offered by the iPhone SE.

The single 12MP camera on the iPhone SE doesn’t sound amazing at first, but it manages to capture some really great shots in day-to-day use. You also get wireless charging support, NFC for Apple Pay, and an IP67 water resistance rating. As if that wasn’t enough, Apple’s commitment to 5+ years of software updates for its smartphones is something every company in the Android space could learn from. So despite being the cheapest iPhone in its product lineup by a long shot, the iPhone SE gets the same level of software support seen by its much more expensive siblings. You know, exactly how it should be.

The best cheap iPhone

iPhone SE


From $399 at Amazon
$398 at Walmart
From $399 at Apple

Want an iPhone for as little money as possible? Buy the iPhone SE. It’s that simple.

How to decide which budget phone to buy

It can be pretty difficult deciding which of the great budget phones available today you should buy. While the availability of fantastic phones under $500 has exploded over the past few years, you’re still unable to get everything you would get in a more expensive device — that’s the compromise you must reach when deciding which device to get.

For most people, the question comes down to whether you want a device that “mimics” the flagship experience but with cheaper, lower-quality components, or whether you can settle for something that has fewer specs but ones that, individually, hold up well.

Perhaps a good example is something like the Google Pixel 4a. At $350, its 1080p display isn’t the best out there, but it’s very good and quite color-accurate for the price. But it lacks a high refresh rate, like the OnePlus Nord N10 5G, for example.

Similarly, its single rear camera is outstanding and will output by far the best photos of any of the other devices in this list. But that’s it — there’s no ultrawide or telephoto option, so you’re limited in the kinds of photos you can frame.

It’s also made of plastic — high-quality plastic, yes — unlike some of the other devices on this list with a more premium fit and finish.

Finally, the Pixel 4a also has something else going for it: Google’s commitment to three years of platform and security patches. That means while the phone shipped with Android 10 back in 2020, it’s already updated to Android 12 and will receive Android 13 when it’s available.

On the flip side, the OnePlus Nord N10 5G is a $300 phone — cheaper than the Pixel 4a — with admittedly better specs but a far inferior day-to-day experience. There are four rear cameras, but none of them, including the main camera, can compete with the Pixel 4a’s excellent primary shooter. It’s also 5G-enabled, but that connectivity comes at the expense of battery life. Its screen is also 1080p, but it’s of lower quality than the Pixel 4a’s. It also shipped with Android 10 and is still waiting for its only update to Android 11.

With that said, the Snapdragon 690 inside the N10 5G is faster in many ways than the Snapdragon 730 in the Pixel 4a. As a result, there are myriad reasons, including the aforementioned 5G support, to choose the OnePlus phone over the Pixel.

And these are just two examples. So you’re going to need to take the entire market into account before deciding which phone to get.

Why are you including an iPhone in this list of the best budget Android phones?

Here’s the thing: the iPhone obviously doesn’t run Android, but it runs Google’s apps extremely well. The iPhone SE may look like an iPhone from 2014, but it’s got the fundamentals that many people love, including a small footprint, a great camera (for most situations — there’s no Night Mode), and Apple’s super-fast A13 chip. It also has access to the App Store, which is arguably better for many apps than Google’s Play Store, especially when it comes to mobile games.

While we absolutely don’t recommend you buy an iPhone SE if you’re truly set on getting one of the best budget Android phones, if you’re just in it for the Google apps support but want iMessage and Apple Arcade, for instance, the iPhone SE is a good option.

Bottom line

There’s no shortage of the best Android phones these days, whether you want to spend more than $700, less than $300, or even $100. The above phones represent the best of a set limitation — that of not wanting to overspend on a product that, inevitably, will need to be replaced in a couple of years.

But that’s the beauty of a device that costs a third of a Galaxy S21 or OnePlus 9 Pro. It offers 90% of what those phones cost and can be replaced more easily. So while you may miss out on some of the more advanced features like waterproofing and wireless charging, and you may not receive as many updates, or for as long, these phones represent a new breed of budget devices, you can feel confident in buying. And the Google Pixel 4a is the best value of the bunch.

Splurging on the best overall phone that throws in everything and the kitchen sink isn’t always the ideal solution — especially when you’re looking at cost-cutting phones in the first place. Instead, you should figure out what you value the most. If you’re looking to spend even less, the Moto G Power delivers a reliable experience at one of the best prices around. Similarly, the Samsung Galaxy A52 5G easily has the best camera, and if you’re looking for luxurious hardware, it’s tough to beat the Nokia G50 5G. Every manufacturer has something of value to offer.

Credits — The team that worked on this guide


Daniel Bader was the Managing Editor of Android Central. As he’s writing this, a mountain of old Android phones is about to fall on his head. He drinks way too much coffee and sleeps too little. He wonders if there’s a correlation.


Jeramy Johnson is proud to help to Keep Austin Weird and loves hiking in the hill country of central Texas with a breakfast taco in each hand. When he’s not writing about smart home gadgets and wearables, he’s defending his relationship with his smart voice assistants to his family. You can follow him on Twitter at @jeramyutgw.

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