budget friendly smartphones

While there’s a huge selection of budget friendly smartphones on the market now, their reliability and quirks is far more wide-ranging than the top-end of the market where phones are becoming more similar. From phones with gorgeous screens but awful battery life to lacklustre performance in a premium body.

Thankfully, we are here to clear things up – providing a list to help you find the best budget friendly smartphones that is right for you

budget friendly smartphones

Google Pixel 4A ($350)Best Overall

Google Pixel 4A phone

Google took everything we loved about the 2019 Pixel 3A and made it even better with the Pixel 4A (9/10, WIRED Recommends). First off, it’s cheaper. It’s rare to see a phone improve and drop in price. The 4A also has a spectacular camera (the same main sensor as flagship Pixel 4), allowing it to compete with phones three times its price. You can’t find another device in this bracket that can take the kind of low-light photos the Pixel 4A can—you can capture photos of the Milky Way with a tripod (provided you’re in a dark enough area)—and it’s all thanks to Google’s Night Sight mode.

That’s not the only reason why the Pixel 4A, at its $350 price tag, is our favorite Android phone. It’s also speedy, the battery lasts a full day, and the 5.8-inch OLED screen looks ultra-modern. It’s compact too! Google slimmed down the bezels (the edges around the display), and it makes this one of the best small Android phones around. Other perks include a polycarbonate body, which means the rear won’t shatter if you drop it, NFC for Google Pay, and a headphone jack. This phone will also get monthly security updates and Android version upgrades for three years, which is something that isn’t even guaranteed on pricier phones.

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What are the sacrifices? There’s no water resistance, no MicroSD card slot, and no wireless charging. The dual speakers are quiet, and the screen is dim when it’s especially bright outside. But otherwise, this is the phone most people should buy. It will run everything you use on a day-to-day basis without pause, and the extra software features from Google will make life a little easier, too. For example, Call Screen will automatically filter and silence spam and robocalls so you aren’t disturbed.

Works on all three major US carriers

Pixel 4A costs $350 at Amazon and Best Buy

iPhone SE 2nd Gen. ($399)Runner-Up

A good buy for a teen, or anyone looking for a cheap iPhone without Face ID.PHOTOGRAPH: APPLE

The iPhone SE (8/10, WIRED Recommends) is perfect for people who want an affordable phone from Apple without all the bells and whistles on its higher-end models. If you’re OK without features like Face ID for authentication or a large screen, the SE works great. It relies on your fingerprint with Touch ID to unlock, and yes, that means the home button is back. It’s also a tiny thing, similar in size to the Pixel 4A—not as compact as the 4-inch iPhone SE from 2016, but the 4.7-inch screen still is very small compared to other phones today. You do get some modern amenities like wireless charging and IP67 water resistance, but sadly the headphone jack didn’t make the cut.

What makes the iPhone SE so special is the processor that’s powering it—the A13 Bionic chip, which is the same one you’ll find in the iPhone 11 Pro that costs several hundred dollars more. You won’t find performance anywhere near as good for this price on another phone. All your favorite apps and games, even if they’re graphically intensive, will run without a hitch for years to come. And, as usual, Apple will keep this phone updated for four to five years, which is years longer than all of the Android phones in this guide.

The single camera on the back snaps some nice photos, though since Apple did not bring Night mode down from its high-end iPhones, it won’t fare as well in low-light scenes as competitors like the Pixel 4A. The glass back design is also more fragile than Google’s phone, so it’s a good idea to buy a case.

Works on all three major US carriers

iPhone SE costs $399 from Apple, Best Buy, and Walmart

Moto G Stylus ($300)Best for $300 or Less

Motorola G phone with stylus

If you’re considering this phone, we suggest you save up $50 for the Pixel 4A.

Motorola’s G-series phones kick-started the wave of affordable, decent Android phones when they first arrived several years ago. The new Moto G Stylus is another solid entry—though it’s not as good a value as its predecessors, as more and more brands jump into the budget market. You get a nice, modern-looking screen, a 4,000-mAh battery that lasts two full days, a headphone jack, a MicroSD card slot for extra storage over the included 128-gigabytes, and a 48-megapixel camera that’s decently capable during the day and at night.

Performance isn’t its strong suit. The Snapdragon 665 chip is good enough to run most apps and games, but you’ll notice stutters almost every day—something that’s not the case on the devices above and even the TCL phones mentioned below. The software is close to a pure version of Android, meaning it’s uncluttered and isn’t full of bloatware apps that unnecessarily hog your processing power. Unfortunately, Motorola is only promising one Android version update, so don’t expect anything after the upcoming Android 11 this year. Security updates are a slightly better story, as they should come every quarter, but even that is subject to change.

There’s also no NFC, so you can’t make any contactless payments with services like Google Pay. What you will find tucked away in this phone is a stylus. I didn’t find it useful, especially since there’s no palm rejection technology. You’ll have to scribble without letting your palm touch the screen, and that’s not easy if you want to write something legible.

If you want the absolute best battery life on a cheap phone, check out the Moto G Power ($250). It’s very similar to the G Stylus, except … there’s no stylus. Instead, it packs a bigger 5,000-mAh battery that lasts three full days. It’s a little cheaper, so you get only 64 GB of storage, and the camera system is different and not very good at night. And if your budget can’t go higher than $200, check out the Moto G Fast, which has the same processor as the two above, but its camera system is similarly poor in low light. You can learn more in our Moto G Power and Moto G Fast reviews.

Works on all three major US carriers

Moto G Stylus costs $270 at Best Buy or $300 at Amazon and Motorola

Moto G Power costs $250 at Best Buy, Amazon, and Motorola

Moto G Fast costs $200 from Best Buy, Amazon, and Motorola

TCL 10 Pro ($450) or TCL 10L ($250)Two More Great Budget Phones

TCL 10 Pro phone front and back

You might know TCL for its affordable TVs, but now it’s selling affordable phones. Don’t worry, it’s not the company’s first rodeo—it has made phones under brands it owns or used to own like Alcatel, Palm, and BlackBerry. But the TCL 10 Pro and 10L are the first phones sold in the US under its own name, and they’re a very promising start.

The 10 Pro has excellent performance with the Snapdragon 675 chip inside, and its 6.5-inch OLED screen is sharp and bright, even in broad daylight. The 4,500-mAh battery keeps it running for a full day, and the four-camera system does well in a variety of lighting conditions, though it’s still not as good as the Pixel 3A. It feels more premium because it’s a glass sandwich, but that also makes it fragile.

The plastic-backed 10L is more durable and has similarly good performance, even if it uses the slower Snapdragon 665 processor—for $200 less. Its battery can go past a full day, and while it can take some nice photos during daylight hours, the lack of a night mode on this model means your low-light shots are going to look quite poor. Its screen is also a little too dim to see in the sunny outdoors.

TCL’s biggest drawback is that, like Motorola, it’s only promising one Android version update for these phones for now. That’s disappointing, and it doesn’t bode well for the longevity of these phones.

Works on all three major US carriers

TCL 10 Pro costs $450 at Amazon and Best Buy

TCL 10L costs $250 at Amazon and Best Buy

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