cheap smartphones under 100

Looking for the best budget smartphones under 100? There’s a lot of rubbish out there, but there are some real bargains too. The issue has always been separating the wheat from the chaff. Dozens of devices look the part when it’s a dummy phone sat on a shelf. What really matters is what the handset is like when it’s switched on, when it’s in your hand and required to perform to the standards required of an average smartphone user. Compromises are par for the course, but you don’t want to feel like throwing your phone under a bus every time you try to run an app or take a photo.

To ensure you’re getting true value for money, we’ve rounded up the best cheap smartphones under 100, best chinese smartphone under 100 dollars and best used phone for 100 on the market right now, all of which offer decent specs and performance without exceeding your budget.

cheap smartphones under 100

10. HTC Desire 510

Price: £79.99 

htc-desire-510

Image: HTC

Pros:

  • Decent performance
  • Good battery life

Cons:

  • Camera isn’t great
  • Average display
  • Doesn’t have the latest Android operating system

Key Specs:

  • Size: 139.9mm x 69.8mm x 10mm; Weight 158g
  • 4.7-inch, 480 x 854 display (208ppi)
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 1.2GHz quad-core processor
  • 1GB RAM
  • 5MP rear-facing camera, with LED flash; 1.3MP front-facing camera
  • 8GB internal storage with microSD support
  • 4G support
  • Android 4.4
  • 2100mAh battery

When you buy a HTC, you buy a reliable handset. The Taiwanese company has a reputation for solid performing smartphones and the Desire 510 is no different.

To look at, the Desire 510 won’t blow anyone away. It’s chunky and quite weighty too, but the plastic chassis doesn’t look cheap and the device will feel comfortable in the hand.

The 4.7-inch display can’t compete with other phones in this list. There is a definite fuzziness there, but text is sharp enough and good brightness ensures you won’t have problems browsing webpages and reading social media updates.

Android 5.0 is a big miss, especially as it is virtually a standard out-of-the-box featutre these days, but Android 4.4 KitKat is still a very capable operating system, even when skimmed with HTC’s Sense user interface. A quad-core processor and 1GB of RAM are strong enough to keeping things moving smoothly. Apps and videos run fine, and you’ll even be able to enjoy some light gaming without lag.

The 5MP rear camera isn’t great. You’ll get away with sharing pictures and short videos on social media, but it’s definitely not one for photography enthusiasts. The same goes for the front-facing camera.

The lack of a decent camera is made up for with a good battery. It’s removable, which is always a good thing, and there are some good features to prolong life for well over a day – almost two days, if usage is limited.

The HTC Desire won’t dazzle you, but at this price, for a brand name phone with 4G support, it’s worthy of consideration.

9. EE Harrier Mini

Price: £79.99

ee-harrier-mini

Image: EE

Pros:

  • Good specs
  • Sharp screen
  • Lightweight design

Cons:

  • Cheap design
  • Laggy performance when multitasking

Key specs:

  • Size: 138mm x 68mm x 9.5mm; Weight: 124g
  • 4.7-inch, 1280 x 720 LCD display (312ppi)
  • Mediatek 1.2GHz quad-core processor
  • 1GB RAM
  • 8MP rear-facing camera, with LED flash and full HD video recording; 2MP front-facing camera
  • 8GB internal storage with microSD support
  • 4G support
  • Android 5.0
  • 2000mAh battery

Another carrier-made handset and the smaller sibling to the 5.2-inch EE Harrier, the Harrier Mini is smartphone that offers great bang for your buck.

If you’re buying a phone on looks alone, this device would be dismissed early. It’s not totally horrible, just bland, with overly large bezels. Things do improve when you switch on the phone, though, and the 720p display is bright and sharp. Viewing angles aren’t great, but you’ll typically be looking at your phone head on, so that’s not really an issue.

The quad-core processor and 1GB of RAM don’t perform as well here as they do in Motorola’s Moto E. Standard web and social media browsing is fine, but the Harrier Mini isn’t built for running several apps at once. 8GB of storage (less than 4GB of which is available) doesn’t help performance and means the assistance of a microSD card is required.

What EE has done well, however, is keep closely to stock Android, so no annoying manufacturer user interface and no pointless tweaks.

The 8MP camera benefits from almost-stock Android and has simple touch shoot and touch focus features. Low light shots are a struggle, but if you persist you can take share-worthy pictures.

The battery is smaller than those found in similarly priced devices, but you should have no trouble getting a day from moderate use.

All in all, a good phone for £80.

8. Vodafone Smart Prime 6

Price: £70.00

vodafone-smart-prime-6

Image: Vodafone

Pros:

  • Sharp screen
  • Good battery life
  • Excellent specs for the price

Cons:

  • Sluggish performance
  • Locked to Vodafone
  • Vodafone apps cannot be uninstalled

Key specs:

  • Size: 141.7mm x 71.9mm x 9mm; Weight 155g
  • 5.0-inch, 1280 x 720 IPS LCD display (294ppi)
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 410 quad-core processor
  • 1GB RAM
  • 8MP rear-facing camera, with LED flash and full HD video recording; 2MP front-facing camera
  • 8GB internal storage with microSD support
  • 4G support
  • Android 5.0

The Vodafone Smart series has really shaken up the cheap smartphone market. The Smart Prime 6 sits in the upper mid-range and, for £70, packs in some very pleasing specs. The design is basic and uninspiring, but the phone is comfortable in the hand, despite its 5-inch screen and sizeable bezel. A pixel count of 294ppi is good for the price and the 720p display is sharp enough for watching videos and viewing web pages. Colours could be more vibrant, but, for £70 that’s not something to grumble about.

Almost native Android 5.0 Lollipop is great; Vodafone’s native apps, not so much. The processor is the same 1.2GHz quad-core chip that’s found in both the Moto E and LG Spirit and comes backed by 1GB RAM. The CPU doesn’t perform as well here as it does in rival phones and things can get sluggish real quick when multitasking. 8GB of RAM is also annoying but can quickly be rectified with a microSD card.

The 8MP camera is fine for social media snaps – colours are accurate enough and pictures can be taken very quickly. A 2MP front camera is better than most other budget phones, but don’t expect flawless selfies.

There is much more to like than dislike about the Vodafone Smart Prime 6 and you’ll not regret the £70 spend.

7. LG Spirit

Price: £89.99

lg-spirit

Pros:

  • Good camera
  • Crisp speaker
  • Stylish design
  • 720p HD display

Cons:

  • Some performance issues
  • Lack of internal storage makes microSD card a must
  • Slightly disappointing colour reproduction

Key specs:

  • Size: 133.3mm x 66.1mm x 10 mm; Weight: 124.4g
  • 4.7-inch, 1280 x 720 IPS LCD display (312ppi)
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 410 quad-core processor
  • 1GB RAM
  • 8MP rear-facing camera, with LED flash and full HD video recording; 1MP front-facing camera
  • 8GB internal storage with microSD support
  • 4G support
  • Corning Gorilla Glass 3
  • Android 5.0
  • 2,100mAh battery

LG’s budget smartphones of the past were amongst the worst you’d find – in looks and performance. Its modern fleet, however, are befitting of the brands recent stellar reputation for producing quality, high-end devices.

The LG Spirit is takes design cues from the LG G4, which means a curved rear and glossy bezel – it’s a lovely device to look at. The 4.7-inch 720p display only enhances the aesthetic appeal and performs well for the price. It’s not as vivid as it might first appear and colours can seem washed out, but viewing angles and brightness are good enough to satisfy most users.

Android 5.0.1 is powered by a 1.2GHz quad-core processor and 1GB of RAM, which provide enough power for everyday tasks, although there are some issues when multitasking and lag creeps in when attempting to run several apps alongside those in the background. 8GB of internal storage is advertised, but you’ll only 3.45GB of that, so you’ll need to invest in a microSD card.

The 8MP camera is a solid performer, if not spectacular. Tinker around with the settings and you’ll be able to churn out some decent shots. The ability to shoot video in HD is a definite bonus.

While the size of the battery is nothing to write home about, it performs admirably. It’s not quite on the level of the Motorola Moto E, but moderate use should leave you with around a third of your juice left at bedtime. 

A good all-round phone that’s preferred to its sibling, the LG Leon.

6. Huawei P8 Lite

Price: £89.99

huawei-p8-lite

Image: Huawei

Pros:

  • Great design
  • Solid build
  • Capable performance
  • Responsive camera

Cons:

  • Low contrast and brightness      
  • Poor video performance
  • A few software bugs to iron out

Key specs:

  • Size: 143mm x 70.6mm x 7.7 mm; Weight: 131g
  • 5-inch, 1280 x 720 IPS LCD display (294ppi)
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 615 1.2GHz octa-core processor
  • 2GB RAM
  • 13MP rear-facing camera, with LED flash; 5MP front-facing camera
  • 16GB internal storage with microSD support
  • 4G support
  • Corning Gorilla Glass 3
  • Android 5.0
  • 2200mAh battery

The Huawei P8 Lite is a stripped back version of the hugely impressive Huawei P8 and packs in specs that only the Vodafone Smart Ultra can match at this price.

The P8’s metal chassis has been replaced by an all-plastic shell here, but aesthetically the design doesn’t suffer. Brushed faux-aluminium gives a premium look and the build remains solid. The phone feels great in the hand too, although it could have been a little more compact.

On bare specs, the 720p, 294ppi display of the P8 Lite should be impressive. These numbers are the same as the Microsoft Lumia 640 and Vodafone Smart Prime 6, but the results aren’t as pleasing. Colours are true but contrast and brightness are too low, which causes issues outdoors. It’s a decent display that could be better.

Under the hood, there is an octa-core processor and 2GB of RAM to keep things running seamlessly. There is no lag in general use and the low resolution screen means you can enjoy a bit of gaming as well. Android 5.0 is paired with Huawei’s iOS-like skin, which looks great, but is a niggly.

Stock Android would have been much better. 10.2GB of the 16GB internal storage is available for use and there’s a microSD card slot with support for up to 128GB – so no worries there.

A 13MP camera is huge for a cheap smartphone, but megapixels aren’t everything. As a snapper the camera performs okay in good light conditions with HDR mode on, but is found wanting in low-light. Colours are true, but soft. The app itself is good and the front-facing camera can be put to good use for selfies and video calls. While they can be shot in full HD, videos don’t have great picture quality. They’re not totally awful, but a lack of sharpness is clear.

Battery life is arguably the biggest weakness of the P8 Lite. It will just about see out the day under moderate use and there is no Quick Charging support for a swift juice boost.

If looks and specs are your thing, the Huawei P8 Lite should make your shortlist.

5. ASUS ZenFone 5

Price: £99.99

asus-zenfone-5

Image: ASUS

Pros:

  • Neat design
  • Great display
  • Nippy performance

Cons:

  • Average battery life
  • Underwhelming camera

Key specs:

  • Size: 148.2mm x 72.8mm x 10.3mm; Weight: 145g
  • 5-inch, 1280 x 720 IPS display (294ppi)
  • Intel Atom 1.6GHz dual-core processor
  • 2GB RAM
  • 8MP rear-facing camera, with LED flash; 2MP front-facing camera
  • 8GB/16GB internal storage with microSD support
  • 4G support
  • Corning Gorilla Glass 3
  • Android 4.3 (upgradeable to Android 5.0)
  • 2110mAh battery

The middle offering in ASUS’s smartphone series, the ZenFone 5 is a solid budget phone that brings a lot to the table.

The device is a little bit clunky and bezels could be smaller, but the curved back and metal lip beneath the screen give it a neat look that’s enhanced by ASUS’s trademark vibrant colour choices. It’s a large phone, but you’ll have no trouble holding and operating it with one hand.

The 5-inch, 720p screen is sharp and contrast is strong. It holds up well in sunlight too, putting up there with the Motorola Moto G2 in terms of quality.

Unlike most of other phones in this list, the ZenFone 5 is powered by an Intel processor – the dual-core 1.6GHz Atom chip. This is backed by an impressive 2GB of RAM. Performance wise, this device is on par with the Moto G2. Day-to-day tasks can be carried out with ease and 3D games can be enjoyed with only a slight drop in framerate. The Android KitKat operating system isn’t bad, especially as ZenUI is one of the better manufacturer skins out there. You’ll still want to upgrade to Android 5.0 as soon as possible, though.

The 8MP camera is decent, but slightly let down by not being stock Android. Having said that, there are some nice features to help you deal with changing light conditions.

Performance is solid for the price and HDR mode is excellent. Unfortunately, it lets itself down with disappointing video recording, where 1080p continually stutters. On the front, the 2MP shooter is respectable enough for vanity snaps.

The ZenFone 5 would benefit from a larger battery than the 2110mAh unit ASUS has gone with. Stamina is okay – you’ll get a day on moderate use – but heavy use will leave you reaching for the microUSB cable before bedtime.

Keep the price in mind when using the ASUS ZenFone 5 and you’ll be satisfied with your purchase.

4. Motorola Moto G 4G

Price: £98.99

motorola-g2

Image: Motorola

Pros:

  • Solid design
  • Good camera performance
  • Long-lasting battery
  • Stock Android 5.0

Cons:

  • Underwhelming speakers
  • Aging processor

Key specs:

  • Size: 141.5mm x 70.7mm x 11mm; Weight: 149g
  • 5.0-inch, 1280 x 720 IPS LCD display (294ppi)
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 1.2GHz quad-core processor
  • 1GB RAM
  • 8MP rear-facing camera, with LED flash; 2MP front-facing camera
  • 8GB/16GB internal storage with microSD support
  • 4G support
  • Corning Gorilla Glass 3
  • Android 5.0
  • 2070mAh battery

Despite being originally released in 2014, the Motorola Moto G is still a wonderful piece of kit. Only price and slightly better processing power keep it from being recommended ahead of its smaller sibling.

The Moto G is very similar to many budget phones: solid rather than spectacular. It’s a plain device, but the matte plastic, curved rear panel makes it nice to hold. The display is wonderfully clear and crisp. 294ppi is lower than the original Moto G, but you won’t see any pixels unless you look really close. Webpages, games and videos all look great on this 5-inch screen.

The quad-core processor here is beginning to show its age and the Moto G doesn’t perform quite as well as the Moto E. Don’t worry, though, there is still more than enough power for everyday tasks and 1GB of RAM keeps things ticking along nicely. 8GB of internal storage for the lower priced device means, once again, you’ll need the assistance of a microSD card.

Stock Android 5.0 (the device ships with Android 4.4 but can be upgraded immediately) benefits the phone’s performance, but the camera app isn’t the same one you’ll find on Nexus devices. It’s still simple, though. Tweak the settings to shoot in 8MP and snaps are nicely detailed in all but low-light conditions. The 2MP front-facing camera is one of the best around.

Under heavy use, the battery in the Moto G should last 8-9 hours. In general use, with the battery saving switched on, you can easily enjoy a day and a half off one charge.

3. Microsoft Lumia 640

Price: £95.00

microsoft-lumia-640

Image: Microsoft

Pros:

  • Good battery life
  • Excellent camera
  • Impressive display

Cons:

  • Poor app store
  • Aging processor

Key specs:

  • Size:141mm x 72mm x 8.8mm; Weight: 145g
  • 5-inch, 1280 x 720 IPS LCD display (294ppi)
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 1.2GHz quad-core processor
  • 1GB RAM
  • 8MP rear-facing camera, with LED flash; 0.9MP front-facing camera
  • 8GB internal storage with microSD support
  • 4G support
  • Corning Gorilla Glass 3
  • Windows 8.1 (upgradable to Windows 10)
  • 2500mAh battery

There are some real bargains to be had with Windows Phone devices. Unfortunately, apps are a huge factor when buying a smartphone and the Windows Store doesn’t come close to competing with Google Play or the Apple App Store.

However, if you’re a Windows fan or are willing to sacrifice some key Android apps, the Microsoft Lumia 640 is a cracking device.

Microsoft has kept up Nokia’s reputation for building quality handsets and the 640 has a real premium feel to it. The smooth, plastic shell looks fantastic and is great to hold, despite the slippery feel of the glossy back panel.

Powered up, the 640 sports a display that’s more impressive than its price suggests; the 720p HD screen represents colours well and the brightness holds up amicably in differing light conditions. The screen is made all the better by the slick tile-centric interface.

Under the hood are a 1.2GHz quad-core processor and 1GB of RAM. This is older than the Snapdragon chip found in the Motorola Moto E and LG Spirit which is a bit disappointing, but the less intensive Windows OS means you can get away with less power. Speaking of Windows, this comes with version 8.1, but can be upgraded to the all-round better Windows 10. Both will take a little bit of getting used to.

The 1MP camera on the front is functional, but nothing more. The rear camera, however, is a very impressive performer. With a fantastic range of apps, such as Rich Camera and Lumia Cinemagraph, it is possible to take some detailed snaps.

The battery is also great, reaching a day and a half, even under heavy use.

2. Moto E – 2nd Generation

Price: £59.00

Motorola-Moto-E

Image: Motorola

Pros:                                                         

  • Solid build
  • Great battery life
  • 4G support
  • Good performance

Cons

  • Average camera
  • Moto apps could be easier to set up

Key specs:

  • Size: 129.9mm x 66.8mm x 12.3mm; Weight 145g
  • 4.5-inch, 960 x 540 IPS display (245ppi)
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 410 quad-core processor
  • 1GB RAM
  • 5MP rear-facing camera; 0.3MP front-facing camera
  • 8GB internal storage with microSD support
  • 4G support
  • Corning Gorilla Glass 3
  • Android 5.0
  • 2,390mAh battery

With the release of the original Moto G and E handsets, Motorola changed the game in terms of what it was possible to achieve with a budget phone. This device, the 2nd generation Moto E, improves upon its predecessor with a slightly larger display (4.5-inches up from 4.3-inches), front-facing camera and overall better performance.

The majority of things in the new device are the same as the older model: Snapdragon 410 1.2GHz processor, 1GB of RAM, 5MP rear-facing camera, microSD card slot (with support for up to 32GB). And that’s no bad thing – the first Moto E was a mightily impressive budget phone. The design hasn’t changed either, but the plastic shell looks attractive and feels solid in the hand.

Performance when browsing the web and running common apps is excellent, with the Snapdragon quad-core processor ensuring virtually no lag whatsoever. 3D games are too much handle, but everything else is effortless. The Moto E runs stock Android 5.0, which really enhances performance; however, Moto apps could be more user-friendly.

It’s not all good – the cameras aren’t great, especially in low-light conditions. However, if all you’re planning to do is snap on the move and upload the results to social media, you won’t be too put off by the results. Videos aren’t outstanding either, but bearing the price in mind, you really can’t grumble.

Battery life has increased from the original Moto E, lasting around 30% longer than the 1st gen Moto E, and internal storage has been bumped up to 8GB from 4GB; although, even with that you’ll still need to utilise the microSD card slot.

At the price, you’ll not find anything better.

1. Vodafone Smart Ultra 6

Price: £99.00

vodafone-smart-ultra-6

Image: Vodafone

Pros:

  • Fantastic screen
  • Excellent performance
  • Good camera

Cons:

  • Locked to Vodafone
  • Vodafone apps cannot be uninstalled

Key specs:

  • Size: 154mm x 77mm x 8.4mm; Weight: 159g
  • 5.5-inch, 1920 x 1080 display (401ppi)
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 615 1.7GHz octa-core processor
  • 2GB RAM
  • 13MP rear-facing camera, with LED flash and full HD video recording; 5MP front-facing camera
  • 16GB internal storage with microSD support
  • 4G support
  • Android 5.0
  • 3000mAh battery

The big brother to the Smart Prime 6 is the best budget smartphone on the market. The fact that you can pick up a Vodafone Smart Ultra 6 for £100 is astonishing given its specs and quality of performance.

The design of the Ultra 6, like its smaller sibling, is nothing to shout home about, but the brushed metal plastic is far from horrible and feels comfortable in the hand despite its size and light chassis.

A 5.5-inch display might be too large for some, but those willing to embrace it are rewarded with a stunning full HD screen that’s every bit as good those found on devices five-times the price. Colours are vibrant and contrasts are strong.

An octa-core processor is backed by 2GB of RAM, meaning you’ll have no trouble getting things done. A stock-version of Android Lollipop – save for a few pointless Vodafone apps – only enhances performance. You’ll get 11GB of the 16GB storage to play with, which can be bumped up with the help of a microSD card.

The 13MP rear camera, while not quite Samsung Galaxy S6 quality, is better than anything in the budget or mid-range. Photos are bright, crisp and detailed, with a range of Android features allowing you to capture the perfect shot. The 5MP front camera is pleasing too – arguably better than the primary camera on many other budget devices. Taking selfies and video calling are both enjoyable.

A 3000mAh battery performs impressively, easily lasting a day under moderate to heavy use, even with such a high-res screen.

If you’re not put off by Vodafone as a network, this is the best budget smartphone you’ll find.

THE BEST SMARTPHONE FOR UNDER $500 IN 2020


The Apple iPhone SE is a great choice if you want a phone that lasts for years.
The Apple iPhone SE is a great choice if you want a phone that lasts for years.

1. APPLE IPHONE SE

THE BEST SMARTPHONE UNDER $500

TheThe phone that strikes the right balance of camera, build quality, speed, battery life, software, and longevity for most people is the Apple iPhone SE 2020. Specifically, we recommend upgrading to the model with 128GB of storage for $449, which is $50 over the base price but well worth it long term.

The iPhone SE follows a very tried and true formula. It has the same body and 4.7-inch LCD screen that Apple has been using since the iPhone 6. That puts the display on the smaller end of screen sizes today and also means the phone’s bezels are bigger than anything else sold on the market.

But in exchange for that very familiar phone body, you get a lot of value. The best thing about the iPhone SE is its processor, Apple’s A13 Bionic. That matters because it is literally the fastest processor you can get on any phone, anywhere. It’s the exact same chip found in Apple’s $999-and-up iPhone 11 Pro. Normally speed isn’t something we prioritize on phones at this price point, but it’s nice to have.

Why that processor really matters, though, is overall longevity. Apple consistently supports its phones for four or more years with software updates. (That’s in opposition to Android, where getting software updates on anything but the Pixel is still a struggle.) So Apple’s choice of a fast processor means that in a few years the iPhone SE will still feel snappy and still be supported with iOS updates.AS A TOTAL PACKAGE, THE 2020 IPHONE SE IS THE BEST SMARTPHONE UNDER $500 FOR MOST PEOPLE

Battery life is good, but not best in class. It should last about a day. Luckily, this iPhone supports wireless charging, a relative rarity at this price point. And because it has the exact same shape of the iPhone 6, 6S, 7, and 8 there is a huge ecosystem of chargers and cases for it. Unlike many inexpensive Android phones, finding compatible accessories for the iPhone SE will be a breeze.

The iPhone SE has just one camera on the back and just one selfie camera on the front, 12 megapixels and 7 megapixels, respectively. Neither is great by 2020 standards, but both are significantly better than what Apple shipped in older iPhones. It’s also fairly good by the standards of sub-$500 phones, though the Google Pixel 4A continues to win this category by a knockout. You will get a lot of camera features on the iPhone SE, including portrait and HDR, but unfortunately there is no night mode.

As a total package, the 2020 iPhone SE is the best smartphone under $500 for most people. If you think of it on a cost-per-year metric, it ends up being significantly less expensive than the competition because it’s likely to last four, five, or even six years if you take care of it. Just as importantly, it’s a great phone on its own merits. You get access to the vast array of iOS apps, Apple’s clean iOS software, and huge ecosystem of accessories.

APPLE IPHONE SE (2020)

  • $399

Prices taken at time of publishing.

The best smartphone under $500 for 2020.


The Google Pixel 4A has an incredible camera.
The Google Pixel 4A has an incredible camera.

2. GOOGLE PIXEL 4A

THE BEST INEXPENSIVE ANDROID PHONE WITH THE BEST CAMERA

IfIf you prefer Android, want to spend a little less money, or just want the best camera, then the Google Pixel 4A is the obvious choice. It doesn’t have the largest screen or the fastest processor, but it does have a clean version of Android that’s guaranteed to get software updates for at least three years. It only comes in one version: black with 128GB of storage for $349.

The Pixel 4A’s main claim to fame is its camera, which can go head-to-head with smartphones that cost $1,500 or more. That’s because Google does so much of the image processing in software — the sensor itself is actually quite old and not very special. It means that the Pixel 4A can take night photos, do astrophotography, and has a passable portrait mode. It can’t hang with the iPhone SE for video but beats it for photos every time.THE PIXEL 4A USES GOOGLE’S VERSION OF ANDROID, WHICH MEANS IT’S EASY TO NAVIGATE AND FREE OF EXTRA STUFF

The rest of the Pixel 4A’s specs are good but not great. It has a 5.8-inch screen, just enough RAM to keep apps from closing in the background, and a headphone jack. There’s no wireless charging, no fancy face unlock, and the body is made out of plastic instead of something more premium like glass. The Pixel 4A doesn’t even offer any IP water resistance ratings (but a splash of water is probably fine).

The Pixel 4A uses Google’s version of Android, which means it’s easy to navigate and free of extra stuff you probably don’t want. More importantly, it means that Google can supply the software updates directly instead of waiting for another manufacturer or carrier to approve it. That puts you first in line for Android updates and also guarantees you’ll get them for three years.

Unfortunately, in three years, it’s quite likely that the Pixel 4A will be on its last legs. Android phones generally don’t last quite as long as iPhones do because Android tends to bog down on older hardware more quickly. The Pixel 4A’s processor is fast enough today to not be a bother, but over time it’s possible that it won’t age well.

But for all that, the Pixel 4A is probably the safest bet if you want to get an Android phone for less than $500. You’ll get better software support and a better camera for $350. Not a bad deal.

GOOGLE PIXEL 4A

  • $349

Prices taken at time of publishing.

A very inexpensive smartphone with one of the best cameras for photography you can get on any smartphone at any price.


The OnePlus Nord has very good specs for its price.
The OnePlus Nord has very good specs for its price.

3. ONEPLUS NORD

THE BEST ALL-AROUND ANDROID PHONE OUTSIDE THE US

Technically, saying the OnePlus Nord costs less than $500 doesn’t make much sense because it’s not available in the US right now. But if you live in a market where it’s available, the OnePlus Nord is the kind of phone that aims for a solid B in every category instead of trying to ace one or two. For £379 / €399, it’s a safe Android bet.

The OnePlus Nord has a couple of features that are normally reserved for much more expensive phones: support for sub-6 5G networks and a high-refresh-rate 90Hz display. If you live in an area where 5G is built out, you may notice faster download speeds. But it’s the display that’ll have a bigger impact on your day-to-day experience. It makes everything feel smoother and better.

You will miss out on wireless charging and a headphone jack with the Nord, but they’re really the only big things that are lacking. Battery life is solid, the 6.44-inch screen is big and beautiful, and the software is less annoying than some competitors (though not as clean as Google’s). The £379 / €399 model comes with 128GB of storage and 8GB of RAM, both plenty good for this price point.

As for cameras, there are a bunch of them — maybe even too many. There’s a standard, an ultrawide, and a macro camera on the back as well as a couple selfie cameras on the front. As is the norm with most smartphone cameras these days, they will get you decent photos in decent light but fall down a bit in the dark. You’ll mostly want to use the main camera, as the ultrawide has a noticeable drop in quality and the macro is only good for, well, macro or close-up shots.

All too often, phones at this price point have some critical compromise you’re forced to make in order to get the feature you really want. With the OnePlus Nord, there’s no big flaw you’ll have to work around. Again, though, it’s not available in the US. You can import it, but it’s not recommended as it won’t support the right LTE bands.

ONEPLUS NORD

  • $439

Prices taken at time of publishing.

The OnePlus Nord has better specs than you’ll find on almost any other Android smartphone in this price range.


The Samsung Galaxy A51 has a huge screen and is otherwise a pretty decent phone.
The Samsung Galaxy A51 has a huge screen and is otherwise a pretty decent phone.

4. SAMSUNG GALAXY A51

THE BEST PHONE IF YOU WANT A BIG SCREEN

Samsung’s $399 Galaxy A51 Android phone may well turn out to be the bestselling phone of 2020. Its predecessor, the Galaxy A50, outshone all expectations. For the A51, Samsung focused on nailing a big screen, good battery life, and the camera. It got the screen just right; the other two are just fine.

The 6.5-inch OLED display on the A51 is bright and vivid, and you’d have to be pretty persnickety to find fault in it. It doesn’t offer the same high refresh rate you can get on the OnePlus Nord, but it makes up for that with Samsung’s great quality. If there’s one weird thing about the screen, it’s that Samsung put a chrome bezel around the hole punch for the front-facing selfie camera. It’s distracting.

The A51 sports nice build quality, though you can definitely feel that it’s plastic on the back. It has a headphone jack and 128GB of storage, which is the number you should be aiming for on any phone these days. Battery life should be superb thanks to a 4,000mAh battery, but because it has to power that big screen, it nets out to being just so-so.

As is becoming a (weird) standard on this class of phone, the A51 has a regular wide angle, an ultrawide, a depth sensor, and a macro camera. And as is also standard, the regular wide angle will get you the best images. The A51 can’t beat the Pixel 4A for quality, but the different lens options might be more fun for you.

Samsung recently committed to providing the A51 with three generations of Android software updates, which is great news. Less great is that it usually takes Samsung longer than you’d like to get software updates out to the A-line of phones. Samsung has also started to junk up its previously elegant OneUI software interface with ads and other junkware, so be prepared to do some cleanup.

On the whole, though, what the A51 gets you is a very big, very beautiful screen. If that’s your highest priority — and for many people, it is — the A51 is a solid choice.

SAMSUNG GALAXY A51

  • $399

Prices taken at time of publishing.

Samsung’s Galaxy A51 has a big, beautiful OLED screen.


You probably don’t need 5G yet, but the Google Pixel 4A 5G has other strong benefits.
You probably don’t need 5G yet, but the Google Pixel 4A 5G has other strong benefits.

5. GOOGLE PIXEL 4A 5G

IF YOU REALLY THINK YOU NEED 5G

If you live in the US, chances are the 5G networks in your area are not going to live up to the high-flying promises carriers have been making. But if you really do think you’d benefit from 5G, the best phone under $500 that supports it is Google’s Pixel 4A 5G. At $499, it comes in just under the wire on our price limit — but the Verizon version costs an extra $100.

The Pixel 4A 5G is good for all the reasons that the Pixel 4A is good: it has a great still camera, solid battery life, and clean Google software. It has some other benefits, though. It uses Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 765G processor, which means it’s faster than the Pixel 4A and nearly all the rest of the sub-$500 Android phones you can find.

It also has a larger screen, clocking in at 6.2 inches diagonally. It doesn’t feel too gigantic when you hold it, but you can tell it’s a larger phone. Google chose this size not to give you that bigger screen, but because it needed the extra space to hold all the components and antennas required for 5G.

The Pixel 4A 5G has a slightly better camera system compared to the Pixel 4A, thanks to the inclusion of an ultrawide sensor. Google has also made its excellent Night Sight mode automatic and improved video with some new stabilization modes.

Otherwise, it follows the standard low-cost Pixel formula. It has a plastic back with fingerprint sensor and a headphone jack. Google doesn’t load down the software with extra crapware you don’t want, but it does include some nice little Google touches like a voice recorder that automatically creates a transcription as it records.

Someday, not having 5G will be a serious downside for smartphones, but right now those networks still need to be built out a little bit more. Even if you ignore the potentially faster network speeds, the Pixel 4A 5G is a surprisingly great phone.

GOOGLE PIXEL 4A 5G

  • $499

Prices taken at time of publishing.

Priced at $499, Google’s Pixel 4A 5G is a slightly bigger, 5G-ready version of the 4A that released earlier this year.


The Moto G Power has incredible battery life, but the rest of it isn’t so incredible.
The Moto G Power has incredible battery life, but the rest of it isn’t so incredible.

6. MOTO G POWER

THE PHONE WITH MAXIMUM BATTERY LIFE

Motorola makes a pair of phones that are siblings: the G Stylus and the G Power. The difference between them is right there in the names: the G Stylus comes with a stylus and the G Power has a larger battery.

We prefer the G Power because a 5,000mAh battery on a $249 phone is a shockingly good deal. You will, of course, notice a bunch of other compromises in exchange for that huge battery, but if you definitely need a phone that will last, the G Power is your best bet.

The G Power has a 6.4-inch FHD+ display which looks decent, but it unfortunately only has 64GB of storage and 4GB of RAM. You’ll get by on both, but you’ll run into hassles just a bit more quickly than on phones with more. The processor is a Snapdragon 665, which will be enough to run whatever app you want, it just won’t launch it quickly and overall the phone may feel too slow in two or three years.

As for cameras, the G Power keeps the trend of a main sensor, an ultrawide, and a macro on the back. The main sensor is 16 megapixels and performs much better than the $250 price would lead you to expect. If you’ve used inexpensive Motorola phones before, you’ll likely find that the G Power offers a big step up in picture quality.

If you’re very confident you want a stylus, your best bet is to see if you can find a refurbished or gently used Samsung Galaxy Note. It does a much better job providing a software ecosystem of compatible apps for its stylus. If you can’t, the G Stylus pretty much matches what we’ve said about the G Power, just with less battery life.

MOTO G POWER

  • $300

Prices taken at time of publishing.

A massive battery is the Moto G Power’s biggest selling point.


TCL is trying hard to break into the US market.
TCL is trying hard to break into the US market.

7. TCL 10 PRO

THE PHONE THAT LOOKS PROFESSIONAL

TCL is probably best known for its televisions, but it has served as the white label manufacturer for smartphones for many years. Now, it’s trying to make a name for itself in smartphones with new, low-cost options like the TCL 10L and the TCL 10 Pro. The Pro is the upgrade pick and retails for $449.90, though you can often find it on sale for less.

The 10 Pro looks like it means business. Instead of iridescent colors and big camera bumps, it’s thin, flat, and gray. It has a 6.47-inch display, but overall feels smaller than some phones on this list. You also get a headphone jack and a big, 4,500mAh battery that should get you through a full day without issue.

The best spec on the 10 Po is its 6GB of RAM, which is plenty for multitasking and should keep your most recent apps from shutting down in the background. There’s the appropriate 128GB of storage, too.

The 10 Pro’s understated looks also extend to the Android software, which has a few extra little features but generally tends to stay out of your way.

As for cameras, they’re somewhat uninspiring: there’s a 64-megapixel main sensor, a 16-megapixel ultrawide, and a 5-megapixel macro. The photos you’ll get have that over-processed look that sometimes makes images look artificial.

Overall, the best thing about the TCL 10 Pro is that it has plenty of RAM for multitasking and a thin shape that isn’t bombastic. If you can find a good deal on one, it’s worth a look.

TCL 10 PRO

  • $450

Prices taken at time of publishing.

The TCL 10 Pro has a sleek, professional design.

Leave a Comment