7 Best Cheap Smartphones for (Almost) Every Budget

US wireless carriers like T-Mobile and Verizon go out of their way to make expensive smartphones seem affordable. Why not buy a $1,000Samsung Galaxy Note10if you only have to pay $0 down and $30 a month for it? Whether you pay it at once or in 24 installments, you’re still blowing hundreds of dollars. Your pricey new phone may also keep you locked to your network, unable to switch wireless carriers until you pay it off.

Here’s another idea: Forget the spendy phones and get a seriously great, more affordable phone instead. We’ve tested dozens of phones this year to find the best cheap smartphones that aren’t annoyingly slow. Our top pick is as good as almost any device you can buy, and our other picks strike a great balance between price and luxury.

Updated autumn 2019: I added two new iPhones, the LG G7, and the Nokia 7.2 to the list and cut the Moto Z3 and LG G6 because they’re getting old.

(Note: When you buy something using the retail links in our stories, we may earn a small affiliate commission.Read moreabout how this works.)

1. Google Pixel 3A ($399)

Best Overall

Google doesn’t think a phone needs to be $1,000 in order to be premium.Photograph: Google

If you can spend $400 (or $480 for the larger Pixel 3A XL), you cannot find a better phone than this (9/10, WIRED Recommends). It’s the first semi-budget phone that’s topped ourBest Android Phonesbecause it manages to feel like a high-end $800 phone in the ways that matter most: It’s fast, gets updates directly from Google, and has a camera that’s as good as almost anything you can buy. It even has a Night Sight mode that makes selfies and other shots possible in very dim light.

There are a few sacrifices you’ll have to make. The display doesn’t stretch to the edges as much as many flagship phones, it’s not waterproof, and there’s no wireless charging (just fast charging). It’s also covered in a classy polycarbonate shell instead of glass and metal—this actually makes it more durable, but if glass is your jam, take note.

Did I mention that it has a headphone jack (these phones do, too), something even the expensive standard Pixel 3 and 3 XL do not have? If you’re going to buy a Pixel, get this one.

Works on AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon, Sprint, and more

Pixel 3A costs $399 from Amazonor theGoogle Store

2. Motorola Moto G7 ($300)


Photograph: Motorola

Motorola’s G phones kick-started the wave of affordable, decent smartphones several years back. The Moto G7 continues that trend. It’s not the fastest or sexiest phone, but it’s incredibly cheap and performs every essential function well enough that you won’t go nuts taking a photo or waiting for an app to load.

If you’re on a tight budget, this is the phone to own. It’s more than adequate for a teenager or casual phone user. There is also a$250 Moto G7 with a massive batterythat you should give a go and a$200 Moto G7 Playthat I don’t recommend unless you’re a very light phone user and are OK with a dash of lag.

Read ourfull review of all 3 Moto G7 modelsfor more information.

Works on AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon, Sprint, and more

Moto G7 costs $300 from AmazonorMotorola

3. Nokia 7.2 ($349)

Best for $350

Photograph: Nokia

We’ve recommended the Nokia 7.1 for many months now, and the Nokia 7.2 is its replacement. It’s similar, but has double the storage and a larger display—with a smaller notch cutout for the selfie cam. It’s a step up from some phones in its price bracket, with a reasonably fast midrange processor, dual rear cameras, and 128 GB of storage. It’s also an Android One device, which means it gets two years of software updates directly from Google and security updates on a regular basis. This makes it one of theonlyAndroid phones that will remain updated and secure.

On the downside, it’s not rated for water resistance and you’ll need a case (this appears to be a good one) because the glass back, though attractive, is very fragile.

Works on AT&T and T-Mobile

Nokia 7.2 costs $349 from Amazon

4. LG G7 ThinQ ($435)

Best for $450 or Less

Photograph: LG

The LG G7 is a strange phone, but a good one (8/10, WIRED Recommends). I don’t recommend you use the weird AI Cam mode for the camera, but it is one of the most powerful Android phones from 2018, and it’s still faster than a lot of devices at its price point today. This version has a Snapdragon 845 processor, dual 16-megapixel rear cameras (8 MP selfie cam), 64 GB of storage, and a 6.1-inch high-resolution (1440p) screen. You also get key amenities like waterproofing and a headphone jack.

Because of thatheadphone jackand an onboard Quad DAC, it’s one of the best phones if you use corded headphones. Wireless audio sounds fantastic as well, thanks to its onboard DTS:X.

LG is not speedy at updating the software on its phones, but the G7 has gotten theAndroid Pie OS update, which is a positive sign.

Works on AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint, Verizon, and more

LG G7 Plus costs $400 from Amazon

5. OnePlus 7T ($599)

Best for $600

Photograph: OnePlus

The OnePlus 7T (8/10, WIRED Recommends) is one of our favorite Android phones at any price, much like theOnePlus 6Tbefore it. It has the chops (and chips) to go up against any high-end device, but costs $200 to $400 less than most of thebest Android phonesand thelatest iPhones.

You don’t see many devices with a near top-of-the-line Qualcomm Snapdragon 855+ processor, an AMOLED screen, 8 GB of RAM, and 128 GB of internal storage for $600. It’s also nice that OnePlus has become one of the fastest manufacturers when it comes to Android software updates. This phone launched withAndroid 10and should get bimonthly security updates.

It also has a capable in-display fingerprint sensor and triple rear cameras, including a 2x zoom telephoto lens. Our only real complaints are that it lacks a headphone jack, and the snazzy glass-backed design makes this phone more delicate—though it comes with a case in the box. It’s also only splashproof, not waterproof.

Works on AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon

OnePlus 7T costs $579 from OnePlus

6. iPhone 8 ($449)

A Good Affordable iPhone

Photograph: Apple

Apple eliminated the home button (and Touch ID) on the iPhone a couple years ago (8/10, WIRED Recommends), but if you want one more go-round with the classic design, get an iPhone 8. It’s missing a few of the camera tricks of new iPhones, but it still runs just fine and should continue to chug along for a few years, at least.

The big benefit of an iPhone (like the Google Pixel phones) is that Apple controls its software, so each model is supported for half a decade or so, at least. Its App Store is also home to some very fun games and apps, some of which you won’t find on Android phones.

Works on AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon, Sprint, and more

iPhone 8 costs $449 from Apple

7. iPhone XR ($599)

The Cheapest Modern iPhone

Photograph: Apple

If you want the best deal for a high-end iPhone, consider the XR. It’sour top iPhoneat the moment. Just know that, like the OnePlus 7T, this phone is only “cheap” when you compare it with the incredibly expensive new models.

The iPhone XR (8/10, WIRED Recommends) came out in 2018, but it still compares well to the new iPhone 11. No, it doesn’t have an extra wide-angle lens and its camera can’t shoot quite as detailed of shots in the dark, but other than that there isn’t a huge difference between last year’s model and what Apple is selling for $100 more today. Until the iPhone 12 rolls around in late 2020, the XR is worth strong consideration.

iPhone XR costs $599 from Apple

Should You Buy Now?

In short, yes. Until we approach March 2020, these will be good picks. In the spring, Motorola will likely unveil a new slate of Moto G phones, bu these picks should still hold up, including the Pixel 3A, which will (at some point before mid 2020) be replaced with a Pixel 4A.

Check Network Compatibility

If you buy an unlocked phone on this list and try to take it to one of your wireless carrier’s retail stores, they may tell you it isn’t compatible with the network. It likely is. Just use a paper clip to pop the SIM out of your current phone and put it in a new one. If it doesn’t work at first, reboot the phone or just wait a couple of hours.

If you need a new SIM, try ordering one online from your carrier, or try to get them to give you a SIM when you activate a line in the store (if you’re starting coverage). Tell them you have a phone. Many times, reps will want to sell you a phone; that’s one potential reason they might hassle you.

Having said that, please make sure whatever phone you buy will work on your wireless network. Listings on retailers like Amazon should say clearly whether it will. Make sure it also says it’s “unlocked.”

Warning for Verizon and Sprint users:If you’re a Verizon or Sprint customer, there’s a higher chance an unlocked phone will not work on your network. Make sure it is labeled to work on them or says it’s CDMA-capable.Verizon customers, if something strange is going on, like you get no texts, you may also need to contact customer service and tell them to enable CDMA-Less roaming.AT&T and T-Mobile are GSM carriers, which is the standard for most of the world; most unlocked phones are compatible with them.

If you’re nervous, look up the specifications of the exact model you’re considering. Make sure it has theLTE bandsit needs to run on your carrier.

Avoid These Phones!

If a phone isn’t listed here, or if it’s refurbished, be careful. It’s easy to waste money or time when you’re shopping for affordable phones. It’s hard to get a sense of how a cheaper phone will act in the long term when you use it in a store for five minutes, and retail employees may not be much help. Make sure you read reviews online.

For whatever reason, big manufacturers like Samsung like to keep selling their old pre-2018 devices, like the Galaxy S7. A good rule of thumb is to avoid most devices that originally came out before 2018. They probably won’t continue to get software and security updates for long, if they’re even supported now.

More Great WIRED Stories

Read More


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here