You can spend a small fortune on a smartphone, if you just have to have the top-of-the-line iPhone or Samsung. However, you (and your bank balance) will be pleased to know that you needn’t pay the extortionate prices for the latest models in order to get a good phone.
In fact, you can pick up handsets which will be nearly as potent as the latest flagships and also bear a more than a passing resemblance to their pricier cousins.
This isn’t about buying the absolute cheapest phone you can – it’s about buying a good value phone. Spend too little on a poor phone, and you’ll end up buying another one sooner, spending more along the way.
There are some duds and some brilliant models among the low to mid-range options, so let Tech.Co remove the uncertainty when choosing your next phone.
Motorola Moto G6 – $250 – Incredibly cheap given the sharp screen and excellent cameras
Nokia 6.1 – $269 – On the large side, but using bone-stock Android it’s a great smartphone experience
LG K8 (2018) – $139 – Super cheap, but with a surprisingly good screen and a fingerprint scanner
Motorola Moto E5 Plus – $225 – A budget Android phone with, get this, a large battery and a headphone jack
HTC U11 Life – $349 – Squeezy side gimmick aside, it’s a cut-price Android flagship alternative
Motorola Moto X4 – $399 – Another stock Android phone, which while it lacks top-end looks it’s a great option
Sony Xperia XA2 Ultra – $399 – The big, boxy design feels behind-the-times, but the features and hardware more than atone for
Sony Xperia XZ2 Compact – $499 – Big price cuts bring this great, palm-sized phone into the sub-$500 range
Essential Phone – $499 – Remember the hype when this launched? Disappointing sales have seen its price slashed to under $500, but it’s a real knockout.
LG Q6 – $269 – Lacks a fingerprint sensor, but the Q6 is a speedy option with flagship looks
Any of the above phones will do a respectable job and give you plenty of bang for your buck. No, you won’t enjoy the sharpest screen around, nor will you get double (or treble) cameras with huge megapixel counts. You will, however, be able to browse the web, email, run all sorts of apps and of course, make and receive phone calls – everything you need from a phone.
Here’s our bird’s-eye view of how all ten phones stack up to each other:
LG K8 (2018)
Moto E5 Plus
HTC U11 Life
Sony Xperia XA2 Ultra
Sony Xperia XZ2 Compact
Screen size (in)
Which are the Best Cheap Android Phones?
If you’re after a cheap – but great quality – phone, then picking an Android model is your best bet. Cheap iPhones for under $300 are pretty rare, unless you go for a model that’s quite a few years old. Android, however, is a much more competitive platform, with different manufacturers all keen to undercut each other on prices. That means you can choose from some perfectly impressive phones from just $250.
Motorola Moto G6
1x 12Mp + 1x 5Mp cameras, 1x 8Mp front camera
32GB + up to 128GB Micro-SD card
5.7” Full HD+ display
For just $250 you’ll get a remarkable amount of high-end features with the G6. Not only does its 5.7” display feature the 18:9 aspect ratio and tiny bezels currently en vogue in flagship phones, but it also offers a sizeable 3,000mAh battery, which should easily see you through an entire day.
The G6 also features a stylish glass casing, which, while it might be susceptible to cracking, will look ace. You also get a USB-C connector and a fingerprint reader. In truth, it seems crazy that Motorola can sell the G6 at this price.
However, photos taken with the camera can be dark or blurry thanks to slow shutter speeds, and software updates may be slow from Motorola. Still: It’s great quality for the price.
Motorola Moto G6 Pros
All-day battery life
Motorola Moto G6 Cons
Software updates may be limited
1x 16Mp rear camera, 1x 8Mp front camera
32GB + up to 128GB Micro-SD card
5.5” Full HD display
The Nokia 6.1, or Nokia 6 (2018), is the second-generation of Nokia’s mid-range phone. It features a 5.5” display with some rather large bezels, which might make it a bit of a handful for some. Plus, the camera’s slow shutter speeds will likely give you blurry photos. However, if you can look beyond the bulk of the 6.1, you’ll be onto a winner. Its speed belies its small price tag and its Android One operating system will make it incredibly simple to use. The 6.1 is also available in single or dual-sim variants, making it ideal if you travel frequently. It also features a headphone jack, if that’s important to you.
Nokia 6.1 Pros
Nokia 6.1 Cons
Slow camera shutter speed
LG K8 (2018)
1x 8Mp rear camera, 1x 5Mp front camera
16GB storage + micro-SD card
5” 720p display
Probably the best phone you can get for around $100. Featuring a pretty sharp 5-inch screen, the K8 (2018) will do a decent job of displaying videos and films. The expandable storage means that you should have room to store them, as well.
Setup is easy and the interface is well-designed, though the camera isn’t the highest quality. Unfortunately, you won’t get the latest Android operating system. Instead, you’ll have to make do with Android 7, which debuted back in April 2017.
You’ll also have to get by with some less-than-premium components. The Snapdragon 425 processor it uses is nothing special and its plastic case might make it feel cheap. But, for just $140, it’s still a great option.
LG K8 Pros
Respectable display resolution
LG K8 Cons
Software can be slow to respond
Camera isn’t great
Moto E5 Plus
1x 12Mp rear camera, 1x 5Mp front camera
32GB storage + up to 256GB micro-SD card
6” 720×1440 display
If you’re fed up with your phone always running out of juice, then the Moto E5 Plus is the phone for you. It has a whopping 5,000mAh battery – the iPhone X, for reference has a 2,700mAh unit. Motorola claims this will see you through 36 hours of regular use. However, the E5 Plus has more going for it than just a long battery life. Its big six-inch screen, slim bezels and 18:9 aspect ratio give it flagship looks and its Snapdragon 435 processor with 3GB RAM make it surprisingly potent for a cheap phone, as well. Granted, some might find it too big, which is a potential disadvantage, as is the subpar camera. Still, cameras on budget phones are rarely great, and this phone already has a lot going for it.
Motorola Moto E5 Plus Pros
36-hour battery life
Large screen with small bezels
Motorola Moto E5 Plus Cons
Frame may be too large for some
Camera could be better
HTC U11 Life
1x 16Mp rear camera, 1x 16Mp front camera
32GB storage + up to 2TB micro-SD card
5.2” Full HD display
The HTC U11 Life is a consummate mid-range phone with a sharp Full HD screen, stylish design and pretty good cameras.
It also utilizes HTC’s unique Edge Sense technology, which essentially allows you to squeeze the sides of the phone as a shortcut to perform certain tasks such as playing and pausing music, opening your favorite apps and so on. It’s a novel idea, even if we’re not completely sold on it.
The phone is also water-resistant, which isn’t a guarantee for a phone at this price point. While the battery life isn’t quite all day, it’ll definitely get you most of the way there. In addition, the U11 Life also features Google Assistant and Amazon’s Alexa – perfect if you already have an Amazon Echo at home, for example.
HTC U11 Life Pros
HTC U11 Life Cons
Battery may not last all day
No headphone jack
The Best Cheap iPhones
iPhones are expensive, especially if you’re buying the newer models. However, if you’re smart, you can pick up an iPhone for less than you might expect.
1x 12Mp rear camera, 1x 7Mp front camera
4.7” Retina HD display
The iPhone 7 is currently the cheapest new iPhone available, costing $449. While it isn’t exactly a bargain basement option, it should be good for a few years to come, making it a fairly sensible investment.
Its 4.7-inch display isn’t the biggest by 2019 standards, but like most Apple products, it’s pin-sharp. It’ll also update to the newest versions of iOS, giving you speed and security improvements – something that can’t be said for cheap Android rivals.
iPhone 7 Pros
Will receive OS updates for a long time
Still a beautifully designed Apple phone
iPhone 7 Cons
No headphone jack
Dated screen compared to today’s latest phones
Buying a Refurbished iPhone
Go for a refurbished iPhone and you can find some bargains. You can, of course, look for sellers online, including through eBay. However, there’s extra assurance when using Apple’s own refurbished program.
iPhone 7 Refurbished
You can pick the iPhone 7 up on Apple’s certified refurbished program. This sees the price drop to $379, a $70 saving over the new version, making it an even more enticing offer.
The refurbished iPhones all receive a new battery and outer shell, so your phone will look and feel brand new. Apple also throws in a one-year warranty, which should help assuage any fears about a refurbished phone’s longevity.
iPhone 7 Plus Refurbished
2x 12Mp rear cameras, 1x 7Mp front camera
5.5” Retina HD display
The iPhone 7’s bigger brother is also available on Apple’s refurbished program with the 32GB model costing $479 – a $90 saving over its regular retail price. Again, you’ll get access to the latest version of iOS and a one-year warranty.
The 7 Plus has a larger and more detailed screen than the 7, with a 1920×1080 resolution at 401 pixels-per-inch compared to 7’s 1334×750 at 326 pixels-per-inch. It also has two rear cameras so you’ll be able to take better photos with greater depth and more detail for close-up shots.
Of course, these aren’t the only iPhones you can buy at the moment, and, given that Apple promised it would work to extend the longevity of new iPhones, it might be worth paying the premium now to save money on replacement phones in the future.
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Tom Fogden is a writer for Tech.co with a range of experience in the world of tech publishing. Tom covers everything from cybersecurity, to social media and website builders when he's not reviewing the latest phones, gadgets, or occasionally even technology books.