Tech.co logo

Best Budget Smartphones and Cheap iPhones

September 18, 2018

7:59 am

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.

In this guide:

Best Cheap Phones to Buy

  • 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:

Moto G6

Nokia 6.1

LG K8 (2018)

Moto E5 Plus

HTC U11 Life

Moto X4

Sony Xperia XA2 Ultra

Sony Xperia XZ2 Compact

Essential Phone

LG Q6

Price$250$269$139$225$349$399$399$499$499$269
Screen size (in)5.75.5565.25.2655.75.5
Screen resolution1080×19201080×1920720×1280720×14401080×19201080×19201080×19201080×21601312×25601080×2160
Ram (GB)4323464444
Weight (g)167172152196.6142163221168185149
Operating systemAndroid 8Android 8Android 7Android 8Android 8Android 7Android 8Android 8Android 7Android 7
Battery (mAh)3000300025005000260030003580287030403000
ProcessorSnapdragon 450Snapdragon 630Snapdragon 210Snapdragon 425Snapdragon 630Snapdragon 630Snapdragon 630Snapdragon 845Snapdragon 835Snapdragon 435

 

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

Motorola Moto G6 Best Cheap Phones

  • 1x 12Mp + 1x 5Mp cameras, 1x 8Mp front camera
  • 32GB + up to 128GB Micro-SD card
  • 5.7” Full HD+ display
  • Android 8
  • 3,000mAh battery

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

  • Slim bezels
  • All-day battery life
  • USB-C connector
  • Fingerprint reader

Motorola Moto G6 Cons

  • Laggy camera
  • Software updates may be limited

Nokia 6.1

 

Nokia 6.1 Best Cheap Phones

  • 1x 16Mp rear camera, 1x 8Mp front camera
  • 32GB + up to 128GB Micro-SD card
  • 5.5” Full HD display
  • Android 8
  • 3,000mAh battery

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

  • Speedy
  • Simple interface
  • Headphone jack

Nokia 6.1 Cons

  • Large bezels
  • Slow camera shutter speed

LG K8 (2018)

LG K8 (2018) Best Cheap Phones

  • 1x 8Mp rear camera, 1x 5Mp front camera
  • 16GB storage + micro-SD card
  • 5” 720p display
  • Android 7
  • 2,500mAh battery

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

  • Good design
  • Respectable display resolution
  • Easy setup

LG K8 Cons

  • Software can be slow to respond
  • Camera isn’t great

Moto E5 Plus

Motorola Moto E5 Plus Best Cheap Phones

  • 1x 12Mp rear camera, 1x 5Mp front camera
  • 32GB storage + up to 256GB micro-SD card
  • 6” 720×1440 display
  • Android 8
  • 5,000mAh battery

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
  • Good CPU

Motorola Moto E5 Plus Cons

  • Frame may be too large for some
  • Camera could be better

 

HTC U11 Life

HTC U11 Life Best cheap smartphones

  • 1x 16Mp rear camera, 1x 16Mp front camera
  • 32GB storage + up to 2TB micro-SD card
  • 5.2” Full HD display
  • Android 8
  • 2,600mAh battery

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

  • HD screen
  • Attractive design
  • Decent cameras

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.

iPhone 7

Apple iPhone 7 Best Cheap Phones

  • 1x 12Mp rear camera, 1x 7Mp front camera
  • 32GB storage
  • 4.7” Retina HD display
  • iOS 12
  • 1,960mAh battery

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

Apple iPhone 7 Plus Best Cheap Phones

  • 2x 12Mp rear cameras, 1x 7Mp front camera
  • 32GB storage
  • 5.5” Retina HD display
  • iOS 12
  • 2,900mAh battery

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.

About our links

Some of the links on our page will take you directly to a provider or retail website, where you may find deals and discounts. If you make a purchase at this stage, we may receive a payment. This has no additional cost to you, and never affects the editorial independence of our reviews.

Did you like this article?

Get more delivered to your inbox just like it!

Sorry about that. Try these articles instead!

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.