Best cheap phone: five smartphones for under $500

Some of us take a kind of “I eat to live” rather than an “I live to eat” approach to gadgets. They’re tools that help you get things done, not something you want to invest a lot of time or money in. If that’s you — and there’s no judgment here from a certifiable gadget nerd — then you can probably think of more worthwhile ways to spend $1,000 than on a phone.

Budget phones to the rescue. These devices are roughly $500 or under, and they’re more capable than ever before. You won’t get all the bells and whistles, but you will save a little money to spend on, I don’t know, actual bells and whistles. It’s your world.

Many of our picks run about $400 or $500, but there are great options for $300 and under, too. You can find a bright, high-definition OLED screen or a battery that lasts for days. If you can hone in on the one or two features that are most important to you and you’re willing to compromise elsewhere, you can get a phone that suits your needs for half the price of a flagship.

What compromises can you expect from a budget phone? Some combination of the following: slower processors, less storage, and lousier cameras than flagship phones, almost across the board. Many have lower-resolution screens, and most lack official water-resistance ratings, wireless charging, and NFC chips for contactless payment.

The best iPhone under $500

$429

The 2022 iPhone SE will last for over five years if it’s taken care of thanks to Apple’s excellent track record of offering iOS updates to older devices. But its tiny 4.7-inch screen feels cramped now and may be tough to use in five years’ time while apps and webpages continue to be designed for bigger screens. Read our review.

Screen: 4.7-inch, 1334p LCD / Processor: A15 Bionic Cameras: 12-megapixel f/1.8 with OIS, 7-megapixel selfie / Charging: 20W wired, 7.5W wireless / Weather-resistance rating: IP67

If your budget has a strict $500 cap and you’re looking for a new iPhone, the choice is easy. The 2022 iPhone SE is the only new iPhone under $500. It’s the least expensive way to get into the iOS ecosystem and it’ll do the job, but I would strongly encourage anyone looking at the SE to consider whether it’s doable to spend a bit more on an iPhone 13, now priced at $599.

The important thing to know about the SE is that it comes with a very small, very dated 4.7-inch screen. It’s the same size as the one on the iPhone 6, and it’s starting to feel cramped in an age when apps and web pages are designed for bigger screens. The SE’s big bezels make the device look dated, too, but the usability of a small screen will be a bigger factor over the years to come.

The 2022 iPhone SE is a low-cost entry point to the iOS ecosystem.
Photo by Allison Johnson / The Verge

That’s the biggest knock against the SE — and it’s an important one. But if you’re not worried about a cramped screen, then the SE has a lot of upsides. Its A15 processor is the same as the one in the iPhone 13 Pro Max, so performance is very good.

There’s IP67 waterproofing and wireless charging — both uncommon in this price range — and even though it uses an older 12-megapixel camera, it takes very nice photos and high-quality video clips. The camera has no night mode, which is a curious omission — basically every other midrange phone offers some sort of low-light photo mode, and the phone’s processor is certainly up to the task. Apple gonna Apple.

Read my full review of the Apple iPhone SE (2022).

The best Android phone under $500

Google Pixel 8A in aloe green showing back panel.Google Pixel 8A in aloe green showing back panel.Google Pixel 8A in aloe green showing back panel.Google Pixel 8A in aloe green showing back panel.

$499

Google’s latest midranger touts a whopping seven years of software support and a number of small upgrades, including Google’s speedy Tensor G3 processor, a 120Hz display, and plenty of new AI features.

Screen: 6.1-inch, 1080p OLED, 120Hz / Processor: Tensor G3 Cameras: 64-megapixel f/1.89 with OIS, 13-megapixel ultrawide, 13-megapixel selfie / Battery: 4,492mAh / Charging: 18W wired, 7.5W wireless / Weather-resistance rating: IP67

Google offers some very good high-end phones in the Pixel 8 and Pixel 8 Pro, but it’s the company’s budget phone that makes the most sense. For $500, the Pixel 8A offers a whole lot of what makes its pricier siblings good, but at roughly half the cost.

It’s a modest update over the Pixel 7A, which you can still buy, but the 8A comes with one big upgrade over the previous generation: seven years of OS and security updates. If you’re the kind of person who likes to hang onto their device for a long time, that’s huge — especially in the budget category where other phones might only come with one or two platform upgrades.

The Pixel 8A’s screen has bezels for days but a fast 120Hz top refresh rate.
Photo: Allison Johnson / The Verge

The 8A is also Google’s first budget phone to come with a 120Hz display, so scrolling and animations look super smooth. You also get wireless charging and an IP67 rating for protection against water immersion. The camera system is reliable, but it’s the most obvious place where Google had to make some compromises to keep the price low. It’s a fine all-around camera, but stepping up to the Pixel 8 or 8 Pro gets you better low light and zoom performance.

Read my full review of the Google Pixel 8A.

The best budget phone that performs like a flagship

OnePlus 12R on a green background with blue translucent squares.OnePlus 12R on a green background with blue translucent squares.OnePlus 12R on a green background with blue translucent squares.OnePlus 12R on a green background with blue translucent squares.

The OnePlus 12R comes with an excellent screen and a top-notch processor, making it feel much more expensive than its $500 price tag.

Screen: 6.78-inch, 1264 x 2780 120Hz OLED / Processor: Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 Cameras: 50-megapixel f/1.8 with OIS, 8-megapixel ultrawide, 2-megapixel macro, 16-megapixel selfie / Battery: 5,500mAh / Charging: 80W wired / Weather-resistance rating: IP64

The OnePlus 12R is $500, but it could easily trick you into thinking it costs twice as much. It comes with a very big, very nice screen, with refresh rates that go up to 120Hz and all the way down to 1Hz, making for a smooth scrolling experience when you need it and savings on battery life when you don’t. It’s a feature rarely seen on a phone under $800.

The 12R is equipped with the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 chipset, which is a generation behind 2024’s processor du jour, the 8 Gen 3. But the 8 Gen 2 still whips — it’s hard to throw anything at this phone that it can’t handle. Less good: the 12R’s IP64 rating, which means it’s splash resistant but not fully water immersible, like the Pixel 8A.

The 12R misses out on robust water resistance but delivers on performance.
Photo by Allison Johnson / The Verge

Fast charging is kind of OnePlus’ trademark, and the 12R stays true to the brand with up to 80W fast wired charging in the US (it’s up to 100W in other regions). It’s nice if you want to charge your phone on a more compressed schedule, like during your morning routine rather than at night.

Personally, I’d rather have slower wired charging if it meant I could have a feature that’s not present on the 12R: wireless charging. That is, once again, something the Pixel 8A offers. But that’s the beauty of the 12R — it knows what it is and what it isn’t. And if a low-cost phone with a big, high-quality screen and excellent performance is what you’re after, then the 12R is it.

Read my full review of the OnePlus 12R.

The best phone under $400

Google’s Pixel 6A comes with a relatively small 6.1-inch OLED screen but is an excellent performer with a good camera and battery life.

Screen: 6.1-inch, 1080p OLED / Processor: Tensor Cameras: 12-megapixel f/1.7 with OIS, 8-megapixel selfie / Battery: 4,410mAh / Charging: 18W wired / Weather-resistance rating: IP67

The Pixel 6A probably isn’t long for this world. It was announced in 2022, Google no longer sells it new, and with the arrival of the Pixel 8A it’s now two generations behind. But the 6A is hanging around at third-party retailers like Amazon, and if you can score one for $300, it’s a heck of a deal. It’s scheduled to get one more OS upgrade and three more years of security updates, which is a decent return on that investment.

The phone’s biggest asset is Tensor, the custom-built chipset Google used in the company’s 2021 flagships, the 6 and 6 Pro. Not only does it enable good overall performance now, but it also means that the 6A will keep up for many years to come — it’ll receive security patches until at least July 2027. The 6A also comes with an IP67 water-resistance rating, so it’s still a good all-around bet if you want a budget phone that will last.

The 6A’s 6.1-inch 1080p OLED offers a standard 60Hz refresh rate. It wasn’t too impressive for the phone’s original $449 retail price, but for under $400, it’s one of the better screens out there. Unfortunately, the fingerprint sensor under the display is also on the slow side. It’s not unusable, but it’s noticeably a beat slower than the best fingerprint sensors out there.

The Pixel 6A still offers a good camera for a budget phone.
Photo by Vjeran Pavic / The Verge

The 6A uses the same 12-megapixel standard wide camera as many Pixel phones before it, which is still a very good camera — especially for the midrange class. The phone’s 4,410mAh battery is on the small side, but overall battery performance is better than its size would suggest. 

Read my full review of the Google Pixel 6A.

The best cheap phone for a long-term relationship

Samsung A53 5G on a deskSamsung A53 5G on a deskSamsung A53 5G on a deskSamsung A53 5G on a desk

$400

The Galaxy A35 5G comes with a good 6.6-inch OLED panel, a robust IP67 dust and water-resistance rating, and a strong software update policy for its class.

Screen: 6.6-inch, 1080p resolution, 120Hz OLED / Processor: Exynos 1380 Cameras: 50-megapixel f/1.8 with OIS, 8-megapixel ultrawide, 5-megapixel macro, 13-megapixel selfie / Battery: 5,000mAh / Charging: 25W wired / Weather-resistance rating: IP67

The Samsung Galaxy A35 5G comes with surprisingly strong specs for its $399 price. They’re the kind of features you won’t really spot from the outside, but they’re important, particularly its IP67 rating for dust and water resistance. Unlike virtually every other phone at this price, the A35 5G is built to withstand water immersion, so you don’t need to sweat it if your phone lands in a toilet bowl or puddle.

Here’s another unexciting spec: four years of OS updates and five years of security updates. That’s not the very best in the budget category — the Pixel 8A takes that honor with seven years of updates — but it’s much better than the two or three years we typically see in phones well under $500.

The A35 5G comes with a water-resistance rating and software support policy that are unusually strong for its class.
Photo: Allison Johnson / The Verge

The camera is lackluster; it’s fine in bright light but struggles in dim and mixed indoor lighting. It doesn’t have the strongest processing performance you can find under $500, either, and the Samsung-made Exynos processor occasionally stutters when quickly bouncing between tasks. I was horrified — horrified! — when I accidentally texted my husband one of the automatically generated replies because it popped up at the last moment as I was trying to tap on something else. These things don’t happen when everything loads quickly.

But overall, it’s a compelling package — especially with a big, crowd-pleasing OLED display and strong battery performance. If you’re a light user and not fussy about camera quality, the A35 5G offers some upgrades that make a real difference in the long term.

Other budget phones we tested

The 2024 Motorola Moto G Power has all the makings of a good budget phone, including a lovely vegan leather exterior and wireless charging. But it’s loaded with bloatware of the worst kind, and that alone disqualifies it from our recommendations.

We also tested the OnePlus Nord N300, which doesn’t make an appearance among our recommendations. The N300 is very affordable at $228 but cuts too many corners to include fast charging. The pricier 12R that snags our recommendation above offers much better overall performance.

If your budget has some wiggle room, there are a couple of $600 phones worth considering that are just outside the scope of this guide. The Samsung Galaxy S23 FE is a late addition to the S23 lineup that offers a telephoto lens and a great screen. And for something quite different, the Nothing Phone 2 is an option with its sleek appearance and flashy interface (literally, it flashes) — just know that it’s not fully compatible with Verizon’s network.

Update June 14th: Removed the Google Pixel 7A and added the Pixel 8A as our overall Android pick.