Best cheap phones in 2023: our 5 favorites for tight budgets

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Don’t want to spend $1,000 or more on a new smartphone? We don’t blame you, and the good news is there are plenty of models available for half that price, but the trick is knowing which cheap smartphone is worth buying. After all, just because you’re not spending flagship-phone money, doesn’t mean you want to be stuck with anything rubbish. There are plenty of options out there for the best cheap phones!

We’ve collected the models that still give you great performance, good cameras, the right connectivity, and often a desirable design and brand name, too — all for less money than you may expect. Cheap phones in 2023 will surprise you with their strong performance, making them more than capable of playing the latest games; plus they have batteries that will last you at least a day too.

If your budget for a new smartphone this year is around $500, then these are the best models you can get.

samsung galaxy a53 5g review back

Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

Samsung Galaxy A53 5G

Best cheap phone overall

Pros

  • Pretty design
  • IP67 water-resistance
  • Camera is great for social media
  • Vibrant screen
  • Two-day battery life

Cons

  • Performance can be sluggish
  • Not an upgrade to the A52 and A52S

Why you should buy this: This good-looking phone has a great camera for social media, is surprisingly durable, and has a battery that lasts two days.

Who it’s for: Someone who wants a Samsung Galaxy phone, but not one that costs $1,000.

Why we picked the Samsung Galaxy A53 5G:

The Samsung Galaxy A53 is not a massive departure from the Galaxy A52 and A51, but the modest update gets the fundamentals right: It has a two-day battery life, a capable camera, a gorgeous AMOLED display, and a great looking design too.

We’ll start with the design. It’s made from plastic, but it doesn’t feel cheap. Instead, it feels quite nice in the hand, and the IP67 rating for water resistance means you won’t need to worry too much about its durability either. It’s on the larger size for a smartphone, though, and one-handed use may be a challenge, especially if you have smaller hands. The in-display fingerprint sensor is improved, though, and is much more reliable than the sensors on previous models.

The phone does take a hit for its sluggish performance, though. The Exynos 1280 octa-core processor isn’t the fastest, and there’s only an option for either 6GB or 8GB of RAM, and 128GB or 256GB of storage. At least there’s also a microSD card slot so you can boost the amount of internal storage.

There’s a quad-lens camera setup on the back, and it’s solid. There’s a 64-megapixel main lens, a 12MP wide-angle, and a pair of 5MP lenses for macro and depth. Around the front, there’s a 32MP selfie lens. It takes pictures you’re likely to be very happy to share on social media. There’s a Night mode, Samsung’s fun Single Take mode, and video recording up to 4K and 60 fps at FHD.

The Galaxy A53 comes with Android 12 standard, and Samsung has promised four years of software updates and five years of security updates. This means it could potentially last you a very long time. The battery life, as mentioned above, is a particular highlight, managing two days of moderate use (without much gaming, mind you). It supports 25W fast charging, but there’s no wireless charging.

At under $500, it’s a real bargain that takes a deserved place at the top of this list. The Samsung Galaxy A53 5G is a must-buy.

Samsung Galaxy A53 5G

Samsung Galaxy A53 5G

Best cheap phone overall

google pixel 6a review

Joe Maring/Digital Trends

Google Pixel 6a 5G

Best cheap phone camera

Pros

  • Compact, lightweight design
  • IP67 water resistance
  • Flagship-grade performance
  • Excellent cameras
  • Clean software
  • Years of guaranteed updates

Cons

  • Display is only 60Hz
  • Tensor chip runs hot
  • Lacking battery life

Why you should buy this: It has most of what makes the Pixel 7 desirable — excellent software, a great camera, and a cool design — for a lower price.

Who it’s for: Those who really value camera performance, and want the best Android software experience too.

Why we picked the Google Pixel 6a 5G:

The Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro introduced a cool new design from Google for its smartphone range, and it continues on the Pixel 6a too. Because Google only slightly updated the look for the Pixel 7, the Pixel 6a manages to still look modern and current today. It’s a big selling point, but not as much as the camera.

Google is famous for its computational photography expertise, and a great deal of it can be found inside the Pixel 6a, despite it being cheaper than the Pixel 7 and Pixel 7 Pro. The 12.2-megapixel main camera is joined by a 12MP wide-angle camera, plus most of Google’s clever and fun camera modes, including Night Sight, Portrait Mode, and Magic Eraser.

Unfortunately, the battery life does let the Pixel 6a down, and you shouldn’t expect it to last more than a day without recharging if you use it moderately hard. Charging is slow, and there’s no wireless charging either. The other downside is it has a 60Hz screen, which is a disappointment when others provide a 90Hz screen or higher on similarly priced devices.

However, the software around all this is a big bonus, as it’s fuss-free, well-designed, and fast. It will also get the latest version of Android before any other phone for the next few years too. The Pixel 6a is one for camera and Android software fans, who don’t consider the 60Hz screen a problem. It may be worth waiting to see what the Pixel 7a brings later this year, but if you need a cheap phone right now, the Pixel 6a remains a great buy.

Google Pixel 6a

Google Pixel 6a 5G

Best cheap phone camera

iphone se 2022 review starlight back in hand

Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

Apple iPhone SE (2022)

Best cheap iPhone

Pros

  • Compact and light
  • Very powerful
  • Touch ID works really well
  • Wireless charging
  • IP67 water resistance

Cons

  • Poor battery life
  • 60Hz screen
  • 64GB won’t be enough

Why you should buy this: It’s the smallest iPhone you can buy, yet it’s still powerful, plus it has Touch ID and the very latest version of iOS too.

Who it’s for: Apple iPhone lovers who miss small phones, but don’t want to compromise on performance.

Why we picked the iPhone SE (2022):

It’s not the biggest smartphone on this list, but it’s one of the most powerful. The jewel in the iPhone SE’s crown is the A15 Bionic processor powering it. This is the same chip you’ll find in the iPhone 14, and it’s incredibly powerful. The result is a budget smartphone that can handle the latest and most demanding 3D games, and pretty much anything the latest flagships can do. It’s a strong advantage.

However, the iPhone SE looks just like iPhone 8 so it has chunky bezels and a relatively small display. It may perform like a flagship iPhone, but it looks older, especially as it has a Home button and Touch ID fingerprint sensor. However, some may see this as a benefit.

It’s made from glass and aluminum, is very compact and lightweight, plus there are various attractive colors available. There’s only a single 12MP camera on the back, but it does have some excellent post-processing, thanks to the A15 Bionic processor, and the iPhone SE still takes good shots. Unfortunately, there’s no Night mode, which means you’ll need to rely a little more on good lighting.

The battery life is a major drawback. We managed a day of use out of the iPhone SE, but it’s unlikely to stretch much further than that with even moderately heavy use, and you’re going to need to top it up on particularly hectic days.

Prices for the Apple iPhone SE (2022) start from $429 for 64GB of storage and rise up to $579 for 256GB of storage. We recommend buying the $479 to upgrade your storage to 128GB at least, as performance and battery life suffer when the storage gets close to full.

Apple iPhone SE (2022)

Apple iPhone SE (2022)

Best cheap iPhone

oneplus nord n300 5g review with box

Christine Romero-Chan / Digital Trends

OnePlus Nord N300 5G

Best cheap phone under $250

Pros

  • Sleek and lightweight design
  • 90Hz refresh rate on a large 6.56-inch display
  • Nice tactile haptics
  • Great selfie camera
  • Expandable storage via microSD
  • 5,000mAh battery with 33W fast charging

Cons

  • Lower-res screen resolution
  • 2MP depth camera doesn’t add much
  • Won’t get updates after Android 13
  • Only available on T-Mobile

Why you should buy this: It has desirable features like a 90Hz refresh rate screen and 5G, plus long battery life.

Who it’s for: If you value screen technology and battery life over the camera.

Why we picked the OnePlus Nord N300:

OnePlus is an established brand with a lot of experience delivering great value phones, and the Nord N300 5G continues this tradition. The Pixel 6a may not have a high refresh rate screen, but the Nord N300 does, and it has a longer lasting battery, plus faster charging too, all for less money. This is what we mean when we say it really pays to shop around for the right low-cost phone.

The OnePlus Nord N300’s 6.56-inch screen has a 90Hz refresh rate for smoother scrolling and less eyestrain, plus a big 5,000mAh battery that should last for at least a couple of days (depending on your use). When it comes time to charge it back up, it’ll take just 90 minutes with the included charger and cable.

A 48-megapixel camera on the back may sound simple (we’re ignoring the 2MP macro camera, and you should, too), but it takes photos that are fine for social media, particularly if you don’t mind playing with the editing suite in the Gallery app. The phone’s software is a letdown, though, as it runs OxygenOS 12. It’s not as fluid or cleanly designed as old OxygenOS, and can be complex and unreliable.

However, for the price, the OnePlus Nord N300 has several standout features: a capable MediaTek processor with 5G, and even a headphone jack and MicroSD card slot. It’s a good value blend of desirable modern features and often-forgotten phone staples.

OnePlus Nord N300 5G

OnePlus Nord N300 5G

Best cheap phone under $250

google pixel 7 review held as camera

Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

Google Pixel 7

Best premium cheap phone

Pros

  • Superb camera
  • Long battery life
  • Eye-catching design
  • Vibrant screen
  • Years of software updates
  • Fantastic price

Cons

  • Slow charging
  • Software bugs
  • Poor gaming performance

Why you should buy this: It has a superb camera, great software, and a pretty design.

Who it’s for: Anyone who can stretch their $500 budget, but still doesn’t want to overspend.

Why we picked the Google Pixel 7:

Yes, we know, the Pixel 7 costs $599, and that puts it over our $500 budget. But if you can save a little longer, or find a way to stretch your budget just a tiny bit, this is our recommendation if you don’t want to overspend and get a flagship phone.

It has all Google’s computational photography expertise fed through a 50-megapixel main camera with optical image stabilization, plus there’s a wide-angle camera and a 10.8MP selfie camera. It takes fantastic photos, and the editing suite is extremely powerful. It’s versatile and inspiring to use. The same goes for the software, which is slickly designed and super smooth, all powered by the latest Tensor G2 processor.

The battery lasts for a couple of days if you aren’t a hardcore gamer, plus there’s wireless charging for convenience. The screen has a 90Hz refresh rate and niceties like HDR10+ certification, a fast fingerprint sensor, and a pretty design too. You pay a little more for the Pixel 7 than you will the Pixel 6a or Galaxy A53, but it has more utility and ability. If you can stretch to it, the Pixel 7 is worth it.

That said, we have noticed there is some variation between models that leads to a different, and often a more negative experience. It’s worth bearing in mind and brushing up on Google’s return policy before buying.

Google Pixel 7

Google Pixel 7

Best premium cheap phone

Frequently Asked Questions

Where do I buy cheap phones?

You can always find bargains at online retailers, but be careful to do your research and order the model number you need. In particular, check that the model you are buying supports the bands your carrier operates on. The major carriers sometimes run good promotions, but if you find a phone you like in-store it’s worth doing a quick search online to see if you can find it for less. You’ll often find cheaper options at MVNOs (Mobile Virtual Network Operators) and we have a list of the best MVNOs to check out.

Who has cheap phone plans?

There are lots of different cell phone plans out there, so take your time and do some research before picking a plan. We have a breakdown of the best cell phone plans to help you get started. If you go for a family plan, then you can often secure good deals on additional lines. Consider the coverage in your area before deciding on a carrier.

How do you get a new phone for cheap?

The most obvious way to score a bargain is to buy second-hand. If that appeals to you, then we have a guide on how to buy used smartphones that you’ll want to read. You may also consider online retailers, just make sure that you check the model of the phone you are buying supports the bands your carrier operates on.

Should you buy a cheap phone or wait for last year’s flagship to get cheaper?

Flagships have been climbing in price recently, but if you’re willing to wait and look at flagship phones from a year or two ago, then you can get them much cheaper. Almost all Android phone manufacturers offer discounts on older flagships and those discounts get deeper the older the phone gets. On the other hand, the general quality of budget phones has improved greatly in recent years and phone design moves very quickly, so a midrange device today will likely match a two-year-old flagship on performance and may boast a more modern design.

How we test

We’re fanatical about our phones here at Digital Trends. Every phone we test serves as our main device for at least a week, often longer, so we can get a real feel for what life would be like living with it. We read on them, game on them, shoot videos and photos, navigate, organize, and occasionally even make calls. Every facet is explored, every manufacturer’s claim is challenged, and we’re careful to take the intended audience and price tag into account when judgment time comes.

Debates on the best phones in different categories are a regular occurrence and no one on the mobile team is shy about sharing their opinion. When we find flaws, we tell like it is. Ultimately, we’ll never recommend any phone that we wouldn’t be happy using ourselves.

Editors’ Recommendations