Aren’t modern smartphones excellent? It’s like having a mini-supercomputer in your pocket compared to the bulky handsets of old. Technology, on the whole, has been getting better every year and – crucially – much cheaper, too. You no longer need to hand over wallet-wilting sums of cash for your annual upgrade. Move your gaze away from those usual smartphone flagship big-hitters and you’ll find yourself a fantastic bargain, as there are some cracking budget smartphones to be found.
Yes, headline-grabbing flagships such as the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra and the iPhone 11 Pro are wonderful, but you no longer have to spend top dollar for a superb smartphone experience. Want to know more? Well, that’s where we come in. These are the very best budget smartphones you can buy.
Every year, we put hundreds of smartphones to the test. That means we can definitively tell you which budget smartphone is perfect for you. Take a look below and you’ll spot our regularly curated list of the best budget smartphones you can buy, as well as a helpful budget smartphone buying guide.
How to choose the best budget smartphone for you
Picking the perfect budget phone isn’t easy and there are all sorts of factors to consider when making your purchase. Before you head to the checkout, you’ll want to make sure you have all the bases covered. To make your decision a bit easier, we’ve highlighted the main criteria you need to look out for.
Should I buy a phone on contract or SIM-free?
Budget smartphones are, as you’d expect, cheaper to buy outright than other handsets, with prices starting at around $200 in some cases. As a result, if you have the cash, we recommend you buy one SIM-free. You can then find the right SIM-only deal from any network and sell your phone when you want to upgrade. If you don’t have the cash, you’ll need to go for a contract deal, but these don’t tend to be great value for budget phones as you end up spending much more by the time your contract ends.
Which smartphone operating system do I need?
With budget phones, there isn’t much choice when it comes to mobile operating systems. Bar one exception, every budget smartphone runs Google’s OS, Android. Rest assured, though: Android is easy to use, whether you’re a first-time user or mobile veteran. Just check which Android version the phone is running as older versions may no longer be supported with regular security updates and lack essential features.
If iOS is more your thing, you only have one choice. Apple’s iPhone 6s might begin to be showing its age, but it’s still on sale and remains an excellent budget Apple device. Generally speaking, iOS offers a far more streamlined experience, with apps appearing first on Apple’s storefront, but lacks the customisability of Android.
What should I look for in a smartphone display?
While flagship phones are fitted with the best, biggest and highest resolution screens, you can still find budget smartphones with high-quality displays. Cheap handsets usually have a minimum screen resolution of 1280 x 720, but some slightly more expensive alternatives offer Full HD (1920 x 1080) resolution displays for sharper viewing.
Nearly all of the budget smartphones we recommend use LCD panel technology, which is more than good enough. However, we’re starting to see AMOLED displays crop up at the lower end of the scale as well, which produce even better colours and deeper blacks. Read our full reviews if you want to know how good a phone’s screen is.
Battery life and performance
Budget phones aren’t equipped with top-end internals. But that’s not to say their performance is bad – far from it as we’re starting to see reasonably high clock speed chips make an appearance in handsets at the bottom end of the spectrum. To get an idea of what to expect from a phone’s performance, look at the clock speed of the chip (measured in GHz) and how much RAM is inside (anything more than 4GB will suffice).
Battery life is crucial and each phone’s stamina is different. When considering your next budget phone, keep an eye out on the phone’s battery capacity (in mAh) – the higher the number, the longer you can expect the battery to last on a single charge. If you’re stuck, we’ve rounded up the longest-lasting phones in one place.
How much storage do I need?
It’s amazing how much storage you can eat through on a phone with apps, games and images. You’ll want at least 16GB of onboard storage and look out for phones with a microSD card slot, as you can cheaply add more space when your internal storage eventually fills up.
Best budget smartphones to buy in 2021
Xiaomi Redmi Note 9: The best budget phone in 2020
Price: $239| Buy now from Kogan
Xiaomi hit a rich vein of form with the first few of its budget handsets to reach Australian shores, and its newest smartphone is no different. The Xiaomi Redmi Note 9 is far, far better than it has any right to be for a phone that costs less than $250.
Yes, the phone we’d recommend above all other wallet-friendly options on the market is the Xiaomi Redmi Note 9. Xiaomi’s latest budget stunner packs a MediaTek Helio G85 processor with a choice of 3GB or 4GB of RAM, 64GB or 128GB of internal storage and a beefy 5,020mAh battery. All of this is packed into a smart-looking 6.53in frame with no fewer than four cameras on the back – including a macro lens and an impressive 48-megapixel camera.
You might think to see these sorts of high-level specs in a flagship phone, so it’s a proper treat to see these features in a phone that costs less than $250. The Xiaomi Redmi Note 9 is the very definition of a budget smartphone – setting the benchmark for future releases – and at this price, there’s simply nothing better.
Key specs – Processor: Octa-core 2GHz MediaTek Helio G85; Display: 6.53″ 2340 x 1080; Storage: 64GB or 128GB; Camera: 48-megapixel, 8-megapixel (wide), 2-megapixel (macro), 2-megapixel (depth); Operating system: Android 10; Weight: 199g
Nokia 1.3: The cheapest of the best budget phones
Price: $127 l Buy now from Kogan
A sub-$150 smartphone used to bring about negative connotations, but the Nokia 1.3 is far better than its bargain price suggests. Running a specially tweaked version of Android that caters to low-powered devices, the Nokia 1.3 exceeds all expectations for a phone so cheap. Despite the comparatively weak hardware (it only has 1GB of RAM and 16GB of storage), it runs surprisingly well, has a bright IPS display and has a camera that isn’t half bad for the price.
Its sturdy build materials and compact design should help it last the test of time, too, and the replaceable battery is great for future-proofing. It may be lacking when it comes to raw performance, and there are far better alternatives if your buying budget can stretch beyond $150, but when it comes down to sheer affordability, you can’t do much better than the Nokia 1.3.
Key specs – Processor: Quad-core 1.3GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 215; Display: 5.7″ 1520 x 720; Storage: 16GB; Camera: 8-megapixel; Operating system: Android 10 Go; Weight: 155g
Samsung Galaxy M31: Long battery life
Price: $399 l Buy now from Kogan
Samsung’s well-priced Galaxy M31 is the very best when it comes to battery life. With a gigantic 6000mAh battery, the Galaxy M31 outperformed every single phone we’ve ever tested, lasting over 30 hours in our video playback test. There’s simply nothing else quite like it at the moment, so if battery life is at the top of your smartphone-buying agenda, then there’s no need to look elsewhere.
If it isn’t, then there’s still a whole lot to love about the Galaxy M31. It has an excellent screen, decent performance and a quadruple-camera setup (with a massive 64-megapixel sensor) that’s among the very best for the price. The only thing we didn’t like is its rather plain design, but this can be excused when you consider everything else it has going for it – even more so if you decide to pop it in a case.
Key specs – Processor: Octa-core 2.3GHz Samsung Exynos 9611; Display: 6.4″ 2340 x 1080; Storage: 64GB; Camera: 64-megapixel, 8-megapixel (wide), 5-megapixel (macro), 5-megapixel (depth); Operating system: Android 10; Weight: 191g
Motorola Moto G9 Play: The all-rounder
Price: $298 | Buy now from Kogan
Motorola has outdone itself yet again with the Moto G9 Play. Strangely enough, though, the cheapest of Moto’s newest budget phones is essentially the regular Moto G9 for Europe, with Motorola simply slapping the ‘Play’ title on top for good measure.
Regardless of the confusing name change, there’s nothing bewildering about the Moto G9 Play’s cutthroat value proposition. With cuts in just the right places, the Moto G9 Play hits the nail on the head in a number of areas, with respectable performance, increase battery life over the Moto G8 and the return of NFC for contactless card payments.
The only reason why the Moto G9 Play isn’t higher on this list is that it doesn’t offer as many notable improvements over the Moto G8 as we’d have liked. Still, for the price (it’s slightly cheaper than the Moto G8), the Moto G9 Play is a step up in value terms and remains a standout choice in the budget category.
Key specs – Processor: Octa-core 2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 662; Display: 6.5″ 1600 x 720; Storage: 64GB; Camera: 48-megapixel, 2-megapixel (macro), 2-megapixel (depth); Operating system: Android 10; Weight: 200g
Samsung Galaxy A21s: Samsung’s best-value phone
Price: $296 l Buy now from Kogan
Samsung’s smartphone offering doesn’t begin and end with the pricey Galaxy S line of handsets, and the savvy buyer can scoop us some well-made, affordable options for not much money. The Galaxy A21s is one such device, with an eye-catching design, massive 6.5″ screen and exceptionally long battery life.
If you aren’t keen to hand over flagship-sized sums for your latest phone upgrade, then the Galaxy A21s is a fashionable choice. What’s most impressive, for instance, is that the Galaxy A21s benefits from a total of four rear cameras, with a massive 48-megapixel sensor sitting among its photographic arsenal. Capturing detail-rich photos with plenty of vibrancy, the Galaxy A21s is a top-notch smartphone snapper for the price.
It may have some difficulty competing against budget hallmarks from rivals such as Motorola and Xiaomi, but where it counts the Galaxy A21s is a solid choice, excelling in most areas. If your buying budget simply can’t stretch above $300, then this is the phone to get.
Key specs – Processor: Octa-core 2GHz Samsung Exynos 850; Display: 6.5″ 1600 x 720; Storage: 32GB; Camera: 48-megapixel, 8-megapixel (wide), 2-megapixel (macro), 2-megapixel (depth); Operating system: Android 10; Weight: 192g
Apple iPhone 7: The cheapest iPhone
Price: From $599 | Buy now from Kogan
It might not be Apple’s most up-to-date iPhone, but the iPhone 7 is still a solid buy. If your smartphone buying budget can’t quite stretch to the new iPhone SE ($699), then the iPhone 7, despite launching in 2016, will still serve you well.
The iPhone 7’s build quality holds up in 2020, as does its lovely-looking 4.7″ Retina display. Likewise, the iPhone 7’s A10 Fusion processor, while no match for the iPhone 11 and its A13 Bionic chipset, is still more than capable with a variety of intensive tasks. The iPhone 7 also supports the newest version of Apple’s mobile operating system, iOS 14, if you were worried that you might be outdated on the software side of things.
Most importantly, however, is that unlike older generation iPhones, the iPhone 7 can still be purchased new, which means you don’t have to rely on third-party resellers and refurbished models. As such, if you want an Apple phone on a budget and aren’t fussed about it being slightly outdated, then the iPhone 7 is clearly your best bet.
Key specs – Processor: Quad-core 2.34GHz Apple A10 Fusion; Display: 4.7in 1,334 x 750; Storage: 32GB, 128GB; Camera: 12-megapixel; Operating system: iOS 14; Weight: 138g
Realme 6: The cheapest 90Hz display
Price: $469 | Buy now from Kogan
The Realme 6’s main attraction is its a smooth 90Hz 6.5″ display, a feature that until recently only flagship phones carrying price tags north of $1000 were capable of. This lends onscreen animations extra fluidity that other budget phones simply can’t match. CPU performance is on a par with the Motorola Moto G8 Plus as is battery life at 17hrs 30mins in our video rundown test and, for graphics performance, the Realme 6 beats pretty much all its rivals.
Couple that with a set of five cameras – including a 64-megapixel main shooter, an ultra-wide-angle, a macro and a black and white snapper – which feature alongside a 16-megapixel selfie camera and you have one hell of a good-value phone. The only significant thing missing is water resistance but not many budget phones have that. It’s a stunner.
Key specs – Processor: Octa-core 2.2GHz Mediatek Helio G90T (MT6785) ; Display: 6.5″ 2400 x 1080; Storage: 64GB; Camera: 64-megapixel, 8-megapixel (wide), 2-megapixel (macro), 2-megapixel (mono); Operating system: Android 9; Weight: 162g
Apple iPhone SE (2020): Top iPhone value
Price: $699 l Buy now from Kogan
The iPhone SE (2020) might be stretching the definition of a “budget” smartphone, but Apple’s idea of what constitutes as cheap isn’t exactly the same as everyone else’s. If you want a new iPhone – the iPhone 6s above is getting on a bit – then your best-value option is the iPhone SE.
Despite having the look and feel of a phone from days gone by, the iPhone SE is a formidable small-sized handset that benefits from Apple’s fastest-ever mobile chipset, the A13 Bionic. That’s the same processor found inside the iPhone 11, which costs more than double the price. The cheapest iPhone by quite a distance, the iPhone SE’s 12-megapixel camera is also absolutely exceptional. The only fly in the ointment is the short battery life, but if you are able to spend twice as much compared to other phones on this list, then the iPhone SE (2020) is well worth considering.
Key specs – Processor: Hexa-core 2.65GHz Apple A13 Bionic; Display: 4.7″ 1334 x 750; Storage: 64GB, 128GB, 512GB; Camera: 12-megapixel; Operating system: iOS 13; Weight: 148g