While handsets like the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, iPhone 12 and the Google Pixel 6 are stealing attention around the globe, there's a lot of intriguing (and cheap) stuff going on in the world of budget phones.
Sadly smartphone innovation isn't cheap – and most of it is reserved for high-end contract handsets. There is however such a thing as a good cheap smartphone, and ever so gently all those amazing features from the flagship devices are slowly trickling down to the budget phones.
That's why we have sorted through hundreds of inexpensive smartphones in order to rank the best options that you can buy unlocked without monthly fees and, importantly, without a two-year contract.
No, these aren't the best smartphones available in Australia, so you won't find any high-end flagships among them. However, it is a selection of our favourite budget smartphones. If you're looking to pick up a decent handset for not much cash, these are the top cheap phones your money can buy.
Best cheap phones in Australia 2021
While Samsung is a name that's synonymous with premium (meaning expensive) phones like the Galaxy S21 Ultra and Galaxy Z Fold 3, it may surprise you to know that the South Korean electronics giant also offers a number of affordable handsets for non-power users.
In this regard, the Galaxy A series of smartphones marks an entry point for those who want to see what Samsung's devices are all about, and the Galaxy A32 is smack dab in the middle of that line-up.
Affordable without being excessively cheap, the Galaxy A32 lets users experience a beautiful 6.4-inch AMOLED display with a 90Hz refresh rate, a great quad camera and decent specs without tripping into mid-range territory. Essentially, what you get with the A32 is a fully loaded budget phone.
You also get some premium-feeling features as part of the package, like an under-display fingerprint scanner and surprisingly huge 5,000mAh battery, which we were able to extend to three full days of usage in our global Samsung Galaxy A32 review.
That said, this is a budget handset, so there are some concessions that come along with the A32's low price. For starters, the phone's plastic body does reveal the phone's innate cheapness in the hand, something which can thankfully be remedied with the use of a phone case.
In terms of performance, the A32 does the job, but won't wow you with its speed, either, feeling a little sluggish when switching between apps. Still, it's very easy to recommend Samsung's Galaxy A32 to those looking for a phone under AU$500.
Intended as a successor to the Realme XT (previously placed at number one on this very list), the Realme 6 boasts some very premium new features along with an even more affordable price point, though its reduced cost has resulted in a slight downgrade in some areas.
Boasting Android 10 right out the box, the Realme 6 is a nice little performer, backed by an impressive 8GB of RAM – an amount of memory which few would've expected to find in a sub-AU$400 phone just a year or two ago.
As great as its tech specs are, the inclusion of a display with a 90Hz refresh rate is arguably the Realme 6's most standout feature. With the 90Hz mode switched on, scrolling on the Realme 6 becomes incredibly smooth.
Admittedly, while that faster refresh rate is beautiful, it does result in some impact on battery life. Thankfully, the Realme 6's battery is slightly larger than the one found on its predecessor, sporting a decently sized 4,300mAh battery.
Of course, gaming on the Realme 6 benefits the most from the faster screen, with more responsive gameplay on the whole. That said, the main trade-off is that the Realme 6 loses XT's brilliant AMOLED display, instead opting for a less vibrant IPS LCD screen.
In terms of security, Realme 6 offers a side-mounted fingerprint scanner – a welcome addition, even if it is a clear step-down from the in-display sensor featured on the XT. Users also have the option of using the device's less-secure face unlock functionality.
With many great premium-level features and a budget price, it's easy to recommend the Realme 6, especially if you're an avid mobile gamer who values a smooth gameplay experience.
Sporting impressive specs and a large, colourful display, Xiaomi's Redmi Note 8 Pro is definitely a good option for those who want great mobile gaming performance at an affordable price.
It's got a gaming-focused chipset in the Mediatek Helio G90T, offering exceptional performance on titles like Call of Duty: Mobile and PUBG. That's backed by a hefty amount of RAM, a huge battery and the inclusion of liquid cooling.
Looking at its specs on paper, the Xiaomi Redmi Note 8 Pro almost seems too good to be true. However, it is significantly let down by its MIUI software and an abundance of bloatware. Still, a bit of tinkering (and a lot of uninstalling) can significantly improve the phone's overall experience, making it a great option for the value-minded gamers out there.
Sporting Android 10 right out of the box, Realme C3 feels distinctly current and up-to-date for a low-cost smartphone. Along with a system-wide dark mode option and a full suite of gesture controls, the Realme C3 offers all the security and privacy features we've come to embrace in the latest version of Android – and all presented through the lens of Realme's colourful new UI.
Speaking of lenses, the Realme C3 sports a triple lens snapper on its rear which is capable of some decent, if not spectacular macro and bokeh-style photos. Of course, it would be unreasonable to expect flagship results from a AU$269 (RRP) handset. On the front of the device, you also get a 5MP selfie camera with AI-driven portrait and beauty features.
However, the Realme C3's real showstopper is its enormous 5,000mAh battery, which is comparable to many of the world's flagship phones. You can even share some of that extra juice with another handset via cable connection thanks to the inclusion of reverse charging functionality.
If there's one major downside to the Realme C3, it's that it sports an older Micro USB port for charging and data transfer, rather than the now standard USB Type-C port. That said, if you can overlook this stumble, you'll find the Realme C3 to be a terrific smartphone option for those trying not to break the bank.
The term "you get what you paid for" crops up fairly often in regards to cheap products, however, Motorola's new Moto G9 Play proves to be an exception, giving you even more value for money than you'd expect from its low price point.
The Moto G9 Play is able to boast a number of features that have been taken for granted in recent years, such as a super-fast, rear-mounted fingerprint scanner, a microSD card slot and a much-appreciated 3.5mm headphone jack.
Sporting a triple camera with a 48MP primary sensor on its rear, the Moto G9 Play is able to take decent, if unspectacular day time photos. That said, a new night mode that takes advantage of post-processing techniques is able to capture excellent images in relatively dark environments – an impressive feat for a budget smartphone.
Perhaps the Moto G9 Play's biggest selling point, however, is its massive 5,000mAh battery, which will keep the handset running for at least two full days of usage. Of course, in order to achieve this much battery life, concessions have been made, such as the decision to go with a relatively low-res 720p display.
Still, with its huge battery, decent triple camera, welcome features and low price point, the Moto G9 Play is well worth the asking price.
One of the best things about Motorola's Moto G series is that it always offers a number of low-cost options to choose from, allowing users to choose the right model for their needs – all without breaking the bank.
Compared to its slightly more expensive siblings, the Moto G8 Power Lite's main point of difference is in its immense battery life. You can thank the Power Lite's massive 5,000mAh battery for that, only with a lower resolution display that reduces power consumption by a significant margin.
That isn't to say that that the Moto G8 Power Lite's screen is bad, either. In fact, the handset's 720p IPS LCD display is still able to produce vibrant images at a decent brightness level – though don't expect excellent OLED-like contrast from this AU$249 phone.
As for its photo-taking capabilities, you get a triple camera array on the phone's rear, led by a 16MP primary sensor that takes nice snapshots. Additionally, you get dual 2MP macro and depth sensors, though don't expect great results from these two.
Although it runs on a fairly old MediaTek Helio P35 processor, the Moto G8 Power Lite offers surprisingly decent performance for day-to-day tasks, thanks in large part to its 4GB of RAM and stock Android 9 software.
If you're the type of user who longs for excellent battery life over the usual smartphone bells and whistles, the Moto G8 Power Lite is a good option at a fantastically affordable price point.
- Check out how these cheaper models compare to our overall top Aussie smartphone picks