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Best cheap phones in the US 2021: our top picks for every budget

Best cheap phone
(Image credit: Motorola, Samsung, Google)

Deciding on the absolute best cheap phone can be a challenge since there's more to consider than comparing sticker prices. Some of the best cheap smartphones are actually older higher-tier models that have seen heavy discounts since they've come out, while some brand-new phones offer incredible value and this year's latest features.

Of course, price can be relative while shopping for the best cheap phone: one person's 'cheap' may not be the same as another's 'affordable.' With flagship phone pricetags from Apple and Samsung skyrocketing above $1,000, some folks may find anything under $600 cheap. But those with tighter budgets could be looking below $400 or even sub-$200 for a handset, and we've got recommendations for those levels, too.  

With our list, nobody gets left out when it comes to great cheap smartphones. Older flagship handsets from Samsung and Apple come in at prices that thrifty shoppers can afford. New phones from OnePlus, Motorola, and others that might have fallen off your radar sport the latest tech in affordable packages while also offering new OS compatibility.

We've assembled a ranked list of the best phones under $600, $500, $400, $300 and $200. No matter your budget, we're recommending a smartphone for you based on these price tiers and general availability – there's no use recommending a phone if it's a pain to find, or doesn't get OS updates anymore. These value phones are frequently unlocked, contract-free, and SIM-free, making them even easier to pick up and try out. 

Best cheap phones at a glance

Under $600

Samsung Galaxy S10e

(Image credit: Samsung)

Samsung Galaxy S10e

A flagship lite gets a new value proposition

Specifications
Weight: 150g
Dimensions: 142.2 x 69.9 x 7.9mm
OS: Android 10
Screen size: 5.8-inch
Resolution: 1440 x 2960
CPU: Snapdragon 845 / Exynos 9810
RAM: 6GB / 8GB
Storage: 128GB/256GB
Battery: 3,100mAh
Rear camera: 12MP f/1.5-2.4 + 16MP
Front camera: 10MP
Reasons to buy
+Fantastic main + ultrawide cameras+Great specs
Reasons to avoid
-No in-screen fingerprint sensor-No telephoto camera

The Samsung Galaxy S10e is an affordable sibling of the Galaxy S10 and has fewer features to shave off cost. What does the S10e miss out on? Mainly, a telephoto lens, a higher-resolution display, and an in-screen fingerprint sensor.

But for most users, a Full HD+ (2280 x 1080) screen will work just fine, and the smaller 5.8-inch display means this phone fits more comfortably in hand. The side-mounted physical fingerprint sensor-and-lock-button is large and generally more accurate than in-screen ones, anyway. 

You may not miss the rear telephoto, either, given how many use cases are covered by the main and ultra-wide cameras. With wireless charging (and reverse wireless charging), the S10e still has most of the top flagship features anyway.

The S10e had its price dropped to $599, but you can find it for $549 or even cheaper at certain retailers. If you want a larger affordable Samsung flagship, try the Samsung Galaxy S10 Lite with its 6.7-inch display – but it might not be as available or as cheap as the S10e.  

Read our full Samsung Galaxy S10e review

Under $500

Google Pixel 4a 5G

(Image credit: Google)

Google Pixel 4a 5G

Flagship design and performance at a discount

Specifications
Weight: 168g
Dimensions: 153.9 x 74 x 8.2 mm
OS: Android 11
Screen size: 6.2-inch
Resolution: 1080 x 2340
Chipset: Snapdragon 765G
RAM: 6GB
Storage: 128GB
Battery: 3,885mAh
Rear camera: 12.2MP +16MP lenses
Front camera: 8MP
Supported Networks: GSM + CDMA networks
Reasons to buy
+Great specs for cost+Good camera software
Reasons to avoid
-No expandable storage-No telephoto lens

The Google Pixel 4a 5G is an interesting phone – a mid-year update on the Google Pixel 4a that boosts its specs nearly to the level of the flagship Google Pixel 5 that it was released alongside. But at a $200 cheaper launch price, the Pixel 4a 5G is a great value.

The Pixel 4a 5G packs the same Snapdragon 765G chipset, dual rear cameras (12.2MP main + 16MP ultra-wide), and roughly the same 6.2-inch Full HD Plus (1080 x 2340) OLED display as well as a respectable 3,885mAh battery. And, of course, a 3.5mm headphone jack. 

Our reviewer found the 6GB of RAM to perform a bit worse than the 8GB found in the Pixel 5 leading to some software hitches, and the polycarbonate frame of the Pixel 4a 5G feels a bit cheaper than the metal body of its pricier sibling. 

But for a speedy-enough phone that takes essentially the same photos as the more expensive  Pixel 5, the Pixel 4a 5G is a great pick at this price point, and that photographic capability puts it above other mid-range phones in the sub-$500 tier.

Read our full Google Pixel 4a 5G review

Under $400

iPhone SE

(Image credit: Apple)

iPhone SE 2020

The newest cheap iPhone

Specifications
Weight: 148g
Dimensions: 138.4 x 67.3 x 7.3mm
OS: iOS 13
Screen size: 4.7-inch
Resolution: 750 x 1334
CPU: A13 Bionic
RAM: 3GB
Storage: 64/128/256GB
Battery: 1,821mAh
Rear camera: 12MP
Front camera: 7MP
Reasons to buy
+A11 Bionic still powerful+Camera is snappy and clear
Reasons to avoid
-Dated design-Small screen

Apple fans have been clamoring for a new iPhone SE for years, and they both did and didn't get what they wanted. The new iPhone SE is larger than its predecessor – sorry, small phone fans – and retains pretty much everything from the iPhone 8... except for the powerful A13 Bionic chipset. 

That's the same chipset powering the top-of-the-line iPhone 11, meaning you're getting nearly the same power (with a bit less RAM) as Apple's top-of-the-line handsets. That means the iPhone SE 2020 isn't just fast, it will be compatible with more iOS versions beyond iOS 13 than the iPhone 8 or iPhone XS line. If that's what you're looking for, you won't mind the large bezels and single front and rear cameras that have essentially been inherited all the way back from the iPhone 6.

The rest of its specs aren't too shabby, with a 12MP rear camera, 7MP front-facing camera, 2GB of RAM and a choice of 64GB, 128GB, or 256GB of storage. While the 1,821mAh battery isn't huge compared to flagships, it can change wirelessly. The iPhone SE 2020 retails for $399.

Read our full iPhone SE 2020 review

Under $300

Moto G Power (2020)

(Image credit: Motorola)

Moto G Power (2020)

A Moto G8 with a bigger helping of battery

Specifications
Weight: 197g
Dimensions: 156 x 75.8 x 9.6 mm
OS: Android 10
Screen size: 6.4-inch
Resolution: 1080 x 2300
CPU: Snapdragon 665
RAM: 4 GB
Storage: 64 GB
Battery: 5,000mAh
Rear camera: 16MP f/1.7
: 8MP f/2.2 (telephoto)
: 8MP f/2.2 (ultrawide)
: 2MP f/2.2 (macro)
Front camera: 16MP f/2.2
Reasons to buy
+Good specs for the price+Long-lasting battery
Reasons to avoid
-Hefty-Plastic back

The Moto G Power (known as the Moto G8 Power outside the US) isn't just a battery-boosted version of a good budget phone – it's a considerable upgrade on last year's model that includes an admirable number of perks you'd normally see on flagships.

The first are the quad cameras on the back – a 16MP main shooter, 8MP telephoto with 2x optical zoom, 8MP ultrawide lens with 118-degree field-of-view, and finally, a 2MP macro lens. Plus, 4K 30fps video. It's an impressive suite topped by a 16MP front-facing camera in a punch-hole, adding to the flagship-esque looks.

The rest of the phone isn't too shabby, either. The Snapdragon 665 chipset is an upgrade along with the 4GB of RAM, and the 6.4-inch display is slightly larger than its predecessor – and sharper, too, with a Full HD+ (2300 x 1080) resolution. It offers good performance and sharp looks for a budget phone.  

Read our full Moto G Power review

Under $200

Moto G Fast

(Image credit: Motorola)

Moto G Fast

This year's affordable Moto G-series phone

Specifications
Weight: 189g
Dimensions: 161.9 x 75.7 x 9mm
OS: Android 10
Screen size: 6.4-inch
Resolution: 720 x 1512
CPU: Snapdragon 665
RAM: 3 GB
Storage: 32 GB
Battery: 4,000mAh
Rear camera: 16MP f/1.7
: 2MP (macro)
: 8MP (ultra-wide)
Front camera: 8MP f/2.2
Reasons to buy
+Impressive camera suite+Runs Android 10
Reasons to avoid
-Unremarkable display-Low base storage

If you want one of the latest Moto G-series phones but need to go for an even lower price, the Moto G Fast is a compelling option. It still has the Snapdragon 665 chipset powering the more expensive Moto G-series models, but it comes at a price well below the others. Its 3GB of RAM is nothing special, though, and its baseline 32GB of storage is extremely low.

Still, at a budget price, you're getting a screen that looks fairly modern with a punch-hole in the corner, which looks suitably modern. Even if the resolution is only HD, the 6.4-inch display is pretty large.

Beyond that, you get a fingerprint scanner, a headphone jack, and USB-C for charging, though you'll have to buy a Motorola Turbo Charger yourself.

Editor's note: We haven't fully reviewed the Moto G Fast, but it's almost identical to the Moto G8 that we have reviewed and we really liked. The Moto G fast is the US equivalent of this phone, but it has slightly less RAM, half as much storage and it doesn't feature laser autofocus like the Moto G8 does.

Read our full Moto G8 review

Matt Swider and Mark Knapp also contributed to this list