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Best Cheap Phone of 2024: Most Value for the Money

Updated Feb. 13, 2024 2:30 a.m. PT

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Written by Mike Sorrentino

Our expert, award-winning staff selects the products we cover and rigorously researches and tests our top picks. If you buy through our links, we may get a commission. Reviews ethics statement

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Mike Sorrentino Senior Editor

Mike Sorrentino is a Senior Editor for Mobile, covering phones, texting apps and smartwatches -- obsessing about how we can make the most of them. Mike also keeps an eye out on the movie and toy industry, and outside of work enjoys biking and pizza making.

Expertise Phones, texting apps, iOS, Android, smartwatches, fitness trackers, mobile accessories, gaming phones, budget phones, toys, Star Wars, Marvel, Power Rangers, DC, mobile accessibility, iMessage, WhatsApp, Signal, RCS

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$160 at Samsung

samsung-galaxy-a03s-06

Low price, long update commitment

Samsung Galaxy A03S

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$429 at Apple

iPhone SE 2022

Most affordable iPhone

Apple iPhone SE (2022)

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The Pixel 6A (left) and the iPhone SE.

Patrick Holland/CNET

The best cheap phones on the market offer all the smartphone essentials without the hefty price tag of their flagship competitors, like the Galaxy S24 or the iPhone 15. In fact, $160 is the lowest price you'll find in our list of top picks. The more advanced models will run you $500 -- but that's still significantly cheaper than the superior models from Apple, Google and Samsung. If there is a specific budget you're adhering to, you can take a look at our rundowns of the best phones under $200 and the best phones under $500.

What is the best cheap phone?

The $349 Google Pixel 6A is our favorite best cheap phone. Google delivers all the big features that matter, like top-of-the-line cameras, a peppy processor and years' worth of software support. Google makes smart compromises to keep costs low -- most notably a display that looks dim under direct sunlight.
The Pixel 6A provides a lot for less. Sure, Google's Pixel 7A, priced at $499, is also a great value, but the Pixel 6A still takes crisp and colorful photos for its price. You also get the same eye-catching design and Pixel-specific software features, like Magic Eraser and Live Translate.

Best cheap phones of 2024

Pros

  • Great camera
  • Affordable price
  • Premium design for a middle-tier phone
  • Among the first to get new Android updates

Cons

  • Somewhat dim display
  • Not as many years of guaranteed Android updates as Samsung
  • Video quality isn't as good as still photos

Screen size 6.1 inches

Processor Google Tensor

Cameras 12.2-megapixel (wide), 12-megapixel (ultrawide), 8-megapixel (selfie)

Colors Chalk, charcoal, sage

The $349 Pixel 6A holds its value really well, even after Google's release of the $499 Pixel 7A. In her Pixel 6A review, CNET's Lisa Eadicicco called it the "best Android phone under $500," noting that it keeps the same Tensor chip as the $599 Pixel 6, and many of the 6's best features. Plus, the 6A is often discounted to $299, at which price it becomes an amazing phone for under $300, thanks to its excellent software support.

The phone is slightly smaller than the Pixel 6, featuring an 6.1-inch OLED display and a refresh rate of 60Hz. It also has a similar camera system as the Pixel 5A, which includes a 12.2-megapixel main camera and a 12-megapixel ultrawide camera. But the Tensor chip brings additional benefits you won't get with the Pixel 5A, such as Real Tone for more equitable skin tones, Face Unblur; Night Sight for low-light photography; and the Magic Eraser for removing unwanted elements from a photo.

Lisa Eadicicco/CNET

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Lisa Eadicicco/CNET

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Pros

  • 3GB of RAM helps phone multitask
  • Blue color option
  • Includes fingerprint sensor

Cons

  • Small onboard storage
  • Noticeable lag using the phone
  • Indoor photos are hit-or-miss

Screen size 6.5 inches

Processor Mediatek MT6765 Helio P35

Cameras 13-megapixel (wide), 2-megapixel (depth), 2-megapixel (macro), 5-megapixel (selfie)

Colors Black

Samsung's Galaxy A03S at $160 (£139, roughly AU$240) includes great features and could be a fit for someone in need of a cheap phone that can handle essential tasks. The phone's 6.5-inch screen, capped at 720p resolution, is great for reading news, watching videos and playing games. Despite some performance lag during our review, the phone is good at multitasking. But the tiny 32GB of storage space could fill up fast, so if you're considering this phone, you might want to expand the storage with a microSD card.

Samsung also plans to support this phone with at least four years of security updates, which in this price range is as good as it gets. On the software side, it's less clear how many Android versions are scheduled, but the phone initially ships with Android 11.

Michael Sorrentino/CNET

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Michael Sorrentino/CNET

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Pros

  • Affordable price
  • Home button and Touch ID FTW
  • Good battery life
  • Camera takes good photos and videos

Cons

  • Lacks night mode for photos
  • Screen could be brighter
  • Bezels above and below screen look dated
  • Selfie camera not on par with rear camera

Screen size 4.7 inches

Processor Apple A15 Bionic

Cameras 12-megapixel (wide), 7-megapixel (selfie)

Colors Starlight, midnight, red

Apple's new iPhone SE for 2022 is a mix of an older design with the latest smartphone features, including Apple's A15 Bionic chip and 5G support, for $429. It's also one of the few phones on the market that includes a smaller, 4.7-inch screen.

Its throwback design, which continues the general shape that Apple has used since 2014, could be what you love or hate about it. If you want a larger iPhone in this price range, you can also consider the $599 iPhone 12 for a bigger screen and Face ID.

Patrick Holland/CNET

Photo Gallery 1/1

Patrick Holland/CNET

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Pros

  • Big, vibrant screen
  • Expandable storage
  • Affordable price

Cons

  • Processor and camera performance lag behind cheaper Pixel 6A

Screen size 6.4 inches

Processor Exynos 1380

Cameras 50-megapixel (wide), 12-megapixel (ultrawide), 5-megapixel (macro), 32-megapixel (selfie)

Colors Awesome graphite, awesome violet

Even if you're considering the $800 Samsung Galaxy S24, you should take a look at the Samsung Galaxy A54 5G, since it might have all the features you want for less money. It comes in a variety of bright colors and includes a vibrant 6.4-inch display that runs at a 120Hz refresh rate. Its screen is also a little bigger than what's offered on Google's Pixel 6A and 7A.

While we still give the Pixel phones the edge due to their better photography, the Galaxy A54 includes Android 13 skinned with Samsung's One UI. That menu design also comes with Samsung-specific apps, like Samsung Health, that are also included in the S23 line. If you wear a Galaxy Watch, this phone also allows you to make use of health sensors, like the watch's ECG.

The Galaxy A54 5G also includes one feature you won't find in the S23 series: a microSD card slot for expandable storage.

Andrew Lanxon/CNET

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Andrew Lanxon/CNET

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Pros

  • Great camera
  • Same features as the Pixel 7 at a cheaper price
  • Attractive design
  • Gains wireless charging, face unlock and high refresh rate

Cons

  • Screen still looks dim outdoors
  • Higher price compared with Pixel 6A at launch
  • Only three generations of Android OS updates compared with Samsung's four-generation pledge

Screen size 6.1 inches

Processor Google Tensor G2

Cameras 64-megapixel (main), 13-megapixel (ultrawide), 13-megapixel (selfie)

Colors Charcoal, coral, sea, snow

Google's budget phone took a leap forward in 2023 with the Pixel 7A, which offers many of the same benefits as the Pixel 7 but at a cheaper price. Like the Pixel 7, the Pixel 7A runs on Google's Tensor G2 processor, meaning it has many of the same photo editing and language translation features as its pricier sibling. The Pixel 7A's 64-megapixel camera also takes excellent photos, which rival the Pixel 7's in quality. 

While we still like the Pixel 7, the Pixel 7A's lower price makes it a better deal for most people. Only opt for the Pixel 7 if you really want a slightly larger screen and are willing to pay the extra $100 for it. Otherwise, the main differences between the Pixel 7 and 7A come down to the 7s more durable build, slightly faster charging, and ability to wirelessly charge compatible accessories. The Pixel 7 also has a larger camera sensor, which is more sensitive to light, according to Google, but CNET's Lisa Eadicicco didn't notice much of a difference.

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Other phones to consider

At $600, the iPhone 13 isn't necessarily considered cheap. But compared to the iPhone 14, 15 and 15 Pro, it's much more affordable. In 2023, the iPhone 13 is still one of the best Apple phones you can buy. It has a 6.1-inch screen, great dual-rear cameras and an outstanding battery life. It's definitely worth a look if you can work it into your budget.

How we test phones

Every phone on this list has been thoroughly tested by CNET's expert reviews team. We use the phone, test the features, play games and take photos. We assess any marketing promises that a company makes about its phones. And if we find something we don't like, be it battery life or build quality, we tell you about it. 

We examine every aspect of a phone during testing:

  • Display
  • Design and feel
  • Processor performance
  • Battery life
  • Camera quality
  • Features

We test all the phone's cameras (both front and back) in a variety of conditions: from outdoors under sunlight to dimmer indoor locales and nighttime scenes (for any available night modes). We also compare our findings against similarly priced models. We have a series of real world battery tests to see how long a phone lasts under everyday use.

We take into account additional phone features like 5G, fingerprint and face readers, styluses, fast charging, foldable displays and other useful extras. We weigh all our experiences and testing against the price so you know whether a phone represents good value.

Read more: How we test phones

Factors to consider when buying a cheap phone

Try it before you buy it: It's one thing to ogle over a phone, but it's another to actually try it out in a store.

Decide on Android or iPhone: Do you have a lot of iPhone apps and Apple subscriptions? Stick with an iPhone. Likewise, if you've invested in loads of Android apps, you'll want to stay on that side of the fence. Otherwise, it's simple enough to switch platforms.

Pick the most important feature: Is it screen size? Camera quality? Battery life? This will help narrow down your choices.

Best cheap phones FAQs

Can you find cheap phones on sale?

Yes, many of the cheap phones included in this list are available at a discount during shopping events. For instance, Google's Pixel 6A received a $150 discount that temporarily brought its price down from $449 to $299. If you have a phone in mind but also have the flexibility to hold off for a shopping event like Black Friday, it may be worth it to wait for a price reduction.

Are cheap phones available unlocked?

Yes, many cheap phones are available unlocked by the manufacturer. This allows you to use the phone with nearly any wireless carrier by inserting your SIM card. If you want the flexibility to switch carriers, make sure you buy an unlocked model. 

Are cheap phones good for kids?

Buying a cheap phone could be a great option when shopping for a kid or teenager, but that doesn't mean the phone is customized to have a kid-friendly experience. Parents should still set up any necessary parental controls, restrictions or apps on an iPhone or Android to make sure it's appropriate for kids.

Watch this: Best Budget Phone Plans in 2022 (and the Fine Print)

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Source: cnet.com

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