Which is the best budget phone you can buy this year?
If you’re comfortable dropping £1000 on a top-of-the-line smartphone, go right ahead. There are plenty of companies out there with suitably pricey devices, waiting to take your money.
However, if you’re in the market for something that delivers on its promises but won’t break the bank, this roundup of the best cheap phones you can buy right now, is worth a look.
With a drop in the number of people upgrading their phones as frequently, it’s the more affordable market where competition is becoming the most fierce and as such, where you might be able to get more for your money.
Save for a couple of special cases, practically all of the recommendations in this lineup come in comfortably under the £350 mark.
What constitutes the ‘best’ affordable handset could be tied to a phone’s camera, battery life, performance or any number of factors. We’re confident this list has something to cater to your needs and, more just as importantly, your budget.
Can I trust brands I don’t recognise?
The UK has seen an influx of new manufacturers entering into the phone market of late, with Chinese giants Xiaomi and Oppo both joining the fray within the last year alone.
Whether you know the brand or not, don’t worry. Each handset in this roundup has been put through our full review process, so if it’s in this list, it’s been deemed a worthwhile purchase based on the judgement of our experienced mobile team. We talk more about this below.
What about Huawei and Honor phones?
Due to the recent retraction of Huawei’s Google Play Services license, future Huawei and Honor phones won’t be able to access Google Play Services and as a result many Android apps, including YouTube and Gmail. Both Huawei and Google have confirmed Huawei and Honor phones, like the ones in this round-up, will continue to retain access to updates for the time being.
Select devices are also confirmed to still be on track to receive the next major release of Android, Android Q.
Until we know more about the situation we’re leaving the scores on all our Huawei reviews and this article unchanged, however, as the situation progresses we’ll revisit this.
Is it best to buy phones from carriers/networks or elsewhere?
It all depends on what you’re after. Buying from carriers usually presents you with the opportunity to pair your phone with a competitive contract. If you’re looking to buy a handset SIM-free it’s always safest to buy direct from the company or a certified retailer.
Do any of these phones support 5G?
With 5G in its infancy, so far the technology remains reserved for specialised models of top tier phones, like the OnePlus 7 Pro 5G and Samsung Galaxy S10 5G. At the time of writing, the most affordable phone boasting 5G right now is the Xiaomi Mi Mix 3 5G, which is a Vodafone UK exclusive, priced at £49 upfront, plus £54 a month for 24 months.
5G won’t trickle down to the affordable smartphone market until the technology gains mainstream adoption and appeal, so don’t expect anything 5G at budget prices right now.
How we select the best budget smartphones
But before we dive into our top picks, we thought it would be best to explain how we came to selecting them. It all comes down to practice. We used each of the smartphones as our main handset for a week, moving all of our data across.
Dedicating all of our time to the device means we can see how it fares in the real world. We’re able to get an accurate reading of how long they last on a single charge, how much strain you can put on the processor before it starts to break a sweat, and how well the camera performs in a range of conditions and set-ups. You can find out how we test phones here or click on each review link below for the full detail on each.
So now you know how we select the best budget smartphones, let’s take a look at our top picks.
1. Xiaomi Redmi Note 7
Big camera, small price
- Impressive performance
- Long-lasting battery
- Great screen
- Mono speaker
- Busy interface
- No NFC
If you want a killer camera and your budget is particularly tight, the Redmi Note 7 is astounding value for money. The phone is weighed down a touch by Xiaomi’s own MIUI 10 software but beyond that, this is an impressively well-rounded phone.
The star feature is its 48-megapixel primary camera (which comes supported by a 5-megapixel depth module) – it’s the same sensor as you’d find in everything from the Motorola One Vision to the OnePlus 7 Pro and while there’s no optical image stabilisation (OIS) to speak of here, as on more expensive handsets, it’s a superb snapper setup all the same.
The Redmi’s extended Full HD+ IPS screen doesn’t disappoint either, offering great colour reproduction, good viewing angles and decent legibility outdoors, not always a certainty with more budget-friendly phones.
- Read our Redmi Note 7 review
2. Moto G7 Plus
The best all-rounder for under £300
- Good cameras, front and back
- Solid value
- Classy hardware design
- Deep notch
- Dynamic range and night shooting are not best-in-class
The Moto G7 Plus is the top dog in Motorola’s 2019 G-series lineup and is currently the best phone you’ll get for under £300.
For your money, you get a swish mixed metal and glass phone with a teardrop notch that looks and feels more expensive than most competing handsets this price.
Under-the-hood it has surprisingly good specs. The biggest highlight is the upgraded camera. The G7 Plus features dual rear sensor setup that combines a 16-megapixel main sensor with a 5-megapixel depth sensor.
With an improved f/1.7 aperture, larger 1.22µm pixel rate and OIS, on paper, this makes the G7 Plus’ rear snapper one of the best you’ll find on an affordable phone.
Other key specs include wonderfully fast Turbo Charging, a near untouched version of Android 9.0 and nippy Snapdragon 636 CPU that keeps things running smoothly.
- Read our Moto G7 Plus review
3. Xiaomi Mi 9
A true flagship for half the price
- Versatile camera
- Stunning value
- Fantastic performance
- Excellent screen
- No IP rating
Normally, this list is comprised of phones under £350. We feel that’s a fair price and a value we’re happy to call ‘budget’. However, in the case of the Xiaomi Mi 9, we simply had to include it here as it’s such good value for money.
For the £499 price, you get a phone that would normally cost double that. Here you’ve got the latest Snapdragon 855 chipset, a 6.4-inch OLED display, three cameras including a 48-megapixel main sensor and fast wireless charging. You don’t get those kinds of specs with any other phone at this price.
Sure, there’s no water resistance and it’s packing in a flat screen, but the next best devices are at least £150 more expensive and up.
- Read our Xiaomi Mi 9 review
4. OnePlus 7
Pro performance for less
- Oxygen OS user experience
- Top-notch performance
- Great battery life
- Lacks the Pro’s camera versatility
- No wireless charging
- No water resistance
In the same vein as the Mi 9, OnePlus’ latest smartphone, the OnePlus 7, offers a similar amount of bang for your buck, albeit without some of the 9’s more advanced features. The OnePlus is really worth looking at against its launch sibling and beefier brother, the OnePlus 7 Pro. There’s a £150 price difference between the base model of each so it’s important to understand what the standard 7 losses and retains.
For starters, there’s a more modest 48-megapixel rear camera, accompanied by a 5-megapixel depth sensor, there’s slower 20W Fast Charging in place of the Pro’s 30W Warp Charge tech and the screen and design are much closer in nature to last year’s OnePlus 6T than the 7 Pro.
Despite all of this, however, it is still a powerful and worthwhile handset for 2019, with the latest Snapdragon 855, up to 8GB of RAM, solid battery life and OnePlus’ tried and tested Oxygen OS user experience.
- Read our OnePlus 7 review
5. Moto G7 Power
Battery life for days
- Stunning battery life
- Robust performance
- Nice look and feel
- Superb value
- Average camera
- Muffled voice calls
The Moto G7 Power represents incredible value for money. For £179 you’re getting a phone with one the longest-lasting batteries we’ve ever reviewed, along with a nice design and performance that won’t have you hankering for more oomph.
On the negative side of things, call quality is so-so and the camera is weak – so if you’re on a tight budget and you’d rather have a phone with a standout camera than a Herculean battery, you should check out the aforementioned Moto G7 Plus instead. At £269, it’s more expensive but still excellent value for under £300.
- Read our Moto G7 Power review
6. Honor 10 Lite
A lot of phone for under £200
- Attractive design for the price
- Decent battery life
- Included case
- Feature rich
- Heavy skinned software missing key features
- Prone to fingerprints
- Plastic build
If you’re looking for a capable phone that isn’t part of the Motorola family, Honor’s handsets would be our first port of call. The Honor 10 2018 flagship is a superb phone in its own right that can be had for under £400, but for half the price the Honor 10 Lite is also worth considering.
Boasting the latest version of Android Pie, topped with Honor’s own Emotion UI 9 overlay, the 10 Lite’s user experience is feature-packed, offering tons in the way of customisation, as well as AI-enhanced premium features like integrated retail image search through the phone’s HiVision tool; there’s even a headphone jack which helps grant the phone FM radio functionality.
As for those rear cameras, the dual 13/2-megapixel pairing takes usable shots in most conditions, with AI scene recognition for automated settings adjustment built in, plus there’s a dedicated Portrait mode, an impressive night mode and a rich suite of beauty tools for selfie lovers who decide to make use of the impressively crisp 24-megapixel front-facing camera.
- Read our Honor 10 Lite review
7. Huawei P Smart 2019
A capable, affordable phone in early 2019
- Robust camera experience
- Feature-rich software
- Poor earpiece speaker placement
- Fingerprint-prone plastic build
- microUSB is now dated
As the name implies, Huawei has revived its youth-centric P Smart series for 2019. Like the Honor 10 Lite, which launched just ahead of it, it boasts a Kirin 710 processor with AI smarts, a dual 13/2-megapixel primary camera with depth-sensing powers, a large 3400mAh battery with fast charging and an impressively low price tag of just £199.
Its “ceramic-like” finish is undoubtedly eye-catching if a little cheap to the touch, the latest Android software comes equipped with an impressive set of additional features, courtesy of Huawei, and the cameras boast a surprising amount of functionality, not to mention they’re capable of taking usable shots in low light. No mean feat for an affordable phone.
- Read our Huawei P Smart 2019 review
8. Moto E5 Plus
Cheap with great battery life
- Fantastic battery life
- Good screen
- Comes with a case
- Moto G6 Play feels faster
- Plastic design
This list is full of Moto phones but that’s because the company continually churns out excellent devices at impressive prices.
The Moto E5 Plus isn’t quite as good as the G-series, however, it still shows you can get a great phone for less than £150.
Battery life is king here. The 5000mAh cell left us with 48 percent at the end of the working day – that’s seriously impressive. Performance is decent too, as is the large 5.99-inch display and clean version of Android 8.0.
Our only real quibbles are that the £149.99 price is very close to the G6, plus it’s laden with a slightly plasticky body.
- Read our Moto E5 Plus review
9. Xiaomi Mi A2
Good performer but hard to find
- Pure Android
- Dual cameras
- Strong performance for the price
- Good performance
- Missing NFC
- Limited availability
The Xiaomi Mi A2 is one of Chinese smartphone manufacturer Xiaomi’s latest budget handset, featuring a 5.99-inch IPS screen, a Snapdragon 660 CPU and 4GB of RAM, in addition to a 12-megapixel/20-megapixel dual-camera setup and 64GB of expandable (once again, via microSD) internal storage.
The software is great too, as it’s got a very clean version of Android with very few added extras in the form of Android One.
- Read our Xiaomi Mi A2 review
10. Pocophone F1
- Excellent value for money
- Superb performance
- Fantastic battery life
- Decent cameras
- MIUI for Poco will take some getting used to
- Thick bezels
- Plastic build
- No NFC
The first phone from Xiaomi-affiliated startup Pocophone comes out the gate strutting. The company’s debut device, the Pocophone F1, has pulled the same trick as the original OnePlus One and 2018’s Honor Play.
An impressively crisp 6.12-inch Full HD+ screen, the same primary 12-megapixel camera as Xiaomi’s 2018 flagship, a huge 4000mAh battery, good for up to two days of use per charge and Qualcomm’s beefy Snapdragon 845 processor, backed up either 6GB or 8GB of RAM; this thing is feature-packed and capable enough to tango with some of the most powerful handsets from the last year, if raw performance is your metric of choice.
The best bit? While it’s usually already competitively priced at around £330, it’s often available at a discount – turning a great deal into a superb one.
- Read our Pocophone F1 review
Still not sure? Check out our following guides.