Best budget phones in 2021

Not everybody is desperate for the latest and greatest bit of smartphone technology. Yes, you could spend your time camping outside of stores in a desperate bid for early adopter clout. Sure, you can get yourself tangled into a new phone contract every 12 months, paying over the odds for the latest in background-noise-within-a-month technology, in your never-ending crusade to remain at the cutting edge of cellular trends. But do you need to?

The best budget smartphones are nothing to snub. You no longer have to empty your bank account every time Tim Cook appears on stage touting his latest batch of app-based gimmicks. To help, we have compiled our list of what we consider the best budget smartphones, able to supply you with a rewarding experience for a fraction of the price. No camping required.

If you can’t resist the best of the best when it comes to your smartphone needs, then check out our pick of the best smartphones in 2020. Or if you have an idea of what you’re looking for and want to find it for the best price, take a look at our best phone deals.

What are the best budget smartphones?

If you’re looking for a smartphone packed with premium features at a budget price, the iPhone SE has everything you’re looking for. It looks great, feels great, and has the best overall performance due to its A13 Biotic chipset, found previously in the high-end iPhone 11 Pro.

If a great camera is essential, the Google Pixel 4a 5G has a camera fitting of a flagship smartphone. There are some great features packed into the phone that will take your snaps to the next level without any technical know-how, meaning you won’t need to do more than point and shoot to accomplish fantastic results.

The OnePlus Nord’s price-performance ratio makes it the best all-around budget smartphone you can find. Cramming in as much premium quality and performance as possible, all for a very modest budget price tag.

The best budget smartphonesGoogle Pixel 4a 5G iPhone SETCL 10 ProMoto G PowerSamsung Galaxy A71 5GMoto G StylusOnePlus Nord

(Image credit: Google)1. Google Pixel 4a 5G

Display: 6.2-inch FHD OLED (1080 x 2340) | CPU: Snapdragon 765G | RAM: 6GB | Storage: 128GB | Rear camera: 12.2MP wide (ƒ/1.7); 16MP ultrawide (ƒ/2.2) | Front camera: 8MP wide (ƒ/2.0)

Flagship tier camera

Colourful display

5G capable

Great value

Middling performance

For $499, the Pixel 4a follow-up, the Pixel 4a 5G adds… well, 5G support for a start. Other new additions include a second rear-facing ultrawide 16MP camera; a Snapdragon 765G CPU upgrade; an expanded 6.2-inch FHD display; and a slightly increased battery capacity.

The Pixel 4a 5G’s predecessor was lauded for its use of software and hardware to produce fantastic results from a single 12.2MP camera, and the 5G isn’t resting on its laurels, having further improved your ability to capture the moment. The newer model now features cameras identical to those found on the Pixel 5 with Night Sight, HDR+, and the ability to adjust lighting post-snap. This results in flagship-level photography from a device at a fraction of the price.

The Pixel 4a 5G — as hinted to in its wildly creative name — includes a built-in 5G modem, meaning you can take advantage of the network’s lightning-fast, roaming internet speeds wherever you find yourself in its coverage. This will be great for uploading pictures and videos you’ve taken, or enjoying Duo calls on the move.

(Image credit: Apple)2. iPhone SE

Display: 4.7-inch Retina IPS LCD (1334 x 750) | CPU: A13 Biotic | RAM: 3GB | Storage: 64GB/128GB/256GB | Rear camera: 12MP wide (ƒ/1.8) | Front camera: 7MP (ƒ/2.2)

A13 Biotic performance

Premium design

Great price-performance ratio

Wireless charging

Battery life could be better

Apple’s site claims they took the brains of the iPhone 11 Pro and placed it into the body of the iPhone SE. An impressive feat considering Apple sells this device for only $399.

The brains in question, Apple’s A13 Biotic chipset, give the SE an incredible price-to-performance ratio. It makes multitasking and mobile gaming a breeze on its bright and colourful 4.7-inch Retina display, even with just 3GB of RAM. It’s not the only premium feature that was transplanted over from other premium devices, with the SE able to use wireless charging and retaining the signature iPhone glass and metal design.

However, the SE’s camera is its downfall, at least on paper. We know the brains of the iPhone 11 Pro managed to make the jump to the SE, but the eyes didn’t. While the 12MP rear camera is fine, that’s about all it is. The SE’s powerful SoC and next-gen Smart HDR work in tandem to make the most of what’s on offer though, with portrait mode and intelligent relighting giving your pictures and videos a little extra pep in their step.

(Image credit: TCL)3. TCL 10 Pro

Display: 6.47-inch FHD OLED (2340×1080) | CPU: Snapdragon 675 | RAM: 6GB | Storage: 128GB | Rear camera: 64MP wide (ƒ/1.8), 16MP ultrawide (ƒ/2.4), 5MP macro (ƒ/2.2), 2MP low-light (ƒ1.8); 16MP ultrawide (ƒ/2.2) | Front camera: 24 MP wide (ƒ/2.0)

Great performance

Premium design

Decent OLED

Good battery life

Underperforming camera

Before sitting down to compile this list, I can’t say I’d heard much about TCL, but after looking into the TCL 10 Pro, I doubt budget buyers will be in the same boat for long. As first impressions go, the TCL goes all out with its large megapixel cameras, unique design, and great looking 6.47-inch OLED display. It looks like a smartphone that surely doesn’t belong in this budget category, but its $449.99 price tag isn’t a mistake. I checked.

However, as usual, reality takes a moment to remind us that all that glitters is not gold. The curved edges of the TCL’s OLED can lead to some unintentional touch registers, and the screen isn’t as bright as you’d expect it to be. Also, while the 10 Pro’s performance is reasonably fast with most apps, it reportedly struggles when it comes to 3D gaming.

While, at first glance, all those high-megapixel cameras seem impressive, when compared to the similarly priced Pixel 4a 5G or iPhone SE, it all comes down to quality over quantity. What the Pixel 4a 5G can do with a 12MP camera can outshine the TCL 10 Pro in almost every comparison I’ve seen thus far. It’s not to say that the TCL’s cameras are a dud, just that, for a similar price, you can get far better results.

(Image credit: Motorola)4. Moto G Power

Display: 6.4-inch LCD (2300×1080) | CPU: Snapdragon 665 | RAM: 4GB | Storage: 64GB | Rear camera: 16MP (ƒ/1.7), 8MP ultrawide (ƒ/2.2), 2MP macro (ƒ/2.2) | Front camera: 16MP wide (ƒ/2.0)

Incredible battery life

Very affordable

Bright LCD screen

Lacklustre colours

Lacking more stand-out features

Motorola’s primary selling point of the Moto G Power is its claimed 3-day battery life. Motorola even says that with one charge you’ll be able to stream 150 hours worth of music, and most battery tests I’ve come across manage to squeeze somewhere between 16 to 18 hours out of the Moto G Power’s 5,000 mAh battery with in-house testing.

The Moto G Power is priced at $249.99, and if you’re looking for a budget buy that you can rely on to hold a charge, very few smartphones come close to the same endurance on offer here, let alone budget smartphones.

While the battery is a crowning feature for this device, you may find that the rest of the Moto G Power’s offerings are not a standout affair. Its 6.4-inch LCD display is bright but doesn’t impress in terms of colour. The internal 64GB of storage is lower than most in the same price category, and the Snapdragon 665 CPU with 4GB of RAM isn’t exactly going to stand out as a powerhouse against the competition either. 

If you’re on the move a lot throughout the day or are a heavy smartphone user who’s tired of reaching for the charger every few hours, this is your battery solution. But, if you’re looking for the wow-factor in other areas also, there are other smartphones out there.

(Image credit: Samsung)5. Samsung Galaxy A71 5G

Display: 6.7-inch FHD OLED (2400×1080) | CPU: Snapdragon 765 | RAM: 8GB | Storage: 128GB | Rear camera: 64MP (ƒ/1.8), 12MP ultrawide (ƒ/2.2), 5MP macro (ƒ/2.4), 5MP depth (ƒ/2.2) | Front camera: 32MP (ƒ/2.2)

Solid performance

Above average battery life

5G compatible

No standout feature

Pricey for a budget smartphone

The Samsung Galaxy A71 5G is the jack-of-all-trades budget smartphone, flaunting speedy Snapdragon 765 performance paired with a generous 8GB of RAM; a bright, 6.7-inch FHD, OLED screen; 5G modem; and around 10 hours of battery life all comes together nicely. The problem? The same as with any jack-of-all-trades: you tend to be a master of none.

While the Samsung Galaxy A71 5G can do a little bit of everything well, there’s no one avenue it goes down where it excels over the competition. If you want the best camera, while the A71 5G is no slouch, it simply can’t beat the Pixel 4a 5G. If you want to get the most out of gaming, the iPhone SE’s A13 Biotic chipset has you beat dead to rights. Even with its above-average 10-hour battery life, this Samsung falls short of the Moto G Power’s impressive longevity. It’s also pricier than other budget smartphones, costing $599.

On the flip side of this, there’s no one area that the Samsung Galaxy A71 5G fails at either. It’s a solid all-rounder and a reliable smartphone that has you covered on multiple fronts.

(Image credit: Motorola)6. Moto G Stylus

Display: 6.4-inch LCD (2300 x 1080) | CPU: Snapdragon 665 | RAM: 4GB | Storage: 128GB | Rear camera: 48MP wide (ƒ/1.7), 16MP ultrawide action cam (ƒ/2.2), 2MP macro (ƒ/2.2) | Front camera: 16MP wide (ƒ/2.0)

Very good battery life

Bright LCD screen

Camera improvements

Stylus feels unnecessary

If the Moto G Power caught your attention but seemed to be lacking anything that made it truly stand out, then Motorola has another budget phone that may be of more interest to you. For $300, the Moto G Stylus is essentially the same phone beyond some minor improvements. The rear-facing cameras have been updated to feature 48MP and 16MP cameras, and the internal storage has been doubled to 128GB. Outside of this, the devices’ internals remain pretty much the same.

That is, aside from one other new addition: a built-in stylus. It seems a strange decision, one that doesn’t add much to the experience other than having a slightly more convenient way of jotting something down quickly. On removing the stylus from the body of the smartphone, Motorola’s proprietary sketching software opens up, allowing you to jot, sketch or doodle without delay. 

Moreover, the increases in storage and adjustments to the cameras are welcome changes, and if you believe them to be worth the $50 increase in price, then the Moto G Stylus might be the better option for you.

(Image credit: OnePlus)7. OnePlus Nord N10 5G

Display: 6.5-inch LCD (2400×1080) | CPU: Snapdragon 690 | RAM: 6GB | Storage: 128GB (expandable to 512GB) | Rear camera: 64MP wide (f/1.79); 8MP ultra-wide-angle (f/2.25); 2MP macro (f/2.4); 2MP monochrome (f/2.4) | Front camera: 16MP (f/2.05)

Premium design

Decent 6.5-inch display

Quad cameras

Mediocre performance

Inconsistent image quality

The OnePlus Nord N10 5G is coming to the US with sub-6Ghz 5G support. While we don’t know the official US starting price, its UK price of £329 suggests the phone will cost between $425 and $450 when it comes stateside.  

Unlike other smartphones in this category, the OnePlus Nord isn’t simply a budget phone with one of two flagship features haphazardly thrown in to whet people’s appetite for more expensive models. Instead, the Nord is designed and built to be a premium budget buy, however oxymoronic that might sound.

From the Nord’s bright and vivid 6.5-inch LCD 90Hz to the five-camera configuration that features rear ultrawide sensors for all-encompassing snaps, the N10 5G delivers a lot for the price. The OnePlus Nord N10 5G attempts to cram in features and versatility however it can. While the Qualcomm Snapdragon 690 inside isn’t the fastest, the phone has extra-long battery life and supports 5G for the fastest mobile speeds. 

All-in-all, the OnePlus Nord is a great budget buy that more than succeeds in its efforts to show that premium doesn’t always have to mean pricey.

See our OnePlus Nord N10 5G review

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About the Author: Chris Jenny

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