Best cheap phone 2021: Flagship features on a budget | ZDNet

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No matter how you slice it, the price of flagships is still a deterrent for many people. Thankfully, there are some outstanding affordable alternatives that have significantly improved over the past few years. Various manufacturers, including many from China and Korea, have compelling products that are becoming more popular as we reach smartphone saturation.

We also now see Samsung, Google, and Apple offering more affordable options with Samsung bringing in one model that has 5G and is still priced at just over $200. Google also continues to commit to bringing its camera technology to mid-range phones.

Camera performance was a major differentiator between flagships and mid-range phones over the past couple of years, but even today’s affordable phones can help you capture decent photos to share with family and friends or on social media. Let’s take a look at some of the most affordable options.

Also: Best super-cheap phones under $100: Top budget smartphones

You can read more phone buying tips and how we make our recommendations here.   

Newer and $50 less than the 4A 5G

Display: 6.34 inches (2400 x 1080-pixel resolution) | CPU: Qualcomm Snapdragon 765G | RAM: 6GB | Internal storage: 128GB storage | Rear cameras: 12.2MP rear f/2.0 camera | Front camera: 8MP f/2.0 camera | Weight: 143g | Battery capacity4620mAh


Last year Google released the Pixel 4A 5G, which is one of the most affordable 5G phones, for $499. It also had the non-5G Pixel 4A. This year we see the Pixel 5A for $50 less than the 4A 5G, making that device essentially obsolete.

The Pixel 5A is targeted at people who want an affordable Pixel phone with Google’s stunning camera software The 5A also has a 3.5mm audio port, stereo speakers, an aluminum body with IP67 dust/water resistance, and at least three years of OS and security updates.

The phone is available just in black as either an unlocked phone or one with service provided by Google Fi.

Pros:

  • Google’s quality camera algorithms
  • Affordable price
  • 5G support
  • Timely and guaranteed software updates for years

Cons:

  • Single rear camera
  • No mmWave 5G support

Any color as long as it’s black

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Display: 5.8 inches (2340 x 1080-pixel resolution) | CPU: Qualcomm Snapdragon 730G | RAM: 6GB | Internal storage: 128GB storage | Rear cameras: 12.2MP rear f/1.7 camera | Front camera: 8MP f/2.0 camera | Weight: 143g | Battery capacity3140mAh


Following last year’s release of a couple of mid-level devices, Google launched the Google Pixel 4A. Google also released the Pixel 4A 5G, which is one of the most affordable 5G phones, for $499.

The Pixel 4A is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 730G processor with a 5.81-inch display, 12.2MP rear camera, 8MP front camera, 6GB of RAM, 128GB of internal storage, stereo speakers, and a 3140mAh battery. This is targeted to the masses and with Google’s stunning camera software it is a tough phone to beat at the low $349 price. The 4A also has a 3.5mm audio port, which is no longer that common.

There is only one color option, black, so your choices are limited to carrier, unlocked, or Google Fi service.

Pros:

  • Google’s quality camera algorithms
  • Affordable price
  • Timely and guaranteed software updates for years

Cons:

  • Single rear camera
  • Older specs

Lowest-priced option in our list

tcl-20-se-1.jpg

Display: 6.82 inches (1640 x 720-pixel resolution) | CPU: Qualcomm Snapdragon 460 | RAM: 4GB | Internal storage: 128GB storage with microSD | Rear cameras: 48MP main, 5MP ultra-wide, 2MP macro, and 2MP depth sensor | Front camera: 13MP camera | Weight: 206g | Battery capacity5000mAh


The TCL 20SE is not a gaming phone or one that will help you easily take award-winning photos. As a TCL-branded phone, it is focused on the display experience and the basics. There is no 5G connectivity and it will get 18 months to 24 months of Android security patches, likely released on a quarterly basis. It is also a very large phone — with a 6.82-inch display and a thickness of 9.14 mm.

All that said, it is priced at just $189.99. There are not many phones priced less than $200 and the TCL 20SE appears to be well built with a rather lovely modern design. I enjoyed using the large display for messaging and enjoying Google TV movies so there are definitely ways to enjoy to optimized visual experience of the phone.

Pros:

  • Low price
  • Good quality, large display
  • Large capacity battery
  • Attractive, well-built design

Cons:

  • Large phone
  • No NFC
  • Mediocre camera results

Best $250 Android phone

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Display: 6.67 inches (2400 x 1080-pixel resolution) | CPU: Qualcomm Snapdragon 665 | RAM: 4GB | Internal storage: 128GB storage with microSD | Rear cameras: 64MP main, 8MP ultra-wide, 2MP macro, and 2MP depth sensor | Front camera: 16MP camera | Weight: 199g | Battery capacity5000mAh


Unlike the TCL 20SE, the TCL 20S is compatible with T-Mobile, AT&T, and Verizon LTE networks so the addition of Verizon here is a significant improvement. The 20S has a higher-level processor, NFC chip, better cameras, better speakers, and Qualcomm Quick Charge 3.0 fast charging support.

The TCL 20S is one of the better $250 phones you can find today, and if I was looking for a phone in this price range, I would pay the extra $60 to purchase this one over the TCL 20SE. The 20SE has several compromises that are resolved in the 20S and I think over the life of the phone people will be happier with the 20S. The display looks wonderful, the speakers are loud, the UI is nearly stock Android, the battery life is solid, and there is a lot to like in the TCL 20S.

Pros:

  • Low price
  • High quality, large display
  • Good sounding stereo speakers
  • NFC
  • Fairly stock Android UI

Cons:

  • Limited gaming performance
  • Acceptable camera results

An affordable OnePlus again

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Image: OnePlus

Display: 6.49 inches (2400 x 1080-pixel resolution) with 90Hz refresh | CPU: Qualcomm Snapdragon 690 | RAM: 6GB | Internal storage: 128GB storage with microSD | Rear cameras: 64MP main, 8MP ultra-wide, 2MP macro, and 2MP monochrome | Front camera: 16MP camera | Weight: 190g | Battery capacity4300mAh


OnePlus launched years ago as the “flagship killer,” but has evolved over time into a role where the company takes on flagship manufacturers with phones similarly priced. OnePlus pushes the specifications and features with its flagships, but in the OnePlus Nord series, we see much more competition in the affordable phone market.

The Nord N10 5G has an NFC chip, microSD expansion card slot, 3.5mm audio port, dual stereo speakers, fast charging, high refresh rate display, and 5G support, so it is a very competitive mid-ranger. It is priced at $299.99 and is one of the best phones available in this price range.

Pros:

  • Affordable
  • High quality, large display
  • Good sounding stereo speakers
  • NFC
  • High refresh rate display

Cons:

  • Acceptable camera results

$280 with Samsung flair

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Display: 6.5 inches with 90Hz refresh | CPU: Qualcomm Snapdragon 665 | RAM: 4GB | Internal storage: 64GB storage with microSD | Rear cameras: 48MP main, 8MP ultra-wide, 5MP macro, and 2MP depth sensor | Front camera: 13MP camera | Weight: 205g | Battery capacity5000mAh


Samsung offers a range of A Series smartphones worth considering with one of the most affordable ones in the US appearing as the A32 5G. That’s right, for just $280 you get an Android phone that supports 5G mobile networks.

We also find a high refresh rate display, 90Hz, and if you have used anything better than 60Hz, it is tough to go back to anything less than 90Hz. We also find fast charging, NFC, and very capable quad rear cameras.

The Samsung Galaxy A32 5G is available only in Awesome Black, but one can’t be too picky at this price point.

Pros:

  • Low price
  • Capable display with high refresh rate
  • NFC
  • Large capacity battery

Cons:

  • Limited internal storage and RAM
  • Reported WiFi connectivity issues

Priced less than most insurance policies for phones

best-cheap-phone-moto-g-play-review.jpg

Display: 6.5 inches (1600 x 720-pixel resolution) | CPU: Qualcomm Snapdragon 460 | RAM: 3GB | Internal storage: 32GB storage with microSD | Rear cameras: 13MP main and 2MP depth sensor | Front camera: 5MP camera | Weight: 204g | Battery capacity5000mAh


The Moto G Play has a full retail price of $159.99 and it can be found on Amazon or directly from Motorola.

The Moto G Play has a 6.5-inch display with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 460 processor, 13MP rear camera with a 2MP depth sensor, 5MP front-facing camera, 3GB of RAM, 32GB of internal storage with a microSD expansion card slot, and a rather large 5000mAh battery. It has some water resistance and retains the 3.5mm audio jack.

The Moto G Play is priced less than most insurance policies for flagship phones, so if you need a low-cost phone or a backup, then this may be the one to consider. Motorola also does a great job of providing a stock Android experience that gets fairly regular updates, too.

Pros:

  • Very low price
  • Large capacity battery
  • Fairly stock Android UI

Cons:

  • Tiny amount of RAM and internal storage
  • Acceptable camera results

Massive battery

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Display: 6.4 inches (2300 x 1080-pixel resolution) | CPU: Qualcomm Snapdragon 665 | RAM: 4GB | Internal storage: 64GB storage with microSD | Rear cameras: 16MP main, 8MP ultra-wide, and 2MP macro | Front camera: 16MP camera | Weight: 199g | Battery capacity5000mAh


The Moto G Power is available online as an unlocked phone for $219.99. The focus of this phone is on its ability to provide you with multiple days of battery life thanks to its massive 5,000mAh capacity battery. 

The Moto G Power has a 6.6-inch display, Qualcomm Snapdragon 662 processor, triple rear camera system with 48MP, 2MP macro, and 2MP depth sensors, an 8MP front-facing camera, 3GB/$GB of RAM, 32GB/64GB of internal storage with a microSD card slot, and whopping 5,000mAh battery. It is a mid-level phone available at an entry-level price.

Motorola does a great job with a fairly stock Android user interface and cool Moto enhancements. Software updates aren’t as readily provided as they are on high-end devices, but for less than $200, that is to be expected.

Pros:

  • Low price
  • Large capacity battery
  • Triple camera system
  • Fairly stock Android UI

Cons:

Integrated stylus

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Display: 6.4 inches (2300 x 1080-pixel resolution) | CPU: Qualcomm Snapdragon 665 | RAM: 4GB | Internal storage: 128GB storage with microSD | Rear cameras: 48MP main, 16MP Action Cam with ultra-wide, and 2MP macro | Front camera: 16MP camera | Weight: 192g | Battery capacity4000mAh


Some people still find a stylus to be an extremely useful input device, but also don’t want to pay $1,000 for a Samsung Galaxy Note or other new Samsung flagship with S Pen support. Motorola offers the Moto G Stylus with an integrated stylus that helps you navigate, input text, draw, and capture notes. It’s not as full-featured as the S Pen experience on a Note, but it provides the essential functions at a fraction of the price ($229.99).

In addition to the integrated stylus experience, the Moto G Stylus has 4GB of RAM, 128GB internal storage, and a microSD card slot. It has a rear quad-camera system with a 48MP main camera, ultra-wide lens, and macro camera.

The large 6.4-inch display and Snapdragon 665 processor combine with a 4000mAh battery to provide nearly two days of battery life. Moto Actions help you work efficiently too.

Pros:

  • Low price
  • Stylus support with integrated silo
  • Interesting ultra-wide-angle portrait action cam
  • Fairly stock Android UI

Cons:

The most affordable iPhone

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Display: 4.7 inches (1334 x 750-pixel resolution) | CPU: Apple A13 | RAM: Uknown | Internal storage: 64/128/256GB options | Rear cameras: 12MP main | Front camera: 7MP camera | Weight: 148g | Battery capacityUnknown


Apple satisfied those looking for a tiny phone a few years ago with the 2016 iPhone SE. In 2020, it introduced another SE model in a larger form factor that carries on the tradition of the Touch ID front fingerprint sensor. The 2020 iPhone SE is available now for a very affordable $399 in three color options of white, black, and red.

ZDNet’s Jason Cipriani spent a few days with the iPhone SE and offered up four quick thoughts on the new iPhone. I also picked one up and published a full review of this small iPhone.

The iPhone SE is essentially an iPhone 8 with upgraded internals to match the modern iPhone 11 range. A single camera is found on the back, but Apple is able to bring its expertise to play to make it a solid performer in the optical department.

Pros:

  • It’s an iPhone… for $399
  • Solid battery life
  • Excellent software support
  • Small phone
  • IP67 dust/water resistant

Cons:



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