$160 at Samsung

Low price, long update commitment

Samsung Galaxy A03S

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$429 at Apple

Most affordable iPhone

Apple iPhone SE (2022)

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The best cheap phones on the market offer all the smartphone essentials without the hefty price tag of flagship competitors, like the Galaxy S23 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 exponentially 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.

This story is part of Gift Guide, our year-round collection of the best gift ideas.

What is the best cheap phone?

You can find brand-new phones for less than $200, even without added discounts. That said, when a phone’s standard price is set at under $400, you’ll regularly see a company make concessions to offer a more affordable phone. This is why 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 2023

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Even if you’re considering the $800 Samsung Galaxy S23, 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.

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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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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:

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 or not.

Read more: How we test phones

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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