Elite phones such as the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra or Apple’s iPhone 13 Pro boast the best tech you can find on a mobile phone. They pack stellar performance and a wide set of features, but they also come with large price tags to match. However, many of us simply don’t need the fastest processor or the best camera around and some of those specs may seem like overkill.
These days, it’s easy to shop for a phone, including brand-new affordable handsets through to discounted previous-generation models, on a more modest budget. And despite their low prices, budget phones can be advanced, packing features akin to premium phones, like lots of internal storage, great multilens cameras, fast processors, a fingerprint scanner and even 5G. And if you’re willing to buy an unlocked phone, your choices become even more vast.
Check out the list below of the best phones under $500 — which we update regularly — and read CNET’s reviews. Note that we’ve linked to the unlocked version of each budget smartphone and they should run on most of the big four US wireless carriers, unless specified otherwise.
The budget phone features that matter the most
The Pixel 5A is Google’s latest affordable 5G phone, packing a decent set of specs all round into an affordable package. Its large screen and water-resistance means it’s capable of tackling all of your everyday essentials while its 5G speeds means you won’t be left waiting for your Netflix shows to buffer when you’re waiting for the bus.
With a four-year gap between the 2020 iPhone SE and the previous one, Apple packed its latest budget phone with a bunch of upgrades. That includes wireless charging, better camera specs and water resistance. If you’re looking for a new iPhone but want to save as much money as possible, the $399 iPhone SE is your best bet for a cheap iPhone option.
Read our Apple iPhone SE (2020) review.
In addition to its main Galaxy S21 phones, Samsung has a more cost-conscious A series line of phones. This year it launched the Galaxy A52 5G, which has four cameras including a selfie camera, an in-screen fingerprint sensor and expandable memory. Samsung released this Android phone in quite a few fun colors, but for those shopping in the US you are more likely to only find it in black.
With the launch of the iPhone 13 series, Apple gave its iPhone 11 lineup a healthy discount meaning you can now pick up the base 64GB model for only $499. It might be a couple of generations old, but this phone is still more than capable, handling gaming well and equipped with two superb rear cameras.
The OnePlus 8 impressed us with its solid lineup of specs, its good screen and its attractive design. Better still, this Android phone also offers 5G data speeds and its affordable launch price is now even lower and can be bought online for around $400, making it a superb value all round.
Read our OnePlus 8 review.
The Moto G Power packs a robust 5,000-mAh battery that lasted an impressive four days of battery life without a charge in our testing. The Android phone has three rear cameras (one of which is a macro lens), a 6.4-inch display and expandable memory. Not bad for its $180 asking price.
OnePlus is expanding its more affordable Nord family of phones with the launch of the $300 Nord N10 5G. Though it doesn’t have wireless charging or an in-screen fingerprint reader like higher-end OnePlus phones, it does have a 90Hz display, a headphone jack and 5G connectivity. Read our OnePlus N10 5G review.
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