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The 5 best cheap phones: Flagship features for under $450

What is the best cheap phone? The Samsung Galaxy A32 5G is ZDNet's top choice. We tested an extensive line-up of cheap phones and analyzed CPU, cameras, battery life, and more.

No matter how you slice it, the price of flagship smartphones is still a deterrent for many people, especially when some models are priced at $1,500 or more. Thankfully, there are some reliable affordable alternatives, and the days of cheap Android phones that barely function are gone. 

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 all three bringing in models that support 5G cellular connectivity. In particular, Google is committed to bringing its advanced camera software 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 best smartphones available for your budget.

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

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

Samsung Galaxy A32 5G

Best cheap phone overall

Samsung Galaxy A32 5G

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 barely over $200 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

Google Pixel 5A

Best cheap Google phone

Google Pixel 5A

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. Google updated that phone with the Pixel 5A for $50 less than the 4A 5G, making the 4A essentially obsolete.  There are often special deals for the Pixel 5A with the phone at $399 or less too so keep an eye out for these offers.

The Pixel 5A, see our full review, 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

Apple iPhone SE (3rd generation)

Best cheap iPhone

Apple iPhone SE (3rd generation)
Image: Apple

Display: 4.7 inches LCD (1334 x 750-pixel resolution) | CPU: Apple A15 | RAM: Uknown | Internal storage: 64/128/256GB options | Rear cameras: 12MP main | Front camera: 7MP camera | Weight: 144g | 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 carried on the tradition of the Touch ID front fingerprint sensor. The 2022 iPhone SE (3rd Generation) is available now for a very affordable starting price of $429 in three color options - Midnight, Starlight, and PRODUCT Red.

Full review: Apple iPhone SE (2022): As fast as iPhone 13 Pro Max, but half the price

The latest model brings Sub-6 5G support (mmWave is not supported) and a new Apple processor with the same traditional display size, front Touch ID fingerprint sensor, and single rear camera. The processor brings improved performance, longer battery life, and enhanced photography results with the same hardware.

The iPhone SE is still essentially an iPhone 8 with upgraded internals to match the modern iPhone 13 range. For those who want a smaller and less expensive iPhone, this is the one to get. There are also still many fans of Touch ID, especially if you wear a mask regularly.

Pros:

  • It's an iPhone... for $429
  • Solid battery life
  • Excellent software support
  • Small phone
  • IP67 dust/water resistant

Cons:

  • Big bezels
  • Small display

TCL 30 V 5G

Best cheap 5G Android smartphone

TCL 30 V 5G
Image: TCL

Display: 6.67 inches (2400 x 1080-pixel resolution) | CPU: Qualcomm Snapdragon 480 | RAM: 4GB | Internal storage: 128GB storage with microSD | Rear cameras: 50MP main, 5MP ultra-wide, 2MP macro | Front camera: 16MP camera | Weight: 200g | Battery capacity4500mAh

The TCL 30 V 5G is Verizon's lowest priced Android smartphone with 5G support so if you are a Verizon customer this phone serves as a solid gateway into 5G service. Full price from Verizon is $299.99 with monthly payment options available too. The phone supports 18W fast charging and can also be used as a WiFi hotspot.

TCL is known for its display technology and it brings the NXTVISION technology to the phone with the TCL 30 V 5G so you can experience high quality streaming video content through the Verizon network or a local WiFi connection. Dual speakers help enhance the experience too.

Pros:

  • Affordable price
  • Good quality, large display
  • Large capacity battery
  • 3.5mm audio port
  • Reliable rear fingerprint sensor

Cons:

  • Large phone
  • Limited RAM

TCL 20SE

Best value smartphone

TCL 20SE

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 the 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

What is the best cheap phone?

Samsung's Galaxy A32 5G is the best cheap phone. We tested an extensive line-up of budget phones and analyzed CPU, cameras, battery life, and more. The Galaxy A32 5G comes out on top with a lot of impressive qualities and a price tag under $220.

Phone

Price

Operating system

Storage

Samsung Galaxy A32 5G

$280

Android

64GB

Google Pixel 5A

$442

Android Snapdragon

128GB

Apple iPhone SE 3rd Gen

$429

iOS

Up to 256GB

TCL 30V 5G

$199

Android

128GB

TCL20SE

$190

Android

128GB

Which cheap phone is right for you?

The best cheap phone depends on what you need it to do. If you snap a lot of photos or use it to play music while working or at the gym, you'll want a phone with plenty of internal storage to handle everything. If you just want a functional phone that can make both traditional and video calls as well as access the internet, you don't need so much internal storage; but you should opt for the latest 5G and Wi-Fi connectivity to be able to take full advantage of your new phone.

Choose this...

If you want...

Samsung Galaxy A32 5G

A well-rounded affordable smartphone

Google Pixel 5A

An affordable Google-based smartphone

Apple iPhone SE 3rd generation

A cheap iPhone for brand loyalty

TCL 30 V 5G

A budget Android phone

TCL 20SE

A phone that's the best value for the price

How did we choose these cheap phones?

We chose a variety of cheap smartphones with different operating systems to cater to customers with differing preferences and tastes. We chose both iOS and Android-based phones with price tags that will easily fit just about any modest budget.

What is the best cheap Samsung phone?

Samsung Galaxy A32 5G is the best cheap Samsung phone. It has an impressive CPU and camera, and it even comes with 5G capability at less than $250.

What is the best budget iPhone?

The best budget iPhone is the iPhone SE (3rd generation). It comes with all of the best Apple features: sleek design, iOS, and long battery life -- without the hefty price tag.

Are there alternative cheap phones worth considering?

There are plenty of options out there if you're looking for an affordable smartphone; whether you're looking to upgrade your current phone on-the-cheap, want an affordable starter phone for your teens, or a cheap smartphone for your older parents. Here's a short list of other cheap smartphones we thought were great choices: