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The 12 best phones to gift (even on a budget)

We've rounded up a list of the 12 best phones to give as gifts. There's something for everyone, even if you're on a budget.
Written by Sherin Shibu, Contributor and  Jason Stauffer, Staff Writer on
Reviewed by Amy Lieu

Giving a phone as a gift is incredibly generous. You're giving someone a camera, a mini web browser, a place to browse Instagram, and so much more. 

The phone you choose will depend on your gift recipient. Is the person a loyal Apple customer? Do they prefer Samsung's lineup? Then the most pressing question of all -- are there any deals happening that will make this purchase lighter on your wallet?

We've put together this list for anyone struggling to find the right phone to gift or to find a phone that comfortably fits into their budget. We'll be updating this page with the most recent deals.

Must read:

The best phone gift ideas

Below are 12 phone gift ideas I found for the holiday season this year. 

  • Price: Usually $899 and up
  • Tech specs: Operating system: Android 13 | RAM: 12 GB | Storage: 128GB/256GB/512GB

The most recent additions to the Pixel family of phones didn't disappoint. The Google Pixel 7 Pro comes loaded with features, excellent battery life, and a trio of powerful cameras.

This is the premium Pixel 7 model and it stands out from the basic model with an additional 48 MP camera with a telephoto lens, a larger display with higher resolution, and a larger battery. In our review of the Pixel 7 Pro, its performance didn't fall off when multitasking or using the phone's other features. This model is available in Hazel, Snow, and Obsidian.

  • Price: $800 and up
  • Tech specs: Display: 6.1-inch Super Retina XDR | Storage: 128GB/256GB/512GB | RAM: 6 GB

The standard iPhone 14 doesn't have all of the capabilities of the iPhone 14 Pro or iPhone 14 Pro Max. But the 128 GB model is $200-$300 cheaper than the more expensive counterparts, and unless you really need a telephoto camera or extended battery life, it'll meet your needs.

The iPhone 14 comes with an Apple A15 Bionic processor, so you should be able to breeze through most tasks without any lag. And anyone who's upgrading from an iPhone 12 or older will appreciate the noticeably improved performance.

  • Price: Usually $600 and up
  • Tech specs: Processor: Google Tensor G2 RAM: 8GB | Storage: 128GB/256GB

The Google Pixel 7 128GB model is a full $300 less than the Pixel 7 Pro with the same amount of storage. For that price, you'll still have a more than respectable gift to pass on.

The Pixel 7 has the same main, front-facing, and ultrawide cameras as the Pixel 7 Pro, only lacking a telephoto camera. And it has the same Tensor G2 processor as the more expensive model. The Pixel 7 comes in lemongrass, obsidian, and snow colors.

  • Price: $999 and up
  • Tech specs: Display: 6.8 inches RAM: 12GB/16GB | Storage: 128GB/256GB/512GB/1TB

The Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra is loaded with options, including a Bluetooth stylus with a built-in storage silo/charging station, two telephoto cameras, and two wide-angle cameras. Plus you'll have the option of choosing a massive 1TB of storage.

It also has an extremely capable 40MP front-facing camera that is situated under the display. Speaking of the display, it's a massive 6.8 inches and also supports 8k video. The advertised 18-hour battery life is adequate for most situations.

  • Price: $1,100
  • Tech specs: Cameras: 12MP rear f/2.2 ultra-wide camera (124 degrees field-of-view), 12MP f/2.4 standard camera, 12MP dual-aperture, 8MP f/2.0 front-facing camera RAM: 12GB | Storage: 512GB

The Sony Xperia Pro-I is a photographer's dream. Its rear-facing cameras include an ultra-wide with 124 degrees of view and a dual-aperture camera. Serious photographers will appreciate the microSD slot, 3.5mm audio port, and camera shutter button.

Where this phone really standards out is the standard software (Photo Pro, Cinema Pro, and Video Pro), which gives you control over every aspect of the cameras. The Image Edge app allows remote shooting by allowing you to connect to an external camera and have the images or video transferred to your Xperia Pro-I.

  • Price: $110
  • Tech specs: Display: 6.5 inches RAM: 3GB | Storage: 32GB

The Moto G Pure may lack storage space (although you can easily add a microSD card) and the performance of a run-of-the-mill smartphone, but it's the perfect compromise for parents that feel their kids aren't ready for a phone and kids that feel otherwise. At only $110 the kids can learn about responsibility the hard way and it'll only cost you 1/10th as much to replace that lost phone.

Although nothing is top tier, the Moto G Pure has all of the essentials. Its solid camera, 3.5mm headphone jack, and good battery life make it a great phone for kids. It isn't 5G compatible, so when you need more speed you'll need to upgrade.

  • Price: $389 and up
  • Tech specs: Display: 4.7 RAM: 3GB | Storage: 64GB/128GB/256GB

The latest iPhone SE is one of the cheapest 5G phones on the market, although it doesn't support the fastest 5G networks. That said, it's not lacking when it comes to performance. The 3rd Gen iPhone SE has the same A15 bionic processor that you'll find in the iPhone 14.

The battery life is advertised at 15 hours, which is an improvement over previous models, but a touch on the low side. Personally, I'm a fan of saving money and smaller phones that can comfortably fit in my pocket, and the latest iPhone SE checks both of those boxes.

  • Price: $90
  • Tech specs: Display: 2.4 inches Storage: 128 MB | RAM: 48MB

The AGM M6 isn't going to win any awards or land on a best-seller list, but at under $100 it could be the perfect gift for anyone who's looking to cut ties with their smartphone.

This model is tough and is advertised as being waterproof (1.5 meters underwater for 30 minutes), shockproof, dustproof, and resistant to extreme temperatures. But the appeal of the AGM M6 isn't in what it is, it's in what it isn't -- an electronic leash. It's the perfect gift for someone who's getting serious about cutting the distractions in their life but still wants to kinda stay in touch.

  • Price: From $150
  • Tech specs: Display: 6.49 inches RAM: 4 GB | Storage: 64 GB

The OnePlus Nord N200 5G is one-third the price of the OnePlus 10 Pro but many of its features are only slightly less robust than its more expensive sister model. It has a Qualcomm Snapdragon 480 processor and its 6.49 inches display has a reasonable 2,400 x 1,080-pixel resolution.

Just like with a number of budget 5G phones, the OnePlus Nord N200 doesn't support the fastest 5G connection (mmWave). However, given mmWave's limitations and potential drain on your battery, that may not be as big of a deal as it seems.

  • Price: $1,320 and up
  • Tech specs: Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 8+ Gen 1 Storage: 256GB/512GB/1TB | RAM: 12GB

The Galaxy Z Fold 4 is the latest in Samsung's line of folding phones. It has a generous 7.6 display when unfolded and collapses down to be able to comfortably fit in most pockets. 

This generation of the Z Fold is lighter than previous iterations and has an improved array of cameras. Its processor and memory are built to handle the most resource-heavy tasks, so you shouldn't have any problem loading videos or gaming, although the battery life is middling.

  • Price: $299+
  • Tech specs or features: Display: 6.1 inch OLED Storage: 128GB | RAM: 6GB

In our review of the Google Pixel 6a we found that it performed as well as the more expensive Google Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro.  It has the same Google Tensor processor as the other 6th Gen Pixels and its 4,410 mAh battery should last all day under normal use.

The 12 MP rear-facing cameras and 8 MP front-facing camera may not win you any photography awards but are more than enough for day-to-day photos. It's water resistant up to 4 feet and comes in sage, charcoal, and chalk.

  • Price: $300
  • Tech specs: Processor: Samsung Exynos 9611 RAM: 4GB | Storage: 64GB

The Samsung Galaxy XCover Pro ditches the bulky design you'd expect to find with the best rugged phones in favor of a sleek design and feel. It has a 6.1-inch display, a 4,050 mAh removable battery, a 13 MP front camera, and a pair of rear-facing cameras (wide-angle and ultra-wide).

It's ideal for anyone who needs a phone to handle harsh conditions and has an IP68 dust and water resistance rating as well as MIL-STD-810G drop test certification. Its enhanced touch feature allows you to use the phone without removing your gloves, a great option for harsh weather conditions.

The best phone deals 

Below are three phone deals we found happening right now.

How did we choose these phone gift ideas?

All of the phones we've included on this list are from reputable brands and are reliable and trustworthy. In most cases, ZDNET has either done a hands-on review of the phone or included it in one of our best list roundups.

There's no one-size-fits-all when it comes to choosing a phone to give to someone as a gift. The newest high-end iPhone may not be the best for everyone and it certainly won't fit into everyone's budget. So we selected a wide variety of devices to suit just about any need or want, at a range of price points.

Should I give a locked or unlocked phone?

An unlocked phone can be used with any cellular service provider that is running a compatible network for that device. If you know the recipient of your gift is a deal shopper that loves to bounce from one service to the next in search of the best price, then an unlocked phone is the way to go. An unlocked phone is also essential for international travel if you want to swap out the SIM card.

A locked phone is tied to a specific carrier, like Sprint, T-mobile, AT&T, or Verizon. Most of the best phone deals are for locked phones and typically require you to switch services, trade in an old phone, and commit to a contract. If you're buying a phone for someone that's part of the same family plan, a locked phone can be a smart move because you're likely to be able to get an excellent deal. Even with a locked phone, your carrier must unlock it for you once it's paid off.

How can I upgrade a phone's storage capacity?

If your phone is running out of space and you constantly have to delete photos just to take a new one, then it's time to find extra storage capacity. If you have a phone with an internal microSD slot that's a simple solution, just make sure the card is compatible with your phone. However, phones with internal expandable storage are becoming less common and it's a feature you won't have with iPhones.

In most cases, the easiest way to increase your phone's storage, and hopefully increase its usefulness, is to take advantage of the many cloud storage options. A free Dropbox account comes with 2GB of cloud storage and Google Drive has 15GB of shared storage space. An Apple iCloud account comes with 5GB of free storage. And all of these cloud services allow you to increase your storage space for a fee.

Which is the best phone to give as a gift this holiday season?

Giving a phone as a gift can be a tricky situation because you really need to know what the recipient wants. And if you're getting a phone for someone that isn't on your cell phone plan, then it's even more difficult. 

The easiest solution is to ask the giftee exactly what phone they want, but if you want to maintain a level of surprise you'll want to at least know the following:

  • What carrier are they using or do they want to use?
  • Do they prefer Android or iOS?
  • What do they want a phone for? Photography? Video? Heavy-duty outdoor adventures?
  • What's your budget?

Once you know how much you're willing to spend and what the person you're getting the gift for needs and wants, it's much easier to narrow down your choices.

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