Flagship phones are more expensive than ever in 2019, but as the top-end gets better so do cheap smartphones. It’s possible to buy a mobile phone on a budget of under £200/US$200 and still get a cell phone capable of everything you throw at it.
The best budget phones are also more attractive in the long-term thanks to cheaper contract prices, though you might prefer to buy these smartphones outright and then pay only for your minutes, texts and data.
If value for money is your number-one priority, you won’t find a more useful list of budget phones available in the UK, US and elsewhere. We’ve tested, rated and ranked the best cheap phones from Nokia, Motorola, Honor and other big brands, and alongside those reviews you’ll also find our expert buying advice that can help you decide whether a particular cheap phone really is the bargain it seems.
Your buying guide to the best budget phones in 2019
In our experience the ideal way to get a cheap phone is to buy it SIM-free then grab a great-value SIM-only deal. You won’t be paying £50-odd per month for a phone for the next two years, and you can swap it for a newer model whenever you fancy it. This is especially the case for cheap Chinese phones, for which you can’t get a contract.
All the phones here cost under £200/$200, which is up to a quarter of the price you’d often pay for flagship phones – take a look at our guide to the best phones on the market for more on those high-end smartphones.
Ranked in order below are what we consider to be the best cheap phones on sale right now. We’ve based this chart on the SIM-free price as contracts change so often.
You can click on a phone in which you’re interested to read the full review, see example photos from the camera, and check out the benchmark results.
Should you buy a locked phone?
You’ll quickly find that some of the best deals on cheap phones are sold via mobile operators. What you need to watch for is whether these phones are sold locked to that operator’s network.
What about a Chinese phone?
An alternative is to buy a Chinese phone – you’ll find some of these in our chart too. You might not have heard of the brands, and they won’t be available on the UK High Street (save for the likes of Huawei and ZTE), but Chinese phones are well-known for offering amazing specs for the money and undercutting their European rivals.
In most cases you’ll get a phone with a mid-range specification at a budget price.
Of course there are down sides – for example, what should you do if a phone bought from China is faulty? We’ve rounded up the major pitfalls in our article on buying grey-market tech, but if you’re still interested you should see our round-up of the best Chinese phones for 2019.
What’s the best phone for a child?
If you’re looking for a budget phone for a child, look at our selection of the best kids’ phones which includes some of the same phones we have here along with a few others particularly well-suited to kids.
What will you get for your money?
If you’re looking for a cheap phone, you have to accept the fact that the manufacturer is going to cut some corners to achieve that low price and you aren’t going to get the same speed, features, and display quality as you might with a phone costing two, three, or even four times the price.
It used to be the case that budget phones were instantly recognisable by their low-resolution displays, meagre storage, and chunky, plastic bodies, but things are improving in this area all the time. These days, for £200 or less it’s quite possible to buy a phone with a Full HD display and a sub 8mm-thick metal body.
Most will support 4G connectivity, but not all will support NFC (Chinese phones will often feature HotKnot which is a similar technology, but not the same as NFC.)
Budget Android phones don’t come better than this. The Mi A2 Lite has a premium design with 19:9 notch display, dual rear cameras and decent performance. Storage is generous, and we like the fact you can bolster the 64GB internal space with microSD cards up to 256GB in capacity without sacrificing dual-SIM support. A great budget buy.
The Moto E5 is one of the best budget phones around. Of course, you can spend a bit more and get something better but if you’re looking for the cheapest phone around that won’t make you want to throw it in the bin after a few days then this is it.
We’re very impressed by the design and build quality along with a number of features including the screen, camera, fingerprint scanner and battery life.
Just bear in mind that you don’t get some of the features available from more expensive alternatives.
On paper the UMIDIGI One Pro’s spec seems too good to be true. Fast wireless charging, NFC, 19:9 IPS displays, dual-cameras, side-mounted fingerprint sensors and an attractive design aren’t things you have any right to expect at this price. But this is a budget phone, and as such some corners have naturally been cut. The display is just HD in resolution, the fingerprint sensor can be temperamental and the cameras can leave something to be desired. Overall, though, a great budget buy – and one people will have no idea was so cheap.
The Nokia 5.1 certainly doesn’t look like a phone that costs less than £200, sporting a gorgeous Series 6000 Aluminium body, fine detailing on the buttons and camera and an FHD+ 18:9 5.5in display.
But while it looks the part, the budget internals mean that performance isn’t flawless, and it can’t handle more advanced mobile games. But for general tweeting, snapping and texting, the Nokia 5.1 is certainly a tempting budget option.