Home / Features / The best budget smartphones reviewed and rated

The best budget smartphones reviewed and rated

Affordable blowers for every budget

Unless you’re a mob boss who doesn’t believe in banks, you wouldn’t normally walk around with a grand in your pocket. Yet buy a flagship smartphone in 2021 and that’s basically what you’re doing.

Don’t feel like dropping a wad of notes on a fancy phone? Good news: you don’t have to. From big-name budget blowers to affordable handsets from lesser-known mobile makers, the list below features a whole host of stellar smartphones – all for less than £300.

Sure, you’ll have to accept a couple of compromises – think plastic shells and sub-par secondary cameras. But smartphone quality has improved so much that the best cheap phones today benefit from brilliant screens, strong battery life and performance to put fear into the flagships.

So whether you want a main mobile for less or a backup blower than won’t break the bank, you’ll find your ideal affordable phone in this buying guide.


OnePlus Nord CE 5G

Don’t be deceived by its plastic finish: the OnePlus Nord CE packs some seriously strong specs. Beneath its shell, a Snapdragon 750G processor provides enough grunt to blaze through tasks. Everyday running is judder-free and you can happily tackle all but the most demanding Android titles, with a dedicated gaming mode to block interruptions and boost performance.

As the model’s moniker hints, the chip inside also delivers 5G connectivity for speedy wireless browsing. The battery lasts the day as well, with Warp Charge 30T Plus fast charging for refuelling within an hour.

The 6.43in AMOLED display is bright, sharp and poppy. With support for HDR10 and 90Hz refresh rates, it’s one of the best panels in this list. The CE’s headphone port means you can easily plug in for movies, too.

As for the software, OnePlus’ OxygenOS launcher sits comfortably on top of Android 11, adding plenty of useful features – including a few simple but useful customisation tools that don’t bog it down. It’s also covered by two years of updates and three years of security patches – a reassuring spot of future-proofing that’s rare at this price point.

Probably the weakest link is the 64MP primary camera. It does a decent enough job for day-to-day snaps, but the optics struggle a little in low light.

Stuff says: ✭✭✭✭✭

A budget box-ticker with impressive specs across the board, including 5G support for speedier browsing

Tech Specs

Display: 6.43in 90Hz FHD+ AMOLED ● Processor: Snapdragon 750G • RAM: 6/8/12GB ● Storage: 128/256GB • Cameras: 64+ 8+2MP rear, 16MP front • Battery: 4500mAh • Weight: 170g


Redmi Note 10 Pro

Xiaomi made its name with powerful yet affordable smartphones and the Redmi Note 10 Pro is no exception. In fact, it’s one of the most impressive budget blowers you can buy right now – from the smart yet hardy design (with splash-resistant, scratch-beating Gorilla Glass 5 up front) to the solid hardware inside.

Performance comes courtesy of Snapdragon’s 732G processor, which can capably handle everyday tasks, as well as light gaming. It also goes impressively easy on energy, which means the battery should easily last the day. All that’s missing is 5G support.

Streaming fans will appreciate the Note 10 Pro’s sizeable screen: it’s a proper eye-pleaser for the price. HDR support means the punchy 6.67in AMOLED display delivers crisp contrast and lifelike visuals, while 120Hz refresh rates serve up buttery-smooth visuals.

There’s good news for shooters, too: Xiaomi has squeezed a 108MP whopper onto the back. It can take crisp, bright, attractive family snaps, as well as recording richly detailed 4K home movies. Backing it up is an ultra-wide lens, plus a macro snapper.

Downsides? Xiaomi’s MIUI launcher is back. You still get all the stock Android features, plus a feast of nifty bonus bits – including an Apple-style Control Center. But it also suffers from bloatware and probably won’t enjoy updates will into the future.

Stuff says: ✭✭✭✭✭

A strong, affordable all-rounder with top camera tech and a lush 120Hz display

Tech Specs

Display: 6.67in 120Hz FHD+ AMOLED ● Processor: Snapdragon 732G • RAM: 6/8GB ● Storage: 64/128GB • Cameras: 108+8+5+2MP rear, 16MP front • Battery: 5020mAh • Weight: 193g


Xiaomi Poco X3 Pro

With a mighty Snapdragon 860 chipset and dedicated gaming tools on-board, the Poco X3 Pro is the most powerful phone in this list. Its processor can handle pretty much anything, even power-hungry games like Genshin Impact (provided you drop the detail down to medium).

The 6.67in FHD+ display is an IPS panel rather than OLED, so contrast isn’t super strong. All the same, your peepers should be pleased by its punchy colours and fine details. Adaptive refresh rates max out at 120Hz too, so visuals will be suitably slick when needed.

You also get stereo speakers, a headphone port and microSD support for expanding the storage. That’s alongside a responsive edge-mounted fingerprint scanner, NFC for contactless payments and solid Bluetooth. Pretty much all you could ask for.

The 48MP main camera sensor captures sharp snaps of subjects on the move, as well as respectable 4K footage. In fact, besides the slightly garish design, there’s really not all that much to dislike about the Poco X3 Pro. And though the branding might be an eyesore, the handset is solidly built with Gorilla Glass 6 and IP53 splash-resistance.

Note though that Poco phones still use Xiaomi’s MIUI launcher. So while you get bonus bits like the gaming mode and Control Center, you’ll also be lumbered with a shedload of junk – and a question mark over future updates.

Stuff says: ✭✭✭✭✭

A great-value handset that can’t be beaten for gaming power at the price

Tech Specs

Display: 6.67in 120Hz FHD+ IPS ● Processor: Snapdragon 860 • RAM: 6/8GB ● Storage: 128/256GB • Cameras: 48+8+2+2MP rear, 20MP front • Battery: 5160mAh • Weight: 215g


Motorola Moto G50

Keeping it in the family, the G50 shares the same plastic construction, hardware layout and general heft as the G30. The trade-off is excellent connectivity, with NFC, microSD card support and a 3.5mm headphone jack – plus the headline addition: 5G.

Similarities with the cheaper G30 continue up front, where you’ll find an identical 6.5in display with an underwhelming 1600×720 resolution and contrast that’s par for the course. But the G50 makes better use of the 90Hz refresh rates: while its chipset might seem less capable on paper, it’s more efficient and better able to keep up with taps and swipes.

You can still expect a short wait with more demanding apps, but the newer silicon delivers a slicker, quicker experience than the G30. It’s also largely up to the task for gaming. Frame rates can judder when loading Call of Duty Mobile, but things are perfectly playable once the action gets going.

That extra efficiency also maximises the staying power of the 5000mAh battery, regularly going a couple of days without a charge – which is useful, given the tardy 15W charging speeds.

In most areas, the G50 bests the G30 – but it’s arguably less capable than even the entry-level G10 when it comes to cameras. You get a triple-lens setup, with a 48MP sensor topping the bill. It lacks the raw detail captured by the G30’s main camera and, unsurprisingly, it struggles in low light.

Stuff says: ✭✭✭✭✩

There are better, faster 4G smartphones for the same price, but the G50 is a capable mid-ranger for anyone who wants wallet-friendly 5G

Tech Specs

Display: 6.5in 90Hz HD+ IPS ● Processor: Snapdragon 480 5G • RAM: 4GB ● Storage: 64/128GB • Cameras: 48+5+2MP rear, 13MP front • Battery: 5000mAh • Weight: 192g


Motorola Moto G30

Sandwiched between the cheaper G10 and the better-connected G50, the Moto G30 is a mid-range, middle-of-the-road mobile that offers plenty for those with a limited budget.

Despite its pared-back plastic build, the G30 is hefty at 200g and large enough to poke out of your pocket. That’s mainly down to the 6.5in display which fills the front of the phone. While its 20:9 aspect ratio is nicely cinematic, contrast is average and the 1600×720 resolution disappointing. And though the option to run 90Hz refresh rates is a welcome one, the impression of smoother motion is limited by chipset performance. Even running uncluttered Android 11, opening the app drawer isn’t stutter-free and swapping between apps takes longer than you’d like.

With a huge 64MP main sensor, the G30 does have one of the highest resolution cameras you’ll find on a phone at this price point. It deploys algorithmic cleverness to deliver 16MP photos, using the extra data to strip out image noise, boost details and grab more light. It works impressively well in daylight, but less convincingly after dark. Only one of its secondary snappers is worth your time: the 8MP ultra-wide is noisy but usable.

Where the G30 does excel is battery life. Pairing a beefy 5000mAh battery with a low-end, power-efficient CPU translates into impressive longevity: 48 hours between charges isn’t hard to manage.

Stuff says: ✭✭✭✭✩

Performance isn’t blistering, but the ultra-affordable Moto G30 packs in a lot for anyone on a tight budget

Tech Specs

Display: 6.5in 90Hz HD+ IPS ● Processor: Snapdragon 662 • RAM: 4/6GB ● Storage: 64/128GB • Cameras: 64+8+2+2MP rear, 13MP front • Battery: 5000mAh • Weight: 200g


Nokia G50

Nokia’s G50 is no speed demon. And while its 48MP main sensor deals well with detail, its multiple cameras are never going to blow you away. Plus you can get more muscle for your money from the likes of Poco, Realme and Redmi. So why would you opt for the plastic-shell Nokia? First, because it’s one of the cheapest ways to get a 5G handset, offering faster connectivity without a premium.

And second, because if you spend most of your time glued to YouTube, the G50’s giant screen is sure to entertain. At 6.82in, it’s larger than what you’ll find on many flagship phones costing five times the price. It’s not an OLED panel and refresh rates max out at 60Hz, but brightness is ample, colours natural and contrast decent.

The entry-level Snapdragon 480 processor was never going to feel especially snappy – and with only 4GB of RAM in support, apps regularly take a second to open. But you can still play titles like Call of Duty Mobile with too much stuttering.

It helps that Nokia has committed to Android One: the G50 ships with an OS free from CPU-sapping bloatware. It also benefits from a beefy 5000mAh battery that can comfortably last a day and a half between charges. Handy, even if the sizeable cell means the G50 is a weighty thing at 220g.

Stuff says: ✭✭✭✭✩

It’s not especially quick, but a big screen and 5G make the G50 a lot of device for your cash. Plus you get pure Android with guaranteed updates

Tech Specs

Display: 6.82in 60Hz FHD+ IPS ● Processor: Snapdragon 480 5G • RAM: 4/6GB ● Storage: 128GB • Cameras: 48+5+2MP rear, 8MP front • Battery: 5000mAh • Weight: 220g


Samsung Galaxy M32

Budget Galaxy handsets are nothing new, but affordable Samsung smartphones can be a mixed bag. One of the best you’ll find right now is the M32: offering a similar One UI experience to the wallet-emptying S21 range, it makes precious few compromises to hit the affordable price point.

Up front you’ll find a 6.4in Super AMOLED display with not-too-shabby 90Hz refresh rates. The Galaxy M32 also comes equipped with a 64MP rear camera, MediaTek Helio G80 processor and a sizeable 5000mAh battery. Plus you get that rare thing in today’s wireless world: a headphone port.

First impressions aren’t fantastic, thanks mainly to the Galaxy’s plastic shell. Spend a little longer with it, though, and you’ll soon be enticed by its AMOLED panel. Though it lacks HDR support, the screen’s as bright, sharp and gorgeous as any of its competitors.

The chip inside does stumble at times, though the M32 can generally keep up with everyday use – provided you’re not a major gamer. There’s also no 5G connectivity, but the budget Galaxy makes up for its absence with impressive efficiency: its big battery can power through even the longest of days

The 64MP main camera sensor is impressive, too. It can grab pleasingly natural pics and solid family snaps, even in tricky conditions – although rivals like the Redmi Note 10 Pro do better at shooting video.

Stuff says: ✭✭✭✭✩

One of the best budget Galaxy handsets, the M32 keeps many of the benefits of Samsung’s premium smartphones

Tech Specs

Display: 6.4in 90Hz FHD+ AMOLED ● Processor: MediaTek Helio G80 • RAM: 6GB ● Storage: 128GB • Cameras: 64+8+2+2MP rear, 20MP front • Battery: 5000mAh • Weight: 180g


Realme 8 Pro

Another cheap Chinese handset with unmissable branding on the back, Realme’s 8 Pro is more compact than many smartphones in this list. Which, given its 6.4in display, tells you something about the inflated scale of modern mobiles.

Look past the crude sloganeering and you’ll find its plastic shell features a textured finish that’s easy to grip and resistant to fingerprints. On the other side, its OLED screen is bright and crisp – although it tops out at 60Hz, so you won’t benefit from the smoothest of motion. There’s no stereo speaker setup, either.

A Snapdragon 720G chipset is on hand to keep things running swiftly. The Realme 8 Pro has a gaming mode too, although dedicated players will be better served by the Poco X3 Pro. The 4500mAh cell inside takes a lot to drain, while 50W fast-charging comfortably trumps the competition.

A 108MP primary sensor matches the Redmi Note 10 Pro and Moto Edge 20 Lite for pixel-binning smarts, serving up bright, detailed shots even in tricky lighting. You’ll also find a fistful of filters and effects on tap, including video modes which can change the background to blurred bokeh or monochrome.

Like MIUI, the Realme UI launcher is a meaty thing, packed with extras and personalisation tools. And with 128GB of expandable storage, you’ll be free to download a library of apps and media.

Stuff says: ✭✭✭✭✩

An affordable smartphone with solid camera chops, even if other specs can’t match up to its rivals

Tech Specs

Display: 6.4in 60Hz FHD+ AMOLED ● Processor: Snapdragon 720G • RAM: 6/8GB ● Storage: 128GB • Cameras: 108+8+2+2MP rear, 16MP front • Battery: 4500mAh • Weight: 176g


Motorola Moto Edge 20 Lite

Like your Android with a vanilla flavour? Motorola’s Edge 20 Lite shuns launchers to serve up the Google OS in its purest form. The only addition? Motorola’s Moto Experiences app, which adds handy extras like a chopping gesture to turn on the camera flash.

With a MediaTek Dimensity 720 chipset at its disposal, performance is excellent for everyday tasks – and you can easily kill an afternoon killing strangers online in PUBG or Call of Duty.

Stamina is also excellent, thanks to the efficient processor and a massive 5000mAh battery. Support for 30W Turbo Power also means the Edge 20 Lite is no slow poke when it comes to recharging.

Front and centre you’ll find another pocket-filling display: a 6.7in OLED number with support for HDR10+ and 90Hz refresh rates. It’s plenty big enough for streaming, gaming and generally going about your business. You also get 128GB of storage on-board – plus the option to expand it with a microSD card – as well as a headphone jack.

As for snapping, the main sensor is a 108MP beast which uses pixel-binning to produce bright but natural snaps. As is common for affordable phone cameras, it struggles in dim light – but Motorola’s AI smarts help you to get attractive pics. There’s also a 32MP selfie-cam for capturing every wrinkle.

Stuff says: ✭✭✭✭✩

A slick, accessible way to enjoy the stock Android experience with 5G connectivity

Tech Specs

Display: 6.7in 90Hz FHD+ OLED ● Processor: MediaTek Dimensity 720 • RAM: 8GB ● Storage: 128GB • Cameras: 108+8+2MP rear, 32MP front • Battery: 5000mAh • Weight: 185g


TCL 10L

If TCL is new to your radar, you’re not alone. It produced BlackBerry devices for years, but now the manufacturer is going it alone with smartphones of its own. And the 10L is a whole lot of handset for not a lot of cash.

Solid Snapdragon processor? Check. Chunky 6GB of RAM? Check. Full HD 6.5in display which would’ve taken pride of place on a flagship just a few years back? You bet. Software tricks can also upscale standard streamed video to HDR, adding to the pop factor.

It’s got reassuring stamina too. While a 4000mAh battery might not sound impressive next to the 5000mAh cells inside several competitors, the TCL 10L still lasts and lasts. Performance from that Snapdragon chipset is solid as well, with more than enough multi-tasking grunt. An update to Android 11 also unlocked a batch of fresh features.

So what are the weak bits? Well the 10L won’t win any design awards. Its back and sides might look like metal and glass, but you’ll only find plastic lurking. Like most other semi-affordable Android handsets, TCL has also taken the four-cam route with the 10L: one is fairly good, one is OK, and the macro and depth cameras are rubbish. And they’re arranged in an unsightly horizontal bar across the back.

Stuff says: ✭✭✭✩✩

An unremarkable but very affordable first effort from TCL which gets plenty right for the price

Tech Specs

Display: 6.53in 60Hz FHD IPS ● Processor: Snapdragon 665 • RAM: 6GB ● Storage: 64/128GB • Cameras: 48+8+2+2MP rear, 16MP front • Battery: 4000mAh • Weight: 180g