Best budget smartphone 2021: the top picks of the cheap mobiles around

You no longer need to spend a lot to get a lot, with many of the best cheap phones packing in the sort of performance and features that you’d have needed a flagship for not so many years ago.

Our guide is focused on handsets that cost roughly £200 or less, and even within that price range you can get respectable power, huge batteries, FHD+ screens, quad-lens cameras and more.

Their overall specs and performance won’t be a match for pricier phones, but in some cases they’ll come surprisingly close, and some of these handsets actually offer better battery life than top-end phones.

The Xiaomi Poco X3 NFC is a prime example of how much you can get for little money. This currently tops our list of the best cheap phones thanks to its 120Hz refresh rate (which is a match for the Samsung Galaxy S21 and double what the iPhone 12 offers), plus its quad-lens camera and long-lasting battery.

But while that’s the cheap phone champion, there are loads of other excellent options too, such as the Moto G9 Power and the Oppo A5 2020. We’ve listed all the best cheap choices below, along with an overview of what makes them so great.

But if you’re not on such a tight budget you could get something even better by stretching to a handset in one of our other smartphone guides below.

Poco X3 NFC

(Image credit: TechRadar)

1. Xiaomi Poco X3 NFC

A lot of phone for not very much cash

Weight: 215g | Dimensions: 165.3 x 76.8 x 9.4mm | OS: Android 10 | Screen size: 6.67-inch | Resolution: 1080 x 2400 | CPU: Snapdragon 732G | RAM: 6GB | Storage: 64GB / 128GB | Battery: 5,160mAh | Rear camera: 64MP + 13MP + 2MP + 2MP | Front camera: 20MP

Great 120Hz screen
Excellent battery life
Struggling camera
Sometimes erratic backlight

It's rare to get a 120Hz screen on a budget, but that's exactly what you get with the Xiaomi Poco X3 NFC. That can make interactions feel smoother, and its 6.67-inch 1080 x 2400 screen is large and fairly sharp too, as well as supporting HDR10.

And it's not just the screen that stands out, as the Poco X3 NFC also has a fairly powerful Snapdragon 732G chipset, which offers excellent gaming performance for the money. With a big 5,160mAh battery too (which we found offered up to two days of life with moderate use) this really is a remarkable cheap phone.

There are some compromises, most notably when it comes to the camera, which isn’t as good as some others at this end of the market, but for gaming, video, and most general use, the Xiaomi Poco X3 NFC is hard to beat without spending quite a bit more.

Read our full review: Xiaomi Poco X3 NFC

Moto G9 Power

(Image credit: TechRadar)

2. Moto G9 Power

One of the best phones on a budget

Weight: 221g | Dimensions: 172.1 x 76.8 x 9.7mm | OS: Android 10 | Screen size: 6.8-inch | Resolution: 720 x 1640 | CPU: Snapdragon 662 | RAM: 4GB | Storage: 128GB | Battery: 6,000mAh | Rear camera: 64MP + 2MP + 2MP | Front camera: 16MP

Long-lasting battery
Spacious screen
Average performance
On the bulky side

Motorola consistently makes some of the best cheap phones, and the Moto G9 Power is among its best affordable handsets yet, thanks in large part to its massive 6,000mAh battery. That’s far bigger than the batteries in most phones of any budget, and it translates into almost two days of life with average use.

But the Moto G9 Power also has a similarly massive 6.8-inch screen, which – while only 720 x 1640 – means it’s great for watching movies on.

With expandable storage too, plus 20W fast charging and a triple-lens camera (led by a 64MP lens), there’s a lot to like here, though it’s a bit on the bulky side and only offers average performance. Still, there aren’t many powerful phones at this end of the market, so that’s not the biggest of issues.

Read our full review: Moto G9 Power

Redmi Note 9 Pro

(Image credit: Future)

3. Xiaomi Redmi Note 9S

A champion budget smartphone

Weight: 209g | Dimensions: 165.8 x 76.7 x 8.8mm | OS: Android 10 | Screen size: 6.67-inch | Resolution: 1080 x 2400 | CPU: Snapdragon 720G | RAM: 4GB / 6GB | Storage: 64GB / 128GB | Battery: 5,020mAh | Rear camera: 48MP + 8MP + 5MP + 2MP | Front camera: 16MP

Impressive battery life
Reliable performance
'Only' 60Hz display
Bulky build

Xiaomi is becoming a major player in affordable phones, and handsets like the Xiaomi Redmi Note 9S show why.

It has a big and long-lasting 5,020mAh battery, decent performance from its Snapdragon 720G chipset, and a great 6.67-inch 1080 x 2400 screen. You also get up to 128GB of storage, and a quad-lens camera, consisting of a 48MP primary sensor, an 8MP ultra-wide one, a 5MP macro one, and a 2MP depth one.

The Redmi Note 9S is a bit chunky and it lacks the showy 120Hz screen of its sibling the Poco X3 NFC, but it comes very close to matching that phone, and is similarly cheap. If you’re looking to game on a budget or just want a long-lasting battery and a big screen, the Xiaomi Redmi Note 9S is an excellent choice.

Read our full review: Xiaomi Redmi Note 9S

Moto G8

(Image credit: TechRadar)

4. Moto G8

The main Moto G8 handset, and perhaps the best

Weight: 188.3g | Dimensions: 161.3 x 75.8 x 9mm | OS: Android 10 | Screen size: 6.4-inch | Resolution: 720 x 1560 | CPU: Snapdragon 665 | RAM: 4GB | Storage: 64GB | Battery: 4,000mAh | Rear camera: 16MP + 8MP + 2MP | Front camera: 8MP

Strong performance
Great battery life
No NFC feels like a miss
Only 720p display

The Moto G8 is even cheaper than the Moto G7 was at launch, which is a remarkable achievement. Despite that, it’s an improvement in a number of ways, and arguably the best of the Moto G8 range (once you factor in price).

It offers great life from its 4,000mAh battery, delivers strong performance with its Snapdragon 665 chipset and 4GB of RAM, and has a triple-lens camera which - macro lens aside - is impressive for the money. The screen is big too, and the Moto G8 has a more premium design than many phones at this price.

It’s not quite the perfect budget handset, as the screen is only 720 x 1560, and there’s no NFC. But it comes very, very close.

Read our full review: Moto G8

Oppo A5 2020

(Image credit: Future)

5. Oppo A5 2020

One of the very best budget phones

Weight: 195g | Dimensions: 163.6 x 75.4 x 9.1mm | OS: Android 9 | Screen size: 6.5 pulgadas | Resolution: 720 x 1600 | CPU: Snapdragon 665 | RAM: 3/4GB | Storage: 64/128GB | Battery: 5,000mAh | Rear camera: 12MP + 8MP + 2MP + 2MP | Front camera: 8MP

Superb battery life
Spacious screen
So-so performance
Unimpressive camera

Oppo isn't a massive name in the west, but it has started selling phones here, and some of them – such as the Oppo A5 2020 – are well worth paying attention to.

This has a price that's the definition of budget, yet packs in a spacious, bright, and vibrant 6.5-inch 720 x 1600 screen, and a massive 5,000mAh battery, which in our tests lasted well over a day between charges.

It also sports a surprisingly expensive-looking (albeit plastic-clad) design, and a quad-lens camera. The actual performance of that camera isn't special, and nor is the middling Snapdragon 665 chipset, but for the money the Oppo A5 2020 makes some very smart compromises.

Read our full review: Oppo A5 2020

Huawei P Smart (2019)

6. Huawei P Smart (2019)

Super stylish for the money

Weight: 160g | Dimensions: 155.2 x 73.4 x 8mm | OS: Android 9 | Screen size: 6.21-inch | Resolution: 1080 x 2340 | CPU: Kirin 710 | RAM: 3GB | Storage: 32/64GB | Battery: 3,400mAh | Rear camera: 13MP + 2MP | Front camera: 8/16MP

Slick design at great price
Ample storage
Only one speaker
Camera can overly process

The Huawei P Smart 2019 was for a long time the best cheap phone you could buy and it's still one of the best.

It packs a usable camera, plenty of storage and great battery life as well as a screen and design that punch way above their weight.  

There is very little between the Huawei P Smart and the Honor 10 Lite, as they're practically the same device, but the P Smart has the edge with its slightly sharper design.

Read our full review: Huawei P Smart (2019)

Honor 10 Lite

7. Honor 10 Lite

A worthy rival to the Huawei P Smart

Weight: 162g | Dimensions: 154.8 x 73.6 x 8mm | OS: Android 9 | Screen size: 6.21-inch | Resolution: 1080 x 2340 | CPU: Kirin 710 | RAM: 3GB | Storage: 32/64GB | Battery: 3,400mAh | Rear camera: 13MP + 2MP | Front camera: 24MP

Premium look for low cost
Great display
Micro USB port is dated
Camera images overly processed

The Honor 10 Lite is a little unlucky to be ranked below the Huawei P Smart (2019) as it's almost identical.

But if you're a frequent Snapchatter or selfie addict the 24MP front-facing camera on the Honor 10 Lite is the one for you.

If you're thinking "isn't there a Honor 20 Lite out?" you're totally right, but there's very little difference between that and the Honor 10 Lite, save the price tag, so we're keeping the older device up here for now.

Read our full review: Honor 10 Lite

(Image credit: Future)

8. Motorola One Macro

A great handset but not for its macro skills

Weight: 186g | Dimensions: 157.6 x 75.4 x 9mm | OS: Android 9 | Screen size: 6.2-inch | Resolution: 720 x 1520 | CPU: Helio P70 | RAM: 4GB | Storage: 64GB | Battery: 4,000mAh | Rear camera: 13MP + 2MP + 2MP | Front camera: 8MP

Good screen
Dependable battery life
Bad cameras

The Motorola One Macro is a great budget phone, but not for the reasons its name might make you think. Yes, it has a dedicated macro lens, but in our review we found both this and its 13MP main and 2MP depth sensors to perform poorly.

Rather, the Motorola One Macro is good in most other ways, from its decent 6.2-inch 720 x 1520 screen, to its durable design, and its 4,000mAh battery, which provides above average life.

If not for its cameras the Motorola One Macro would be a great budget all-rounder, as things stand it’s a great budget almost all-rounder, ideal for anyone who doesn’t care much about smartphone photography.

Read our full review: Motorola One Macro

Realme 3 Pro

9. Realme 3 Pro

The Realme 3 Pro makes a great impression for a cheap phone

Weight: 172g | Dimensions: 156.8 x 74.2 x 8.3mm | OS: Android 9 | Screen size: 6.3-inch | Resolution: 1080 x 2340 | CPU: Snapdragon 710 | RAM: 4/6GB | Storage: 64/128GB | Battery: 4,045mAh | Rear camera: 16MP + 5MP | Front camera: 25MP

Class-leading camera
Great screen and fast charging
Fussy software

Sporting an eye-catching and robust design, along with a bright capacious screen, decent speakers, generous specifications and a powerful chipset, the Realme 3 Pro really does have an odd character of its own.

Though its software design might be divisive, it has no major issues. It has a class-leading camera for the price point, along with dependable stamina and the handy option of very fast charging. 

Read our full review: Realme 3 Pro

Moto G9 Play

(Image credit: TechRadar)

10. Moto G9 Play

Low in cost, high on value

Weight: 200g | Dimensions: 165.2 x 75.7 x 9.2mm | OS: Android 10 | Screen size: 6.5-inch | Resolution: 720 x 1600 | CPU: Snapdragon 662 | RAM: 4GB | Storage: 64GB | Battery: 5,000mAh | Rear camera: 48MP + 2MP + 2MP | Front camera: 8MP

Good speaker
Useful night photography mode
Some rivals have sharper screens
Plastic build

The Moto G9 Play isn’t the best of Motorola’s G9 range, but at the time of writing it is the cheapest in the range, which is reason enough to consider it if you’re looking to save money.

That’s not the only reason to consider the Moto G9 Play though, as it also has a surprisingly good speaker and a 5,000mAh battery. That means it can last beyond a day between charges, and it juices up at a respectable 20W. It also has a 48MP main camera with a useful night mode, and offers reasonable performance – even when gaming.

The screen is a good size too at 6.5 inches, and while the Moto G9 Play is clad in plastic, it looks a lot more expensive than it is from a distance. The main issue with it is simply that other phones on this list are better – especially when it comes to screen resolution, which at 720 x 1600 isn’t great.

Read our full review: Moto G9 Play

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