Best budget smartphones to buy

  1. Xiaomi Redmi Note 9: The best budget phone in 2020

Xiaomi hit a rich vein of form with the first few of its budget handsets to reach UK shores, and its newest smartphone is no different. The Xiaomi Redmi Note 9 is far, far better than it has any right to be for a phone that costs less than £200.

Yes, the phone we’d recommend above all other wallet-friendly options on the market is the Xiaomi Redmi Note 9. Xiaomi’s latest budget stunner packs a MediaTek Helio G85 processor with a choice of 3GB or 4GB of RAM, 64GB or 128GB of internal storage and a beefy 5,020mAh battery. All of this is packed into a smart-looking 6.53in frame with no fewer than four cameras on the back – including a macro lens and an impressive 48-megapixel camera.

You might think to see these sorts of high-level specs in a flagship phone, so it’s a proper treat to see these features in a phone that costs less than £200. The Xiaomi Redmi Note 9 is the very definition of a budget smartphone – setting the benchmark for future releases – and at this price, there’s simply nothing better.

Key specs – Processor: Octa-core 2GHz MediaTek Helio G85; Display: 6.53in 2,340 x 1,080; Storage: 64GB or 128GB; Camera: 48-megapixel, 8-megapixel (wide), 2-megapixel (macro), 2-megapixel (depth); Operating system: Android 10; Weight: 199g

  1. Nokia 1.3: The best budget smartphone under £100

A sub-£100 smartphone used to bring about negative connotations, but the Nokia 1.3 is far better than its bargain price suggests. Running a specially tweaked version of Android that caters to low-powered devices, the Nokia 1.3 exceeds all expectations for a phone so cheap. Despite the comparatively weak hardware (it only has 1GB of RAM and 16GB of storage), it runs surprisingly well, has a bright IPS display and has a camera that isn’t half bad for the price.

Its sturdy build materials and compact design should help it last the test of time, too, and the replaceable battery is great for future-proofing. It may be lacking when it comes to raw performance, and there are far better alternatives if your buying budget can stretch beyond £100, but when it comes down to sheer affordability, you can’t do much better than the Nokia 1.3.

Key specs – Processor: Quad-core 1.3GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 215; Display: 5.7in 1,520 x 720; Storage: 16GB; Camera: 8-megapixel; Operating system: Android 10 Go; Weight: 155g

  1. Samsung Galaxy M31: The best budget battery life

Samsung’s well-priced Galaxy M31 is the very best when it comes to battery life. With a gigantic 6,000mAh battery, the Galaxy M31 outperformed every single phone we’ve ever tested, lasting over 30 hours in our video playback test. There’s simply nothing else quite like it at the moment, so if battery life is at the top of your smartphone-buying agenda, then there’s no need to look elsewhere.

If it isn’t, then there’s still a whole lot to love about the Galaxy M31. It has an excellent screen, decent performance and a quadruple-camera setup (with a massive 64-megapixel sensor) that’s among the very best for the price. The only thing we didn’t like is its rather plain design, but this can be excused when you consider everything else it has going for it – even more so if you decide to pop it in a case.

Key specs – Processor: Octa-core 2.3GHz Samsung Exynos 9611; Display: 6.4in 2,340 x 1,080; Storage: 64GB; Camera: 64-megapixel, 8-megapixel (wide), 5-megapixel (macro), 5-megapixel (depth); Operating system: Android 10; Weight: 191g

  1. Motorola Moto G9 Play: The budget Moto to beat

Motorola has outdone itself yet again with the Moto G9 Play. Strangely enough, though, the cheapest of Moto’s newest budget phones is essentially the regular Moto G9 for Europe, with Motorola simply slapping the ‘Play’ title on top for good measure.

Regardless of the confusing name change, there’s nothing bewildering about the Moto G9 Play’s cutthroat value proposition. With cuts in just the right places, the Moto G9 Play hits the nail on the head in a number of areas, with respectable performance, increase battery life over the Moto G8 and the return of NFC for contactless card payments.

The only reason why the Moto G9 Play isn’t higher on this list is that it doesn’t offer as many notable improvements over the Moto G8 as we’d have liked. Still, for the price (it’s slightly cheaper than the Moto G8), the Moto G9 Play is a step up in value terms and remains a standout choice in the budget category.

Key specs – Processor: Octa-core 2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 662; Display: 6.5in 1,600 x 720; Storage: 64GB; Camera: 48-megapixel, 2-megapixel (macro), 2-megapixel (depth); Operating system: Android 10; Weight: 200g

  1. Samsung Galaxy A21s: Samsung’s best-value phone yet

Samsung’s smartphone offering doesn’t begin and end with the pricey Galaxy S line of handsets, and the savvy buyer can scoop us some well-made, affordable options for not much money. The Galaxy A21s is one such device, with an eye-catching design, massive 6.5in screen and exceptionally long battery life.

If you aren’t keen to hand over flagship-sized sums for your latest phone upgrade, then the Galaxy A21s is a fashionable choice. What’s most impressive, for instance, is that the Galaxy A21s benefits from a total of four rear cameras, with a massive 48-megapixel sensor sitting among its photographic arsenal. Capturing detail-rich photos with plenty of vibrancy, the Galaxy A21s is a top-notch smartphone snapper for the price.

It may have some difficulty competing against budget hallmarks from rivals such as Motorola and Xiaomi, but where it counts the Galaxy A21s is a solid choice, excelling in most areas. If your buying budget simply can’t stretch above £200, then this is the phone to get.

Key specs – Processor: Octa-core 2GHz Samsung Exynos 850; Display: 6.5in 1,600 x 720; Storage: 32GB; Camera: 48-megapixel, 8-megapixel (wide), 2-megapixel (macro), 2-megapixel (depth); Operating system: Android 10; Weight: 192g

  1. Motorola Moto G 5G Plus: Cheapest 5G phone

The price of entry into the world of 5G smartphones in the UK used to be well out of reach of most buyer’s wallets, but it’s beginning to slide downwards. The Moto G 5G Plus is the first 5G-equipped handset to break the £300 mark and is almost half the price of the next cheapest 5G smartphone, the Galaxy A90 5G.

Even if you aren’t fussed about 5G, the Moto G 5G Plus is a phenomenal phone in all other respects. It’s stupendously fast for the price, has a large, colour-accurate screen, a big, long-lasting battery and a decent suite of cameras. Whatever your needs, the Moto G 5G Plus is one of the best smartphones you can buy for around £300.

Key specs – Processor: Octa-core 2.4GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 765; Display: 6.7in 2,520 x 1,080; Storage: 64GB, 128GB; Camera: 48-megapixel, 8-megapixel (wide), 5-megapixel (macro), 2-megapixel (depth); Operating system: Android 10; Weight: 207g

 

  1. Apple iPhone 7: The cheapest iPhone

It might not be Apple’s most up-to-date iPhone, but the iPhone 7 is still a solid buy. If your smartphone buying budget can’t quite stretch to the new iPhone SE (£409), then the iPhone 7, despite launching in 2016, will still serve you well.

The iPhone 7’s build quality holds up in 2020, as does its lovely-looking 4.7in Retina display. Likewise, the iPhone 7’s A10 Fusion processor, while no match for the iPhone 11 and its A13 Bionic chipset, is still more than capable with a variety of intensive tasks. The iPhone 7 also supports the newest version of Apple’s mobile operating system, iOS 14, if you were worried that you might be outdated on the software side of things.

Most importantly, however, is that unlike older generation iPhones, the iPhone 7 can still be purchased new, which means you don’t have to rely on third-party resellers and refurbished models. As such, if you want an Apple phone on a budget and aren’t fussed about it being slightly outdated, then the iPhone 7 is clearly your best bet.

Key specs – Processor: Quad-core 2.34GHz Apple A10 Fusion; Display: 4.7in 1,334 x 750; Storage: 32GB, 128GB; Camera: 12-megapixel; Operating system: iOS 14; Weight: 138g

 

  1. Sony Xperia L4: Sony’s best budget phone

Sony’s Xperia L4 might not be a flagship phone, but that’s not to say that it’s light on features. This isn’t anywhere close to the sort of pared-down experience you might expect from a phone at this price, with a generously-sized 6.2in screen, a triple rear camera arrangement and a reasonably competent MediaTek Helio P22 processor, paired with 3GB of RAM and 64GB of expandable storage.

For less than £200, that’s certainly not a bad offering from Sony. The only reason this isn’t higher on the list is that some brands – namely Xiaomi and Motorola – are now doing things slightly better for slightly less. Still, if you’re a Sony fan and don’t want to fork over Xperia 1 II-sized sums for your next smartphone, then the Xperia L4 is a worthy choice.

Key specs – Processor: Octa-core 2GHz MediaTek Helio P22 ; Display: 6.2in 1,680 x 720; Storage: 64GB; Camera: 13-megapixel, 5-megapixel (wide), 2-megapixel (depth); Operating system: Android 9; Weight: 178g

  1. Realme 6: The cheapest 90Hz phone around

The Realme 6’s main attraction is its a smooth 90Hz 6.5in display, a feature that until recently only flagship phones carrying price tags well north of £500 were capable of. This lends onscreen animations extra fluidity that other budget phones simply can’t match. CPU performance is on a par with the Motorola Moto G8 Plus as is battery life at 17hrs 30mins in our video rundown test and, for graphics performance, the Realme 6 beats pretty much all its rivals.

Couple that with a set of five cameras – including a 64-megapixel main shooter, an ultra-wide-angle, a macro and a black and white snapper – which feature alongside a 16-megapixel selfie camera and you have one hell of a good-value phone. The only significant thing missing is water resistance but not many budget phones have that. It’s a stunner.

Key specs – Processor: Octa-core 2.2GHz Mediatek Helio G90T (MT6785) ; Display: 6.5in 2,400 x 1,080; Storage: 64GB; Camera: 64-megapixel, 8-megapixel (wide), 2-megapixel (macro), 2-megapixel (mono); Operating system: Android 9; Weight: 162g

  1. Apple iPhone SE (2020): The best-value (new) iPhone

The iPhone SE (2020) might be stretching the definition of a “budget” smartphone, but Apple’s idea of what constitutes as cheap isn’t exactly the same as everyone else’s. If you want a new iPhone – the iPhone 6s above is getting on a bit – then your best-value option is the iPhone SE.

Despite having the look and feel of a phone from days gone by, the iPhone SE is a formidable small-sized handset that benefits from Apple’s fastest-ever mobile chipset, the A13 Bionic. That’s the same processor found inside the iPhone 11, which costs more than double the price. The cheapest iPhone by quite a distance, the iPhone SE’s 12-megapixel camera is also absolutely exceptional. The only fly in the ointment is the short battery life, but if you are able to spend twice as much compared to other phones on this list, then the iPhone SE (2020) is well worth considering.

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