Your buying guide for the best budget phones in 2018
In our experience the best 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, which is just a third or less of the price you’d often pay for flagships such as the Galaxy S9, HTC U11 and LG V30 – take a look at our guide to the best phones on the market for more on those flagships.
Ranked in order below are our reviews of what we consider to be the best budget phones on sale right now. We’ve based this chart on the SIM-free price as contracts change so often.
Do note that we’ve included only the phones for which we’ve completed our full benchmarking, which explains why the new Moto G6 Play is not yet included. You can check out our hands-on review here.
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. And if you’re ready to buy one, check out our best phone deals to make sure you find the best price.
If you’re after a phone for under £50 take a look at our best basic phones roundup, which includes decent phones that trade off features for the best prices and cost from just £10.
Should I 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 2018.
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 best budget phones 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.)
1. Honor 9 Lite
The Honor 9 Lite might not have all the mod cons but it’s one of the cheapest phones around to offer an 18:9 screen with a bezel-free design. It’s an attractive phone and general specs are good, including no less than four cameras. It doesn’t have flawless performance but there’s little to complain about at under £200 making it the best budget phone around.
Read our Honor 9 Lite review.
2. Moto G5
There’s plenty of competition in Android’s budget market, but the Moto G5 is one of the best. The build quality alone feels like it belongs on a much more expensive phone, while the fingerprint gesture controls genuinely improve the Android experience.
The benchmarks and battery hold it back, but they’re not unreasonable given the price. You’ll find better specs in Chinese phones, but if you don’t need a dual-SIM phone and you want the peace of mind of a proper UK warranty, it’s a solid choice.
But do check out the G5s as well if your budget can stretch a little.
Read our Moto G5 review.
3. Nokia 5
We’ve long been lovers of the Moto G series for the top pick in the budget Android category, and the Nokia 5 nearly beats it. It’s the best of Nokia’s mid-range devices for sure.
With a decent camera, excellent performance and a stunning design, we are blown away by the low price tag offered here.
A downside is the screen resolution, but if you can look past this and you’re looking for an Android smartphone that costs less than £200, you can’t get much better than this.
Read our Nokia 5 review.
4. EE Hawk
The EE Hawk is a little gem at the start of 2018. The build is above average for the asking price, and it is a solid handset to go for if you simply need to use 4G data on a smartphone but don’t want to spend half your paycheck to do it.
It is not a phone to game on due to the low powered internals, but it copes with video fine. The display is quite washed out, but the clean Android software makes up for this. You won’t want to post many pictures from the not-great camera on Instagram, but if you want a decent snapper, you’ll look at phones that cost more.
The EE Hawk is up there with the Moto G5 as one of the best budget smartphones in the UK.
Read our EE Hawk review.
A similar performer to the UK’s best budget phone, the Moto G5, but with enhanced cameras and more storage, the Elephone P8 Mini is a great buy if you’re happy to import it from China.
Read our Elephone P8 Mini review.
6. UMIDIGI Z1
It’s not as fast as its predecessors, with which it shares the same but still just as good-looking design, but we do like the extra battery power and storage space, and the improved cameras of the Z1. We’re also pretty keen on the price – at £139 the UMIDIGI Z1 is a very impressive budget phone.
Read our UMIDIGI Z1 review.
7. Elephone S7
The Elephone S7 is a very good-looking phone at an affordable price, with decent performance and a generous helping of storage. On the down side the cameras are disappointing and the rear panel is plastic. Even at this price you don’t need to compromise so heavily.
Read our Elephone S7 review.
8. Maze Alpha X
18:9 screens are the current fashion and the Alpha X is one of the most affordable phones to have one.
Its specs are pretty good considering the price, but the big battery does make it quite heavy.
Ultimately, the Alpha X is good value despite its middling cameras and performance.
Read our Maze Alpha X review.
If you are OK with being stuck on Vodafone, the Smart N8 is pretty much the least you should spend on a functioning smartphone. You won’t see much of an improvement in performance unless you spend double the £79 asking price, so for teenagers or as a simple internet tool it will suffice.
But beyond simple apps like Facebook and Instagram, the N8 struggles. Running several apps at once grinds it to a halt, and any form of graphical gaming is a no. But it’s not built for that, and if your needs are simple then the N8 will suffice. If it’s a little too underpowered, check out something higher up this chart.
Read our Vodafone Smart N8 review.
10. Nokia 3
The Nokia 3 has a few things going for it: it looks absolutely fantastic for the price, it runs stock Android, and it includes NFC, and thus Android Pay. Unfortunately, Nokia has just cut too many corners on the internal specs, with slow speeds and a disappointing camera, to make the 3 stand out amid a fiercely competitive budget smartphone market.
Read our Nokia 3 review.