Flagship phones are more expensive than ever in 2018, 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 2018
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 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 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.
This is the case with the Vodafone Smart N8, but if you don’t want to become a Vodafone customer you should look elsewhere on the list for a non-network-branded handset.
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 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.)
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 G6 Play
The Moto G6 Play is a great little surprise of a phone. It holds its own next to the other two G6 phones and has better battery life (and a cooler fingerprint sensor).
The 18:9 display and premium (but plastic) design means it feels just as well-made as phones double the price but doesn’t compromise on performance to do so.
With a headphone jack as a plus, a minus is micro-USB but we’ll forgive that on its strengths and can recommend the G6 Play as one of the best budget phones of 2018.
Read our Moto G6 Play review.
The Desire 12+ is a decent effort at a budget phone and there’s a number of things we like about it. Namely the lightweight and comfortable design and generally good performance.
However, it falls down in a little in some key areas such as the screen which isn’t as crisp as we’d like and the cameras which under-perform.
When you consider that the Honor 9 Lite is the same price and improves on these areas, it’s a bit of a no brainer.
Read our HTC Desire 12+ review.
4. Moto G5
There’s plenty of competition in Android’s budget market, but the Moto G5 is still 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.
It’s a steal, but the Moto G6 Play is better and newer for not much more.
Read our Moto G5 review.
5. 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.
6. 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.
The 2GB RAM model we reviewed lacks features compared to the better-specced Redmi Note 5A options that cost only slightly more. There’s no fingerprint scanner, a slower processor, a less impressive selfie camera and less memory and storage.
But none of this takes away from the fact this super-budget smartphone offers extraordinary value under £70. It doesn’t excel at any one particular thing, but it is capable for less demanding users and nicely designed for a plastic phone.
If you do buy the Note 5A we strongly recommend choosing a Global variant for improved connectivity and the preinstallation of Google Services.
Read our Xiaomi Redmi Note 5A (2GB) review.
The Redmi 4A is ageing, and yet it remains a very good budget phone and a decent all-rounder under £100. Though it lacks more modern aspects such as a fingerprint scanner, metal build and 18:9 display, it’s almost impossible to argue at this price. The 4A has since been succeeded by the 5A, but there’s really no difference in core specification, making this an even better deal if you can find it at a rock-bottom price. The Global model is recommended, provided you’re happy to get along with MIUI 8.5.
Read our Xiaomi Redmi 4A 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. Alcatel 3V
In the world of budget phones, the Alcatel 3V is a decent enough buy if you go for the £105 deal at Tesco Mobile.
You’ll need to be ok with some laggy performance and the unreliable cameras. You do get some reasonable specs, though, including a decent 18:9 screen and a fingerprint scanner.
If you’re budget can stretch, though, spend a little more and get the Moto G6 Play.
Read our Alcatel 3V review.