Flagship phones are more expensive than ever in 2020 but as the top-end gets better, so too do the cheap smartphones. It's possible to buy a mobile phone on a budget of under £250/$250 and still get a phone capable of handling everything you throw at it.
The Realme 6 is the current winner thanks to it's frankly insane amount of specs for just over £200 including a 90Hz screen, quad rear cameras and 30W fast charging. Performance and battery life are solid, too.
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 our reviews you'll find expert buying advice to help decide whether a particular cheap phone really is the bargain it claims to be.
1. Realme 6
The Realme 6 is hands-down one of the best budget phones we've ever tested.
It's slightly chunky size won't be for everyone but this is currently the cheapest phone you can buy with a 90Hz display and it also has some decent cameras, speedy performance and solid battery life.
There's very little to dislike, especially when you can get it for just over £200. It can rival phones more than double the price.
Read our full Realme 6 review
2. Xiaomi Redmi Note 9S
The Redmi Note 9S (aka Redmi Note 9 Pro in India) might have had its thunder stolen by the equally awesome Realme 6, but it remains one of the best budget phones we've seen. This is a fantastic phone for less than £200, a real all-rounder with decent performance and cameras, as well as mind-blowing battery life. The Redmi recorded the longest time in the Geekbench 4 battery life test that we've seen to date.
We are not fans of the rear camera module, and the lack of NFC is a shame, but those niggles aside it ticks all our boxes at this price point.
In the next update we'd love to see waterproofing (the Redmi Note 9S is merely splashproof) and wireless - or at least faster wired - charging, which are gradually creeping into cheaper phones. To truly take on Realme it also needs a 90Hz display. But, for now, this is a fine example of not a lot of money very well spent.
Read our full Xiaomi Redmi Note 9S review
3. Xiaomi Redmi Note 8T
The Redmi Note 8T offers extraordinary value at £179. This is a mid-ranger with a budget price, offering a 48Mp quad-lens camera, a 6.3in AMOLED display, a 4,000mAh battery and a capable Snapdragon 665 processor. It adds NFC and 18W wired charging to the Redmi Note 8 elsewhere.
Read our full Xiaomi Redmi Note 8T review
4. Oppo A9 2020
The Oppo A9 2020 is a budget handset the manages to excel in multiple areas - with an attractive design, a 48MP quad-camera and a massive 5000mAh battery that outshines even some of the most expensive phones on the market.
It's not without faults, of course. Though the battery life is excellent, there's no fast charging. Though the night mode on the camera is stellar, the user-experience of taking photos really needs refining to be simpler and cleaner.
For the price point, however, you're getting a very good camera smartphone that feels high-end and a device that won't die on you quickly. For these reasons we'd definitely say that the Oppo A9 2020 is a budget contender.
Read our full Oppo A9 2020 review
5. Xiaomi Redmi Note 7
It's starting to get a little long in the tooth, but it's difficult to argue with the value offered by this mid-range phone with a budget price. Redmi Note 7 remains available from GearBest for just £147.60.
Looking more like the Mi flagship line than any before it, it has a gorgeous all-glass design and rocks an impressive dual-camera with 48Mp lens.
With a big screen and all-day battery life, we love Redmi Note 7's headphone jack and IR blaster, dual-SIM functionality and microSD storage expansion, and given the low price can turn a blind eye to the lack of NFC and premium features such as an in-display fingerprint sensor, wireless charging and waterproofing.
General performance is decent, up there with other Snapdragon 660 phones costing around £350, making this a great all-rounder.
Read our full Xiaomi Redmi Note 7 review
6. Oppo A5 2020
The Oppo A5 2020 is a great affordable option without making too many compromises. With a huge 5000mAh battery, a classy exterior design and a big display, you'd find it hard to believe that it's priced at just £179.99.
Of course the quad camera doesn't quite match up to it's rivals - with just a 12Mp main lens and limited options, especially when it comes to low light. However, at this price compromises are expected, and these downfalls don't quite detract from what is a powerful entry-level phone.
Read our full Oppo A5 2020 review
7. Moto G8 Power
If battery life is your main concern the Moto G8 Power is the best budget phone for battery right now, and one of the best for simple software too, with stock Android shipped as standard.
On the downside it’s not much of a looker, it can get a little sluggish, and while the main camera lens is fine the additional shooters - an ultra-wide, telephoto, and macro - don’t add much.
This price point is all about compromises and priorities though, so you’ve got to decide what matters most to you. And if that’s battery, then look no further.
Read our full Moto G8 Power review
8. Honor 10 Lite
Honor has done it again with the 10 Lite, one of the best budget smartphones you can buy. For just £200 it has the best battery life of a phone in its price range, a large screen and dual cameras.
Those cameras fall down in low light and it's a very clearly a plastic phone but the performance is excellent. It's up there alongside the Moto G range as the best cheap phone about.
Read our full Honor 10 Lite review
9. Motorola One Macro
The Motorola One Macro has proved once again that you don't need to spend hundreds of pounds to get a great smartphone.
The display, battery life and speakers are all a pleasant surprise, while the undeniable shortcomings in camera performance shouldn't be a dealbreaker at this price point.
But the highlight is undoubtedly the software. Despite only running Android 9 Pie, this is very much a vanilla version of the software we know and love, free from bloatware.
Motorola's main additions come in the form of some subtle visual tweaks and clever Moto Actions, but both enhance the experience as opposed to taking away from it.
While other phones at this price point might outdo the One Macro on the spec sheet, it's hard to beat if stock Android is your thing.
Read our full Motorola One Macro review
10. Nokia 7.2
The Nokia 7.2 is a budget phone focused on design, offering a rather unique build when compared to the smooth, rounded smartphones on the market. With much more prominent angles, the Nokia 7.2 stands out, and the light refracting glass on the rear does a good job at providing the premium look the brand is going after.
The internals are fairly standard for the price, boasting a Snapdragon 660 alongside either 4- or 6GB of RAM, and the performance reflects this. Nokia wanted the Zeiss-manufactured lenses to be the star of the show but we've found the camera setup to be hit-and-miss, with great performance from the 48Mp sensor but disappointing performance from the wide-angle camera.
Still, a great design, impressive display and two years of guaranteed OS upgrades should be enough to tempt some consumers - especially at this affordable price.
Read our full Nokia 7.2 review
Your buying guide to the best budget phones in 2020
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. This is especially the case for cheap Chinese phones, with which you usually can't get a contract.
All the phones here cost under £250/$250, which is up to a quarter of the price you'd often pay for select flagship phones - take a look at our guide to the best phones on the market for more on those high-end offerings. We may occasionally put a phone it if it's only just over the limit.
Below are what we consider to be the best cheap phones on sale right now. We've based this rundown on their SIM-free pricing, 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 benchmarking 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 out 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 some of the brands featured and many aren't available on the UK High Street (save for the likes of Huawei and Xiaomi) but Chinese phones are well-known for offering amazing specs for the money, not to mention undercutting their more established rivals.
Of course, there are downsides - 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 2020.
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 that are 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 performance, features or display quality as that of 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 £250 or less, it's quite possible to buy a phone with a Full HD display, a svelte body and a camera that takes pictures you might actually want to share.
Most will support 4G connectivity but features like NFC, wireless charging and water resistance will likely be absent unless specifically stated.
Going forward, USB-C should become a standard for budget phones - a document unearthed by XDA-Developers notes that Google is demanding support for USB-C Power Delivery in all new Android devices and those updated to Android 9 or 10.