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.)
Xiaomi’s Redmi 6 Pro and Mi A2 Lite are one and the same, with the former running MIUI 9 and the latter Android One with full 4G LTE support in the UK. Which you buy really depends on where in the world you are and whether you need Google services preinstalled.
GearVita supplied our Redmi 6 Pro review sample. Right now you can pick up the $219.99 (£171.53) Redmi 6 Pro with $30 off (valid until 31 August 2018 with coupon code RMI6PRO). Shipping is not free, but not extravagant either.
GearBest supplied our Mi A2 Lite, and offers the Android One phone at £170.96/$215.99 with free delivery to the UK.
There’s a 19:9 Full-HD+ panel with notch display, a dual-camera at the rear and genuinely usable performance. With 64GB of storage and the ability to add a microSD card up to 256GB without sacrificing dual-SIM support, the Redmi 6 Pro or Mi A2 Lite is an excellent budget buy.
Read our Xiaomi Redmi 6 Pro / Mi A2 Lite review.
2. 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.
On paper the UMIDIGI One Pro’s spec seems too good to be true. Fast wireless charging, NFC, 19:9 IPS displays, dual-cameras, side-mounted fingerprint sensors and an attractive design aren’t things you have any right to expect at this price. But this is a budget phone, and as such some corners have naturally been cut. The display is just HD in resolution, the fingerprint sensor can be temperamental and the cameras can leave something to be desired. Overall, though, a great budget buy – and one people will have no idea was so cheap.
Read our UMIDIGI One Pro review.
The Moto E5 is one of the best budget phones around. Of course, you can spend a bit more and get something better but if you’re looking for the cheapest phone around that won’t make you want to throw it in the bin after a few days then this is it.
We’re very impressed by the design and build quality along with a number of features including the screen, camera, fingerprint scanner and battery life.
Just bear in mind that you don’t get some of the features available from more expensive alternatives.
Read our Motorola Moto E5 review.
5. 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.
6. Nokia 5.1
The Nokia 5.1 certainly doesn’t look like a phone that costs less than £200, sporting a gorgeous Series 6000 Aluminium body, fine detailing on the buttons and camera and an FHD+ 18:9 5.5in display.
But while it looks the part, the budget internals mean that performance isn’t flawless, and it can’t handle more advanced mobile games. But for general tweeting, snapping and texting, the Nokia 5.1 is certainly a tempting budget option.
Read our Nokia 5.1 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.
You should spend a little more on the E5 Plus if you want the larger screen and bigger battery. It easily the best budget phone when it comes to combining size and stamina.
However, we think the cheaper Moto E5 is a better choice for most people with much of the specs the same and the addition of NFC.
The main thing putting us off here is slightly laggy performance and the G6 Play isn’t far off in price, so jump to this if you can It also has a better front camera, Turbo Charging and more software features.
Read our Motorola Moto E5 Plus review.
9. 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.
10. 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.