Buying a good phone can cost a lot of money, but it doesn’t have to. You’ve probably heard that before, but now it’s truer than ever. Features that you expect in a high-end, high-cost flagship smartphone — like a crisp and vibrant screen, bloatware-free software, decent cameras, and swift performance — can also be found in less-expensive phones.

In almost every case, a budget phone isn’t going to be as good as an expensive phone, but you might be surprised (in a good way) by its quality. A few of them even work with several US carriers and MVNOs, so you won’t be forced to buy a new phone if you decide to switch carrier service partway through ownership.

But don’t go shopping without a bit of research. It’s not uncommon for your local retailer to stock several cheaper phone options from both reputable and comparatively unknown brands, all of which have cribbed the popular design of the moment to blend in with the others. Finding a low-cost phone that’s worth buying is harder than it should be, and it’s easy to take the fall on the wrong device.

We’ve spent some time with a handful of sub-$300 phones, which you’re likely to encounter if you go shopping online or at your local store. Out of that pool of candidates, only one gets you a tremendous amount of bang for your buck.

The best inexpensive phone right now: Moto G7

When someone asks me to recommend a phone, I want to suggest the option that costs the least amount of money and has the fewest compromises. A phone that meets all of my personal qualifications does exist. It has a nice screen, it works with every US carrier, and its software is fun and easy to use. I’m talking about the Moto G7.

The best thing about Motorola’s budget phone is that it doesn’t look or feel cheap. You can purchase the phone in black or white, and it’s covered on its front and back with shiny Gorilla Glass. It has a large 6.2-inch 2270 x 1080 LCD screen, and thanks to slim bezels and a small teardrop notch, it has a sizable amount of screen real estate. Colors and details pop with sharpness and accuracy, and although this screen lacks HDR, video still looks great on the screen.

The Moto G7 has Qualcomm’s midrange Snapdragon 636 processor, and it’s snappy in day-to-day use for things like browsing Twitter, switching between portrait and horizontal modes in YouTube, and handling video calls via Google Duo. It has 4GB of RAM (which is an impressive count for a budget-minded phone), and doing more intensive tasks, like playing some games and multitasking with multiple apps, doesn’t slow down this phone. Of course, the most demanding games, like PUBG, demand a better processor to run at fast frame rates, but I think most people will be happy with what the G7 is capable of in the performance department.

The Moto G7 is no slouch when it comes to the little details. It has ambient sensors that wake up the screen if you pick it up or even just move your hand near the phone. This makes it easy to check the time without pushing any buttons, and you can tap into notifications or skip songs with media controls from within this view.

It has a microSD card slot to easily expand the storage, which is handy if you’re someone who wants to install a bunch of games, download countless videos from Netflix, or both. This phone has a headphone jack if you want to connect some wired headphones (I’m one of those people), and it charges via USB-C.

Something that Motorola has been good about for a while is making phones that work with every US carrier (Sprint, Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile) and MVNO (Cricket Wireless, Mint Mobile, Google Fi, to name a few popular ones). The Moto G7 is no exception. And aside from the other Moto G7 phones mentioned in this guide, you won’t find this feature in most inexpensive phones from other brands.

The software the G7 runs is close to pure Android 9 Pie, like what you can find on a Google Pixel. That’s a good thing, though it’s not exactly the same. Moto’s interface tweaks look a little dated by comparison, though, notably, you won’t find any bloatware here. And what little Moto has added to the suite of preinstalled apps, which includes a small list of gestures, are actually helpful. To name a few, you can switch on the ability to take a screengrab by tapping three fingers to the screen, or there’s a setting that lets the volume keys change the song when the phone’s screen is off.

Like all of the phones that I tested out, the G7 makes sacrifices to reach a low price. The cameras aren’t superb, but I think they’re better than what many users might expect from a phone at this price point. In my colleague Chris Welch’s more extensive review of the Moto G7, he noted that it takes respectable photos in well-lit environments, and I agree. It can even do portrait shots with its second 5MP sensor, which is there to collect depth-sensing data, and those look decent, too. The Moto G7 gets edged out by the more expensive Samsung Galaxy A50 when it comes to nighttime shooting, though neither is particularly good at it. Despite the A50’s three-lens camera system, which suggests better quality, I like the look of the photos taken by the G7 more.

The rest

The Moto G7 is the best inexpensive phone for the vast majority of people, and there currently isn’t another low-cost phone that’s as well-designed or packs as much functionality and value. If you don’t like our top choice, there are other options to consider below. Some are a bit cheaper than the G7 and have features like USB-C charging, decent battery life, a good screen, and a fingerprint sensor. But for one reason or another, detailed below, they’re not as good of a value as the G7.

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