Looking to save money on your next smartphone? We reveal the best budget handsets you can buy in the UK
Aren’t modern smartphones excellent? It’s like having a mini-supercomputer in your pocket compared to the bulky handsets of old. Technology, on the whole, has been getting better every year and – crucially – much cheaper, too. You no longer need to hand over wallet-wilting sums of cash for your annual upgrade. Move your gaze away from those usual smartphone flagship big-hitters and you will find yourself a fantastic bargain, as there are some cracking budget smartphones to be found.
Yes, headline-grabbing flagships such as the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra, Galaxy Z Fold 5 and the iPhone 14 Pro are wonderful, but you no longer have to spend top dollar for a superb smartphone experience. Want to know more? Well, that’s where we come in. These are the very best budget smartphones you can buy.
Every year, Expert Reviews puts hundreds of smartphones to the test so you don’t have to, with the best coverage in the UK. That means we can definitively tell you which budget smartphone is perfect for you. Take a look below and you will spot our regularly curated list of the best budget smartphones you can buy, as well as a helpful budget smartphone buying guide.
How to choose the best budget smartphone for you
Picking the perfect budget phone isn’t easy, and there are all sorts of factors to consider when making your purchase. Before you head to the checkout, you will want to make sure you have all the bases covered. To make your decision a bit easier, we’ve highlighted the main criteria you need to look out for.
Should I buy a phone on contract or SIM-free?
Budget smartphones are, as you would expect, cheaper to buy outright than other handsets, with prices starting as low as £100 or so. As a result, if you have the cash, we recommend you buy one SIM-free. You can then find the right SIM-only deal from any network and sell your phone when you want to upgrade. If you don’t have the cash, you will need to go for a contract deal, but these don’t tend to be great value for budget phones as you end up spending much more by the time your contract ends.
Which smartphone operating system do I need?
With budget smartphones, there isn’t much choice when it comes to mobile operating systems. Bar some exceptions, every budget smartphone runs Google’s Android OS. Rest assured, though: Android is easy to use, whether you’re a first-time user or mobile veteran. Just check which Android version the phone is running as older versions may no longer be supported with regular security updates and might lack essential features.
If iOS is more your thing, you only have one choice if money is tight. Apple’s iPhone 11 might begin to be showing its age, but it’s still on sale and remains an excellent budget Apple device.
What should I look for in a smartphone display?
While flagship phones are fitted with the best, biggest and highest-resolution screens, you can still find budget smartphones with high-quality displays. Cheap handsets usually have a minimum screen resolution of 720p, but some slightly more expensive alternatives offer Full HD (1080p) resolution displays for sharper viewing.
The majority of budget smartphones we recommend use LCD panel technology, which is more than good enough for the price you’re paying. However, we’re starting to see OLED displays crop up at the lower end of the scale as well, which produce even better colours and a deeper black level. Read our full reviews if you want to know how good a phone’s screen is.
Battery life and performance
Budget phones aren’t equipped with top-end internals. But that’s not to say their performance is bad – far from it, with reasonably speedy chips often making an appearance in affordable handsets. To get an idea of what to expect from a phone’s performance, look at the clock speed of the chip (measured in GHz) and how much RAM is inside (anything more than 4GB will do the job nicely).
Battery life is crucial, and each phone’s stamina is different. When considering your next budget phone, keep an eye out for the phone’s battery capacity (listed in mAh) – the higher the number, the longer you can expect the battery to last on a single charge. If you’re stuck, we’ve rounded up the longest-lasting phones in one place.
How much storage do I need?
It’s amazing how much storage you can eat through on a phone with apps, games and images. You will want at least 32GB of onboard storage, though 64GB is preferred. Also look out for phones with a microSD card slot, as you can cheaply add more space when your internal storage eventually fills up.
How we test budget smartphones
Budget smartphones are tested using a variety of in-house and publicly available benchmark methods. We test CPU and gaming performance using the Geekbench and GFXBench applications, available from the Apple App Store and Google Play. Both of these apps provide us with performance scores, which can be used to directly compare against other handsets.
Display testing is performed using a colorimeter and the DisplayCal software for Windows and Mac. This test provides us with figures for overall colour accuracy, as well as maximum brightness and contrast.
For battery life, we set the phone’s screen to a standardised brightness, switch off all data connections, and play a 20-hour looped video. When the handset switches off, we charge it up and record the timestamp.
When testing a phone’s cameras, we always use a competitor handset for direct comparison while taking pictures in a variety of different shooting scenarios, including low-light and portrait photography. Depending on the lenses available, we may also capture ultrawide or zoomed images, as well as testing any available resolution and frame rate settings in video recording.
This is only a brief glimpse of the testing process we use when reviewing the latest smartphones. If you’re keen to find out even more detail, including how we interpret the various results, you can read our dedicated How we test smartphones article for more information.
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Best budget smartphones you can buy in 2023
1. Xiaomi Redmi Note 11: Best budget phone overall
Price when reviewed: £155 | Check price at AmazonXiaomi hit a rich vein of form with the first few of its budget handsets to launch in the UK, and the Redmi Note 11 is no different. This handset is far better than it has any right to be for a phone that costs this little, and with upgrades across the board, it’s an even more tantalising option than ever before.
Yes, the phone we would recommend above all other wallet-friendly options on the market is the Xiaomi Redmi Note 11. This budget handset is powered by a surprisingly speedy Snapdragon 680 processor, which in our tests produced speeds that easily matched handsets costing twice the price. Its triple camera array, which includes a massive 50MP sensor, is also remarkable for the price, and the large 6.43in FHD+ AMOLED screen with a 90Hz refresh rate is a delight, too.
You might expect to see these sorts of high-level specs in a flagship phone, so it’s a proper treat to see these features in a handset that costs a fraction of the price. The Xiaomi Redmi Note 11 is the very definition of a top-quality budget smartphone, setting the benchmark for affordable handsets to come. At this price, you can’t do much better.
Read our full Xiaomi Redmi Note 11 review
Key specs – Processor: Octa-core 2.4GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 680; Display: 6.43in 2,400 x 1,080; Storage: 128GB or 256GB; Cameras: 50MP, 8MP (wide), 2MP (macro), 2MP (depth); Operating system: Android 11; Weight: 179g
2. Nokia C21 Plus: The most affordable budget smartphone
Price when reviewed: £78 | Check price at AmazonA £100 smartphone used to bring about negative connotations, but the Nokia C21 Plus is far better than its bargain price suggests. Running a specially tweaked version of Android that caters to low-powered devices, the Nokia C21 Plus exceeds all expectations for a phone so cheap. Despite the comparatively weak hardware (it only has 2GB of RAM and 32GB of storage), it runs surprisingly well and has a bright IPS display with a camera that isn’t half bad for the price.
Its sturdy build materials and compact design should help it last the test of time, and the battery life lasted long enough in our tests as well. It may be lacking when it comes to raw processing speeds, and there are far better alternatives if your buying budget can stretch beyond £100, but when it comes down to sheer affordability, the Nokia C21 Plus is the undisputed champion.
Read our full Nokia C21 Plus review
Key specs – Processor: Quad-core 1.6GHz Unisoc SC9863A; Display: 6.52in 1,600 x 720; Storage: 32GB; Cameras: 13MP, 2MP (depth); Operating system: Android 11 Go; Weight: 178g
3. Apple iPhone 11 (renewed): The cheapest iPhone
Price when reviewed: £235 | Check price at Back MarketIt isn’t Apple’s most up-to-date iPhone, but the iPhone 11 is still a reliable purchase. If your budget can’t quite stretch to a brand-new Apple smartphone, then the iPhone 11, despite launching in 2019, will still serve you well so long as you don’t mind buying a renewed model.
The iPhone 11’s build quality still holds up, as does its lovely-looking 6.1in Retina display. Likewise, the A13 Bionic processor, while not quite a match for the latest Apple chipsets, is still more than capable for a variety of intensive tasks. The iPhone 11 also supports the newest version of Apple’s mobile operating system, iOS 16, if you were worried that you might be outdated on the software side of things.
If you want an Apple phone on a budget and aren’t fussed about it being slightly outdated, then the iPhone 11 is your best bet.
Read our full iPhone 11 review
Key specs – Processor: Hexa-core 2.65GHz Apple A13 Bionic; Display: 6.1in 1,792 x 828; Storage: 64GB, 128GB, 256GB; Cameras: 12MP, 12MP (wide); Operating system: iOS 16; Weight: 194g
4. Realme C31: Best budget phone around £100
Price when reviewed: £119 | Check price at CurrysYou might not know the brand, but Realme has developed quite a reputation for making solid budget phones, and the Realme C31 is the best bargain yet. First of all, it doesn’t look like a phone that costs a smidge over £100, with stylish curves over the back and a tidy raised camera module housing the three lenses. The bezels are a bit on the thick side but the 6.5in display they surround is fairly decent; the 1,600 x 720 resolution is sharp enough and the contrast ratio of 1,774:1 is frankly superb.
Performance also punches above its weight, with the Unisoc T612 chipset competing with phones that cost closer to £150. Gaming performance is nothing special, but if the most intensive thing you’re likely to play is Candy Crush, you’ll get on fine. Factor in a solid main camera and numerous features, including a fingerprint reader and a microSD slot in the SIM tray, and the Realme C31 is an incredible bargain at this price.
Read our full Realme C31 review
Key specs – Processor: Octa-core 1.8GHz Unisoc Tiger T612; Display: 6.5in 1,600 x 720; Storage: 128GB; Cameras: 13MP, 2MP (macro), 0.3MP (monochrome); Operating system: Android 11; Weight: 197g
Check price at Currys
5. Nokia G22: Best budget phone for repairability
Price when reviewed: £125 | Check price at AmazonAt first glance, the Nokia G22 is a fairly standard budget smartphone, with the kind of specifications you’d expect for this price. The 6.52in display uses an IPS panel with a 1,200 x 720 resolution and 90Hz refresh rate, and while it’s not the brightest or crispest screen out there, it’s perfectly usable. Equally, the processor and cameras are far from perfect, but are competent enough to get by.
What sets the G22 apart from the sea of similarly specced smartphones is that it has been designed to allow users to quickly and easily replace various parts – including the battery, screen and charging ports – without having to go to a repair shop. The iFixit website has affordable replacement parts and tools for sale, as well as free step-by-step guides that can lead even first-time repairers through the process.
Repair times vary – a battery replacement can be done in around five minutes, with more complex procedures taking a little longer – but all are made easier by the accessible design of the Nokia G22. Best of all, performing the repairs yourself won’t void the phone’s warranty, and nor will it compromise the IP52 dust and splash resistance rating.
Read our full Nokia G22 review
Key specs – Processor: Octa-core 1.6GHz Unisoc T606; Display: 6.52in 1,200 x 720; Storage: 64GB, 128GB; Cameras: 50MP, 2MP (macro), 2MP (depth); Operating system: Android 12; Weight: 196g
6. Apple iPhone SE 3 (2022): Best-value (new) iPhone
Price when reviewed: £429 | Check price at John LewisThe iPhone SE 3 (2022) might be stretching the definition of a budget smartphone, but Apple’s idea of what constitutes cheap isn’t exactly the same as everyone else’s. If you want a newer iPhone – the renewed iPhone 11 above is a few years old – then your best-value option is the iPhone SE.
Despite having the look and feel of a phone from days gone by, the iPhone SE 3 is a formidable small-sized handset that benefits from Apple’s fastest-ever mobile chipset, the A15 Bionic. That’s the same processor found inside the iPhone 13, which costs more than twice as much. The cheapest iPhone by quite a distance, the iPhone SE’s 12MP camera is also absolutely exceptional. The only fly in the ointment is the short battery life, but if you’re able to spend twice as much compared to other phones on this list, then the iPhone SE 3 (2022) is well worth considering.
Read our full iPhone SE 3 (2022) review
Key specs – Processor: Hexa-core 3.23GHz Apple A15 Bionic; Display: 4.7in 1,334 x 750; Storage: 64GB, 128GB, 256GB; Camera: 12MP; Operating system: iOS 15; Weight: 144g
7. Honor Magic 5 Lite: Best budget phone for battery life
Price when reviewed: £252 | Check price at AmazonThe Honor Magic 5 Lite isn’t just the best budget phone for battery life; it has enough stamina to outlast phones that cost two, three or even four times as much. In our standardised test, the 5 Lite lasted for an outstanding 28hrs 45mins, rocketing up to very near the top of our best phone battery life list.
The Honor Magic 5 Lite isn’t just a one-trick pony, either. Alongside that incredible stamina, the phone has a large and vibrant 6.67in OLED display that curves elegantly off to the sides, with a crisp 2,400 x 1,080 resolution and smooth 120Hz refresh rate. Contrast levels are essentially perfect, as is the case with OLED, and the peak brightness of 518cd/m2 is impressive for the price as well.
There are a couple areas of compromise – performance, while decent, isn’t class-leading by any stretch, and low-light photography is fairly mediocre – but if you want the best battery life you can get for less than £300, no phone can beat the Honor Magic 5 Lite.
Read our full Honor Magic 5 Lite review
Key specs – Processor: Octa-core 2.2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 695 5G; Display: 6.67in 2,400 x 1,080; Storage: 128GB; Cameras: 64MP, 5MP (wide), 2MP (macro); Operating system: Android 12; Weight: 175g
8. Motorola Moto G13: Outstanding value
Price when reviewed: £123 | Check price at AmazonWhile budget phones often bring to mind sluggish performance, the Motorola Moto G13 bucks this trend by including a smoother 90Hz refresh rate for its 6.5in display. The resolution is still 720p so it won’t look as crisp as flagship phones, but swiping and scrolling feels more fluid than the 60Hz alternatives used by the vast majority of budget phones.
The Mediatek Helio G85 processor delivers decent performance for a budget phone, and the 5,000mAh battery fared even better, lasting for close to 20 hours in our standard looping video test. Throw in a 3.5mm headphone jack, dual-SIM capacity and space for a microSD card to expand the storage, and the Moto G13 offers terrific value for very little money.
Read our full Motorola Moto G13 review
Key specs – Processor: Octa-core 2GHz Mediatek Helio G85; Display: 6.5in 1,600 x 720; Storage: 128GB; Cameras: 50MP, 2MP (macro), 2MP (depth); Operating system: Android 13; Weight: 184g