Recent inflation has made many of us look more closely at the price tags. We have some good news to share with you. While your grocery bill may be filled with bad news, there is still good news: You can buy a good phone under $500.
There are some great choices for under $300, as well. Find a phone with a high-definition, bright OLED display or a long-lasting battery. You can save money on a smartphone if you focus only on one or two important features and are willing to compromise in other areas.
- Strong Software Support: At the very least, two years of OS updates and, ideally three years of security patches. It’s not worth buying a cheap smartphone if it can’t be updated with security patches after a few years.
- A good display: Since you’re likely to look at your phone’s screen around two thousand times per day, it’s one area where you shouldn’t make compromises. OLED screens have richer color and contrast than LCDs, and today’s big phones need screens with at least 1080p resolution. Budget phone screens are increasingly using faster refresh rates, such as 90Hz or even 120Hz. But, to my eye, an OLED screen with a standard rate of refresh is better than a smooth-scrolling, LCD.
- Storage space that is adequate: If you intend to keep your phone around for some time, you will need enough space to store all of the photos and videos, as well as the system files. Idealy, you should get at least 128GB of storage space built-in. However, I would settle for a minimum of 64GB and the option to increase this via a MicroSD Card.
- Only one good rear camera is better than four mediocre ones. Upgrades such as telephoto lenses and optical image stabilizers are not common in smartphones under $500, but they still offer good performance, even in bright lighting. Low-light photography is more difficult. The phones in this category should have a night mode that helps with subjects that are not moving in low light. There are no extra points for adding additional macro and depth camera to the rear array. These 2- and 5-megapixel sensor are pretty useless.
What are the compromises you can expect with a budget smartphone? Almost all budget phones have slower processors, lower storage and inferior cameras compared to flagships. Most have lower resolution screens and lack wireless charging and NFC for contactless payments.
While we recommend unlocked phones for maximum flexibility, you may find better deals – and lower upfront costs – by subsidizing your phone purchase through your carrier. You should read the fine print to make sure that you understand what you are getting into. You may need to upgrade to a more expensive plan or add another line in order to receive the “free” phone.
The best iPhone under $500
Apple’s track record for providing iOS updates to older products will ensure that the 2022 iPhone SE lasts over five years. The 4.7-inch iPhone SE screen is cramped and will be even more so in five years when apps and websites are designed for larger screens.
The 128GB iPhone SE offers the best value in the smartphone market. The iPhone SE 128GB is a fantastic deal for $479, especially when you consider it will receive iOS updates up to five years.
Before you buy an SE and expect to cruise through the rest of this decade without purchasing a new smartphone, make sure that you are able to live with its small, very outdated 4.7-inch display. The screen is the same size as that on the iPhone 6 and has started to feel a little cramped, especially in an era when web pages and apps are designed for larger screens. The SE’s large bezels also make it look outdated, but over time, the usability of the small screen will become more important.
This is the SE’s biggest flaw. It’s an excellent midrange device. The A15 processor on this device is identical to that of the iPhone 13 Pro Max. Performance is therefore excellent. It has wireless charging and IP67 waterproofing, both of which are rare in this price range. And even though the 12-megapixel camera is the same as the one used by iPhones since the dawn of the smartphone age, it still takes high-quality photos and video clips. It’s a strange omission that the camera does not have a night mode. Many midrange phones do offer low-light photo modes, and this phone has a processor capable of handling it. Apple gonna Apple.
The SE generation offers low- and middle-band 5G connectivity, which is sufficient. It’s not the same millimeter wave 5G that you’d find in an NFL stadium but it isn’t something to worry about. Battery life has also been improved over last generation. It will last for a whole day, unless you are doing demanding tasks such as gaming or streaming video.
We recommend the 128GB model if you don’t mind the small screen or the absence of night mode. You’ll appreciate the $50 extra you spend if you plan to use this phone in the future.
Samsung Galaxy A54 5G
Samsung Galaxy A54 is the clear winner in this category. It has a feature-set that is unmatched in its class. Starting with an outstanding 6.4-inch 1080p LCD with a smooth refresh rate of 120Hz, it offers a feature-set that’s unparalleled. You’d almost think you were using a flagship $1,000 phone. The A54 doesn’t have the best camera — the Pixel 6A still wins in that category — but it has a great screen.
The A54 has durable glass panels at the front and back, and is rated IP67 for dust protection and shallow water immersion. The A54 is also backed by a robust policy of software support. Samsung offers four years of OS upgrades and five of security updates. This is the best policy for Android phones at any price. The 5,000mAh battery can last a whole day with heavy usage, but you will need to buy a charger to use the fast charging speed of 25W.The A54 is known for its large OLED display with fast refresh rates.
The camera quality isn’t great, but it does the job. The A54 is able to take great photos and videos under good lighting, but it struggles in low-light conditions. The A54 has a night mode that is good for static objects, but it’s difficult to take a clear photo of your child or pet when the lighting inside is dim. The Pixel 6A, which was released a year ago, still wins in this category.
Galaxy A54 has a number of creature comforts that are not usually found in budget phones, such as an excellent display. As a whole, the Galaxy A54 is hard to beat. It may not be the best in terms of image quality, however, as a package it’s hard. It’s the best Android budget option until we know what the Pixel 7A will be made of.