6 Best Cheap Smartphones (2024): iPhone, Android, 5G


Motorola Moto G Power 5G 2023 for $200: My main problem with Motorola phones is that there’s no NFC (6/10, WIRED Review), which means you can’t use them to pay your ticket fare on the off chance you left your wallet at home. Motorola also only promises one OS upgrade (with three years of security updates). You can get a much better deal with the devices above. However, there is a headphone jack, a microSD card to expand the 256 GB of storage, and a charger in the box.

I tested Samsung’s Galaxy A23 5G and found its performance annoyingly slow, which shouldn’t be the case for a $300 smartphone these days. I also don’t recommend Motorola’s Moto G Play 2023, Moto G Stylus 2023, Moto G Power 2022, and Moto G Pure 2022 because the above phones trounce them in every way and don’t cost much more.

The Nokia G400 5G (6/10, WIRED Review) is a fine phone, but its software policy just isn’t as good as our top recommended devices above and its performance can be stuttery when you juggle multiple apps. The Nokia G100 was OK until the display started locking up and wouldn’t accept touch input. I tried a second unit and ran into the same issue. I have also tested the Doogee S89 Pro, a rugged smartphone. While I didn’t run into any glaring flaws, it’s a pain in the butt to carry around and uncomfortable in the hand, too. Sure, there’s a massive 12,000-mAh battery, but it didn’t last as long as I expected. The company has a spotty record with software updates, too.

Sort of. Any of our top picks are excellent choices, but if you can wait until May or June, we’ll have a broader lineup to choose from. Motorola will likely unveil more of its budget Moto G lineup soon. TCL will release its 50-series this summer, HMD Global might have some budget devices in tow by July, and we will likely see a Pixel 8A at Google I/O in May.

Consider Last Year’s Flagship Phones

If none of these phones have the features you want or they aren’t as powerful as you’d like, your best option is to look for last year’s flagship smartphones, which might be steeply discounted. Sometimes they’re easy to find, but manufacturers may stop selling them altogether. Keep in mind that you’ll lose a year of software support, but that’s often still better than the software support available on cheap phones anyway. The OnePlus 11, for example, has dipped as low as $499. Samsung’s Galaxy S23 has started to creep down toward $600.

5G is the latest cellular network and it’s widespread enough that you should try to stick to phones that support it. It’s not completely replacing 4G LTE, so you’ll see this in your status bar as you roam around the country. You can read more about it here, but in short, 5G comes in two major types: sub-6 and millimeter wave (mmWave). The latter is usually only available in flagship phones and allows you to access superfast speeds, but you’ll rarely encounter mmWave (think select areas in major cities and certain venues, like stadiums and airports). Sub-6 isn’t much faster than 4G LTE, but it has a broader range and is more widely accessible these days. Most of the smartphones we recommend here support sub-6 5G, even ones as low as $200.

Check Network Compatibility

If you buy an unlocked phone on this list and try to take it to one of your wireless carrier’s retail stores, they may tell you it isn’t compatible with the network. It likely is. Just use a paper clip or SIM ejection tool to pop the SIM card out of your current phone, then slide that SIM into your new phone. If it doesn’t work at first, reboot the phone or wait a couple of hours.


If you need a new SIM, try ordering one online from your carrier or see if they’ll give you a SIM when you activate a line in the store (if you’re starting coverage). Tell them you have a phone. Many times, reps will want to sell you a phone; that’s one potential reason they might hassle you into buying a different device in the store. Having said that, please make sure whatever phone you buy will work on your wireless network. Listings on retailers like Amazon should state clearly which networks a device will be compatible with. Also, make sure the listing says the phone is being sold “unlocked.” 



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