Need a basic feature phone, Android phone or Windows Phone? We round up the 12 best smartphones under £50 you can buy in the UK in 2017. Plus: simple phones buying advice.
Also see: Best Phone Deals
For many people, a truly basic phone that can maybe get them online but allow them to make calls and texts is all they need. Here we round-up the best cheap basic smartphones you can buy in the UK in 2015. All the phones in our list cost less than £60.
A super-cheap, simple smartphone may not be top of your wish list, but there are many situations in which one could prove to be very handy. For example, do you need an emergency phone you can leave in the glovebox or use only when you leave the house? Do you need something to give to young children so they can keep in touch with you as they venture out into the big wide world? Have you broken your usual smartphone, and need something cheap to get you through to pay day? Or are you just looking for a cheap phone you can take to festivals and parties and not worry about losing?
Basic smartphones buying advice
Some of the cheapest smartphone deals you'll find come from China, supplied via sites such as Geekbuying, Gearbest and Coolicool. If you want to take a punt you'll get a great deal more for your money, but there are risks associated with buying phones in this manner. Before you even consider that option, read up on our advice on buying grey-market phones.
You will also find all manner of cheap deals on new phones on sites such as eBay. These are largely from obscure (at least in the UK) brands, and the deals are changing all the time. In this round-up we've considered only cheap smartphones available from UK mobile operators, but if you're thinking of buying a phone we haven't listed here use the below buying advice as a guide.
When looking to buy a cheap or basic phone you should consider the difference between cheap smartphones and cheap mobile phones (also known as feature phones), although you will find much crossover between these categories, and in recent years tech has moved on at such a pace that the terms are becoming increasingly blurred. Fortunately, that means you can now buy smartphones at very attractive prices.
Typically speaking, smartphones are high-end devices that function as computers in their own right, whereas feature phones are primarily designed to allow you to make phone calls and texts, but increasingly feature smartphone-like features such as GPS and built-in cameras.
Traditionally, a key difference has been a smartphone's ability to download apps via a dedicated app store (Google Play or the Windows Store), plus whether it has a touchscreen or a physical keypad. Even now you will find most feature phones are limited to 2G connectivity, whereas smartphones support 3G (sometimes 4G, but not below £100) and Wi-Fi. If you want to make much use of the web, you'll need a smartphone rather than a feature phone.
You shouldn't expect a brilliant specification from a truly cheap smartphone. It will let you get online, check email, download apps (although they will struggle with some games), make calls and texts, and navigate via GPS, but little more.
Their processors will be slow (1- or 1.2GHz, single- or dual-core), memory limited (512MB), and storage sufficiently low (4GB) that with the operating system preinstalled you won't be able to fit in all the music, media and apps you'd like to carry. That said, many of the cheapest smartphones support microSD (usually up to 32GB) and all let you stream content from the cloud.
Plus, if you're worried about audio storage, most cheap phones feature an FM radio, but you'll need to use it with a pair of headphones (these function as the aerial in any case) rather than whatever tiny, tinny mono speaker may be built into the phone.
A cheap smartphone will have a touchscreen but it will be no larger than 4in, of a sub-HD resolution and potentially less responsive than you expect (look for capacitive- rather than resistive touchscreens). It may also be dim, so you'll want to ramp up the brightness, and poor viewing angles will probably limit the enjoyment of photos and videos to a one-man audience. The best you can hope for at this price is around 4in with 480x800 resolution.
You'll probably find a fixed-lens camera at the rear, but it'll be of low quality (no more than 5Mp) and of little use other than to snap and send the odd picture message and capture VGA video clips. Don't expect to find a camera at the front for selfies or video chat.
Other giveaway signs of a cheap smartphone includes a chunky body and large screen bezels. They will also tend to be very plasticky and toy-like in their appearance. And note that if you're buying a cheap Android phone its operating system may never be upgraded beyond what comes in the box.
Take into account that many cheap smartphones are sold on a pay-as-you-go basis rather than SIM-free, and will usually demand that a £10- or £20 top-up is purchased at checkout. We've stated where this is the case, but are still including in this round-up those phones where the cost of the top-up takes you over £50 - you'll get that money back in calls and texts in any case. These phones may also be locked to that operator's network (Also see: How to unlock your phone).
Henry Burrell contributed to this article
Microsoft Lumia 435
- RRP: £59.95, US$59
The Microsoft Lumia 435 is a budget Windows phone – the operating system is Microsoft’s own and, generally speaking, supports fewer apps than iOS on iPhone and Google Play on Android smartphones. However, available for well under £100, it is a pretty good deal on what is a generally capable phone. You’ll be able to use apps such as Facebook and Twitter, but it isn’t so expensive and all-singing-all-dancing to distract you if you don’t want every feature under the sun.
Alcatel OneTouch 10.16G
- RRP: £0 with £10 top up
Phones don’t come much more basic than this – if you yearn for the simplicity of phones (and life) from the 90s and 00s, this phone from Alcatel will do the trick. It really is incredibly basic: calls and texts. That’s it, apart from the added bonus of an FM radio with the bundled headphones acting as an aerial. It’s only 2G capable, so there’s no Internet connectivity possible. But when it’s available for free plus a £10 top-up, this doesn’t matter. Would work excellently as an emergency phone or a starter phone for a young child. The battery life is also exceptional, at around six days.
- RRP: £9.99 with £10 top-up
The Nokia 215 straddles the line between new and old. On the one hand it harks back to the sturdy Nokia phones of old, with a decent build quality to match. However, despite not having a touchscreen, and only having 2G capabilities, it has in-built basic apps for Facebook, Facebook Messenger and Twitter. So, if you still want access to these very popular apps when you’re not at your computer but don’t want the fuss of a full-blown smartphone, this could be the phone for you. It’s got a ton of features, and is well worth the exceptionally low price.
- RRP: £49.99, US$49.99
If you think you’d like fast 4G mobile Internet without spending hundreds, the EE ROOK is worth considering. It costs £49.99 plus a £10 top up, and really is the least you can spend on a 4G handset. By modern standards, the 4in screen is quite tiny but perfectly readable for browsing the Internet and using apps – this is an Android smartphone. Just beware, as 4G data can run down very quickly, so you might find yourself having to top up quite frequently. Here are EE’s pay as you go tariffs for an idea of ongoing cost.
See also: how much data do I need?
Vodafone Smart First 7
- RRP: £25
Vodafone makes a range of excellently priced smartphones, the cheapest of which is this, the Smart First 7 – never mind the name, it’s only £25. This is by no means a dud though, with a bright 3.5in display and basic 2Mp camera. For the lower price, you do run an older version of Android, but it doesn’t matter on a phone with lower specs like this. It is amazing that a phone this cheap can support 4G, so you’ll be able to browse the web and use basic apps – however you can pretty much forget running games on it as the processor is incredibly basic. It will also only sync with a PC, not on a Mac, and it’s exclusively for us eon the Vodafone network.
- RRP: £14.99 with £10 top-up
This phone is about as simple as they come – basic, no frills design, makes and receives calls and texts. That’s your lot. It’s £9.99 plus a £10 minimum top up, and can hack 720 hours of standby time! This phone won’t die on your when you need it most.
Vodafone Smart Prime 7
- RRP: £75
At a bargain £75 for a quite capable 4G smartphone, the Vodafone Smart Prime 7 is one of the best handsets when considering the specs you get for the price – it also runs the latest version of the Android operating system, version 6.0. With 1GB RAM (i.e. perfectly capable) and expandable memory up to 128GB with micro-SD card storage, this phone will not only cope easily with calls and texts, but with the right data plan will allow for zippy 4G web browsing and app use. Remember it’s only available on the Vodafone network. It's available without a SIM, so here are some of the best SIM deals available right now too.
See also: how much data do I need?
- RRP: £9.99 with £10 top-up
This is an excellent value flip phone for those who just need a basic flip phone, and is quite similar to the above Samsung clamshell in this list. It even has the most basic of MP3 players, but we wouldn’t recommend trying to use it given its primitive nature. Concentrate on the fact it is dead easy to use and the battery will last for absolutely ages.