What's the best budget phone? The best cheap phone in the UK is the Moto G 3rd-gen after it's price cut, followed by the Vodafone Smart Ultra 6. Also check out the Smart Prime 7 and the Motorola Moto E 4G as cheap alternatives. Read more about these phones and some top cheap phone alternatives in our best budget phones chart below. Plus: what to look for in a budget phone.
In our experience the best way to get a cheap phone is to buy it SIM-free then grab a great-value SIM-only deal. You won't be paying £50-odd per month for a phone for the next two years, and you can swap it for a newer model whenever you fancy it and have the spare cash. All the phones in our best budget phones chart cost under £150, which is just a quarter of the price you'll pay for flagships such as the Galaxy S7, HTC 10 and LG G5 - also see Best phones 2016.
If you are in the market for a budget phone, you'll quickly find that some of the best deals are sold via mobile operators. What you need to watch for is whether these phones are sold locked to that operator's network. This is the case with the best cheap phone on our list - the Vodafone Smart Ultra 6 - but if you don't want to become a Vodafone customer you should look further down the list for a non-network-branded handset, such as the Moto E.
We've rounded up some of the best network-unlocked phones here, and an alternative route to getting a cheap unlocked phone is to buy a Chinese phone, and you'll find some of these in our group test. You might not have heard of the brands, and they won't be available on the UK High Street (save for the likes of Huawei and ZTE), but Chinese phones are well-known for offering amazing specs for the money and undercutting their European rivals. In most cases you'll get a phone with a mid-range specification at a budget spec. Of course there are down sides, for example what should you do if a phone bought from China is faulty? We've rounded up the major pitfalls in our article on buying grey-market tech, but if you're still interested you should see our round-up of the best Chinese phones 2016.
Ranked in order below are our reviews of what we consider to be the best budget phones on sale right now. We've based this chart on the SIM-free price, specifications and performance of each budget smartphone. You can click on a phone in which you're interested to read the full review, see example photos from the camera and benchmark results.
Best budget smartphones: buying advice
If you're looking for a cheap phone, you have to accept the fact that the manufacturer is going to cut some corners to achieve that low proce and you aren't going to get the same speed, features and quality of screen as you might with a phone costing two, three or even four times its price.
It used to be the case that budget phones were instantly recognisable by their low-resolution displays, meagre amounts of storage and chunky, plastic bodies, but things are improving in this area all the time. These days, for £150 it's quite possible to buy a phone with a full-HD display and an 8mm body. Most will support 4G connectivity, but not all will support NFC (Chinese phones will often feature HotKnot in place of MediaTek and, although it's a similar technology, it isn't the same.) We've broken down some of the key areas of specifications below.
There are two main operating systems that you will find on a budget smartphone: Google Android and Windows Phone 10. These operating systems will let you download the major apps such Facebook, Twitter, Skype, WhatsApp and more. However, if you want native Google apps including Gmail, YouTube, Maps and others, you should to opt for a smartphone running Android.
We like Windows Phone, but the choice of apps is more limited, especially when it comes to UK-specific ones and those for physical gadgets such as smart home devices. Also, apps may not have the same set of features that you get on Android. You can't download TV shows from BBC iPlayer on Windows Phone, for example. And that will be a deal-breaker for some people. Also see: Best sounding phone 2016.
At the moment we have a strange situation where some cheap phones have the same processor - and performance - as much more expensive phones. For example, the 4G version of the Motorola Moto E has the popular Snapdragon 410 CPU. Yet, there are lots of phones costing twice at much as the Moto E's price with exactly the same chip.
What's important is not the benchmark results (they're a way to compare phones to see if one is better or worse than another) but whether they feel responsive in real-world use. You'll need to read our reviews to find out whether a phone performs well or not.
Battery life is also a factor in performance. However, there's isn't a great difference between the best and worst budget phones in this respect. They generally have similar size batteries which typically last a day (and a bit) in 'normal' use.
Of course, if you use the phone for hours on end to browse the web, use it as a sat nav, play games or watch videos you'll find the battery might run out well before the day is out. Battery saver modes won't really help here, since the only modes which will significantly extend battery life will also prevent you from doing those things and limit use to phone calls and text messages.
A plus point of budget phones when it comes to battery life is that they very often feature lower-resolution screens, which places less of a strain on the battery.
When it comes to screens, arguably the other component you should care about, there are some things to look out for. One is resolution. With screen sizes gradually increasing, low resolutions mean text and icons can look blocky and jagged. On a 5in screen, 1280x720 is the minimum you want, but higher is always better, and as we've mentioned you can find a full-HD screen at this price (don't expect Quad-HD). On smaller phones with, say, 4.5in screens, you can get away with 960x540, but you really can do better.
Screen quality and brightness may not be so important to you, but it's worth checking our reviews to find out if a screen is particularly good or bad. Low brightness can make a screen difficult to view in bright sunlight.
People's phones are increasingly their main camera, so it pays to choose a phone with the best possible camera for photos and videos. Cameras are the first items to be cut down in budget phones, so it's common to find low-quality, low-resolution sensors and lenses. We always take test photos and videos and explain whether they're any good or not in our reviews.
What you can't do is to look at a camera's specifications and work out whether it will take good shots or not: the numbers are largely meaningless - although they can be a good guide to how capable a phone camera is going to be. If one manufacturer offers a 13Mp rear camera and another just 5Mp, it doesn't take a genius to expect better quality from the manufacturer who offers 13Mp. Just be sure to check that 13Mp camera is not actually an 8Mp camera using software interpolation to get to 13Mp.
Don't overlook the front camera. It's rare not to get one at all if you're spending over £60, but quality varies hugely. Avoid anything with a very low VGA (640x480) resolution and aim for at least 1.2 or 2Mp. In many cases these days you can get 5Mp at this price. Numbers do matter at this level, as manufacturers often really skimp on the front camera, so if selfies or Skype chats are order of the day, choose a budget phone with a good front camera.
We've already mentioned the difference between Android and Windows Phone. Android is the best choice for most people, but be aware that manufacturers often add their own interfaces on top of Android. Google's own Nexus phones and Motorola's have 'plain' Android, but the rest are customised to greater or lesser degrees. Again, our reviews will give the specific details.
Some of these interfaces have extra features worth having, or a replacement camera app that's much better than the stock Android one. Others take it too far and can also be sluggish and unresponsive.
Going or a phone with plain Android generally means you'll get any updates faster, especially when a whole new version of Android comes out. It can be a wait of many months for other phones, or they may not get updates at all.
Bookmark now: Black Friday 2016 deals
Best budget phones reviews:
- Reviewed on: 18 May 16
- RRP: From £149 inc VAT
With various upgrades including a waterproof design, great cameras and stock Android, the new Moto G 2015 is a great affordable phone. The device is still a bit chunky and it's a shame to see the stereo speakers gone. It's worth opting for the model with 16GB of storage and 2GB of RAM. Now with a price cut to £149, the Moto G 3rd-gen is the best budget phone you can buy.
Read our Motorola Moto G (3rd gen) review.
- Reviewed on: 4 August 15
- RRP: £125
The Vodafone Smart Ultra 6 is worth its £125 price tag without a doubt. It's one of the best experiences we've had with a budget smartphone, and nothing about this phone suggests that it's budget apart from its price tag. Compared to the Smart Prime 6, this is definitely the better option to go for and we'd definitely pay the extra £50 for it – it's more powerful, has better cameras and a larger, higher quality display. It won't run the latest 3D mobile games but for every day use, it's a great phone and the fact that you can add up to 128GB of external storage means that there’s more storage than you can shake a stick at. Great work Vodafone.
Read our Vodafone Smart Ultra 6 review.
- Reviewed on: 29 June 16
- RRP: £75 Pay as you go
We like the improved design of the Smart Prime 7 and Vodafone has even dropped the price, even if it is by £4. You get a decent phone for the money but we can't help but be a little disappointed by the downgrade to a Snapdragon 210 and that the camera is suddenly limited to 720p. Prime 6 owners have little reason to upgrade and although you can't go too wrong for just £75 you might be better off spending a little more on a better rival.
Read our Vodafone Smart Prime 7 review.
- Reviewed on: 25 June 15
- RRP: £79
The Vodafone Smart Prime 6 is a great budget smartphone that we think is worth more than the £79 that Vodafone asks for it. Its processor may not be able to compete with grey-market phones like the Doogee F1 Turbo Mini, but it handles day-to-day use just fine with no noticeable lag. While the Moto E 4G performed slightly better during our benchmarks, the Smart Prime 6 has a bigger screen, better camera and is £30 cheaper, making it our choice out of the two handsets.
Read our Vodafone Smart Prime 6 review.
- Reviewed on: 11 August 16
- RRP: £100
Right now the Redmi 3S Pro is available for just an extra £5 over the 3S, but ordinarily we would have said you will struggle to find better value for money than what is offered by Xiaomi's new Redmi 3S. This budget Android phone is feature-packed and capable, and has a new fingerprint scanner. You can't expect any more for £120, just remember that Google Play isn't installed out of the box.
Read our Xiaomi Redmi 3S review.
- Reviewed on: 19 July 16
- RRP: £135
Vodafone’s Smart Ultra 7 in our opinion isn’t really an upgrade over the Smart Ultra 6. It’s £10 more expensive than the previous model and doesn’t really perform as well – the Smart 7 had worse benchmarking results than its predecessor in GFXBench, scoring 13fps compared to 14fps in T-Rex and 5.3fps compared to 5.7fps in Manhattan, although the Smart Ultra 7 bested the 6 in Geekbench 3 with results of 3002 compared to 2469. The camera, though the same on paper, seems to have had a slight downgrade too, producing rather washed out photos during testing. On the other hand, the 5.5in 1080p HD display is vibrant and crisp, and one must remember that the smartphone only costs £135 so if you are on a budget, it’s still a solid option.
Read our Vodafone Smart Ultra 7 review.
- Reviewed on: 3 March 15
- RRP: £109 inc. VAT
The new Moto E 4G is a worthy upgrade over the original Moto E, with upgrades in every area. For an extra £20 it adds 4G LTE connectivity and a front-facing camera, plus performance and storage improvements. It might not be as fast as the grey-market Doogee F1 Turbo Mini, but this Moto E 4G is a much better deal than the EE Kestrel, making it the best budget 4G phone intended for UK sale we've seen.
Read our Motorola Moto E 4G review.
8. Cubot P12
- Reviewed on: 21 January 16
- RRP: £74.99 inc. VAT
We can't argue with the immense value for money offered by the Cubot P12. It's not the fastest budget phone we've seen, but it is probably the best-looking. The lack of 4G support is disappointing, but the spec sheet otherwise offers fairly impressive reading at this price. A strong rival to the Vodafone Smart Prime 6 as a network-unlocked budget smartphone, even if Vodafone as a brand is much better-known in the UK than is Cubot.
Read our Cubot P12 review.
- Reviewed on: 26 November 15
- RRP: £129 inc VAT
For a brand-new smartphone maker's first effort, we're impressed with the Wileyfox Swift. It's a stylish little handset which offers essentially the same specs as the Moto G for less money. We love the customisation available in Cyanogen OS but elements such as the cameras aren't as good as rivals. Vodafone's Smart Ultra 6 remains a better option for slightly less money - unless a 5.5in screen is too big in which case look at the Smart Prime 6 as an alternative.
Read our Wileyfox Swift review.
- Reviewed on: 31 May 16
- RRP: £121 plus import duty from China (16GB storage, 2GB RAM)
The Xiaomi Redmi Note 3 may not be best suited to UK users out of the box, but with some simple setup tweaks it is an excellent budget Android phone with a fantastic design and performance for the price.
Read our Xiaomi Redmi Note 3 review.
11. Xiaomi Redmi 3
- Reviewed on: 2 February 16
- RRP: £114.95
The Xiaomi Redmi 3 is a very decent budget Android phone, but it isn't intended for a UK audience and doesn't come with Google Play installed out of the box, so we wouldn't recommend it for those not familiar with Android. It has a plasticky but decent build, with good performance for the money.
Read our Xiaomi Redmi 3 review.
12. Bluboo X9
- Reviewed on: 25 January 16
- RRP: £82.02
We never fail to be impressed by how much value you can get for your money if you're prepared to buy a smartphone from China rather than the UK. Bluboo might not be well known over here, but its X9 is a stylish phone that packs in both a fingerprint scanner and a 5in full-HD screen for just £110. General performance is capable, and there's plenty of space here for all your apps and media.
Read our Bluboo X9 review.
13. Meizu M3 Note
- Reviewed on: 19 June 16
- RRP: £132.58
The Meizu M3 Note is a great phone, with outstanding battery life and a nice metal unibody design, but it isn’t a patch on the Xiaomi Redmi Note 3, which is faster and comes with a better camera, more up-to-date software and, importantly, a cheaper price tag. That said, it’s difficult for us to recommend to UK users (particularly novice UK users) the Meizu M3 Note over other budget Chinese smartphones we’ve tested, given that Google Play is not preinstalled and so much of it has not been adapted from Chinese.
Read our Meizu M3 Note review.
14. EE Harrier Mini
- Reviewed on: 7 July 15
- RRP: £99 inc. VAT
We're much keener on the Harrier Mini than we are its bigger brother. While both phones offer very good value, £99 sounds much more appealing than £199, and we prefer the Mini's more compact design. Performance is slower and the screen isn't as good, but you won't get top-end specs from either phone. But as much as we think the Harrier Mini is a great deal, the Vodafone Smart Prime 6 offers better value. It's £20 cheaper and has a larger, better screen, and it seems more adept in photography. Buy the Harrier Mini over the Smart Prime 6 only if you'll benefit from Wi-Fi Calling once it becomes available.
Read our EE Harrier Mini review.
- Reviewed on: 15 September 14
- RRP: £145 inc VAT
With a bigger screen, much better speakers and improved cameras, the new Moto G is a great budget smartphone. The lack of support for 4G will be a deal-breaker for some, though. It isn't without its rivals, but if you're specifically looking for a budget dual-SIM Android phone, it's a good choice.
16. Just5 Blaster 2
- Reviewed on: 12 November 15
- RRP: 149 Euro + 12 Euro shipping (approx £105 + £8.50 shipping)
Although you can't just walk into a shop and buy it in the UK, this Just5 Blaster 2 is certainly a better budget buy than the Samsung Galaxy Core Prime. At around £105 it's no surprise to find a plastic build, but we appreciate the inclusion in the box of interchangeable colour covers. The screen is good, if a little dull, and performance is spot-on at this price point. The cameras are acceptable, and the software free of bloat. A good all-round budget option.
Read our Just5 Blaster 2 review.
- Reviewed on: 21 October 15
- RRP: £109 inc VAT
If you love Samsung Android phones then you'll like the Galaxy Core Prime. It does lack a few features, but the missing ambient light sensor is one cut corner too far. For only £79, we prefer Vodafone's Smart Prime 6. It has a 5in 1280x720 screen, better cameras and an ambient light sensor. Plus it runs an essentially plain version of Android.
Read our Samsung Galaxy Core Prime review.
18. EE Rook
- Reviewed on: 22 July 15
- RRP: £49.99
If you don't mind the basic design, the EE Rook isn't a bad little phone at all. We can hardly argue with the price of £39 for existing customers and the performance is better than we expected for a sub-£50 phone. It's mainly the miserable viewing angles of the screen which put us off so you are better off spending a little more if you can afford it.
Read our EE Rook review.
19. Moto G 4G
- Reviewed on: 13 August 14
- RRP: £135 inc VAT
Motorola's Moto G is the best budget smartphone around. At £135 it's got great build quality, an excellent screen, decent cameras and Android 4.3 Jelly Bean soon to be upgrade to 4.4 KitKat.
Read our Moto G 4G review.
- Reviewed on: 9 April 15
- RRP: £149 inc. VAT
If you're looking for a cheap 4G smartphone then the Moto E 4G is the best deal on the market right now. If you would rather have a cheap dual-SIM phone with 3G connectivity then the mark 3 Moto G is your best bet. But the new Moto G 4G for 2015 is not the best phone for either customer, and its larger, higher-resolution screen, marginally improved photography credentials and stereo sound are not enough for us to turn a blind eye to its £60 higher price, slower hardware and missing software features.
Read our Motorola Moto G 4G 2015 review.