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The Best Budget Phones For 2018

The Best Budget Phones For 2018
The top phones are more expensive than ever in 2018, but as the best phones get better so too do the cheapest phones. It's possible to buy a mobile phone on a budget of under £200/US$200, and still get a cell phone capable of everything you throw at it.
The best budget phones are also more attractive in the long-term thanks to cheaper contract prices, though you might prefer to buy these smartphones outright and then pay only for your minutes, texts and data.

If value for money is your number-one priority, you won't find a more useful list of budget phones available in the UK, US and elsewhere. We've tested, rated and ranked some of the best cheap phones from Nokia, Motorola, Honor and other big brands, and alongside those reviews you'll also find our expert buying advice that can help you discern whether a cheap phone really is the bargain it seems.

Your buying guide to the best budget phones in 2018
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. This is especially the case for cheap Chinese phones, for which you can't get a contract.

All the phones here cost under £200/$200, which is just a third or less of the price you'd often pay for flagships such as the Galaxy S9, HTC U11 and LG V30 - take a look at our guide to the best phones on the market for more on those flagships.

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 as contracts change so often.

Do note that we've included only the phones for which we've completed our full benchmarking, which explains why the new Moto G6 Play is not yet included. You can check out our hands-on review here.

You can click on a phone in which you're interested to read the full review, see example photos from the camera, and check out the benchmark results. And if you're ready to buy one, check out our best phone deals to make sure you find the best price.

Should I buy a locked phone?
You'll quickly find that some of the best deals on cheap phones 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 Vodafone Smart N8, but if you don't want to become a Vodafone customer you should look elsewhere on the list for a non-network-branded handset, such as the Moto G5.

What about a Chinese phone?
An alternative is to buy a Chinese phone - you'll find some of these in our chart too. 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 price.

What will you get for your money?
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 price and you aren't going to get the same speed, features, and display quality as you might with a phone costing two, three, or even four times the price.

It used to be the case that budget phones were instantly recognisable by their low-resolution displays, meagre storage, and chunky, plastic bodies, but things are improving in this area all the time. These days, for £200 or less it's quite possible to buy a phone with a Full HD display and a sub 8mm-thick metal body.

Most will support 4G connectivity, but not all will support NFC (Chinese phones will often feature HotKnot which is a similar technology, but not the same as NFC.) 

Best Budget Phone Reviews

1. Honor 9 Lite
The Honor 9 Lite might not have all the mod cons but it's one of the cheapest phones around to offer an 18:9 screen with a bezel-free design. It's an attractive phone and general specs are good, including no less than four cameras. It doesn't have flawless performance but there's little to complain about at under £200 making it the best budget phone around.


2. Moto G5
  • RRP: $200
There’s plenty of competition in Android’s budget market, but the Moto G5 is one of the best. The build quality alone feels like it belongs on a much more expensive phone, while the fingerprint gesture controls genuinely improve the Android experience.

The benchmarks and battery hold it back, but they're not unreasonable given the price. You'll find better specs in Chinese phones, but if you don't need a dual-SIM phone and you want the peace of mind of a proper UK warranty, it's a solid choice. 

But do check out the G5s as well if your budget can stretch a little.

3. Nokia 5
  • RRP: TBC
We’ve long been lovers of the Moto G series for the top pick in the budget Android category, and the Nokia 5 nearly beats it. It's the best of Nokia's mid-range devices for sure.

With a decent camera, excellent performance and a stunning design, we are blown away by the low price tag offered here.

A downside is the screen resolution, but if you can look past this and you’re looking for an Android smartphone that costs less than £200, you can’t get much better than this.

Read our Nokia 5 review.

4. EE Hawk
The EE Hawk is a little gem at the start of 2018. The build is above average for the asking price, and it is a solid handset to go for if you simply need to use 4G data on a smartphone but don’t want to spend half your paycheck to do it.

It is not a phone to game on due to the low powered internals, but it copes with video fine. The display is quite washed out, but the clean Android software makes up for this. You won’t want to post many pictures from the not-great camera on Instagram, but if you want a decent snapper, you’ll look at phones that cost more. 

The EE Hawk is up there with the Moto G5 as one of the best budget smartphones in the UK.

5. Elephone P8 Mini
A similar performer to the UK’s best budget phone, the Moto G5, but with enhanced cameras and more storage, the Elephone P8 Mini is a great buy if you’re happy to import it from China.

6. UMIDIGI Z1
It’s not as fast as its predecessors, with which it shares the same but still just as good-looking design, but we do like the extra battery power and storage space, and the improved cameras of the Z1. We’re also pretty keen on the price - at £139 the UMIDIGI Z1 is a very impressive budget phone.

7. Xiaomi Redmi Note 5A (2GB)
The 2GB RAM model we reviewed lacks features compared to the better-specced Redmi Note 5A options that cost only slightly more. There's no fingerprint scanner, a slower processor, a less impressive selfie camera and less memory and storage.

But none of this takes away from the fact this super-budget smartphone offers extraordinary value under £70. It doesn't excel at any one particular thing, but it is capable for less demanding users and nicely designed for a plastic phone.

If you do buy the Note 5A we strongly recommend choosing a Global variant for improved connectivity and the preinstallation of Google Services.


8. Xiaomi Redmi 4A
The Redmi 4A is ageing, and yet it remains a very good budget phone and a decent all-rounder under £100. Though it lacks more modern aspects such as a fingerprint scanner, metal build and 18:9 display, it's almost impossible to argue at this price. The 4A has since been succeeded by the 5A, but there's really no difference in core specification, making this an even better deal if you can find it at a rock-bottom price. The Global model is recommended, provided you're happy to get along with MIUI 8.5.


9. Vodafone Smart N8
If you are OK with being stuck on Vodafone, the Smart N8 is pretty much the least you should spend on a functioning smartphone. You won’t see much of an improvement in performance unless you spend double the £79 asking price, so for teenagers or as a simple internet tool it will suffice.

But beyond simple apps like Facebook and Instagram, the N8 struggles. Running several apps at once grinds it to a halt, and any form of graphical gaming is a no. But it’s not built for that, and if your needs are simple then the N8 will suffice. If it’s a little too underpowered, check out something higher up this chart.


10. Nokia 3
  • RRP: £129.99
The Nokia 3 has a few things going for it: it looks absolutely fantastic for the price, it runs stock Android, and it includes NFC, and thus Android Pay. Unfortunately, Nokia has just cut too many corners on the internal specs, with slow speeds and a disappointing camera, to make the 3 stand out amid a fiercely competitive budget smartphone market.

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