The Morning After: The best smartphones under $300

You don’t need to break your budget to find a great everyday phone.

Credit: Samsung

It may be fashionable to spend $1,000 on the latest flagship smartphone when they first get released, but it’s not necessary. You don’t even have to spend $500 today to get a decent handset as there are plenty of options as low as $160 that could fit your needs. But navigating the budget phone market can be tricky; options that look good on paper may not be in practice, and some handsets will end up costing you more when you consider many come with restrictive storage. While we at Engadget spend most of our time testing and reviewing mid- to high-end handsets, we’ve tested a number of the latest budget-friendly phones on the market to see which are actually worth your money.

What to look for in a cheap phone

For this guide, our top picks cost between $100 and $300. Anything less and you might as well go buy a dumb phone or high-end calculator instead. Since they’re meant to be more affordable than flagship phones and even midrange handsets, budget smartphones involve compromises; the cheaper a device, the lower your expectations around performance and experience should be. For that reason, the best advice I can give is to spend as much as you can afford. In this price range, even $50 or $100 more can get you a dramatically better product.

Second, you should know what you want most from a phone. When buying a budget smartphone, you may need to sacrifice a decent camera for a long-lasting battery or trade a high-resolution display for a faster processor. That’s just what comes with the territory, but knowing your priorities will make it easier to find the right phone.

It’s also worth noting some features can be hard to find on cheap handsets. For instance, you won’t need to search far for a device with all-day battery life — but if you want a great camera, you’re better off shelling out for one of the recommendations in our midrange smartphone guide, which all come in at $600 or less. Wireless charging and waterproofing also aren’t easy to find in this price range and forget about a fast processor. On the bright side, all our recommendations come with headphone jacks, so you won’t need to get wireless headphones.

iOS is also off the table, since the $400 Apple iPhone SE is the most affordable iPhone in the lineup. That leaves Android as the only option. Thankfully, in 2024, there’s little to complain about Google’s OS – and you may even prefer it to iOS. Lastly, keep in mind most Android manufacturers typically offer far less robust software support for their budget devices. In some cases, your new phone may only receive one major software update and a year or two of security patches beyond that. That applies to the OnePlus and Motorola recommendations on our list.

If you’d like to keep your phone for as long as possible, Samsung has the best software policy of any Android manufacturer in the budget space, offering four years of security updates on all of its devices. That said, if software support (or device longevity overall) is your main focus, consider spending a bit more the $500 Google Pixel 7a, which is our favorite midrange smartphone and has planned software updates through mid-2026.

Credit: OnePlus

Screen size: 6.72 inches | Storage capacity: 128GB + microSD | SIM card type:Nano-SIM | Front camera resolution: 16MP | Rear camera resolution: 108MP main, 2MP macro | Weight: 6.8 oz

The $300 OnePlus Nord N30 5G offers the best value of any of the smartphones on our list. No other phone in the price bracket features a processor as fast as the N30’s Snapdragon 695 5G. Moreover, OnePlus has specced the N30 with 5G connectivity in addition to a generous 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage, meaning you probably won’t need to budget for a microSD card or cloud storage. It also comes with a 120Hz IPS display, a feature that’s great for both gaming and everyday use. Best of all, the N30 ships with a 50W power adapter that you can use to get a full day of battery life in 30 minutes. The N30 would be almost perfect if it had waterproofing and OnePlus had committed to pushing more than one major Android update to the phone. — Igor Bonifacic, Contributing Reporter

Credit: Samsung

Screen size: 6.5 inches | Storage capacity: 128GB/256GB + microSD | SIM card type: Nano-SIM | Front camera resolution: 13MP | Rear camera resolution: 50MP main, 5MP ultrawide, 2MP macro | Weight: 7.05 oz

For just $200, the Galaxy A15 5G is a pretty remarkable device. It has a 6.5-inch display with a slightly slower 90Hz refresh rate the Nord N30. However, because it features an OLED panel instead of an LCD display, it boasts better brightness and richer colors than basically all of its rivals. It can also be configured with up to 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage, and its 5,000 mAh battery delivers a ton of longevity. And while its design isn’t too exciting, the polycarbonate Samsung uses on the back has a nice matte finish that feels more like glass than cheap plastic. Finally, the A15 comes with four years of security updates and three years of OS upgrades, which is longer than most handsets in this price range. — Sam Rutherford, Senior Reporter

Credit: Motorola

Screen size: 6.5 inches | Storage capacity: 64GB + microSD | SIM card type: Nano-SIM | Front camera resolution: 8MP | Rear camera resolution: 50MP | Weight: 6.53 oz

For those on a really tight budget, the 2024 Moto G Play covers all the bases well. It has a speedy Snapdragon 680 processor along with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage. And while that last number might seem small, the phone has a microSD card slot so you can add more space if and when you need it. Its 6.5-inch LCD screen is also surprisingly sharp with a 90Hz refresh rate. The Moto G Play even has an IP52 rating for dust and water resistance. That isn’t much, but it’s good enough to protect against an errant splash or two. Sure, the G Play is basic, but it’s basic in a good way. — S.R.

Credit: Motorola

Screen size: 6.5-inch | Storage capacity: 64GB | SIM card type: Nano-SIM | Front camera resolution: 8MP | Rear camera resolution: 50MP | Weight: 6.9 oz

The $200 Motorola Moto G Stylus offers something none of the other picks on this list do: a built-in stylus. If you love doodling and jotting down notes, then this is the cheap phone to buy. Thankfully, it has a few other things going for it too. The Moto G Stylus sports a big and responsive 6.5-inch display and a long-lasting 5,000mAh battery. Plus, it’s available in two lovely colors: midnight blue and glam pink.

As with other options in this price range, it would be nice if the Moto G Stylus came with a more capable camera, a fast charger and better protection against water. One word of advice: steer clear of Moto G Stylus 5G. It doesn’t offer enough of an upgrade to justify costing $400. — I.B.


Share This Article
Leave a comment