The 5 best smartphones under $500: Ring in the savings

May 16, 2024
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The 5 best smartphones under $500: Ring in the savings

Samsung


The top-of-the-line Apple iPhone 15 Pro Max has a starting price of $1,199, while you’ll pay $1,300 and up for the flagship Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra. But if you’re on a budget, or don’t want to pay top dollar for one of the most powerful smartphones on the market, you have plenty of lower-priced options. Our in-house team of tech experts has curated this roundup of the five best smartphones you can purchase outright for $500 or less. And there’s more good news: Prices listed here are before discounts and trade in deals.


What’s the best cheap smartphone?

If you’re an Apple fan and want an iPhone that’s affordable, the iPhone SE is the only option that’s priced below $500. When it comes to Android smartphones, you have many affordable choices. 

There are some compelling reasons to switch from an Android phone to an iPhone, just as there are some great reasons to switch from an iPhone to an Android smartphone. Whichever option you choose, you want your phone to be compatible with your other mobile devices, including your smartwatch and tablet, plus easily be able to sync content with your computers.

Keep in mind, while the retail price of many popular phones, like the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 5 or Samsung Galaxy S24, is well over $500, sales and promotions can reduce the price to well below that.


Best smartphone under $500 overall: Google Pixel 8a

Google Pixel 8a

Amazon


Operating system: Android 13 | Display size: 6.1 inches | Display type: Actua OLED | Display Resolution: 1,080 x 2,400 pixels | Refresh rate: Up to 120Hz | Processor: Google Tensor G3 (Titan M2 security coprocessor) | RAM: 8GB | Storage options: 128GB or 256GB | Battery: 4,492 mAh | Dimensions: 6 x 2.9 x 0.4 inches | Weight: 6.6 ounces | Charging options: Wired or wireless | Front camera: 13MP | Rear camera: 64MP (wide), 13MP (ultra-wide) | Water resistant rating: IP67 | Max. screen brightness: 2,000 nits

Out of all the smartphones featured in this roundup, the Google Pixel 8a is the newest and the most advanced. The phone is modeled after the Pixel 8 Pro, which is Google’s flagship. It runs using the same processor and operating system. It also integrates AI, so complex tasks happen on their own and in the background. The phone can automatically compose responses to text messages, summarize Google documents and emails, translate text, and handle photo and video editing tasks that only a few other phones — at any price — can handle.

Compared with the Google Pixel 8 Pro, some of the Pixel 8a’s features have been scaled down. The camera system isn’t as advanced, and the phone offers fewer storage options. The display, while absolutely stunning (especially for a phone at this price), isn’t as high-resolution as the Pixel 8 Pro.

We’ve recently reviewed the Pixel 8a and found it to be the ideal Android phone for the average user. It’s also a great option for parents who want to give their kids a smartphone, or for someone making the switch from an iPhone to an Android phone. The Pixel 8a is powerful and customizable and it offers a lightweight and durable design. It also comes with a nice collection of apps and integrates seamlessly with Google Drive, Google Photos and other Google services. Between its design and overall performance, the Pixel 8a offers a really great value and we highly recommend it.


Best Apple iPhone under $500: Apple iPhone SE (3rd Gen)

Apple iPhone SE

Walmart


Operating system: iOS 17 | Display size: 4.7 inches | Display type: Retina HD | Display Resolution:  1,334 x 750 | Refresh rate: 60Hz | Processor: Apple A15 Bionic | RAM: 4GB | Storage options: 64GB, 128GB or 256GB | Battery: 2,018 mAh | Dimensions: 5.45 x 2.65 x 0.29 inches | Weight: 5.09 ounces | Charging options: Wired or wireless | Front camera: 7MP | Rear camera: 12MP | Water resistant rating: IP67 | Max. screen brightness: 625 nits

The Apple iPhone SE (3rd Gen) is not a new or cutting-edge phone. However, it is the least expensive iPhone model and can handle all of the same core tasks as any iPhone. It runs the same version of iOS 17 (or later), comes with the same collection of apps, and works with the same Apple services (including iCloud, Apple Music, Apple TV+, Apple Arcade, Apple Fitness+ and Apple News) as all other current iPhone models. The iPhone SE can also works with an Apple Watch and can sync with an iPad and Mac.

Compared with other current iPhone 15 models, what sets the iPhone SE apart is the screen is a bit smaller (and less bright), and the phone’s processor isn’t as new or powerful. Also, the camera system isn’t as advanced. The most storage you can get in this smartphone is 256GB. 

Despite the ways Apple has scaled down the hardware configuration of this phone, it’s perfect for average users, kids getting their first smartphone, or anyone who just doesn’t need the power of Apple’s higher-end Apple iPhone 15 Pro Max. The iPhone SE also has a smaller form factor, so it fits nicely in a hand or a pocket. 


Best Android phone under $500: OnePlus 12R

OnePlus 12R

OnePlus


Operating system: Oxygen 14 (based on Android 14) | Display size: 6.78 inches | Display type: AMOLED ProXDR | Display Resolution: 2,780 x 1,264 pixels | Refresh rate: 120Hz | Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 Mobile | RAM: 8GB or 16GB | Storage options: 128GB or 256GB | Battery: 5,500 mAh | Dimensions: 6.43 z 2.96 x 0.35 inches | Weight: 7.3 ounces | Charging options: Wired | Front camera: 16MP | Rear camera: 50MP (main), 8MP (ultra-wide), 2MP (macro) | Water resistant rating: IP64 | Max. screen brightness: 4,500 nits

For a power user who doesn’t want to spend top dollar for a Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra or Google Pixel Pro, the OnePlus 12 is a great option, but it has a starting price around $800. But there is good news. If you’re looking to spend just $500 on an Android phone, OnePlus has you covered with the newer and scaled down OnePlus 12R.

With the OnePlus 12R, you still get a beautiful and vibrant 6.78 inch AMOLED ProXDR touchscreen display with a 120Hz refresh rate. And it runs using the Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 Mobile processor. This combination makes the phone great for gaming, streaming video or viewing and editing photos. This phone’s battery also provides up to two days of power between charges.

When streaming video or using graphic intensive apps, the OnePlus 12R supports HDR10+ and HDR Vivid, as well as Dolby Atmos sound. And when it comes to wireless connectivity, this is one of the few smartphones that already supports Wi-Fi 7. This phone also has a built in Sony camera system, with three rear-facing cameras, including a 50MP main camera. 

Despite its relatively low price, the OnePlus 12R is a feature-packed and powerful phone for someone who wants more than an entry-level smartphone, but who doesn’t want to spend more than $1,000 for a high-end phone. It’ll easily handle all of your everyday smartphone tasks — from communications, to productivity, entertainment and more.


Best Android flip phone under $500: Motorola Razr (2023)

Motorol Razr (2023)

Amazon


Operating system: Android 13 | Display size: 6.9 inches (main), 1.5 inches (external) | Display type: OLED | Display Resolution: 2,640 x 1,080 | Refresh rate: 144Hz | Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 7 Gen 1 Mobile | RAM: 8GB | Storage options: 128GB | Battery: 4,200 mAh | Dimensions: 3.47 x 2.91 x 0.62 inches (closed), 6.73 x 2.91 x 0.29 inches (open) | Weight: 6.65 ounces | Charging options: Wired or wireless | Front camera: 32MP | Rear camera: 64MP | Water resistant rating: IP52

The saying “everything old is new again” certainly applies when describing the 2023 Motorola Razor. This is a folding phone modeled after the originals Flips from the late-1990s, but this one is loaded with much newer technology. It’s a folding phone that resembles the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 5, only it’s a bit less powerful and about half the price.

This Motorola phone has a vibrant, 6.9 inch OLED display on the inside, and a smaller (1.5 inch) OLED display on the outside. The main screen’s resolution is an impressive 2,640 x 1,080 pixels and it offers a surprisingly fast 144H refresh rate. The phone’s processor — the Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 Mobile — is a bit older, compared to what you’ll find in higher-end phones, but what the 2023 Razr offers is more than adequate for average users.

If you’re looking for an affordable folding phone that runs Android and easily fits in a pocket, this is a viable option. It comes in four colors — sage green, cherry blossom, summer lilac or vanilla cream. When you purchase the phone from Amazon, it comes unlocked, so you can activate it with whichever cellular service provider you choose. The biggest limitation is that the Razr offers just 128GB of internal storage.


Best smartphone under $500 for extended battery life: Samsung Galaxy A35 5G

Samsung Galaxy A35 5G

Samsung


Operating system: Android 14 | Display size: 6.6 inches | Display type: Super AMOLED Infinity-O | Display Resolution: 2,340 x 1,080 pixels | Refresh rate: 120Hz | Processor: Exynos 1380 Octa-Core | RAM: 6GB | Storage options: 128GB | Battery: 5,000 mAh | Dimensions: 6.37 x 3.07 x 0.32 inches | Weight: 7.03 ounces | Charging options: Wired | Front camera: 13MP | Rear camera: 50MP (wide), 8MP (ultra-wide), 5MP (macro) | Water resistant rating: IP67 | Max. screen brightness: 1,000 nits

Hands down, our top pick for the best Android smartphone on the market is Samsung’s flagship phone, the Galaxy S24 Ultra which has a starting price of $1,100 on Amazon. However, if you don’t need the power and advanced capabilities of this high-end phone, but still want an Android phone from Samsung, we suggest the Galaxy A35 5G.

This phone offers just 128GB of internal storage and comes in just two colors — navy or lilac. However, it does offer three rear-facing cameras (including a 50MP wide camera) and a 13MP front-facing camera. You also get a vibrant 6.6-inch, Super AMOLED Infinity-O touchscreen display. This means it’s great for streaming video, viewing and editing photos and gaming. This display offers a maximum brightness of 1,000 nits and a 120Hz refresh rate.

The biggest stand-out feature of the Galaxy A35 5G is its battery life. The integrated 5,000 mAh battery will keep this phone running for up to two full days between charges. And when the phone requires charging, it offers Samsung’s fast charging feature. We also like that the phone has a built in microSD memory card slot, so it’s easy to expand the phone’s 128GB of storage whenever you choose. Overall, you can expect impressive performance from this smartphone that’s priced less than $400 (before any sales, promotions or a trade-in).


Are cheap smartphones worth it?

When purchasing a lower-priced smartphone, you will need to make some concessions. The processor within these phones will typically be slower, the display won’t be as robust, the camera system will not be as advanced, and the internal storage options will often be smaller (compared to the high-end smartphones from companies like Apple, Google and Samsung).

That said, for the average smartphone user, any of the sub-$500 devices in this roundup will be more than adequate to handle everyday calling, texting, web surfing, email management, video calling, gaming, photography, videography, or whatever tasks you rely on your phone to handle. And with features built into the phone’s operating system and optional apps from the Apple App Store (iPhone) or Google Play Store (Android), there are countless ways you can customize and personalize your new phone.


To learn more about the latest smartphone options, be sure to check out our coverage of the best Android smartphones and best folding smartphones. You can also check out our full review of the popular Apple iPhone 15 Pro MaxGoogle Pixel 8a and Pixel 8 Pro and OnePlus 12 smartphones.


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