If you are looking for a new smartphone for 2021, you won’t be strapped for choice: from iPhones to Samsung devices, there is no shortage of the latest releases to catch your eye. However, if you are looking for a good new phone on a budget, things get a little bit trickier.
So, is it real to buy a good smartphone for under 500 USD? As you will see from the list below, it is, in fact, very possible. What are the best phones under $500? Read on to find out!
The Best Budget Smartphones Under 500 USD Worth Buying
So, in today’s article, we will look into some of the best phones you can get without paying over $500. In particular, we will name:
- the best budget phone for battery life,
- the best cheap smartphone for getting 5G access,
- the best inexpensive Android phone,
- the best budget smartphone for outside the US,
- the phone with the best screen for under $500, and
- the best budget phone with long-term update support.
And, of course, you will see our top pick for the absolute best phone under $500 phone overall.
Let’s get started.
Best Android Phone: Google Pixel 4A
If Android is your cup of tea and you are looking for the best budget camera, go with the Google Pixel 4A.
The Pixel 4A’s camera puts the phone head-to-head with much (much!) pricier models. And this is not about the number of pixels but about the processing. Pixel’s outstanding image processing means that you can do amazing things with the phone’s camera, from night time photos to astrophotography and portraits. In fact, Pixel’s camera actually takes better photos than that of the iPhone SE — but falls behind it in video quality.
The phone comes with a rather small screen (5.8 inches) and not the fastest of processors. There is enough RAM on board for daily operations, and you can enjoy 128GB of storage space. You can get the Google Pixel 4A in black or baby blue. There is no wireless charging option or facial recognition. Another downside for some users may be that the phone’s body is made of plastic (as opposed to more premium materials like glass and aluminum).
On the plus side, the phone features a clean version of Android with zero third-party bloatware. What’s more, the phone is first in line for OS updates when they roll out and is guaranteed to receive these updates until at least August 2023.
Best Non-US Android Phone: OnePlus Nord
The OnePlus Nord is not currently available in the US, and its manufacturer has actually made no plans to sell it in the country. However, in a place where OnePlus Nord is available, it’s a really strong choice as an Android phone.
It has several features that bring it quite close to more expensive models on the market. For instance, it supports 5G networks and has a high refresh rate 90Hz display.
There is no wireless charging, but battery life is pretty strong. There are also a decently sized 6.4-inch screen and a comparatively clean OS (though not as clean as the one on the Google Pixel 4A).
Cameras on this phone are interesting — and there are quite a few of them. On the back, you will see a standard, an ultra-wide and a macro camera. On the front, there are two selfie cameras. You will get very decent photos out of the OnePlus Nord in good lighting. Low-light photography, however, would be more problematic.
Best Big-Screen Phone: Samsung Galaxy A51
The A51 was aiming to be the best-selling phone of 2020, and Samsung has decided to give it a very nice screen to make it happen.
There is a beautiful 6.5-inch OLED display on board. It doesn’t offer the same refresh rate as that of the OnePlus Nord, but it makes up for that in quality and is exceptionally bright and vivid. The one thing that may be spoiling the impression a little bit is a chrome bezel around the hole for the front-facing camera, which can be quite a distraction.
The phone comes with nice build quality, though you will certainly feel that its back is all plastic. There is a 4,000mAh battery on board — but do keep in mind that it needs to power that huge screen. For storage, there is 128GB for all your media and other files.
Now, on to the cameras. The A51 features a standard wide-angle lens, an ultra-wide lens, a depth sensor, and a macro camera. While the phone can’t beat the Pixel when it comes to image quality, having so many lenses definitely opens up more photo-taking opportunities.
The phone should serve you a good few years in full capacity as Samsung has committed to supplying the A51 with three generations of Android software updates.
Best Big Screen with 5G and OS Update Support: Google Pixel 4A 5G
If you are looking for everything that the Google Pixel 4A has to offer plus a bigger screen, you will find it in the Google Pixel 4A 5G. The phone has a great camera, decent battery life, clean software, and a bigger, 6.2-inch screen. Naturally, you will need to pay more than for the Pixel 4A to have all of this on board — and the phone is just a few bucks below the cutoff line to make it to our list of the best smartphones under $500.
The Pixel 4A 5G runs on the Qualcomm Snapdragon 765G processor, which makes it faster than the 4A (as well as the majority of other smartphones in this price category).
Plus, the 4A 5G also has a better camera and comes with an ultra-wide sensor that is missing on the 4A. Improvements have also been made to the phone’s Night Sight mode, and there are extra stabilization features for video.
On the design side, the phone is just as simple as the Pixel 4A: it has a plastic back with a fingerprint sensor and a headphone jack.
The option to connect to 5G networks is definitely a great thing to have. True, we may still be a few good years away from when not having 5G connectivity will be a serious downside, but getting a phone that is ready for faster network speeds is surely a safe bet.
Best 5G on a Budget: OnePlus Nord N10 5G
Speaking of 5G. If you are absolutely determined to get a phone with 5G capabilities and want to keep the purchase under $500, there is another way. And that way is the OnePlus Nord N10 5G. The phone delivers all the benefits of fast network speeds — and at a very modest price. So, what are the trade-offs? There are a few.
The N10 5G doesn’t come with a great screen — but it’s also not bad. It’s a 6.46-inch LCD with a surprisingly fast 90Hz refresh rate. An interesting thing to note is the 20:9 aspect ratio, which makes the phone seem a bit “taller” and actually quite convenient for one-hand use.
The N10 5G comes with Android 10, and its maker offers two more years of security updates in addition to the upcoming Android 11 update.
When it comes to the cameras, there is a 64MP main camera that performs quite well in daylight and even moderate lighting. There is also an 8MP ultra-wide lens accompanied by macro and monochrome cameras.
So, to sum up, the N10 5G is a good choice if you absolutely insist on having 5G connectivity on a budget. If you have a bit more to spend, you will get more with the Google Pixel 4A 5G — especially when it comes to OS update support. For the price, though, the N10 5G does offer a decent feature package and network future-proofing.
Best Battery Life: Motorola Moto G Power
If you are looking for a phone with a battery that will last you days (and we mean days) at a time, this is exactly what the Moto G Power promises to be. The phone packs a massive 5,000mAh battery and starts at just $200. For this price, you will get just 32GB of built-in storage, but there are more expensive models with more storage on board.
The camera is okay. It’s not particularly great, but it is a decent camera for snapping photos. On the back, you get a standard 48MP wide-angle lens and a 2MP macro lens. On the front, there is an 8MP selfie cam. The image quality is actually quite good (provided you take photos in good lighting), but you might notice that colors can sometimes come across a little bit washed out.
All in all, the Moto G Power is a very capable smartphone and would be a great match for anyone looking to get the most out of their smartphone on a single charge.
The Absolute Best Smartphone: iPhone SE
The iPhone SE seems to strike the perfect balance when it comes to the key features everyone is looking for in their smartphone: good camera, performance, solid battery life, powerful and up-to-date software.
While the phone is over a year old, it offers a very good return on investment.
The phone comes with the classic 4.7-inch LCD display -— and is on the smaller side of today’s market, which is dominated by oversized phones. The bezels on the iPhone SE are also thick and noticeable. This is a familiar iPhone design that might get you feeling nostalgic.
With that, you do get a lot of value in this undersized package. There is the A13 Bionic processor on board, which is still one of the fastest mobile processors on the market. Another important factor is longevity. Apple is known for consistently supporting its phones via software updates. And this means that your iPhone SE should still be getting all iOS updates several years from now.
Battery life is not the best. It will last you a day of normal use — but probably not longer. However, the iPhone SE supports wireless charging, which is a really rare feature in this price range. Plus, finding compatible accessories will be really easy as the ecosystem of iPhone charging gadgets is quite extensive.
The phone features just one camera on the back (12MP) and one selfie camera on the front (7MP). This is not particularly great by 2021 standards — but a good offer for the price. Plus, you get lots of camera features, like Portrait and HDR. However, there is no night mode.
The iPhone SE takes first place as the best “total package” phone for under $500 – especially, if you consider that you can use the phone for 4-5 years (provided you take good care of it) and get access to a vast selection of iOS apps.
So, what is the best budget phone for you in 2021? This is a personal question that requires a personal answer. It all depends on what you are looking for in your new phone and what trade-offs you are willing to accept for the friendly tag.