Best phones under $500
OPPO A52Full two-day battery lifeVibrant display
Alcatel 3LAmazing camera for the priceSolid battery life
Samsung A21sHuge 5000mAh batteryNot Samsung's best screen
Huaei Y9 PrimeCute pop-up selfie cameraTwo-day battery life
Buying a phone on a budget can feel like a stroll through a minefield. There are walls in the major electronics stores covered with cheap phones, some from brands you’ve never heard of. In some ways it can feel like a greater risk buying a cheaper phone, even when you’re spending less money.
And yet, there’s never been a better time to shop for phones under $500. The evolution of smartphones has seen upgrades in hardware far outpace the needs of software, so you can now get a large-screen, multi-camera phones and zippy performance, and not give up food for a month.
Best phone under $500
- 6.5-inch QHD display
- Qualcomm Snapdragon 665 processor
- 64GB storage
- 5000mAh battery capacity
- Full two day battery life
- Vibrant display
- Some performance speed bumps
There’s a lot to like about the Oppo A52 beyond its $300 price tag. For starters, an enormous 5000mAh battery keeps the lights on for up to two full days between charges, which is outstanding for a phone at this price. The quad-camera array is fantastic, and the A52 is more than up to the task of capturing your precious memories. It has a decent Qualcomm processor too, though expect to be a little forgiving at times.
Oppo goes a long way to make sure the A52 doesn’t feel like a budget model. Its 6.5-inch screen is big and luxurious and we found the 1080p+ display looked vibrant and crisp. Rather than a big, ugly camera notch on the front, Oppo uses a pinhole cutout, maximising the screen real estate.
All budget phones come with some sacrifices, compared with the premium priced range from each manufacturer, but Oppo does a great job of concealing the places where it has trimmed back to save costs. Overall, this is an easy phone to recommend.
How to shop for a cheaper phone
What does the screen look like? The screen resolution (the total number of pixels) is far less important than a good screen with good colour and good responsiveness.
Is the processor fast enough? Open apps like the web browser and compare how long it takes to load.
How much storage does it have? Cheap phones may only have 16GB or 32GB of onboard storage and you will find this disappears pretty quickly after you install your favourite apps.
Best on a budget
Reviewing the Alcatel 3L was an experience that was full of surprises, but none more than how good the camera in this phone is. So good in fact, that I continue to use one of the photos taken with the Alcatel 3L as my lockscreen wallpaper on subsequent review handsets.
But the 3L proved to be more than just a cheap phone with a great camera. Like Oppo A52, this phone delivered up to two days of battery between charges. And while the screen is low on pixels, it makes up for it with bright and vibrant colours.
We did find the processing speed to be a touch slower than we’d like, but for a phone that costs just $199, this is something we could definitely live with.
Other great phones under $500
Samsung isn’t the first brand we’d turn to for a cheap phone (in fact, it is the mid-range Samsungs leading the pack in 2020) but the A21s does a decent job of delivering a decent phone for the price. The 5000mAh battery is huge, and the camera does a solid job under normal lighting conditions. It suffers in low-light, but to be fair, most cheaper smartphone cameras do.
Our big disappointment is that you don’t get an excellent Samsung AMOLED display at this price point. You will need to fork out an extra $100 for a Samsung A31 to get an OLED screen, but that phone has other issues and doesn’t feature in this list.
Huawei Y9 Prime
The Y9 Prime was first released last year, but don’t let that stop you from checking it out, even just for a peek at the awesome Pop-top selfie camera. You read that right; in an effort to give you an unbroken view of the screen, Huawei ditches all cameras on the front and hides the selfie camera inside the phone. When you need it pops out of the top of the phone.
You may think this is a bit gimmicky, and it is, but it is just the first thing that made us smile when testing the Y9 Prime. There’s also two-day battery life and a decent camera with a wide-angle lens. There’s also a fingerprint scanner on the back, which is a godsend if you, like me, hate having them on the front or built-in under the screen.
Of all the phones on this list, the Nokia 5.3 is the least flashy and lacks that one killer feature. It isn’t cheapest or fastest, it doesn’t have the brightest screen or the best cameras. Battery life is comfortably a day, but not two. It is perfectly average in all regards, thank you very much.
In saying that, it also doesn’t have any obvious shortcomings either, and it is perfectly priced at $299. It has a better Qualcomm processor than some of the cheaper models, but lacks some of the extra goodies in the more expensive ones. If you have $300 to spend on a phone, the Nokia could be for you.