8 best cheap smartphones for 2021 (iPhone, Android)

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Works on all three major US airlines

Photo: Nokia

There are faster phones of similar cost to the G20 — it stutters if you try to use too many apps in a row, —but if you don’t use the phone a lot, it’s a reliable option that’s cheap and will last two days on a single charge. The screen doesn’t get very bright, but the camera is decent, and there’s even a night mode to enhance the image in low light. Nokia promises three years of security updates and two OS updates. Two big caveats: it doesn’t work on Verizon and doesn’t support 5GHz Wi-Fi, which is necessary for some services such as Android Wireless Auto.


Another good budget phone

Photo: TCL

Technically, the TCL 2021 line of smartphones has three phones: the TCL 20 Pro 5G ($ 500), the TCL 20S ($ 250) and the TCL 20 SE ($ 190). We omit the last two here because any of the other phones below $ 300 or $ 200 above is the best choice. But there are good reasons to go for the TCL 20 Pro 5G.

It has the same Qualcomm Snapdragon 750G chip as the Galaxy A52 5G, but its performance is a bit smoother. It’s a powerful — perhaps the most effective Android phone in this guide — and it’s easy the most beautiful and the most luxurious device. It has an aluminum frame and glass on both sides, although this makes it more fragile. It is also the only Android phone with wireless charging support.

The 6.67-inch AMOLED screen is colorful and it becomes bright enough to be seen outdoors. The 4500 mAh rechargeable battery comfortably lasts more than a full day of use and has common features such as NFC, a headphone jack and a MicroSD card slot. The only reason why this is not our best choice is that TCL promises only two OS updates and two years of security updates, so Google and Samsung phones will be supported longer.

In addition, it has access to 5G, but it is not available on AT&T, and there is no IP rating for water resistance. It has a pretty good camera system, but it’s not as well, like the aforementioned competitors.

Works on all three major US carriers (5G will soon work for Verizon, but not for AT&T)


Yes. Every major smartphone maker has debuted its budget and mid-range phones in a year, and we won’t see many new options until 2022.

Consider last year’s flagship phones

If none of these phones have the features you need, or aren’t as powerful as you like, it’s best to look for last year’s flagship smartphones that can lower prices. Sometimes they are easy to find, but some manufacturers stop selling them at all, such as the Samsung Galaxy S20 2020 or the Google Pixel 5. Keep in mind that you will lose a year of software support.

Check network compatibility

If you buy an unlocked phone on this list and try to take it to one of your wireless carrier’s retail stores, they may tell you that it is not compatible with the network. Most likely it is. Just use a paper clip or SIM card ejector to pull the SIM card out of your current phone and then insert that SIM card into the new phone. If it doesn’t work at first, restart your phone or wait a couple of hours.

If you need a new SIM card, try ordering it online from your carrier or try getting them to give you a SIM card when you activate the line at the store (when you start coverage). Tell them you have a phone. Many times representatives will want to sell you a phone; this is one of the possible reasons why they may prevent you from buying another device in the store.

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