Top Cheap Smartphones Under £250


Flagship phones are more expensive than ever but as the high-end gets better, so too does the budget market. It’s possible to buy a new handset under £250 and still get a phone capable of handling everything you throw at it.

There’s even the odd handset here under £100, which might be perfect if all you need is the ability to make and receive WhatsApp calls; currently not available on most basic feature/keypad phones.

The best budget phones are also more attractive in the long-term thanks to cheaper contract prices, though you might prefer to buy these smartphones outright and then pay only for your minutes, texts and data, if you can swing it.

This is also the area where most people in full-time education will be shopping. Whether you’re a parent looking for your child’s first smartphone, or looking for an upgrade before you leave for uni, check out our student-specific buying advice below the chart. 

If value-for-money is your number-one priority, you won’t find a more useful list of budget phones elsewhere. We’ve tested, rated and ranked the best cheap phones from the likes of Xiaomi, Oppo, Motorola and many others. Alongside our reviews, you’ll also find expert buying advice to help decide whether a particular cheap phone really is the bargain it claims to be.

Best budget phone 2021

1. Xiaomi Poco X3 Pro – Best overall

2. Xiaomi Poco X3 NFC – Incredible value

Xiaomi Poco X3 NFC

3. Realme 7 – Best display

Realme 7

4. Realme 6 – Great value

Realme 6

5. Xiaomi Redmi Note 9S – Great all-rounder

Xiaomi Redmi Note 9S

6. Oppo A9 2020 – Superb battery life

Oppo A9 2020

7. Xiaomi Redmi Note 9T – Best for budget 5G

Xiaomi Redmi Note 9T

8. Motorola Moto E6s – Most affordable

Moto e6s

9. Xiaomi Redmi Note 9 – Best for tight budgets

Xiaomi Redmi Note 9

10. Xiaomi Redmi 9 – Versatile camera

Xiaomi Redmi 9

Your buying guide to the best budget phones in 2021

In our experience, the ideal way to get a cheap phone is to buy it SIM-free, then grab a great-value SIM-only deal. You won’t be paying £50-odd per month for a phone for the next two years and you can swap it for a newer model whenever you fancy, without a massive impact on your wallet. This is especially the case for cheap Chinese phones, as some of the most competitively-priced devices on the market.

All the phones here cost under £250/$250, which is a quarter of the price you’d often pay for select flagship phones – take a look at our guide to the best phones on the market for more on those high-end offerings.

Here are what we consider to be the best cheap phones on sale right now. We’ve based this rundown on devices’ SIM-free pricing, as contracts change so frequently.

You can click through on a phone you’re interested in to read the full review, see example photos from the camera and check out benchmarking results. 

Should you buy a locked phone?

You’ll quickly find that some of the best deals on cheap phones are sold via mobile operators. What you need to watch out for is whether these phones are sold locked to that operator’s network.

Nokia 1.3 in hand front

Nokia 1.3 in hand front

In such situations, you won’t be able to put another operator’s SIM card into your carrier-locked handset and will likely have to call the device’s carrier to get the phone unlocked, which can cost money.

What about a Chinese phone?

As already alluded to, there’s value in opting for a phone from a Chinese manufacturer, particularly in the budget space. You might not have heard of some of the brands featured and many still aren’t available on the UK high street (such as Ulefone and Cubot) but Chinese phones are well-known for offering amazing value, not to mention undercutting their more established rivals.

Of course, there are downsides – for example, what should you do if a phone bought from China is faulty? We’ve rounded up the major pitfalls in our article on buying grey-market tech but if you’re still interested, you should see our round-up of the best Chinese phones.

What’s the best phone for a child?

Most children want to make up their own mind about phones as they enter young adulthood, but if they’re a little younger you’ll probably want to make the decision for them.

You’ll want to look at something ultra-affordable for a first smartphone (so you’ve come to the right place), it’ll need to have a decent-sized screen, long battery life and be fairly durable, so you should probably avoid phones with a glass back. 

As it’ll likely be your main point of contact with your child, you’ll also want to look for good call quality, something that’s often overlooked on modern smartphones.

Which phone is best for students?

We’d recommend a more affordable phone here too, but many of the options in this chart may be within reach.

General buying decisions should be whether you prefer a near-stock version of Android (as is available on Google’s Pixel phones, Nokias and Motorola phones), or don’t mind the heavier skin, as found on devices from Samsung, Huawei, Oppo and so on. 

Also, considering what the most important aspect of a phone is to you is key, and how many compromises you’re willing to make in other areas. Many handsets at this price point will target one specific feature, meaning corners are inevitably cut elsewhere. 

What will you get for your money?

If you’re looking for a cheap phone, you have to accept the fact that the manufacturer is going to cut some corners to achieve that low price and you aren’t going to get the same performance, features or display quality as that of a phone costing two, three, or four times the price.

It used to be the case that budget phones were instantly recognisable by their low-resolution displays, meagre storage and chunky, plastic bodies, but things are improving in this area all the time. These days, for £250 or less, it’s quite possible to buy a phone with a Full HD display, a svelte body and a camera that takes pictures you might actually want to share.

Most will support 4G (or even 5G) connectivity but features like NFC, wireless charging and water resistance will likely be absent, unless specifically stated.

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