The best cheap 5G phones of 2021: 5G for less

5G is still a relatively new technology but we’re already seeing more affordable smartphones that support these new super-fast data speeds.

When 5G phones first started hitting the market, they arrived as special iterations of existing devices (like the OnePlus 7 Pro 5G, the Samsung Galaxy S10 5G and the Oppo Reno 5G) and were priced highly because of this.

This was partly down to the fact that these were the first phones to support a new feature in 5G, which from a manufacturing standpoint came with added costs in research and development, as well as tooling; not to mention the price premium marketers could slap on a phone just by its nature of being among the first to offer 5G support.

The Samsung Galaxy S10 5G cost £1,099 at launch

Thankfully, the cost of implementing 5G technology is rapidly dropping and we’re seeing a growing number of handsets that don’t command a flagship price for what could still be considered a flagship feature.

If nothing here grabs your fancy and you decide 5G isn’t an essential feature right now then it’s also worth checking out our ‘Best mid-range phone’ and ‘Best budget phone’ rundowns. They’re filled with offerings that are still considerably cheaper than the flagships that currently make headlines, and yet all still deliver a great experience for £600 or less. 

Best cheap 5G phones


OnePlus Nord – Best overall

OnePlus Nord

  • Pros: Great 90Hz display | Capable lead camera | Great user experience
  • Cons: Weak macro camera | Plastic build | No wireless charging

An outstanding affordable buy from 2020 with great performance, 5G, OnePlus’ signature Oxygen OS user experience and a more diverse camera setup than the company had ever used on a phone (when it originally launched). What’s not to love?

What the OnePlus Nord really demonstrates is the company’s ability to prioritise the features that users are looking for right now and wrapping them up in an attractive package with a compelling price point.

Read our full OnePlus Nord review


Realme X50 – Great all-rounder

Realme X50 5G

  • Pros: Premium design touches | Smooth 120Hz display |Solid value
  • Cons: Weak macro camera | LCD not OLED | No headphone jack

The standard Realme X50 does the same thing for the mid-range market as the Pro model does in the flagship space.

A 120Hz display, the excellent Snapdragon 765G chip, 5G, superb battery life and a surprisingly-capable main camera collectively render the X50 a far better phone than anything you’d expect at this price.

It even gives devices like the OnePlus Nord and even Google’s Pixel 5 a run for their money in certain areas.

Read our full Realme X50 5G review


OnePlus 8T – A true flagship

OnePlus 8T

  • Pros: Stunning display | Rapid fast charging | Great user experience
  • Cons: Weaker cameras than expected | OnePlus Nord is better value

Bigger numbers in all things except price render the OnePlus 8T a great buy.

It’s cheaper than the OnePlus 8’s original RRP and yet sports a smoother 120Hz refresh rate display and is the first of the company’s phone‘s to integrate blisteringly-fast 65W fast charging.

It’s also one of the first phones outside of Google’s own Pixel 5 to boast the latest and greatest Android 11; in this instance, covered by OnePlus’ OxygenOS 11 user experience on top.

Read our full OnePlus 8T review


Nubia Red Magic 6 – Best for gaming

Nubia Red Magic 6

  • Pros: Impressive display tech | Top-notch performance | Strong longevity
  • Cons: Loud fan | User experience isn’t for everyone

Nubia’s Red Magic gaming phones always deliver an outstanding price/performance balance and one of its latest entries – the Red Magic 6 – is no exception.

Its headline feature is a rapid 165Hz high refresh rate display, but the 6 also totes flagship performance, with a Snapdragon 888 processor (backed up by up to 12GB of RAM) and a 4500mAh battery capable of impressive 66W fast wired charging.

The design is also a little more conservative than its predecessors too, so if you’re not a fan of the stereotypical ‘gamer’ aesthetic that products in that realm typically sport, you won’t be too embarrassed to whip the Red Magic 6 out in public.

Read our full Nubia Red Magic 6 review


Xiaomi Poco F3 – Best value

Xiaomi Poco F3

  • Pros: Great price/performance balance | Nice OLED display | Solid cameras
  • Cons: Weak battery longevity | MIUI not for everyone

Xiaomi sub-brand Poco is playing hardball in 2021, delivering some of the best value-for-money on the smartphone scene by quite some margin.

The Poco F3’s main point of appeal has to be its flagship-class Qualcomm Snapdragon 870 chipset, paired with an astoundingly low asking price, considering the level of performance on offer.

The F3 also offers up speedy 33W fast charging and a large super-smooth 120Hz AMOLED Full HD+ display, meaning it’s also great for media and gaming.

Read our full Xiaomi Poco F3 review


Xiaomi Redmi Note 9T – Most affordable

Xiaomi Redmi Note 9T

  • Pros: Great value 5G | Good performance | Long battery life
  • Cons: Cheap design elements | Weak fingerprint sensor | Middling display

An incredible budget performer, the Redmi Note 9T packs in premium features and doesn’t skimp out on performance either, considering its low price.

Its design is a little lacklustre and you’re going to have to settle for 60Hz visuals but beyond that, there’s plenty on offer for the money.

Read our full Xiaomi Redmi Note 9T review


Xiaomi Mi 11 Lite 5G – Nice design

Xiaomi Mi 11 Lite 5G

  • Pros: World’s thinnest 5G phone | Feature-packed | Nice display
  • Cons: MIUI not for everyone | No IP certification

Not only does the Mi 11 Lite 5G retain the same impressive proportions as its 4G counterpart, it also delivers better specs with greater performance to boot.

Boasting the title of “the world’s thinnest 5G phone” at the time of review, the Lite 5G is an attractive piece of kit; fronted by a Gorilla Glass 6-covered HDR10+ 90Hz OLED display and running on Qualcomm’s competent Snapdragon 780G.

That svelte waistline does mean you lose out on features like OIS and wireless charging, however.

Read our full Xiaomi Mi 11 Lite 5G review


Realme 7 5G – Great performance

Realme 7 5G

  • Pros: Competitive SoC | Nice finish | Great value
  • Cons: Realme UI not for everyone | Plastic build | Average cameras

Don’t mistake the Realme 7 5G as a repeat of the standard model with a 5G modem tacked on. While it shares a near-identical camera setup, practically everything else – from the processor to the display – has been overhauled.

A 120Hz LCD, a huge 5000mAh battery with 30W ‘Dash Charge’ fast charging and the first phone to boast MediaTek’s Dimensity 800U chipset, make this an impressively-powerful and yet affordable device.

At launch, it boasted the title of “Europe’s most affordable 5G phone” too (a title which has since gone to the budget Xiaomi Redmi Note 9T).

Read our full Realme 7 5G review


Nokia 8.3 5G – Great for ease of use

Nokia 8.3 5G

  • Pros: Long battery life | Pleasing display | Pro video recording features
  • Cons: Plastic design elements | Poor palm rejection tech

Despite a delayed release, the Nokia 8.3 5G proves to have been worth the wait, with superior 5G band support than any other phone so far, along with a flair for videography – all at a competitive price.

HMD Global’s clean take on Android, along with multiple years of software and security updates make the Nokia 8.3 a great mid-range 5G proposition.

Read our full Nokia 8.3 5G review


Black Shark 3 – Great for gaming

Black Shark 3

  • Pros: Fantastic performance | Decent cameras | Rapid wired charging
  • Cons: Bulky | Hit-and-miss accessories | No wireless charging

The Black Shark 3 hardly reinvents the wheel when it comes to gaming phones, but there are some useful upgrades here.

Of course, a Snapdragon 865 processor and 8GB or 12GB RAM ensure performance is truly excellent, while some thoughtful touches in Shark Space should make it a hit with gamers. Other highlights include some significant camera improvements and staggeringly fast charging speeds.

Our main gripe is with its accessory ecosystem, with a bulky fan and expensive gaming pad adding little to the experience. The magnetic charging cable is a great idea, though.

It certainly isn’t what most people have in mind when considering a new smartphone, but Xiaomi has plenty of phones that cater to mainstream tastes. With the Black Shark 3, it hopes gaming fanatics will buy into its vision for the future of mobile gaming.

Read our full Black Shark 3 review

If you want to know about the benefits of 5G support in a phone and what you need to make sure you get the most out of a 5G phone, check out our ‘What is 5G?’ guide and our Best 5G phone roundup for more details.

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