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Best Overall: Nokia 7.1 at Amazon
"Not quite under $300, but very close — and it punches above its weight class in terms of price."
Runner-Up, Best Overall: Nokia 6.1 at Amazon
"A phone that's all about high-end visuals without the high-end price tag."
Best Screen: Motorola Moto G6 at Amazon
"Striking that elusive balance between affordability, design, and function."
Best Value: Honor 7X at Amazon
"Easily measuring up to high-end smartphone brands."
Best New Release: Nokia 4.2 at Amazon
"Boasts two back cameras for added depth sensing and advanced editing capabilities and a battery that will last all day at work."
Runner-Up, Best Splurge: Sony Xperia 10 at Amazon
"If you’re willing to push the $300 envelope, you’ll find the Sony Xperia 10 is a worthwhile smartphone."
Best Ultra-Budget: Samsung Galaxy J2 Core at Amazon
"A full smartphone design for a tiny fraction of the average smartphone price."
Runner-Up, Best Ultra-Budget: Alcatel 1X Evolve at metropcs.com
"Has its flaws but ultimately excels where it counts, providing reliable performance without breaking the bank."
New smartphones are always getting more expensive, but that doesn't mean you need to break the bank to get a good one. If you're on a budget, it's perfectly possible to find a nice phone for $300 or less. You can even get one that has a good screen, elegant design, solid battery life, and a decent camera. Our reviewers have tested and researched a number of phones on this list to pick the best ones depending on what's important to you.
If you're less restrained by budget, you should also check out our general list of best Android phones. If you have a child, you should take a look at the best phones for kids.
Surprisingly good camera
Android One for guaranteed updates
Lower-end battery life
If you’re willing to spend around $300 but also willing to throw down just a tad more on a premium phone experience, then you should certainly check out the Nokia 7.1. This Android phone is one of the nicest you’ll find in this price range. One of the first things our tester noticed was its beautiful 5.84-inch HDR screen with high contrast. He thought videos and other content looked great.
Under the hood, the Nokia 7.1 has 4GB of RAM and a Qualcomm Snapdragon 636 processor, meaning this can run every app you can throw at it. For charging, it has a fast-charging USB-C port. It also has a stunningly good dual-lens camera for a mid-range phone, with one 12-megapixel camera and one 5-megapixel camera on the back that provide great photos. For software, the Nokia 7.1 is running the latest version of the Android OS and is part of the Android One program, which means the phone runs stock Android and you also get two years of Android updates and three years of security patches. While the Nokia 7.1 isn’t quite under $300, it’s very close — and it punches above its weight class in terms of price.
"The Nokia 7.1 is a mid-range handset in terms of price, but it packs a lot of features that you’d expect from a much more expensive phone." — Jeremy Laukkonen, Product Tester
Pro-level camera features
Android One support
Middling battery performance
Touchy fingerprint sensor
When it comes to a decent camera, affordability doesn’t have to mean compromise. The Nokia 6.1 is all about high-end visuals without the high-end price tag. Powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 630 mobile platform with 3GB of RAM and 32GB of storage, the smartphone features a high-contrast 5.5’” full-HD screen with a sculpted 2.5D Corning Gorilla Glass display. For our reviewer, the Nokia 6.1's main selling point was its Zeiss optics 16MP main camera with 4K video recording and dual-tone flash. To truly capture a moment, Dual-sight mode engages both the main and 8MP wide-angle selfie cameras to fuse images into one file. Both of these cameras are able to function in low-light conditions.
For convenience when you’re on-the-go, the USB Type-C charging allows your phone to power up by 50 percent in 30 minutes, and the Android One software is easy to use, boasts Google’s newest technology developments, and offers free, unlimited high-quality photo storage. With no bloatware, the phone’s performance is strong, fast, and reliable.
"It has a strong camera, gorgeous exterior, and Android One support, all of which make it a great deal for the asking price." — Eric Watson, Product Tester
Clean Android installation
Slow network connection
Can't really game
The Moto G6 strikes that elusive balance between affordability, design, and function. The curved, 3D glass back makes it comfortable to hold, and the thin bezels mean the 5.7-inch full HD display offers edge-to-edge visuals. The phone prioritizes speed with a 1.8 GHz octa-core processor and features an Android 8.0 Oreo operating system. Our tester liked that they could let their creativity loose with the dual-sensor setup of a 12MP and 5MP cameras, or switch to portrait mode, where you can focus on a foreground subject and apply three different editing effects to the photo, including a blurred background or a "color pop."
Need assistance? The Moto G6 is Amazon Alexa capable with two hands-free options, whether you need to ask a question, use an app, or manage your other smart home devices. One of its only drawbacks is the life of its 3000 mAh battery, which falls short of its predecessors.
To get the biggest bang for your buck, you can learn how to use an Android phone and all of its features, which differ from an iPhone's features.
"Images and videos really pop off the screen, which makes the Moto G6 seem like a much more expensive device." — Bill Thomas, Product Tester
Extra wide 18:9 screen
Dual-lens rear camera
Lots of pre-installed apps
The Honor 7X can easily measure up to the high-end smartphone brands. At a glance, it looks like any one of the top-brand Android phones, but it costs half as much. The 7X packs a 3GB RAM, a 2.36GHz Octa-Core processor, and 32GB of storage—with room for a micro SD card to fit an additional 256GB. Our reviewer points out that the six-inch screen means the device might not fit into your jeans pocket, but it offers crisp visual detail (2,160 x 1080 resolution) on an 18:9 widescreen display. In fact, the phone is so large that it offers a "split-screen" function that allows users to operate two apps simultaneously— a stand-out feature among competitors.
The Honor 7X includes a dual-lens 16MP and 2MP camera for capturing high-definition photos. For an additional level of professionalism, the camera offers Portrait Mode, which blurs the background and captures your subject in vivid detail. This phone is also built to last, with a 3,340 mAH battery that can deliver up to 1.5 days of power on a single charge. The Honor 7X is upgradable to Android 8.0 Oreo software and is compatible with GSM cellular networks like AT&T and T-Mobile.
"A dual-lens camera is not something we often see in phones under $200, and it creates some very impressive pictures for the price." — Eric Watson, Product Tester
Includes Google Assistant
Has two back camera for depth sensing
All-day battery life
Clean Android One software
Average performance at best
Despite being one of the cheapest options in Nokia’s range of flagship smartphones, the Nokia 4.2 doesn't skimp on any essentials. Because it includes the trusty Google Assistant, you don’t have to worry about missing any important dates. Its advanced AI, meanwhile, learns the more you use it, so you can set reminders, respond to texts, and, with the help of its visual snapshot of the day, make sure you’re ready for your plans.
On top of that, the phone boasts two back cameras for added depth sensing and advanced editing capabilities and a battery that will last all day at work. If it starts getting low, the Adaptive Battery savings will help you preserve those last few percentage points so you can really use the full potential of the Nokia 4.2. You have to worry about third-party apps cluttering your phone, thanks to Android One, so updates will be quick and easy, too.
21:9 aspect ratio for media
Good for multitasking
13MP rear camera and 4K video recording
A little big to grip comfortably
If you’re willing to push the $300 envelope, you’ll find the Sony Xperia 10 is a worthwhile smartphone. Make no mistake about it, the Xperia 10 was made with movie lovers in mind. Thanks to a 21:9 cinema-like aspect ratio, video playback from Netflix, Amazon Prime and a host of other video services look great. No more ugly black bars. The six-inch display also provides plenty of space for multitasking as two apps can split-screen. The extra screen space let’s see you more of each app making this functionality a total joy to use.
Holding the Xperia 10 while watching a movie or multitasking feels great. The glass front and metal rear feel less budget and more premium. The slim size adds to the comfort while in hand.
Another advantage to splurging a little more on the Xperia 10 is with the 13-megapixel rear camera. Paired with 4K video recording, it makes full use of the 21:9 aspect ratio and looks beautiful. Throw in a 2870mAh battery and there’s all-day life for video recording or binging your favorite show on Netflix.
Snappy and stylish
Good starter phone
Can last all day
Older Android software
Can't handle gaming
Snappy and stylish, the Samsung Galaxy J2 Core is a reminder that you can, in fact, get a perfectly usable smartphone for an ultra-budget price. This affordable new model from Samsung is a great option when you’re looking for something less expensive or a starter smartphone. Samsung’s first foray into Android Go smartphones, the J2 Core has the brand’s Exynos 7570 chipset and a quad-core Cortex-A53 CPU, and the 8GB of storage can be upgraded to 256GB using a microSD card.
While the phone, which runs on Android 8.1 Oreo, can’t handle intensive gaming session, it’s fine for less-demanding games and apps. And the 2,600mAh battery can last the entire day with lighter use. The five-inch LCD panel offers quad-HD (960 x 540 pixels) resolution and 220ppi for decent visuals. The 8MP back camera and 5MP selfie camera certainly aren’t the best on the market, but they perform well in bright light and offer features like Beauty Mode and LED flash. Overall, it has a full smartphone design for a tiny fraction of the average smartphone price.
HD resolution screen
As an ultra-budget option, the Alcatel 1X Evolve holds slightly lower specs compared to other devices, but this model’s shortcomings are overruled by its extremely affordable price. The 1X Evolve contains a 1.1GHz quad-core processor, 2GB RAM, and 16GB internal memory, which is a respectable amount of hardware for such a small device. Additionally, the phone features an 8MP rear camera and a 5MP front-snapper equipped with built-in flash.
Regarding design, the Evolve leaves something to be desired. Its bezel-free design looks a bit outdated, lacking the modern sleekness of the newest flagship smartphones. The display is only 5.34 inches long, but the Alcatel 1X Evolve takes full advantage of its available surface area, with super slim borders and an 18:9 aspect ratio. Unfortunately, the screen does not have HD resolution, but that's an expected compromise at this price point.
The Evolve has its flaws, but it ultimately excels where it counts, providing reliable performance without breaking the bank.
If you're on a tight budget, there's no better smartphone to buy than the Nokia 7.1. For under $300, you have a modern design with a big HDR display, a solid camera, and specs that can handle most day-to-day usage and even gaming without too much trouble. If you want something even cheaper, the Nokia 6.1 is another great alternative. It's not quite as modern as the Nokia 7.2 in terms of design, but it has a nice metal build along with solid specs, a 1080p display, and sold camera capability.
Eric Watson has written for Lifewire since 2019. Previously published on PC Gamer, Polygon, and others, he's had five years of experience writing for tech and gaming websites. He liked the camera quality of the Nokia 6.1.
Jeremy Laukkonen has written for Lifewire since 2019. He's had years of experience writing for major trade publications, and personally owns a Pixel 3 and One Plus 6T. He liked the Nokia 7.2 for its great screen, solid camera, and generally stylish design.
Bill Thomas has written for Lifewire since 2018. He's previously been published on TechRadar and has extensive experience reviewing consumer tech products. He praised the Moto G6 for its mix of affordable price, the good-looking design, and a clean Android installation.
Screen size - Your average smartphone display is around 5.5 inches, measured diagonally. That’s comfortable for most hands — small enough for one-handed use but large enough to make watching YouTube enjoyable. There are larger phones on the market as well, which are better for streaming media but might be harder to slip in your pocket.
Screen resolution - Displays can be the most expensive and energy-consuming part of a smartphone — and thus a major deciding factor. A screen with a resolution of at least 1,280 x 720 pixels should work well; anything higher will be fantastic.
Camera - Camera technology has advanced leaps and bounds in the past years — some people upgrade their phones just to get a nicer camera. While it won’t match the quality of a dedicated DSLR, certain phone cameras are great in their own right, reaching up to 23 megapixels. Cool features, like low-light performance and portrait mode, abound as well.