The Best Prepaid Smartphones of 2023

You don't have to spend a lot of money on phone plans

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If you want to stay connected while saving on monthly service costs, you might find a perfect fit from this selection of prepaid smartphones. Pay-as-you-go mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs) are ideal for users who don’t want to be locked into a contract or put a strain on their wallets. 

Key considerations to keep in mind as you browse include ensuring coverage in your area. You should also think about the amount of storage and data you think you’ll need. Both will influence the up-front price and the type of service plan you choose. Other general smartphone traits to look for range from the display size and quality camera technology and battery longevity.

Best Overall, Apple

Apple iPhone SE

4.2
Apple iPhone SE

Amazon

What We Like
  • Inexpensive for quality

  • Same fast chip as iPhone 11 Pro

  • Advanced camera and portrait modes

  • IP67 water resistant

  • Convenient, petite size

What We Don't Like
  • No low-light camera settings

Shoppers considering sizing down on their gadgets will be persuaded by the Apple iPhone SE (2020), which packs a powerful punch in a petite and hardy package (it’s dunkable in 1 meter of water for up to 30 minutes). Though it’s powered by the ultra-fast, new A13 Bionic chip, which is also featured in the much larger iPhone 11 Pro, it’s closer to the size of the iPhone 8. Though small, it performs many of the same feats as larger and newer iPhones, including support for Wi-Fi 6 and wireless and quick charging.

Apple says it has the most advanced single-camera system on the market, and it’s easy to see why. The single camera on the SE rivals the quality of the much larger and costlier iPhone 11 Pro, which has three cameras. The downside for some is that there are no night-mode camera settings like on the 11 Pro. 

If you don’t require low-light picture mode, you’ll be pleased by how closely these two models measure up. The SE also offers Portrait mode, six different lighting settings, and the Smart HDR feature provides appropriate relighting to capture professional portraits. You’ll also get 4K video quality and extended dynamic range support, which means the camera will pick up on highlights and shadows in greater detail.

Best Budget

Motorola Moto E

Moto E

Walmart

What We Like
  • Very affordable

  • Battery last for up to 2 days

  • Expandable storage

  • Headphone jack

What We Don't Like
  • Cameras aren’t the best on the market

  • No NFC support

Are you interested in spending about $100 on a capable smartphone? The Motorola Moto E delivers in all the ways many smartphone shoppers expect. It has a solid, attractive build and a trusty headphone jack for wired headphone fans. 

The dual 13MP camera system supports fun effects like blurring and Bokeh mode in portraits. Picture quality in low light could suffer, and you won’t find any advanced dark mode or portrait settings on iPhones or Samsung models. But the Moto E offers an edge over its camera-savvier competitors regarding battery life. You’ll get up to 2 days on a single charge, which means more time texting, calling, and streaming without being interrupted. Motorola claims that the Moto E has enough longevity to stream music for 103 hours or movies up to 11 hours. 

While you won’t pay a lot of money upfront for this smartphone, NFC support is one noticeably absent feature. If that’s not a big deal to you, the Moto E’s battery life and expandable storage are winning traits. The 32GB of onboard storage isn’t overly generous but can be supplemented with microSD for up to 512GB of extra space as you need it.

Best for 5G

Apple iPhone 12

4.7
iPhone 12

Apple

What We Like
  • 5G-capable

  • Exceptional Retina display

  • Thinner and lighter than prior models

  • Super-fast processor

  • 4K HDR video recording

What We Don't Like
  • Expensive

If you want one of the latest flagship models from the Apple brand, the 64GB iPhone 12 is a good choice. It’s lighter and thinner than prior models but also features the exceptionally speedy and pioneering A14 Bionic chip processor, lightning-fast 5G capability, and a slew of handy magnetic accessories, including compatibility with the MagSafe wireless charger that makes owning an iPhone even more convenient. 

The most impressive aspects surround the display and camera quality. The screen is a highly vivid OLED, called Super Retina XDR, that makes dark shades and light colors punchier and produces better overall contrast and a noticeable difference in brightness. 

You also get incredibly crisp photos via the dual-camera system (wide and ultrawide) with a night mode and all the magic of portrait mode, Smart HDR lighting adjustments, and 4K HDR Dolby Vision video recording. Of course, all of this comes with a pretty hefty investment, but if you’re ready to own one of the newest iPhones with a low monthly service plan, it’s hard to beat this option.

What to Look for in Prepaid Smartphones 

Storage

Storage capacity is essential to look for before you decide on a prepaid smartphone. Older models will likely have less storage than newer models that offer as much as 128GB. Many people will find 64GB of onboard storage to be more than enough, but if you use a lot of storage-heavy apps or take a lot of photos, you may want to find a phone compatible with an external storage solution like an SD card or that offers cloud storage. 

Speed

Many of the latest smartphones are eligible for 5G coverage where it’s available. If you want that in your next device, check that the model and the prepaid network support it where you live.

Data

In the traditional world of contract-based cell phone carriers, plans are doled out based on data usage, offering plans from as little as 5GB of data with unlimited talk and text to 20GB of hotspot data and 100GB of cloud storage. The critical difference is that you aren't locked into a contract and can switch your data plan to meet your data needs. If you're running low, you can add an extra line or add 1GB to 2GB of additional data. Consider how you use your phone to help you figure out a suitable plan. Your current bills are a helpful reference point. 

About our Expert

Andrew Hayward has been covering technology since 2006. He is an expert in smartphones, wearables, smart home tech, and video games.  

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