Best Budget Phones 2017: Top Cheap Smartphone Reviews & Buying Advice

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Your buying guide for the best budget phones in 2017

In our experience the best 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 it and have the spare cash.

Don’t miss: Best phone deals

All the phones in this best budget phones chart cost under £200 (higher than our previous limit of £150 to reflect the changing market), which is just a third of the price you’d often pay for flagships such as the Galaxy S8, HTC 10 and LG G6 – take a look at our guide to the best phones on the market for more on those flagships.

If you’re after a phone for under £50 take a look at our Best basic phones roundup, which includes less-smart but still decent phones that give up features for the best prices – from £10.

If you are in the market for a budget phone, you’ll quickly find that some of the best deals are sold via mobile operators. What you need to watch for is whether these phones are sold locked to that operator’s network.

This is the case with the Vodafone Smart Prime 7, but if you don’t want to become a Vodafone customer you should look elsewhere on the list for a non-network-branded handset, such as the Moto G5.

An alternative route to getting a cheap unlocked phone is to buy a Chinese phone – you’ll find some of these in our group test below. You might not have heard of the brands, and they won’t be available on the UK High Street (save for the likes of Huawei and ZTE), but Chinese phones are well-known for offering amazing specs for the money and undercutting their European rivals. In most cases you’ll get a phone with a mid-range specification at a budget price. Also see: What is Android Go?

Of course there are down sides – 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 for 2017.

If you’re looking for a budget phone as for a child who you don’t quite trust with a flagship, you might also want to look at our selection of the best kids’ phones, which includes some of the best budget phones along with a few others particularly well-suited to kids.

Ranked in order below are our reviews of what we consider to be the best budget phones on sale right now. We’ve based this chart on the SIM-free price, specifications, and performance of each budget smartphone.

You can click on a phone in which you’re interested to read the full review, see example photos from the camera, and check out the benchmark results. And if you’re ready to buy one, check out our best phone deals to make sure you find the best price.

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 speed, features, and display quality as you might with a phone costing two, three, or even 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 £200 or less it’s quite possible to buy a phone with a full-HD display and an 8mm metal body.

Most will support 4G connectivity, but not all will support NFC (Chinese phones will often feature HotKnot in place of MediaTek and, although it’s a similar technology, it isn’t the same.) We’ve broken down some of the key areas of specifications below.

Features and specifications to look for in a budget phone

Processor

At the moment we have a strange situation where some cheap phones have the same processor – and performance – as much more expensive phones.

What’s important is not the benchmark results (they’re a way to compare phones to see if one is better or worse than another) but whether they feel responsive in real-world use.

You’ll need to read our reviews to find out whether a phone performs well or not.

Battery life

Battery life is also a factor in performance. There’s isn’t normally a great difference between the best and worst budget phones in this respect. They generally have similar size batteries which typically last a day (and a bit) in ‘normal’ use – though there are exceptions, like the Lenovo P2, which can last three whole days.

Of course, if you use the phone for hours on end to browse the web, use it as a satnav, play games or watch videos you’ll find the battery might run out well before the day is out. Battery saver modes won’t really help here, since the only modes which will significantly extend battery life will also prevent you from doing those things and limit use to phone calls and text messages.

A plus point of budget phones when it comes to battery life is that they very often feature lower-resolution screens, which place less of a strain on the battery.

Screen resolution

With screen sizes gradually increasing, low resolutions mean text and icons can look blocky and jagged.

On a 5in screen, 1280×720 is the minimum you want, but higher is always better, and as we’ve mentioned you can find a full-HD screen at this price (though don’t expect Quad-HD).

On smaller phones with, say, 4.5in screens, you can get away with 960×540, but you really can do better.

Screen quality and brightness may not be so important to you, but it’s worth checking our reviews to find out if a screen is particularly good or bad.

Low brightness can make a screen difficult to view in bright sunlight.

Cameras

People’s phones are increasingly their main camera, so it pays to choose a phone with the best possible camera for photos and videos.

Cameras are the first items to be cut down in budget phones, so it’s common to find low-quality, low-resolution sensors and lenses.

We always take test photos and videos and explain whether they’re any good or not in our reviews.

What you can’t do is to look at a camera’s specifications and work out whether it will take good shots or not: the numbers are largely meaningless – at best they’re a rough guide to how capable a phone camera is going to be.

If one manufacturer offers a 13Mp rear camera and another just 5Mp, it doesn’t take a genius to expect better quality from the manufacturer who offers 13Mp. Just be sure to check that 13Mp camera is not actually an 8Mp camera using software interpolation to get to 13Mp.

Don’t overlook the front camera. It’s rare not to get one at all if you’re spending over £60, but quality varies hugely.

Avoid anything with a very low VGA (640×480) resolution and aim for at least 1.2 or 2Mp. In many cases these days you can get 5Mp at this price.

Numbers do matter at this level, as manufacturers often really skimp on the front camera, so if selfies or Skype chats are the order of the day, choose a budget phone with a good front camera.

Software

Android is the best choice for most people, but be aware that manufacturers often add their own interfaces on top of Android. Google’s own Nexus phones run ‘stock’ Android, and Motorola’s aren’t very far off, but the rest are customised to greater or lesser degrees. Again, our reviews will give the specific details.

Some of these interfaces have extra features worth having, or a replacement camera app that’s much better than the stock Android one. Others take it too far and can be sluggish and unresponsive.

Going for a phone with plain Android generally means you’ll get any updates faster, especially when a whole new version of Android comes out. It can be a wait of many months for other phones, or they may not get updates at all.

Finally, before you buy it’s worth checking our guide to the best new phones coming in 2017, just in case there’s something on the way you’d rather buy.

Best budget phones 2017 UK – best cheap phone reviews


1.

Moto G5


Moto G5


2.

Lenovo P2


Lenovo P2


3.

Wileyfox Swift 2 Plus


Wileyfox Swift 2 Plus


4.

UMI Z


UMI Z


5.

Elephone S7


Elephone S7


6.

Motorola Moto G4


Motorola Moto G4


7.

Motorola Moto G4 Plus (2016)


Motorola Moto G4 Plus (2016)


8.

Vodafone Smart Prime 7


Vodafone Smart Prime 7


10.

Elephone P9000


Elephone P9000


11.

Ulefone Future


Ulefone Future


12.

UMIDIGI C Note


UMIDIGI C Note


13.

Xiaomi Redmi 3S


Xiaomi Redmi 3S


14.

Meizu M3 Note


Meizu M3 Note


15.

Sony Xperia XA


Sony Xperia XA

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