The best phones under $200 offer a mix of modern features alongside legacy ports you can't find on today's more expensive phones. For example, you can get a phone with a 6.5-inch screen and multiple cameras, plus a headphone jack and expandable storage with a microSD card slot.
However, there are other tradeoffs to keep in mind. Phones under $200 will likely run slower than their pricier counterparts, lack NFC for contactless payments, may only receive one software update and most of them won't support speedier 5G connections. But you can have peace of mind knowing that they can support most apps from the Google Play Store and will receive a few years of security updates.
This list is currently in the midst of a revamp as we look forward to a new wave of under $200 phones expected in 2023. We already know Motorola is releasing a new version of the Moto G Play in January, which will cost $170 and have a focus on its 16-megapixel triple sensor camera system. We will also likely see new models from TCL and Samsung, which currently offer the $198 TCL XE 5G and the $190 Galaxy A13 respectively.
Samsung's Galaxy A03S at $160 (roughly £130, AU$240) includes plenty of great features, and could be a great fit for someone looking for the cheapest possible phone that can handle most essential tasks. The phone's 6.5-inch screen, capped at 720p resolution, is great for reading news, watching videos and playing games. Despite some performance lag found during our review, the phone is good at multitasking. But the phone's tiny 32GB of storage space could fill up fast, so if considering this phone, it may be worthwhile to consider expanding the storage with a microSD card.
Samsung also plans to support this phone with at least four years of security updates, which at this price range is as good as it gets. On the software side it's less clear how many Android versions are scheduled, but the phone ships with Android 11 to start.
Even though Samsung's Galaxy A13 has succeeded the Galaxy A12, you can still find the $180 Samsung phone at some US carriers, although it is otherwise discontinued on Samsung's website. For instance, the Galaxy A12 is available at Straight Talk wireless at a lower $130 price. According to Counterpoint Research, the A12 was the best-selling Android phone of 2021, even outselling Apple's iPhone SE (2020).
In our Galaxy A12 review, we found the phone took nicer photos than the cheaper Galaxy A03S thanks to its four-camera array with a 16-megapixel main camera, but it was still hindered by the same 32GB of onboard storage seen across all of Samsung's sub-$200 phones.
While we haven't tested the Galaxy A13, it's possible that the $190 4G-only version of that phone is worth considering for its 50-megapixel main camera. But if you do plan to buy the Galaxy A12, know that the phone's 3GB of memory handled multitasking well during our review, but experienced some lag when shifting between horizontal and vertical screen orientations.
The $130 Samsung Galaxy A02S was released in late 2020, and is still listed on Samsung's website along with some wireless carriers. The phone originally shipped with Android 10, but has since received an update to Android 12 with Samsung's One UI 4.1. Even though the Galaxy A02S is the lowest-priced phone in Samsung's Galaxy line, the continued software and security updates should provide buyers with feature refinements along with protection from vulnerabilities.
During our review, we found multitasking to be the phone's main shortcoming, along with the tiny 32GB of storage space included. The phone also has no fingerprint sensor, which means a security PIN or pattern will be necessary in order to keep the phone secure.
But the phone does include a microSD card slot for adding additional storage, a headphone jack and a large 6.5-inch 720p screen. If you just need a simple phone primarily for phone calls, texting and taking the occasional photo, then the Galaxy A02S could be a worthwhile choice.
How we test phones
CNET tests phones by using them daily and comparing them with competing phones to assess their value. We consider a variety of factors, such as the phone's screen, cameras, battery life, software, performance, features and ease of use.
For low-priced phones, we make sure these devices consistently work well when used in a number of situations. This includes day-to-day activities like reading the news, listening to music, watching videos, texting, playing games and multitasking.
We test phone cameras in a range of environments, taking test photos outdoors in the daytime and nighttime, and indoors in darker settings. We use cameras in active environments, like a concert or a sports game, and with a variety of subjects including people, objects and pets. We also test available camera settings, especially those that are rarer in these price ranges such as Night mode and Portrait mode.
These anecdotal phone experiences are also combined with benchmark tests such as Geekbench performance testing and battery testing. We monitor battery life in two ways: By seeing how much power is typically left after a day of normal usage and by seeing how much battery is depleted during a short period of intense usage (typically 45 minutes to an hour). For the latter test, we'll check how the phone's battery holds up to a series of video calls, gaming, video streaming and web browsing.
Phones under $200 FAQs
Are cheaper phones worth it?
Phones that are under $200 just focus on the essentials, which means you'll have to make some compromises. You'll be able to make phone calls, text, video chat, browse the web and run most Android apps on these devices. But you should not expect NFC for mobile payments, 5G connectivity or -- unfortunately -- much included storage space.
However, these phones otherwise function well and could be what you're looking for if all you need is a good communication device. They also include features that are becoming increasingly harder to find in more expensive phones, such as including a charger in the box, a headphone jack on the phone and a microSD card slot for adding more storage.
That said, if you are finding that your phone needs go beyond basic communication, you may want to consider phones that are under $300 or phones under $500 if you can expand your budget.
What about phones that are even cheaper, like under $100?
Phones under $100 do exist, but they usually come with significant compromises.
For instance, the TCL 30 Z is one of the cheapest Android 12 phones available at $90. While we haven't tested this phone, I have noticed that it uses the antiquated micro-USB port for charging.
Most other Android phones and wireless headphones, even those in the budget price range, now use USB-C for charging, meaning you might find yourself scrambling for a charger if you misplace it. The phone is also only getting one major software update to Android 13 and two years of security updates, which is short but comparable to some phones sold under $300.
While we haven't reviewed any flip phones recently, anyone looking for a device made specifically for phone calls should be well-served by most available options. Flip phones support 4G signals and -- more importantly -- HD Voice for clearer voice calls. Some flip phones even support modern apps like WhatsApp and the Google Assistant, albeit in a more limited way compared to how these services function on a smartphone. The Nokia 2789 Flip for instance is a flip phone running on the brand's KaiOS, which supports downloadable apps and services.