Best Phone Under $500 for 2023: New Features at Lower Prices
Our latest pick for the best phone under $500 is so close to its pricier sibling that there's no reason to pay more.
Updated Oct. 10, 2023 1:00 p.m. PT
Our expert, award-winning staff selects the products we cover and rigorously researches and tests our top picks. If you buy through our links, we may get a commission.
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Mike SorrentinoSenior Editor
Mike Sorrentino is a Senior Editor for Mobile, covering phones, texting apps and smartwatches -- obsessing about how we can make the most of them. Mike also keeps an eye out on the movie and toy industry, and outside of work enjoys biking and pizza making.
ExpertisePhones, texting apps, iOS, Android, smartwatches, fitness trackers, mobile accessories, gaming phones, budget phones, toys, Star Wars, Marvel, Power Rangers, DC, mobile accessibility, iMessage, WhatsApp, Signal, RCS
Andrew LanxonEditor At Large, Lead Photographer, Europe
Andrew is CNET's go-to guy for product coverage and lead photographer for Europe. When not testing the latest phones, he can normally be found with his camera in hand, behind his drums or eating his stash of home-cooked food. Sometimes all at once.
Affordable phones are getting better each year, and you don't need to spend a ton of money to get feature-packed phones. The best phones under $500 offer a good camera system, decent performance and a big display. Most of these phones include some features that you find on flagship devices that cost over $1,000. They even get several years of software and security updates to last you long.
These phones do make cuts that justify why they're cheaper than phones that cost more than $500, but those cuts are increasingly in areas that might not raise any particular flag when you just want a reliable device. Apple's iPhone SE and Google's Pixel 6A and 7A phones, for instance, have smaller screens but all run on newer processors and software. Samsung's Galaxy A series of phones often look just like the Galaxy S line but instead run on a less powerful processor. And the Moto G Stylus 5G takes nice photos, provides a roomy 256GB of space and throws in a stylus, but Motorola doesn't provide software support for as long as its competitors. You can see the pros and cons of each of these phones below, with more details available in our full reviews.
What is the best phone under $500?
Google's $499 Pixel 7A compares so closely to the $599 Pixel 7 and $699 Pixel 8 that it's now tough to recommend the more expensive option. The Pixel 7A includes the same Tensor G2 processor that powers Google's Pixel-exclusive features, gets wireless charging, a 90Hz refresh rate and a 64-megapixel main camera paired up with a 13-megapixel ultrawide camera. The Pixel 7A does miss out on the Pixel 7's battery-share feature and the camera's Action Pan mode and doesn't have all the AI features that define that Pixel 8.
And if you want to save even more money, last year's Pixel 6A has received a permanent price drop to $349 and still has a lot to offer. It runs on the Tensor chip, includes many of the same Pixel features like Real Tone for photography and Hold for Me for phone calls, and takes crisp and colorful photos for a phone of its price. This is especially true when it gets discounted to $299, which it often is, making it the best phone for under $300 as long as it's on sale.
Google's budget phone took a leap forward in 2023 with the Pixel 7A, which offers many of the same benefits as the Pixel 7 and Pixel 8 but at a cheaper price. Like the Pixel 7, the Pixel 7A runs on Google's Tensor G2 processor, meaning it has many of the same photo editing and language translation features as its pricier sibling. The Pixel 7A's 64-megapixel camera also takes excellent photos that rival the Pixel 7's in quality.
The Pixel 7A's lower price makes it a better deal for most people. Opt for the Pixel 7 if you want a slightly larger screen and are willing to pay the extra $100 for it. And jump up to the Pixel 8 if you want new cameras, a newer processor, AI features and seven years of software support.
Many of the same features as the Pixel 7 at a cheaper price
Gains wireless charging, face unlock and high refresh rate
Screen still looks dim outdoors
Higher price compared with Pixel 6A at launch
Only three generations of Android OS updates compared with Samsung's four
The Pixel 6A is still available, and at its permanently discounted price of $349, it still has a lot to offer. CNET's Lisa Eadicicco said in her Pixel 6A review that the phone includes many of the Pixel 6's best features, and that remains the case even as the Pixel 7A hits the market at $499.
The phone is slightly smaller than the Pixel 6, featuring a 6.1-inch OLED display and a refresh rate of 60Hz. And while it has a 12.2-megapixel main camera and a 12-megapixel ultrawide camera, photos taken look quite good using Google's photo processing software. Pictures can benefit from its Real Tone skin tone feature, Face Unblur, Night Sight for darker photography and the Magic Eraser for removing unwanted elements from a photo.
Premium design for a midtier phone
Among the first to get new Android updates
Somewhat dim display
Not a great value alongside discounted Pixel 6
Not as many years of guaranteed Android updates as Samsung
The $450 Samsung Galaxy A54 5G has a lot of the look and feel of the more expensive Galaxy S23 series. It comes in a variety of bright colors and has a vibrant 6.4-inch display, the latter of which is larger than Google's Pixel 7A or 6A.
Samsung's device also includes a microSD card slot for expandable storage, which is a nice option for flexibility that's not available on the Pixel.
It's overall a solid option, but photography on both the Pixel 6A and the Pixel 7A edges out the Galaxy A54. In his Galaxy A54 5G review, CNET's Andrew Lanxon found Samsung's photos to look more saturated than those taken by the Pixel phones.
But if you're eyeing the $800 Samsung Galaxy S23 anyway, the Galaxy A54 is certainly worth an initial look, because it might include the essentials you want for less money.
Big, vibrant screen
Processor and camera performance lags behind cheaper Pixel 6A
The $429 iPhone SE is a mix of an older design with the latest smartphone features, including Apple's A15 Bionic chip and 5G support. It's also one of the few phones on the market that includes a smaller, 4.7-inch screen.
It's that throwback design, which continues the general shape that Apple has used since 2014, that could be what you love or dislike most about this phone. If you want a larger iPhone in this price range, you can also consider the iPhone 11, and get a bigger screen and Face ID. But that phone does not include 5G connectivity.
The phone also only includes one 12-megapixel main camera, which does not support night mode. Most other phones in this roundup include multiple cameras and features like night mode, making the omission noticeable. However, photos make up for this by including the Deep Fusion photo-processing technique to enhance medium-to-low light photos, and Smart HDR4 processing for improving color and contrast. CNET Managing Editor Patrick Holland did find that video shot in 4K resolution at 60 frames per second is particularly good on the iPhone SE, but it will not include the Cinematic Mode seen on the iPhone 13.
Motorola revamped the Moto G line for 2023, with redesigns that led to a lower starting price for most of the company's midrange phone line. For the Moto G Stylus 5G, it meant a $400 starting price for the stylus-equipped phone when compared to $500 for the 2022 model.
Despite the price cut, Motorola still includes a 6.6-inch display running at a 1080p resolution and 120Hz refresh rate. The phone also ships with up to 256GB of storage and 6GB of RAM, which is double the storage we usually see on phones in this price range. You can expand that even further using a microSD card.
In his Moto G Stylus 5G review, CNET's David Lumb notes that aside from the included stylus, the phone's $400 price, given its specs, might be a draw for someone considering this phone against the more expensive Pixel 7A. However, the Pixel 7A still outperforms the Moto G Stylus 5G in terms of performance and photography.
With the launch of the iPhone 14 series, Apple discontinued the $500 iPhone 11, but it's still widely available. It might be a few generations old, but this phone is still more than capable, handling gaming well and equipped with two superb rear cameras. It is missing 5G support, which is increasingly improving as wireless carriers invest in the network, but the phone will work fine on LTE and Wi-Fi. The iPhone 11 also does not support MagSafe accessories, which were introduced alongside the iPhone 12.
Just note that some places may be selling refurbished versions of the phone since Apple itself is no longer selling new iPhone 11 models. Best Buy does not carry any unlocked models, so you'll have to sign up for a service plan through either AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile or Sprint.
Good battery life
Nice cameras, especially Night Mode
Solid video camera
Lacks a 2x telephoto camera
Ultrawide camera doesn't have night mode
No USB-C port.
Has an LCD instead of OLED
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Other phones we tested
The $300 OnePlus Nord N30 5G includes a lot of features for the money, but its 50W charging speed is the standout feature. The phone can charge from 0% to 100% in 45 minutes. Its large 6.72-inch 1,080p display runs at a 120Hz refresh rate making apps, games, websites and streaming video animate smoothly. However it's worth calling out that the 108-megapixel main camera -- despite having an astounding megapixel count -- takes photos that are only marginally better than other $300 phones.
The $300 Motorola Moto G Power 5G is currently the cheapest phone with 256GB of storage. It's perfect for someone that downloads a lot of movies and music to enjoy when you don't have a consistent internet connection. The phone's 6.5-inch 1,080p display runs at a smooth 120Hz refresh rate too, making movies, applications, websites and games look especially nice. Whereas Motorola makes the Power 5G a media machine for its price, it does cut back in terms of its cameras. Like many $300 phones, it's good for outdoor photography but is quite bad at getting details in low-light environments.
How we test phones
We test every phone in real-world scenarios, focusing on its features, design, performance, cameras, battery life and overall value. We document our findings in an initial review that is periodically updated when there are new software updates, or to compare it against new phones from competitors such as Apple, Samsung, Google and OnePlus.
Photography is a major focus for most phones these days, so we take pictures and videos of various subjects in a variety of settings and lighting scenarios. We try out any new camera modes, such as Action mode that debuted with the iPhone 14 line, or the Unblur photo tool that launched with the Google Pixel 7 series.
Battery testing is conducted in a variety of ways. We assess how long a phone lasts during a typical day of use and note how it performs during more focused sessions of video calls, media streaming and gaming. We also conduct a video playback test, as a simple, replicable measure of pure battery life, which isn't always included in the initial review but sometimes added later in an update.
We use benchmarking apps to measure each phone's performance, alongside our own anecdotal experiences using the phone for our review. Of note are how graphics and animations look. Are they smooth? Or do they lag or stutter? We also look at how quickly the phone switches between horizontal and vertical orientations, and how fast the camera app opens and is ready to take a photo.
We perform processor-heavy tasks like editing photos, exporting videos and playing games. We evaluate whether a newer version of a particular phone includes enough features to make it worth upgrading from older models.
End of year sales: Affordable phones usually get cheaper with holiday discounts and deals. Black Friday, Cyber Monday and Amazon Prime Day can help you save quite a bit.
Buy a case and screen protector: Protect your phone and peace of mind with a case.
Go to a store: The best way to know if a phone is for you is to actually hold it and use it.
Prioritize what you care about most: Trying to find a phone on a budget is tough but you'll have more success if you focus on what features matter the most. If you're looking for a cheap phone with great cameras, grab the $499 Pixel 7A, for example.
Team Android or iOS: If your family and friends are on Apple services like iMessage and FaceTime, stick with an iPhone. Otherwise, it's simple enough to switch platforms.
Last year's phones: They can often be a great deal, too. Wait for this year's launch to get last year's phone for less, when stores and carriers may be trying to offload their existing stock.
Watch this: Pixel 7A Review: A Step Forward for Google's Budget Phone
Phones under $500 comparison
Google Pixel 7A vs. Google Pixel 6A vs. Samsung Galaxy A54 5G vs. Motorola Moto G Stylus 5G (2023) vs. Apple iPhone SE
Google Pixel 7A
Google Pixel 6A
Samsung Galaxy A54 5G
Moto G Stylus 5G (2023)
Apple iPhone SE (2022)
Display size, resolution
6.1-inch OLED; 2,400x1,080 pixels; 60/90Hz
6.1-inch OLED; (1080 x 2400); 60Hz
6.4-inch Super AMOLED; 2,340x1,080 pixels; 120Hz Adaptive Refresh Rate
5G-enabled, 18W fast charging, WiFi 6E, security updates for 5 years, Android OS updates for 3 years, dual SIM, IP67 water resistance
5G (mmw/Sub6), IP67 rating
Stylus, Moto Gestures, stereo speakers
5G-enabled; supports 25W wired fast charging; Water resistant (IP67); dual-SIM capabilities (nano-SIM and e-SIM); wireless charging
Price off-contract (USD)
$499, $549 (mmW)
$349 ($299 when on sale)
$399 (64GB), $449 (128GB), $549 (256GB)
Converts to £317
£419 (64GB), £469 (128GB), £569 (256GB)
Converts to AU$590
AU$749 (64GB), AU$829 (128GB), AU$999 (256GB)
Phones under $500 FAQs
Are cheaper phones worth it?
For many people, a phone that costs less than $500 will likely have everything you need for communication, photography and entertainment. In some cases, the phones even provide some of the latest features seen on higher-end phones like smooth 120Hz refresh rates and multiple cameras.
However, you should be aware of -- and OK with -- the limitations a phone may have compared to its more expensive counterparts. For instance, if you want an iPhone with a bigger screen than the iPhone SE and iPhone 11's screens, your next best option is the $899 iPhone 14 Plus. That's far outside the $500 price range, but you also get additional benefits like an improved camera.
On the other hand, if you want a phone with a bigger screen and if running Android is fine, you'll have plenty of options that are under $500.
Can you get a good camera on a cheaper phone?
Yes, you can find several cheaper phones that take great photos, whether it's through the camera available on the device, photo processing software on the phone or -- is most often the case -- a combination of both.
Apple's iPhone SE includes the A15 Bionic chip, which supports Smart HDR4 processing and Apple's Deep Fusion processing. Smart HDR4 helps with improving color and contrast, while the Deep Fusion processing helps with medium- to low-light environments. CNET Managing Editor Patrick Holland put together a sampling of photos and videos taken on the phone during his review, which can be watched on the CNET Highlights YouTube channel. However, the iPhone SE also has only one 12-megapixel camera, and that camera does not support night photography.
Over on the Android side, the Google Pixel 6A includes the company's Tensor chip, which brings photography features like Real Tone for capturing more accurate skin tones, Face Unblur for fixing a person's face and Magic Eraser for removing unwanted objects. But it has a 12-megapixel main camera paired up with a 12-megapixel ultrawide camera, which takes good photos but is a clear step down from the 50-megapixel main camera seen on the Pixel 6 and Pixel 7.
Samsung's Galaxy A53 is an interesting case: Iit has a main 64-megapixel camera alongside a 12-megapixel ultrawide, 5-megapixel macro camera and 5-megapixel depth camera. While that's more megapixels than the 50-megapixel main camera on the Galaxy S22, the image detail is a step down with the S22 able to produce photos with better contrast and sharpness.
What makes these phones cheaper?
Each company takes a different approach toward cheaper phones.
The iPhone SE, for example, has a recent Apple processor packed inside an otherwise dated phone design. Google's Pixel 6A likewise includes the new Tensor processor, but uses an older 12.2-megapixel main camera instead of the 50-megapixel main camera found on the $599 Pixel 6.
Samsung's Galaxy A53 takes the opposite approach. It includes a processor that's slower than the Galaxy S22's but includes other modern features like a screen with a high refresh rate.