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Best Phone Under $300: 5G Phones at Starter Prices

We've provided our top product picks for the best phones with productive and essential features without breaking your budget.

Mike Sorrentino Senior 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.
Expertise Phones, 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
Mike Sorrentino
4 min read
$299 at OnePlus
OnePlus N20 playing Call of Duty
OnePlus Nord N20 5G
Best overall phone under $300
$258 at T-Mobile
TCL Stylus 5G
TCL Stylus 5G
Best for a stylus
$228 at T-Mobile
The OnePlus N300 phone
OnePlus Nord N300 5G
Best for T-Mobile
$299 at The Light Phone
light phone 2 outside
Light Phone 2
Best for minimalists
$330 at Amazon
Google's Pixel 6A phone with app icons on the home screen
Google Pixel 6A
Best phone you should actually get -- as long as it's on sale

The best phones under $300 are no longer boring. They offer a taste of premium features, but in a device that still very much feels like a budget phone. These budget phones can make calls, send texts and run most apps and games for hundreds of dollars less than the iPhone 14 or Galaxy S23. They also provide access to 5G, which is important if you want to hold onto your device for a while, and some even come with a built-in stylus. 

But I'm going to level with you: We have yet to use a phone in the $200 to $300 price range that feels like an excellent value. The absolute best picks in this category tend to be more expensive devices that are frequently discounted to $299 when on sale. For instance, Google's $449 Pixel 6A is our current best phone for under $500, and it's often discounted to $299.

That's not to say phones in the $200 to $300 price range should be avoided. Some include decent cameras, a headphone jack, expandable storage and NFC support for mobile payments.

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What is the best phone under $300?

The best phone you can buy for under $300, if the Google Pixel 6A isn't on sale, is the OnePlus Nord N20 5G. OnePlus smartly balanced great features like like an in-screen fingerprint sensor, 6GB of RAM and fast 33-watt charging; while keeping compromises (something all sub-$300 phones have) to a minimum like using a Qualcomm Snapdragon 695 chip instead using a top-of-the-line one. The Nord N20 5G has a trio of rear cameras including a 64-megapixel main shooter that takes decent photos in brighter conditions. Overall, the OnePlus Nord N20 5G handles many of the basics well, which could be enough for those on T-Mobile or Mint Mobile looking for a solid, but affordable option at the carrier. 

Best phones under $300

OnePlus N20 playing Call of Duty
Eli Blumenthal/CNET

The $299 OnePlus N20 5G isn't an exciting phone, but it more than gets the job done for most situations. Unlike several phones on this list, you can buy it unlocked from OnePlus. It also provides high-end features we don't always see at this price, like an in-screen fingerprint reader, faster 33-watt charging, 6GB of RAM and NFC for mobile payments. Despite being available directly from OnePlus, the N20 works with AT&T and T-Mobile but does not work with Verizon. The phone's 5G support also only works through T-Mobile.

In his OnePlus N20 review, CNET's Eli Blumenthal found the phone's 64-megapixel main camera, 2-megapixel macro camera and 2-megapixel monochrome lens took decent photos during the daytime. But its cameras struggle in the evening, which is a common issue on cheaper phones. The N20 also includes a 16-megapixel front-facing camera located in the top left of the phone's display.

The phone is also only getting one major software update from Android 11 to Android 12, but will receive three years of security updates. As a result, despite the phone's decent specs and slightly wider availability, it only makes sense to hang onto this phone for two to three years.

TCL Stylus 5G
Mike Sorrentino/CNET

Reviewing the $258 TCL Stylus 5G was a journey for me last year. Specs-wise, it has a lot that I enjoyed. The phone's TCL NxtVision HDR setting provided enhanced colors when I played games, TCL made minimal changes to Android 12 and I especially enjoyed the magnetic stylus that fits securely into its own slot on the phone.

However, the big reason why my review took four months is because of repetitive software bugs that make the phone otherwise tough to recommend. I experienced frequent restarts while using the phone and Bluetooth connectivity issues, the latter of which was eventually fixed through a software update. This phone is also locked to T-Mobile completely, so it can't be used on other carriers and is filled with T-Mobile apps that are challenging to remove.

Yet if you absolutely must have a stylus and your budget is under $300, this is one of the better overall picks. But be wary of software issues, and remember the phone is only getting one major software update along with two years of security updates.

The OnePlus N300 phone
Mike Sorrentino/CNET

The $228 OnePlus Nord N300 5G is my favorite phone under $300. The only reason why I cannot recommend it above the N20 is because this phone is locked to T-Mobile. Despite being around $80 cheaper than the other OnePlus phone, it still has 33-watt fast charging, a 90Hz refresh rate display and a 48-megapixel main camera that does a decent job with photos and video. Its matte black look that highlights its two camera lenses also makes it one of the nicer-looking budget phones I've tested. The N300 improves on the N20 with its dual stereo speakers, over the single speaker on the N20, and I personally prefer the side fingerprint sensor over in-screen options like on the N20.

But apart from the availability issue, the N300 also suffers from a short software support timeline. The N300 will only get one major software update from Android 12 to Android 13 and two years of security updates. Even though that's somewhat normal for the category, I still consider it a major drawback. There's also a dose of T-Mobile bloatware, but at this price it's easier to swallow.

If you are shopping specifically for a phone that works with T-Mobile or its Metro brand, the $228 OnePlus Nord N300 is definitely a solid choice. Just recognize you cannot take the phone to other carriers, and it won't be a great option after two years of use.

light phone 2 outside
Jessica Fierro/CNET

The Light Phone 2 is a very different kind of phone. It's meant for people seeking freedom from the constant stream of notifications, but still want a phone that looks nice. But despite its somewhat limited functionality, this phone still costs $299.  

The Light Phone 2 supports texts, phone calls, music playback, podcasts, mobile hotspot functionality and limited GPS support for directions on its E Ink screen. It does not have a camera, web browser, email access or other common apps like news or messaging apps. 

My colleague Jessica Fierro gave life with the Light Phone 2 a try, and she enjoyed how the phone helped her stay more focused on the world around her. However she found the slower texting speed on the E Ink display to be challenging to adjust to, and could not fully make the switch because for work she needs some degree of social media access in order to stay up on trends. 

The absence of many modern features is the entire point of the Light Phone 2. It's a device for people who intentionally just want essential communications on a screen that's more like a Kindle's display than the one you'd find on a Samsung Galaxy device.

The Light Phone 2 is certainly not for everybody, but it could be worth considering for someone who wants their phone to do less. Fans of conventional phones should consider the wealth of feature phones and flip phones that still exist first -- which are often free with a carrier deal or available for under $100.

Google's Pixel 6A phone with app icons on the home screen
Lisa Eadicicco/CNET

Admittedly I'm cheating by getting this phone into the list, but Google's Pixel 6A has been discounted to $299 a lot lately and is an easy recommendation when it's been discounted into a budget phone range.

Regularly $449, the Pixel 6A won our Editors' Choice Award last year. In her review, CNET's Lisa Eadicicco praised the phone for its great camera, Pixel-exclusive features like Magic Eraser, its colorful design and being among the first to get new Android updates. 

While it's likely that Google announces a sequel 7A phone as soon as the next Google I/O development conference, scheduled for May 10, the current Pixel 6A is still an excellent pick for the price if you can get it at its $299 price. But if you see the phone go back to its original $449 price between now and May 10, and you aren't in dire need of a new device, I would then say wait for the rumored Pixel 7A.

What are the tradeoffs with phones that cost $300 or less?

These cheaper devices tend to scale back significantly in one area or another in order to achieve those low prices. Most commonly, these drawbacks include limited software support, carrier support or bloatware (preloaded apps that you never asked for). These tradeoffs often mean that these devices should not be used after two to three years, especially after security update support ends.

It's also notable that while these phones retail for $200 to $300, many of them are often available at a deep discount -- or even for free -- as part of a carrier subsidy deal. If you are planning to stick with the same wireless carrier for two years, these phones could just become part of the cost of your service.

How we test phones

Every phone on this list has been thoroughly tested by CNET's expert reviews team. We actually use the phone, test the features, play games and take photos. We assess any marketing promises that a company makes about its phones. And if we find something we don't like, be it battery life or build quality, we tell you all about it. 

We examine every aspect of a phone during testing:

  • Display
  • Design and feel
  • Processor performance
  • Battery life
  • Camera quality
  • Features

We test all of a phone's cameras (both front and back) in a variety of conditions: from outdoors under sunlight to dimmer indoor locales and night time scenes (for any available night modes). We also compare our findings against similarly priced models. We have a series of real world battery tests  to see how long a phone lasts under everyday use.

We take into account additional phone features like 5G, fingerprint and face readers, styluses, fast charging, foldable displays and other useful extras. And we, of course, weigh all of our experiences and testing against the price so you know whether a phone represents good value or not.

Read more: How We Test Phones

Phones under $300 FAQs

What about Apple's iPhone?

Apple does not currently sell any iPhone options between $200 and $300. The cheapest new iPhone you can get is the iPhone SE at $429. That iPhone is a great value for its fast processor and great camera, but held back by its dated design that harkens back to the iPhone 6, 7 and 8.

If you don't mind getting a preowned device and want something with a bigger screen, as of this writing Verizon sells a 64GB iPhone 11 for $275.

You can also get the 2020 version of the iPhone SE as a refurbished model between $200 and $300 on websites like Amazon and Best Buy, but beware of each store's policies for refurbished devices. Especially make sure the refurbished device includes a warranty for repairs, since without one you may have to pay Apple or another retailer a high price for a screen repair or other accidental damage.

Best phones under $300: OnePlus Nord N20 5G vs. TCL Stylus 5G vs. OnePlus Nord N300 5G vs. Google Pixel 6A

OnePlus Nord N20 5GTCL Stylus 5GOnePlus Nord N300 5GGoogle Pixel 6A*
Display size, resolution 6.43-inch FHD+ AMOLED display6.81-inch FHD+ display (1080 x2400 pixels)6.56-inch IPS LCD display; 720p resolution; 90Hz refresh rate6.1-inch OLED; (1080 x 2400); 60Hz
Pixel density 409ppi395ppi269ppi429 ppi
Dimensions (inches) 6.2 x 2.8 x 0.29 in6.67 x 3.01 x 0.35 in6.4 x 2.9 x 0.3 in6.0 x 2.8 x 0.35 in
Dimensions (millimeters) 159.9 x 73.2 x 7.5 mm169.6 x 76.5 x 8.9 mm163.8 x 75.1 x 7.99 mm152.2 x 7.18 x 8.9 mm
Weight (ounces, grams) 173g or 6.1 oz213g or 7.51 oz190g or 6.7 oz6.3 oz; 178g
Mobile software Android 11Android 12Andorid 12Android 12
Camera 64-megapixel (main), 2-megapixel (macro), 2-megapixel (monochrome lens)50-megapixel (main), 5-megapixel (wide), 2-megapixel (macro), 2-megapixel (depth sensor)48-megapixel (main), 2-megapixel (depth lens)12.2-megapixel (wide), 12-megapixel ultra wide)
Front-facing camera 16-megapixel13-megapixel16-megapixel8-megapixel
Video capture 1080p/720p at 30 fps1080p at 30fps1080p/720p at 30 fps4K
Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 695 5GMediaTek Dimensity 700 5GMediaTek Dimensity 810Google Tensor
RAM/Storage 6GB/128GB4GB/128GB4GB/64GB6GB RAM/128GB storage
Expandable storage Up to 512GBUp to 2TBUp to 1TBNone
Battery/Charger 4,500mAh; 33W charging4,000mAh; 18W charging5,000mAh; 33W charging4,410 mAh capacity; 18-watt fast charging (adapter sold separately)
Fingerprint sensor In-screenSide fingerprint sensorSide fingerprint sensorUnder display
Headphone jack YesYesYesNone
Special features NFC, Face Unlock, HDR, Screen Flash, Face retouchingStylus with built-in storage, producitivity software, NxtVision HDR modeDual speakers, NFC, Face Unlock, HDR, Portrait, Face retouching5G-enabled, 18W fast charging, WiFi 6E, security updates for 5 years, Android OS updates for 3 years, dual SIM, IP67 water resistance
Price off-contract (USD) $299$258$228$449 (*$299 when on sale)