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Best phones under $500 2021: iPhone SE, Galaxy A52 5G, Pixel and more

You don't need to spend over $500 to get a great phone. Here are our picks of the best ones.

Top-end phones like Apple's iPhone 12 Pro Max or the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra pack in the best tech that can be found on a mobile phone. They offer amazing performance and a wide set of features, but they also come with sky-high prices to match. All of those specs could be seen as overkill, and many people don't need the newest processor or the newest camera. 

Shopping for a phone on a more modest budget is very easy now, including brand-new affordable handsets through to discounted previous-generation models. And despite their low prices, budget phones can be extremely advanced, packing features akin to premium phones, like great multi-lens cameras, fast processors, lots of internal storage, a fingerprint reader and even 5G connectivity. Further, if you're willing to buy an unlocked phone, your choices become even broader.

Check out the list below of the best phones under $500 -- which we update regularly -- and read CNET's reviews. Note that we've linked to the unlocked version of each budget smartphone and they should run on most of the big four US wireless carriers, unless specified otherwise.

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With a four-year gap between the 2020 iPhone SE and the previous one, Apple packed its latest budget phone with a bunch of upgrades. That includes wireless charging, better camera specs and water resistance. If you're looking for a new iPhone but want to save as much money as possible, the $399 iPhone SE is your best bet for a cheap iPhone option.

Read our Apple iPhone SE (2020) review.

 

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In addition to its main Galaxy S21 phones, Samsung has a more cost-conscious A series line of phones. This year it launched the Galaxy A52 5G, which has four cameras including a selfie camera, an in-screen fingerprint sensor and expandable memory. Samsung released this phone in quite a few fun colors, but for those shopping in the US you are more likely to only find it in black. 

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If you want a robust phone on a budget, the Pixel 4A is the way to go. On top of a stellar dual-camera system and respectable battery life for its low price, Google promises software updates and new features until 2023 on this model. It's a solid all around good phone, and in true Google fashion will leave you wondering why every phone doesn't do as much work to make your life easier. 

Read our Google Pixel 4A review.

 

Érika García/CNET

The OnePlus 8 impressed us with its solid lineup of specs, its good screen and its attractive design. Better still, it also offers 5G data speeds and its affordable launch price is now even lower and can be bought online for around $400, making it a superb value all round.

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The Moto G Power packs a robust 5,000-mAh battery that lasted an impressive four days without a charge in our testing. The phone has three rear cameras (one of which is a macro lens), a 6.4-inch display and expandable memory. Not bad for its $180 asking price.

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OnePlus is expanding its more affordable Nord family of phones with the launch of the $300 Nord N10 5G. Though it doesn't have wireless charging or an in-screen fingerprint reader like higher-end OnePlus phones, it does have a 90Hz display, a headphone jack and 5G. Read our OnePlus N10 5G review.

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The iPhone XR may be almost three years old, but it's still being officially sold by Apple and still receives the latest versions of iOS, making it a legitimate contender for your hard-earned cash. Currently starting at $499 off-contract with 64GB, it features a 6.1-inch LCD display, a 12-megapixel rear camera and the A12 Bionic processor. It's similar in specs to the 2020 iPhone SE, but the XR's bigger screen might be worth the extra $100.

Read our Apple iPhone XR review.

 

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If you're looking for a cheaper Note 20 alternative, the Moto G Stylus features a stylus that you can store inside the phone along with a built-in Notes app to help with productivity. Currently priced at $280 from Motorola, the phone also features triple-rear cameras, 128GB of storage and a robust 4,000-mAh battery. It doesn't support 5G data speeds, but its successor, the Moto G Stylus 5G (seen further up this list) does offer 5G, along with more internal storage and, unsurprisingly, a slightly higher price of $400.

Read our Moto G Stylus review.

 

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