Best phones under $500: iPhone SE, Pixel 4A 5G, OnePlus and more

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While top-tier phones like the iPhone 12 Pro Max or Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra might have an incredible lineup of amazing tech, they also come with sky-high prices to match. And really, most people don’t need the power and performance of flagship handsets like these — and can save a bundle by looking towards the midrange.

And the great news is that people shopping on a budget have more options to choose from than ever, from 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 multilens cameras, fast processors, lots of internal storage 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 phone, 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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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 directly from OnePlus’s online store for $449, making it a superb value all round.

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If you want an affordable 5G phone, the Pixel 4A 5G is worthy of consideration. Available for $499, the Pixel 4A 5G has solid battery life, fantastic dual rear cameras and robust software support from Google. 

Read our Google Pixel 4A 5G review.

 

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We liked the original Moto G Stylus (seen further down this list) as it offered that sweet stylus action at a price much more accommodating than Samsung’s pricey Note 20. The 2021 G Stylus adds 5G connectivity, has four rear cameras, a generous 256GB of built-in storage and can be yours for $400.

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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 A51 5G, which has four cameras including a selfie camera, an in-screen fingerprint sensor and expandable memory. CNET reviewed the non-5G version that lists for $350, though we’ve seen it go on sale for as low as $280.

Read our Galaxy A51 review.

 

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The One 5G is one of the best, most affordable 5G phones available — particularly as it’s currently being sold for only $300. This cheap smartphone option has a total of six, yes six, cameras, a 90Hz high-refresh rate display and fast-charging technology. It’s available now in the US on AT&T and on Verizon at a later date.

Read our Motorola One 5G review.

 

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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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Released in August, Google’s Pixel 4A costs $349. The 5.81-inch Google Pixel phone only comes in one color (black) and one size (as in there’s no Pixel 4A XL unlike past years). This Google Pixel features a headphone jack, a slightly larger screen and a bigger battery than the Pixel 4 and 128GB of storage right off the bat.

Read our Google Pixel 4A 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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When it launched in 2019, the OnePlus 7T was a great flagship device, with its powerful specs, gorgeous screen and multiple rear cameras. It’s now available for $399 at T-Mobile, which is a great deal for a phone that still holds its own against today’s flagships. It doesn’t support 5G, so you should look towards OnePlus’s more recent phones if super-fast data is on your wishlist.

Read our OnePlus 7T 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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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 $190 asking price.

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