These are the Best Android Phones under $500 in Fall 2021: Google, OnePlus, Samsung, and More!
The budget smartphone segment has matured quite a bit over the last few years. Now, even the sub-$500 Android phones can provide a great experience, and you don’t need to shell out for a flagship to get decent performance. We’ve seen several excellent affordable smartphones launch this year, and if you’re in the market for a new phone, it’s a great time to get one. We’ve picked the best Android phones under $500 that you can consider in your buying decision.
Here are some of the best cheap phones you can buy right now in the US. We’ll also sneak in some non-US devices that are good enough to actually be worth importing, although we’ll mostly focus on devices that will work in the American market.
Navigate this guide:
- Best Overall: Google Pixel 5a
- Best for Enthusiasts: OnePlus 8
- Best Compact: Google Pixel 5a
- Best Battery Life: Motorola One 5G Ace
- Best Newcomer: TCL 20 Pro 5G
- Best Bang-for-the-Buck: Samsung Galaxy A32 5G
- Best Carrier Phone: Samsung Galaxy A52 5G
- Best Performance: Xiaomi Mi 10T
- Honorable Mention: OnePlus Nord 2
- Second Honorable Mention: Xiaomi Redmi Note 10 Pro
Best Overall: Google Pixel 5a
The Pixel 5a is our pick for the best Android phone under $500. The phone packs everything you need in a mid-range smartphone, and none of its drawbacks are deal-breakers. You get a very capable Snapdragon 765G SoC that has already shown it can handle everything you throw at it in multiple smartphones. Google has also tried to fix one big complaint with the Pixel phones by including a larger 4,680mAh battery. It’s the largest battery in a Pixel phone.
The same camera setup as the Pixel 5 is present on the Pixel 5a, so you get the best photo quality in this price segment. Software is another area where the phone shines, and with it being a Pixel, you can expect the phone to get timely software updates. In addition, there is IP67 water and dust resistance for added peace of mind.
The only aspect of the phone some people may not appreciate is its 6.39 inch Full-HD+ OLED screen that’s stuck at a 60Hz refresh rate, but otherwise, the Pixel 5a is a good all-rounder with a no-nonsense approach.
Best for Enthusiasts: OnePlus 8
The OnePlus 8 launched last year, and while it may have been outshined by the OnePlus 8 Pro and the OnePlus 8T, it was still an amazing phone in its own right. It has a Snapdragon 865 processor, which is still a very capable mobile processor even though the Snapdragon 888 is already making the rounds. This was one of the phones that showed OnePlus was still able to deliver excellent bang for the buck, with prices for flagship smartphones in a seemingly permanent upward trend. It also enjoys amazing developer support in our forums, making it an amazing deal for enthusiasts.
It was an amazing device then, and still an amazing device now, even with the OnePlus 9 series now available and the OnePlus 8T, its direct successor, being old news. Now it’s one of the best cheap phones under $500. It’s available on the OnePlus website right now for $499, making it an excellent deal for a last-gen flagship.
Best Compact: Google Pixel 5a
Thanks to the ever-increasing size of an average smartphone, a “compact smartphone” is not what it used to be. When you’re looking for a good budget phone in a compact size, your choices are even more limited, which is why our pick for the best compact phone under $500 is the Pixel 5a 5G. With its sizeable 6.39 inch screen, it isn’t as small as an iPhone SE (2020), but this is the best you can get, and you can blame smartphone makers for it. That said, the Pixel 5a is an excellent mid-range phone.
It doesn’t overpromise or have any flashy features. Instead, the phone gets the basics right and delivers where it needs to. As it shares a lot of its DNA with the Pixel 5, there are quite a few tried and tested things in the 5a. You get the same Snapdragon 765G SoC as the Pixel 5 and the same camera setup.
Best Battery Life: Motorola One 5G Ace
The Motorola One 5G from last year turned heads by being one of the cheapest 5G smartphones available in the United States, and the Motorola One 5G Ace follows in those footsteps as well. While the One 5G managed to have a unique footprint and design, the One 5G Ace looks more “normal” but still packs plenty of unique might inside. It comes with a Snapdragon 750G SoC, up to 6 GB of RAM, and up to 128 GB of storage.
Another very unique thing about it is the battery. It has a 5,000 mAh cell, quite outstanding for a device around this price point as bigger batteries are normally relegated to lower-end, budget devices. With an 8nm processor on it, we’re expecting a very good mix between battery life and performance out of this phone. It also has a 48MP quad-camera, Android 10, and comes pretty cheap compared to the alternatives.
Best Newcomer: TCL 20 Pro 5G
TCL might not be the first brand you think about when choosing a smartphone, but as it turns out, they’re bigger than you think. They manufactured a lot of devices from BlackBerry quite recently, for example, and they also made the newest Palm ultra-small Android phone. This time, they’re making phones under their own brand. We got to know them last year with the TCL 10L and the TCL 10 Pro, both of which got a state-side release, and while they’ve been out in the market for several months and successors are already on the way, I’m still counting TCL as a “newcomer” because their brand name is still relatively unknown. TCL is now coming back to the market with the TCL 20 Pro 5G.
The TCL 10 Pro comes with a Snapdragon 750G, a very capable mid-range processor, and a marked upgrade over the previous Snapdragon 675 in the previous TCL 10 Pro (and an upgrade that also means the phone supports 5G connectivity), up to 6 GB of RAM, and 256 GB of storage, making it one of the best cheap phones under $500. The phone is running Android 11 with TCL’s own UI on top, and we expect it to get Android 12 once that’s out as well.
TCL is a rising player in smartphones in the USA, and their latest offering is an amazing proposition for what a lot of people will be using a smartphone for.
Best Bang-for-the-Buck: Samsung Galaxy A32 5G
While all our recommendations provide good value for money, if you really want the best bang for your buck, the Galaxy A32 5G is your phone. It packs a host of features that are almost rare to get in its price tag. There’s a 90Hz HD+ screen, a large 5,000mAh battery with 15W fast charging, and sub-6GHz 5G support. The onboard MediaTek chip provides reliable performance, and 4GB RAM is enough to keep things moving.
In addition, Samsung has included a side-mounted fingerprint sensor, NFC for contactless payments, and a microSD card for storage expansion. Finally, you get four cameras at the back. Even though the secondary cameras are underwhelming, the primary camera can take decent photos in good lighting.
Samsung had launched the Galaxy A32 5G at $280, but the phone has since been discounted to $240, making it an even better deal.
Best Carrier Phone: Samsung Galaxy A52 5G
The Samsung Galaxy A51 and the Galaxy A51 5G (or the Galaxy A51 5G UW if you were on Verizon) were one of Samsung’s biggest hits in 2020 for the mid-range specs, improving upon what the company did in 2019 with the Galaxy A50 and the Galaxy A50s. That lead was further extended by the Galaxy A52 5G, which swaps out the Exynos 980 in the previous device and goes up to a Snapdragon 750G 5G processor, which is based on an 8nm process. It also comes with 64MP cameras, up to 8 GB of RAM, and up to 256 GB of storage. Samsung has also finally shipped a 120Hz display in a non-flagship phone — this bad boy has one.
The Galaxy A52 5G is available in an unlocked flavor as well at T-Mobile and AT&T. It earns a spot in our list of the best cheap phones under $500 because you can get it on most US carriers and it will be compatible with 5G networks on all of those carriers, making it quite a nice deal for US consumers looking for a cheap phone with 5G capability.
Best Performance: Xiaomi Mi 10T
The Mi 11 and even the Xiaomi 11T lineup is already out, sporting Snapdragon 888 processors and other top-of-the-line specifications. This makes last year’s Mi 10 lineup more compelling than ever since prices have gone down, and the Mi 10T is one of the most brilliant devices in this lineup. It’s one of the very few sub-$500 devices to be powered by a full, fat flagship-grade Snapdragon 865 processor — and, of course, touting 5G support. It also features a 144Hz display for buttery smooth performance.
It’s not a perfect phone. It doesn’t have water or dust resistance, it features no wireless charging or 3.5mm headphone jack, and the display is LCD instead of AMOLED (although quite frankly, expecting a 144Hz AMOLED at this price point is probably a long shot). It’s also not available in the US, meaning you’ll have to import it if you want to give it a go. But if you really want the raw horsepower the Snapdragon 865 brings on an extreme budget and don’t mind jumping through some hoops to get your phone working on your carrier….then this might be one of your only choices. It’s one of the best cheap phones under $500, and very clearly one of the best-performing ones, if not the best.
Honorable Mention: OnePlus Nord 2
The OnePlus Nord 2 had pretty big shoes to fill, and it has successfully done so. It’s a fantastic mid-range smartphone. The only problem is the phone is restricted to Europe and India, like its predecessor. So instead of being one of our top picks, the phone has been relegated to honorable mentions. Furthermore, if you want the phone in the US, you’ll have to import it, which is a hassle and increases the device’s cost.
From a full-HD+ 90Hz display to 65W fast charging support, the Nord 2 comes with all the right things. It also packs a flagship-grade MediaTek Dimensity 1200-AI processor that’s more than enough to offer excellent performance. The phone’s software, which now includes the elements of Color OS, also doesn’t disappoint and will be appreciated by many people.
Honorable Mention: Xiaomi Redmi Note 10 Pro
There’s just no other way to put it. If you want a phone that has a decent price-to-performance ratio, Xiaomi’s Redmi sub-brand is probably the best way to go. The Redmi Note 10 Pro (known as the Redmi Note 10 Pro Max in India) delivers excellent performance considering what you’re paying for. You really can’t go wrong with this smartphone if you don’t have a big budget — it has a Snapdragon 732G CPU, a 120Hz AMOLED display, and a 108MP camera for delivering excellent smoothness, performance, and camera prowess for what its price might otherwise suggest.
The reason why this phone is going into our honorable mentions then is pretty simple — there’s no easy way to get this phone in the US. If you do decide to import one, just like we warned you with the Mi 10T, make sure it’s compatible with your carrier. You get Android 11 based on MIUI 12, up to 8 GB of RAM and 128GB of storage, a 5,020 mAh battery, and support for 33W fast charging. It’s really a shame no phone in the US can deliver the kind of bang for the buck this phone offers. While some get close, like Nokia smartphones, they don’t quite get there.
- The Redmi Note 10 Pro is Xiaomi's best Redmi Note series smartphone to date, and also the most feature-packed, taking on lots of features from the more expensive Xiaomi flagships, like a 108MP camera and a 120Hz AMOLED display, for an excellent balance of performance and price.
These are the options we can recommend for different needs under the $500 price tag. Do you agree with our choices? What would you choose under the different categories? Let us know in the comments below.