These are the Best Android Phones under $500 in May 2021: Google, OnePlus, Motorola, TCL, and more

These are the Best Android Phones under $500 in May 2021: Google, OnePlus, Motorola, TCL, and more

During the early days and subsequent maturing days of Android, you’d have to fork up several hundred dollars for a flagship smartphone, one that could guarantee a great experience. There were several Android phones to consider in several price points, mind you, but the budget ones weren’t all that great. This panorama was, however, disrupted in recent years. Now, you have a lot of options to consider without needing to fork up obscene amounts of money towards a smartphone. We’ve seen a lot of exciting flagship smartphones this year: from foldable options like the Galaxy Z Fold 2 to more conventional devices like the OnePlus 9 Pro. With so many options in the high-end space, it can be hard to see the vast amount of options you have just one tier below flagships, and how little you lose by going for those options instead of fully-fledged flagships. You can even get 5G connectivity for that price! So let’s see some of the best cheap phones under $500.

Are you looking for a good cheap smartphone that will beat it out of the park, but you don’t want to break the bank? Don’t worry — we have you covered! Here are some of the best cheap phones under $500 that you can buy right now in the U.S. 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. Let’s dive in!

Navigate this guide:

Best Overall: Google Pixel 4a 5G

Google Pixel 4a 5G front and back

The Google Pixel 4a 5G is a step in the middle between the Google Pixel 4a, Google’s new mid-range phone we got to know earlier, and the Google Pixel 5, the company’s new flagship smartphone. But as it turns out, it shares a lot more of its DNA with the Pixel 5 rather than the Pixel 4a, despite what its name might suggest. And it’s priced more closely to the Pixel 4a. Bear with me here, though, because it gets better.

It features a Qualcomm Snapdragon 765G, the same processor found on the Pixel 5, and features the exact same camera setup with a main 12.2 MP lens and a 16 MP ultra-wide sensor. It does do away with some things found in the Pixel 5, though: there’s no 90Hz display on the Pixel 4a 5G, it gets 6 GB of RAM rather than the 8 GB in the Pixel 5, and it has no wireless charging. It also has a slightly bigger footprint than both the Pixel 4a and the Pixel 5. But, hey. You get 90% of the phone for $200 less. It’s hard to complain about what we’re losing here.

The Pixel 4a 5G is one of the best phones under $500 available right now. Check it out!

    Google Pixel 4a 5G
    At $499, it is very close to the Pixel 5 in terms of specs and features while keeping the price tag a whopping $200 less, making for an excellent value proposition for a Google phone with stock Android and a world-class camera.

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. And this was one of the phones that showed that 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 it’s 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.

    OnePlus 8
    At $499, you're getting one of the best devices of 2020, with a Snapdragon 865 processor, up to 12 GB of RAM, and a 90Hz display. The new launches by OnePlus have only made it an even better deal now than ever.

Best Compact: Google Pixel 4a

Google Pixel 4a front and back

Google deserves a lot of kudos for the Pixel 4a lineup. While I recommended the Google Pixel 4a 5G earlier on, I also mentioned that the device actually had a slightly bigger footprint than both its older brother, the Pixel 4a, and its newer, more powerful cousin, the Pixel 5. But the Pixel 5 is $700, and we’re talking about slightly cheaper phones. So the logical step down here is the Pixel 4a.

You’re still getting a lot of phone for what you’re paying. The Snapdragon 730G, while a step down from the Snapdragon 765G on the other phones, is still a very capable and snappy mid-range SoC, and one of the best cheap phones under $500. And at 5.8″ instead of 6.2″, you’re getting a more compact phone that does very similarly. Oh, and the camera. Don’t forget the camera. While it has only one 12MP sensor instead of the dual-camera setup in the higher-end variants, it is just as capable.

    Google Pixel 4a
    At $349, you're getting a very capable mid-range Pixel with the same world-class camera on the higher-end models, a Snapdragon 730G processor, 6 GB of RAM, and Google's amazing software. It's one of the best, if not the best, budget phones of the year.

Best Battery Life: Motorola One 5G Ace

The Motorola One 5G from last year turned heads around 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.

And 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. And 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 for pretty cheap compared to the alternatives.

    Motorola One 5G
    Starting at $379, you're getting a 5G-enabled Motorola device with a Snapdragon 750G and a massive 5,000 mAh battery that should be more than able to keep up with you and your habits, no matter how exigent they are.

Best Design: Motorola Edge

Motorola Edge front and back

Moto is taking another of our recommendations here. The Motorola Edge is the smaller, lower-end brother of the Motorola Edge+, Motorola’s first flagship smartphone in years. But it shares the very same outstanding looks that can be seen on the higher-end model. It already looks good in a phone that launched with a $1,000 price point, and at an even lower price point, it looks even better.

The materials aren’t anything outstanding, featuring a glossy plastic back, an aluminum frame, and a glass front courtesy of Gorilla Glass 5. But it has a 95% screen-to-body ratio, has an extra-curved display that extends through the sides of the phone (in a waterfall-like fashion), and the front-facing camera hole punch is pretty small, helping with its premium looks. It has a Snapdragon 765G, up to 6 GB of RAM, and a 4,500 mAh battery.

This phone normally retails for around $700, but you can grab it from Motorola’s website right now for just $500.

    Motorola Edge
    The Motorola Edge can be yours for $499 with a beefy 4,500 mAh battery, a Snapdragon 765G, and a waterfall 90Hz display. It's also sporting the looks of a much more expensive smartphone on a budget.

Best New Player: TCL 10 Pro

TCL 10 Pro front and back

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, though, they are making phones under their own brand, and their two newest ones, the TCL 10L and the TCL 10 Pro have also been released state-side, 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 “new player” because their brand name is still relatively unknown.

The TCL 10 Pro comes with a Snapdragon 675, a very capable mid-range processor, up to 6 GB of RAM, and 128 GB of storage, making for one of the best cheap phones under 500 dollars. The phone is running Android 10 with TCL’s own UI on top and has a planned upgrade to Android 11. TCL is a rising player in smartphones in the USA, and their latest offering is very much excellent for what a lot of people will be using a smartphone. Check it out!

    TCL 10 Pro
    The TCL 10 Pro retails for $449 and brings excellent value to the table with a Snapdragon 675, quad cameras on the back, a stunning display, and up to 128 GB of storage. It's a fan favorite on Amazon, and we see why.

Best Bang-for-the-Buck: Nokia 5.4

Nokia 5.4 blue purple dusk night

I’ll have to go down quite a bit from our suggested pricing for this one, but it’ll be worth it. The Nokia 5.4 costs a little bit over $200, but for that price, you get a Snapdragon 662 processor, up to 6 GB of RAM, a 4,000 mAh battery, and Android One software based on Android 10. This is Redmi-like levels of value with considerably lighter and arguably better software, as it’s running stock Android instead of MIUI. HMD also does pretty well with updates.

It does have its downsides, though: the rear camera’s overall performance can be quite poor depending on who you ask, but it’s still pretty versatile with ultra-wide and macro sensors. The front camera is a single 16 MP sensor housed in a punch-hole camera. All in all, though, it’s still a good smartphone for what you’re paying and it should be able to satisfy most users looking for an ultra-cheap device.

    Nokia 5.4
    The Nokia 5.4 is an ultra-affordable smartphone packing a mid-range Snapdragon 662 processor and quad cameras for just a little bit over $200, providing both the cheapest device and possibly the best value out of this list.

Best Carrier Phone: Galaxy A52 5G

Samsung Galaxy A52 on blue background

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. And 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. Oh, also, Samsung 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 as in T-Mobile and AT&T. It earns a spot in our list of the best cheap phones under 500 dollars 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. Check it out!

    Samsung Galaxy A51 5G
    The Samsung Galaxy A52 5G is Samsung's cheapest 5G device, featuring a Snapdragon 750G processor, quad cameras, and support for 5G connectivity across all US carriers. You can also grab it unlocked if that's your sort of thing.

Best Performance: Xiaomi Mi 10T

Xiaomi Mi 10T 9T Pro xda display review grey snapdragon 865 108MP camera 144Hz LCD display

The Mi 11 lineup is already out, sporting Snapdragon 888 processors and other top-of-the-line specifications, and 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 is 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. And 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 that 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 hopping through some hoops to get your phone working on your carrier… then heck, this might be one of your only choices. It’s one of the best cheap phones under 500 dollars, and very clearly one of the best-performing ones, if not the best.

    Xiaomi Mi 10T
    The Xiaomi Mi 10T brings unparalelled performance to a lower price point, and it's quite likely one of the only Snapdragon 865 devices that you can find right now for under $500. It's also got versatile cameras and a punch-hole 144Hz display.

Honorable Mention: OnePlus Nord

OnePlus Nord front and back

OnePlus knocked it out of the park with the launch of their first device in their mid-range Nord series, the OnePlus Nord. Not the Nord N10 5G or the Nord N100 that were just announced, just the regular, OG Nord. While the flagship killer vibes that once made OnePlus so great are not here anymore, the Nord returns to this price range while bringing a lot of the DNA from the newer, more powerful OnePlus flagships.

You get Android 11 based on OxygenOS 11. It also comes with up to 12 GB of RAM, 256 GB of storage, and a 48MP quad rear camera setup with dual front cameras.

It gets an honorable mention because it’s the option that OnePlus is pushing for users looking to buy a phone under $500, yet it’s not available in the US, and importing it might get more expensive than you’d like, coming in at just $499.99. The Nord phones that have launched in the US, the Nord N10 5G and the Nord N100, seem more like watered-down versions of the regular Nord, featuring LCD panels, cheaper builds, and worse cameras. The regular Nord is one of the best cheap phones under 500 dollars, as long as you live in a country where it’s sold or you’re willing to import one.

    OnePlus Nord
    The OnePlus Nord is the company's first smartphone to not feature a Snapdragon 800 series processor, and represents the company's comeback to the mid-range market after the OnePlus X. It also has a lot of the genes from the flagship models as well, and comes just as packed with features.

Second Honorable Mention: Xiaomi Redmi Note 10 Pro

Redmi Note 10 Pro camera module

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. And 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 U.S. If you do decide on importing one, just like we warned you with the Mi 10T up top, 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 U.S. 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.

    Redmi Note 10 Pro /Max
    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.

Here 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!  

About author

Arol Wright
Arol Wright

Diehard technology enthusiast, and an Android purist by nature. While I have a soft spot for smartphones, I'm deeply interested in everything techy, be it PCs, gaming consoles, gadgets, you name it. Please direct all inquiries/tips to [email protected]