Best Android Phones under $500 in February 2021: Google, OnePlus, Motorola, TCL, Samsung & 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. 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 8T. 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 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
- Best for Enthusiasts: OnePlus 7T
- Best Compact: Google Pixel 4a
- Best Battery Life: Motorola One 5G
- Best Design: Motorola Edge
- Best Newcomer: TCL 10 Pro
- Best Bang-for-the-Buck: Nokia 5.3
- Best Carrier Phone: Galaxy A51 5G
- Best Performance: POCO F2 Pro
- Honorable Mention: OnePlus Nord
Best Overall: Google Pixel 4a 5G
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.
Best for Enthusiasts: OnePlus 7T
The OnePlus 7T was very easily one of the best devices of 2019, if not the best. It has a Snapdragon 855+ processor, which is still a very capable mobile processor even though it’s almost already 2 years old. And it 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 8T now available and with OnePlus’ new lineup of mid-range smartphones out. Now, it’s one of the best cheap phones under 500 dollars: it’s available on T-Mobile for $449.99, making it more tempting than ever.
Best Compact: Google Pixel 4a
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.
Best Battery Life: Motorola One 5G
Motorola’s cheapest 5G device to date comes in the form of the Motorola One 5G, a device that immediately stands apart from a crowd of similar-looking phones. The two front-facing cameras are contained within two individual hole punches instead of a single pill-shaped device, which makes it look very unique.
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 the 7nm Snapdragon 765G 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.
Best Design: Motorola Edge
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 $1000 phone, and at a 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.
Best New Player: TCL 10 Pro
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.
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!
Best Bang-for-the-Buck: Nokia 5.3
I’ll have to go down quite a bit from our suggested pricing for this one, but it’ll be worth it. The Nokia 5.3 costs less than $200, but for that price, you get a Snapdragon 665 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 8 MP sensor housed in a teardrop notch. 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.
Best Carrier Phone: Galaxy A51 5G
The Samsung Galaxy A51 was 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 it was also one of the company’s first mid-range 5G devices with the launch of the Galaxy A51 5G, a 5G-enabled variant of the A51 with better specs such as an Exynos 980 processor.
The Galaxy A51 5G is available in an unlocked flavor as well as in T-Mobile and AT&T. If you go for Verizon, you can get the Galaxy A51 5G UW, a variant of the phone using the Snapdragon 765G and enabled for use on Verizon’s mmWave network. It earns a spot in our list of the best cheap phones under 500 dollars because you can get it on all US carriers and it will be compatible with 5G networks on all of them, making it a bargain for US consumers. Check it out!
Best Performance: POCO F2 Pro
A succesor to the POCO F1, Xiaomi’s flagship killer that brought flagship specs to a dirt-cheap package, has long been awaited by fans and enthusiasts. And that succesor came (sort of) in the form of the POCO F2 Pro (which was actually a rebrand of the Redmi K30 Pro). 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.
It’s not a perfect phone. It has a 60Hz panel, which might be bad for those that might be coming over from a phone with a high refresh rate display, and the camera performance is not really going to blow you away either compared to other offerings. 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 your only choice. It’s one of the best cheap phones under 500 dollars, and very clearly one of the best-performing ones, if not the best.
Honorable Mention: OnePlus Nord
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 10 based on OxygenOS and it’ll be surely one of the first phones in line for Android 11 once OnePlus does a wider roll-out. 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. The Nord phones that will launch 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.
- 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.
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!