If you’re looking for an affordable phone, now is a perfect time with all the Black Friday deals going on. And we have a good list of tips for what to look for in a cheap phone.
Yes, there are some universal rules that apply to shopping for any phone, but if you’re looking for a cheaper device, you should prioritize certain features and specifications over others. You won’t get the top performance and beautiful OLED displays of the best phones of the year, but you can still shop smart to get the best phone in your price range.
Which functions should you prioritize? Screen resolution is important, as are specifications and storage options. But given all the great affordable phones released this year, getting many of these benefits in the same phone isn’t that hard.
And many of them get their own Black Friday deals – yes, those aren’t just for expensive flagships. You won’t save that much money on that compared to the cuts on the best handsets, but remember: it’s a percentage game. Saving 20% means saving 20% no matter how you cut it.
Read on for our top five tips when buying cheap phones.
1. Good specifications
This may sound obvious, but getting the best possible specs from a phone will make sure it works properly. The big things to watch out for are the chipset and the RAM. The RAM is simple – in general, the more the better. In affordable phones, 4 GB of RAM is a good base for Android handsets, although iOS devices require less to function properly. Give it up to Apple optimization on the A series Bionic chipsets.
As for chipsets, the higher the number the better. The more expensive Android budget phones, like the Moto G8 series or TCL 10L, for instance, run the Snapdragon 665 chipsets, which are probably the top end of budget phones – if you see a phone with a Snapdragon 765, you’re probably in the mid-range price range. The Snapdragon 490 is the most recent budget chipset for comparison.
2. Great screen
Fortunately, displays have come a long way in recent years. These days you want to achieve at least Full HD, also called 1080p, which in numbers is 1080 pixels by 1920 pixels (style 1080 x 1920), although the latter number could be more if the phone has a ratio greater than 16: 9 ( today most have a ratio of 19: 9 or more).
Also pay close attention to the type of display. While OLED screens (and brand-specific types like AMOLED) typically offer more dynamic color palettes, LCD screens shouldn’t be left out of hand. Most phones on the extremely cheap end of the scale have LCD screens – just make sure to compare them to competitors to make sure you’re getting the best picture. Cheaper phones can opt for more wildly vibrant color spreads to hide lower quality screens.
Let’s be clear: if you’re on the affordable end of the phone spectrum, all you really need is a front and rear camera, and any phone will provide that. It’s the software that really matters, and you often won’t find good quality photo software on affordable handsets: be prepared to take photos in daylight and provide as much light as possible for night shots.
That said, cheaper phones are increasingly adding cameras to their rear arrays, which means you get a head gunner (often referred to as just ‘wide’ cameras) and maybe an ultra-wide (expansive field of view) and macro (close-up) camera. These are useful and provide a nice variety, but it’s the phone’s photo software that really makes a difference in photo quality.
Notice which phone cameras take clear photos with lifelike colors. If you can, check out the photo making process: does it take a long time to take photos? Better specifications will result in faster photo processing. Compare Night modes for low-light photos: Better cameras don’t need a flash to spice up their night photography.
4. Lots of storage space
Here’s the thing: at the cheap end of the scale, you probably won’t find better than 64GB of storage. Since some of that is taken up by the operating system and other necessary (or preloaded) software, there is little space left to store your photos, texts, apps, and whatever else you want to stay loaded on your phone.
128 GB is the new threshold, but it may not be offered in the model you are viewing. What’s more important is expandable storage, usually via microSD, which allows you to put in an inexpensive memory card to drastically expand your storage. Choose these phones if you can.
5. Big battery
One of the biggest complaints of any phone owner: the battery is draining too quickly. Batteries are getting bigger across the board, but you’ll have to pay close attention to both a battery’s number capacity and how that translates to battery life, such as how long your phone lasts.
Fortunately, this is an area that cheap phones often use to gain an edge over the competition. The Moto G8 Power (known as the Moto G Power in the US) has a 5,000 mAh battery, where most budget phones don’t break 3,000 mAh. That’s enough for 2-3 days of battery life, which is welcome, but not common. Larger capacity roughly equates to battery life, so try to get a nearly 4000 mAh battery unless you’re using an iOS device like the iPhone SE 2020, which is more efficient and gets away with a much lower capacity.
The cheaper end of the phone market sometimes has nice little perks that the flagship phones don’t always have. We’ve already talked about long battery life, but there are other extras that phone makers often try to pack in – like the eponymous stylus in the Moto G Stylus. Of course, cheap phones usually get another perk that hasn’t been seen in flagship phones for years: 3.5mm headphone jacks.