If you don’t fancy spending more than £1,000 on the latest Apple and Samsung launches, we’ve tested a new smartphone that aced our tests for a quarter of the price.
It’s no secret that the cost of flagship smartphones has risen to eye-watering levels – Samsung has just unveiled its Galaxy Note20 Ultra to the tune of £1,200.
But if you’re looking to upgrade for less, all is not lost. We’ve tested a range of new cheaper models that cost less than £250, including two from Samsung, that offer great specs for their price. Best of all, one of these has just become our cheapest Best Buy.
Take the guesswork out of choosing your next smartphone – browse the best mobile phones from our tough tests.
Xiaomi Redmi Note 9 Pro (£217) – with five cameras
Xiaomi is a relative newcomer to the UK, but has plenty of pedigree in the mobile phone market globally – only Apple, Huawei and Samsung are bigger. Its typical approach seems to be to offer good specs and even better value, and this new Redmi model looks to toe the line.
Two things that stand out are its display and cameras. A 6.67-inch Full HD+ display (2,400 x 1,080p) is huge by any standard and it’s truly impressive to get a screen this big for just over £200. Most smartphones with 6.6 to 6.7-inch displays, such as the Motorola Edge and OnePlus 7 Pro, cost £500 or more.
The Redmi Note 9 Pro also comes with a total of five cameras – four on the rear and one on the front. Its quad rear camera array features a 64Mp wide-angle lens, 8Mp ultra-wide-angle lens, 5Mp macro camera and 2Mp depth camera. You’ll have a 16Mp wide-angle lens camera to take all your selfies with.
Elsewhere, it has a hefty 5,020mAh battery, 6GB of Ram and 64GB of internal storage.
Is this phone the winning Best Buy? Read our full Xiaomi Redmi Note 9 Pro review to find out.
Sony Xperia L4 (£169) – cinematic aspect ratio for videos
In contrast to Xiaomi, Sony is an old hand in the UK market, but has experienced somewhat of a fall from grace. Once famed for its class-leading cameras, Sony slipped from focus as it lagged behind rivals such as Huawei and Samsung in the design and innovation stakes, but it hasn’t given up quite yet.
One unique feature of this Sony smartphone, which is also featured in many of its more expensive models, is the use of the 21:9 aspect ratio for its 6.2-inch HD+ display (1,680 x 720p). The idea is that 21:9 is considered to be one of the cinematic aspect ratios, making it better for viewing content such as films on your smartphone, while the majority of other smartphones use an aspect ratio of 16:9.
Although it’s more expensive than the Xiaomi Redmi Note 9 Pro, there are fewer cameras. It has three, lower-resolution rear lenses – 13Mp wide-angle, 5Mp ultra-wide-angle and 2Mp depth lenses – and an 8Mp main lens. That’s not to say it’s a worse snapper, though – megapixels aren’t everything when it comes to quality photos.
It also comes with 3GB of Ram, which is half as much as some of its competitors, and 64GB of internal storage.
How did it do in our tests? Our Sony Xperia L4 review will tell you.
Samsung Galaxy A21s (£180) – cheap, but is it cheerful?
Samsung needs no introduction – famed for its yearly revision of the class-leading Galaxy S and Note range, you might not be as familiar with cheaper models from the brand, but there are plenty to choose from.
The A21s is one of them (although in fact that Galaxy A10 is available for even less, at £140) and it stands out most for its huge 5,000mAh battery, which dwarfs the 3580mAh one in the Sony Xperia L4.
On the display front, its 6.5-inch HD+ display (1,600 x 720p) is far from modest, so you’ll be getting a large screen for your money as well and its quad rear camera and single selfie lens puts it toe to toe with the Redmi Note 9 Pro for the number of cameras it has.
It has 32GB of internal storage, so not as much as the other cheaper phones and it also offers a modest 3GB of Ram.
Is this sub-£200 smartphone a Best Buy? Take a look at our Samsung Galaxy A21s review to get the answer.
Samsung Galaxy M31 (£245) – mammoth 6,000mAh battery should last
If you were impressed by the battery in the Samsung Galaxy A21s, you’ll be blown away by the Samsung Galaxy M31. Its 6,000mAh battery is one of the biggest we’ve ever tested. We’ve seen other cheap smartphones, such as the Motorola moto g7 power, with 5,000mAh batteries and although size doesn’t always mirror performance, larger capacities can deliver great battery life.
On the camera front, the smartphones are very similar. Their specs only differ slightly on the M31’s fourth lens – the depth camera – which is 5Mp compared with the Note 9 Pro’s 2Mp one and its front camera is a 32Mp lens, much higher res than the Xiaomi model’s 16Mp one.
How did the two compare in score? Head to our Samsung Galaxy M31 review to see whether it performed better.
Why it’s time to consider changing brand
When upgrading your smartphone, it’s tempting to stick to a brand you know. Features and functions should be similar, so the learning curve is low, and staying with the ‘tried and trusted’ means you can avoid having to do tons of research to find your next upgrade.
But as the prices of smartphones from more familiar brands continued to climb, new contenders entered the mix to shake things up, and we can say we’ve been pretty impressed. Rivals such as Motorola and OnePlus have upped their game, and newcomers such as Oppo, Realme and Xiaomi have tantalised with enviable specifications at far cheaper price points.
Everyone’s treated equal in our test labs, which is why we know these smaller brands are worth a look.
Does paying more get you a better smartphone?
As you can see from the table, on average premium smartphones do still have a slight edge over cheaper alternatives.
|Price range||Overall average test score|
|Budget phones (less than £200)||60%|
|Mid-range phones (£200 to £400)||70%|
|Premium phones (more than £400)||79%|
|Table notes Average scores correct as of August 2020.|
But cheaper phones aren’t as far off as you might think. If you’re looking to get a phone on a shoestring, there are some great smartphones that will cost £200 or less, as our tests have proven – but it is a bit of a lottery, so you’ll need to do your research.
What we have found is that it’s often these lesser-known brands that are helping to boost these test scores – the lack of a ‘brand premium’ means you could land yourself a relative bargain if you’re willing to try something new.
Our reviews can help you narrow down your search – take a look at our guide to some of the best mobile phones for less than £200. We also survey our members to find out how reliable popular smartphone brands are. Read more about the most reliable mobile phone brands.