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Buying a mobile phone on a budget

How to buy the best cheap smartphone

By Oli McKean

Article 2 of 3

Looking for a cheap mobile phone? Our top tips will help you find an affordable handset that'll give more expensive models a run for their money.

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Not everyone wants to splash out on the latest trendy flagship smartphones from the likes of Apple, Samsung and Google. Some of us just want a good mobile phone that doesn't cost the earth to buy.

The best cheap smartphones will do almost everything that an expensive mobile can. The battery will see you through the day; the camera will take detailed snaps worthy of sharing on Facebook; and the screen will be clear and bright.

Scroll down for our top tips on getting the best value for your money if you're shopping on a budget.

Just want to know the best mobile phones? Head to Best Buy mobile phones for your answer.

How much does a decent mobile phone cost? 

Many phones that cost less than £100 make it into our Don't Buy hall of shame. That said, our tests show that it is possible to find a few hidden gems in this price bracket.

Sub-£100 phones won't have all the latest features, like a fingerprint reader or super-fast processor, and some won't be compatible with 4G (the fastest type of mobile internet). But they can handle web browsing, run most apps and take a decent photo.

We recommend spending at least £150 to up your chances of bagging a decent smartphone - if you're buying it up-front and Sim-free, rather than on a contract. It's likely to have 4G connectivity, which is handy for speedy web browsing while you're out and about. Plus, it should have a sharp and bright screen, and long battery life..

And while it's true that the very best mobiles tend to cost well north of £300, we've found some superstar smartphones that earn our Best Buy award for less than £200 - check out our best cheap mobile phones page to see which we recommend. Alternatively, browse our mobile phone reviews to find out how they compare to all their rivals.

What to look for in a cheap mobile phone 

We've compiled a checklist of essential features and things to consider to help you find the best cheap smartphone:

  • Choose your operating system carefully Apple iPhones are expensive, and you'll struggle to find a recent model new for less than £300. If you’re looking to spend £200 or less we suggest you consider an Android phone (for example, Samsung, Motorola and Huawei make mobiles at this price point), or a Windows phone.
  • Screen size and resolution In the past, cheaper phones tended to have small and cramped screens. That’s no longer the case - there are some great models on the market with 5-inch displays and bigger. You'll want a larger screen if you spend a lot of time browsing the web or typing emails. If you’re going for a big handset, look for a phone with a resolution of 720x1,280 pixels - this should provide a crisp display. If you're sticking with a smaller, 4-inch model then something with a resolution of 540x960 pixels will be sufficient. 
  • A micro-SD card slot is a must Phones at the cheaper end of the market often have smaller memory capacities - 8GB or 16GB is common. To ensure you don’t run out of space for storing apps, music and photos, make sure you opt for a phone with a micro-SD card slot. This will let you increase the onboard storage - sometimes by as much as 256GB. And they aren't ludicrously expensive, either - for instance, you can find 64GB micro-SD cards that'll give you change from a £20 note.
  • Battery life Buying a phone on a budget doesn’t mean you have to put up with lousy battery life. We test each phone to see how long it lasts when making continuous calls before charging it up again to see how long it manages when browsing the web. Our tests show that many cheap phones can manage a day of normal usage without the need for a mid-day charge. But there are some that simply don’t make the grade - we highlight such battery issues in our reviews. 

Now find the perfect mobile phone for your budget by checking out our smartphone reviews.