Best budget and affordable phones in 2021: a buyer's guide

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Best budget and affordable phones in 2021: a buyer's guide
When it comes to technology, some people just don’t find it reasonable to spend crazy amounts of money on a gadget that gets old in just a couple of years. Yet, those same people still want the full smartphone experience, the camera, the apps, and the speed. Are there any affordable phones that would fit all those criteria?

The good news is that with recent launches the answer is a resounding 'yes'. We now have phones that are cheap without being downright ruined by terrible issues - those budget phones do not lag terribly, they have decent cameras, and some of them even come with a very likable design.

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But which ones are they? We've picked the best affordable phones, where affordable does not mean ‘cheap’ in any embarrassing way. 

Best Budget Phones, a summarized list:

Phones under $350:

Phones under $250:

Under $350

Google Pixel 4a

Like its predecessor, the Pixel 4a is all about bringing Google's computational photography prowess at an affordable price. And it delivers on that promise. Camera comparisons show that there's hardly any difference between the pictures taken from Pixel 4a and those from the Pixel 4. This year, Google got rid of the XL variant for its budget line but the 4a compensates with slimmer bezels and a modern hole-punch display. Performance isn't impressive but the software is well-optimized making the Pixel 4a a joy to use. Plus, this phone will only get better with Google's future software updates. If you're looking for the best budget camera phone, this is as far as you need to look.

Samsung Galaxy A51

The Samsung Galaxy A51 is one of the best value phones that were released in 2020 and until it's replaced by the Galaxy A52, it remains a good choice in 2021 as well. The phone's MSRP is $399, but at this point in time it can be found for $350 or below without much trouble. You can also get it with 5G but that will put you way above the $350 budget. The Galaxy A51 has a nice OLED display, big battery, decent camera system and a chip that provides respectable performance for the price. It's a well-rounded phone that will please all but the tech fanatics. 

OnePlus Nord N10 5G

The OnePlus Nord N10 5G is a recent release and true to its manufacturer's philosophy, it offers a lot for its $300 price tag. 5G support in the States, for one. 90Hz display, second. Sure, it's an IPS LCD panel, but still, we're talking budget phones here. Fast 30W Warp Charging is also on board, just like with any other OnePlus phone. The phone has a pretty adequate camera system as our OnePlus Nord N10 review showed and it's running enthusiasts' favorite OxygenOS. Overall, the Nord N10 is definitely one of the best phones in this price bracket. You can get it unlocked or from T-Mobile.

Nokia 7.2

Nokia, or should we say HMD Global, has also stepped up its game and offers some very solid devices on the cheap. The best example is the Nokia 7.2. It's part of the Android One program, which means no third-party apps or skins and fast software updates. You're not getting Google's camera app however but despite that the Nokia 7.2 has the tools to satisfy most of your photography needs within reasonable expectations, of course. It comes with 128GB of base storage which is awesome for this price segment. 
If you're looking for a cheaper second phone or one for someone who won't spend too much time using one, then the cheaper Nokia 6.2 is also a great value option.

Motorola Moto G 5G Plus

The Moto G series have been one of our favorite budget models throughout the years and now the line has a 5G model as well. There's a twist, however, the 5G bands this phone supports are used in Europe, but it will work with T-Mobile and AT&T's 4G LTE networks just fine.

The phone follows the Moto G line's basics: decent specs for the price, clean software and good-enough camera. There's now a 48MP main sensors paired with 3 more cameras that aren't really that useful. Still, at for that price, expectations have to be limited, especially since a big part of this phone's bill of materials went towards the Snapdragon 765 chip (not the same as 765G!) The 4/64 RAM/storage combo is slightly disappointing, however. What's not disappointing is the massive 5,000mAh battery which will surely last you two days, even three if you're not a heavy user. Also, the Moto G 5G comes with a 90Hz display.

LG Stylo 6

The LG Stylo 6 offers something no other phone on this list has: a stylus! That's a feature some people are actively seeking and if they're on a budget, the Stylo 6 is a good choice. Other than that, there isn't much excitement to be had with this phone. The design screams 2019 and the specs are about what you'd expect. MediaTek chip paired with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage, 4,000mAh battery and a humble 13MP main camera. But with the Stylo series, it's all about that stylus, so the rest doesn't matter that much.

Under $250

OnePlus Nord N100

The other new budget OnePlus is for those that are on a super-tight budget. Not only is it below $250, it's even under $200. At $180, the OnePlus Nord N100 is the cheapest OnePlus phone we've seen, by far. And while some specs are reduced to fit the bill, like the Snapdragon 460 and the 4GB of RAM, others are still around even on this device. The 90Hz display is a unique feature for phones that cheap. The battery is also noteworthy. At 5,000mAh, it rivals Motorola's battery champs. If you're looking for a nice, cheap secondary phone or one to have with you away from civilization, the Nord N100 will be happy to fill that role.

Moto G Power

The Moto G Power, or G8 Power as it's known in some regions, takes the torch from the G7 Power as the battery life champ among Moto G phones and many more. The massive 5,000mAh battery is actually one of the few things Motorola has kept the same between the two generations. The Moto G comes with a faster chip, more RAM and storage and a better-looking hole punch display, compared to its predecessor. The jump from a single rear camera to a quad-camera setup is impressive on paper, but not so much when you consider one of them is a 2MP macro camera. Still, a great upgrade overall and the battery will keep the lights on for days, so if that's your main concern, you can't go wrong with the Moto G Power.

Galaxy A21

If you prefer a cheap phone from a known brand, the Galaxy A21 is here to fulfil your need. Unfortunately, the brand name comes with a price. You're sacrificing 1GB of RAM and half the storage compared to the phones with a 4/64 combo. The battery is also "only" 4,000mAh. Still, the A21 has nice design with its corner punch-hole display and has a quad-camera setup. Of course, two of those are more or less useless, but still, it's a sub-$250 phone, so we can't expect much. A decent overall package if you're looking for a Samsung phone on a tight budget.

Nokia 4.2

The Nokia 4.2 is a close competitor to the Galaxy A20e but with a couple significant differences. First, the Nokia is losing the ultra-wide camera in favor of a far-less useful depth sensor. We doubt you're getting a phone of that price to make the best possible portrait shots. More importantly, however, Nokia 4.2 is part of the Android One program. This should result in a better software support. Samsung isn't known for its timely software updates, especially when it comes to the lower end of its lineup. 

The Nokia 4.2 should be able to provide a decent user experience despite its 400-series Snapdragon chip, the standard for this end of the smartphone spectrum.


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