UPDATE: HMD Global's Nokia 6.1, has received its Android 9 update. Read on to find out where it placed and what else it has to offer!
While handsets like the Samsung Galaxy Note 9, iPhone XS and the Google Pixel 3 are stealing headlines around the world, there's a lot of intriguing (and cheap) stuff going on in the world of budget phones.
Sadly smartphone innovation isn't cheap – and most of it is reserved for high-end contract handsets. There is however such a thing as a good cheap smartphone, and ever so gently all those amazing features from the flagship devices are slowly trickling down to the budget phones.
That's why we have sorted through hundreds of inexpensive smartphones in order to rank the best options that you can buy unlocked without monthly fees and, importantly, without a two-year contract.
No, these aren't the best smartphones available in Australia, so you won't find the new Galaxy S9 among them. Likewise, the 4-inch iPhone SE is $599, so it misses the mark by about $100, as lovely as it is.
Here's a selection of our favourite budget and mid-range smartphones. If you're looking to pick up a decent handset for not much cash, these are the top cheap phones your money can buy – even on a budget.
Deceptively affordable for a phone that looks and feels premium, the Nokia 7.1 brings terrific specs, a striking HDR display and stylish design to the mid-range market and manages to do so for just $499.
A phone that punches well above its weight, the Nokia 7.1 boasts a Snapdragon 636 chipset inside, 4GB of RAM and 64GB of internal storage (of course, you can expand that with a microSD card).
As part of the Android One program, the Nokia 7.1 runs a near stock version of Google's mobile OS, with two years of updates and three years of security patches guaranteed. It now runs the latest Android 9 Pie operating system, too.
Plenty has been said about HMD's PureDisplay screen technology on the Nokia 7.1, and what it ultimately adds up to is a gorgeous display that supports HDR10 video content (that includes Netflix and Amazon Prime Video).
What's also impressive is that this mid-ranger also sports a great dual camera setup (12MP + 5MP) on its rear, allowing users to take take brilliant depth-of-field shots with very little effort. On the front, you also get an 8MP snapper for selfies.
Add to this a USB Type-C fast charging port, and what you have is the current high watermark for phones under the $500 price point.
Read the full review: Nokia 7.1 (2018)
Last year brought us a $300 Moto G5, and then eventually a $350 Moto G5S, but 2018’s more expensive $400 model is far from just another link in the iterative chain. With its well-established name, the G6 has bumped up its price but brought with it some premium features.
Some of the most immediate of these include the new 18:9 aspect ratio across the G6 series, allowing for more vertical space when reading articles and a wider playing field when gaming or watching videos.
Despite this aspect ratio change and a significant bump in screen-size, the handsets have kept to a similar size courtesy of a considerable thinning of the top and bottom bezels, resulting in a display-to-body ratio that brings the range comfortably into 2018.
Another ‘premium’ trend that the series has adopted is a glass rear panel. This is an essential design point for handsets that offer wireless charging, but considering the G6 range doesn’t support this feature, it’s a purely aesthetic (and heavily smudge-laden) addition. It's exceptional fast-charging, and it’s a joy to see the G6 sporting the future-ready USB-C.
You’ll also find the whole set running on an OS that’s delightfully close to the no-fuss stock Android operating system, but with just the right amount of clever Motorola features sprinkled on top.
The G6 deftly balances its price with the features and performance you’d expect from a modern handset in this class. Despite sharing the same amount of RAM as its Play counterpart (3GB), the slight bump in its processor and graphics chip gives it a considerable performance edge over the more affordable alternative.
Now, let’s consider the extra $80 you would need to drop to upgrade from the Play to the G6. You’ll be getting a snappy dual-lens rear camera, a USB-C port, NFC capabilities, an actual glass chassis, a front-facing fingerprint scanner, water-repellent coating, and a 1,080 x 2,160 display, bumping the pixel density up from 282ppi to 424ppi.
Many of these upgrades would be worth the dollar-difference alone, but when combined with the performance boosts on tap, it’s easy to recommend forking out the little extra for the G6.
It’s not without identically-priced competition, however — the notch-toting Huawei Nova 3e offers similar performance in an arguably trendier package. That said, fans of Motorola's midrange phones will find the Moto G6 to be a very attractive prospect.
Outperforming every phone we tested in processing power, graphics grunt and battery life benchmarks, the Y7 is a sleek and capable unit that pays close attention to the important details. This budget handset has some lower-level hardware — only 2GB of RAM and a 720p display are its weakest points, and it’s lacking a fingerprint reader — but at this price it works in its favour.
Many of the fingerprint readers we tested were unreliable, and the 2GB of RAM doesn’t seem to slow the beast down when it comes to everyday operation. Plus, the 720p display looks surprisingly sharp and helps squeeze more out of the impressive 4,000mAh battery.
Its closest competitor in this roundup, the Oppo A57, has identical internals with the exception of 3GB of RAM and still fell short across the board (albeit by a small margin most of the time). Round off the excellent performance with a capable camera and a seriously premium design and feel, and the Y7 is a steal for $249.
With a beautiful design and feel that looks almost indistinguishable from Oppo's higher end models, the Oppo A57 delivers premium styling without costing an arm and a leg.
Like all Oppo phones, the A57 has a magnificent camera that works well in low-light situations. It also has the benefit of carrying over Oppo's Beauty Mode for seriously flattering selfies (you know a smartphone is serious about selfies when the front-facing camera has a higher megapixel sensor than the rear).
Add to this a front-facing fingerprint sensor, expandable storage via microSD, a terrific build that remains slim and stylish, and what you have is a mid-range phone that's easy to recommend at $328.
Admittedly, we'd have liked a 1080p screen rather than the 720p one that the A57 sports, and ColorOS may be a little too close to iOS for many Android users' tastes, but it's still hard to overlook a phone of this quality at the price listed above.
Once again offering a flagship feel at a fraction of the usual cost, this year's updated Nokia 6 (or the Nokia 6.1 as it's officially known) sports a terrifically sturdy build quality, also offering a pure Android One (which now supports Android Pie) experience for those who aren't willing to shell out for a Google Pixel 2.
Its all-metal build is the first thing you're likely to notice, with a significant heft that makes it feel tough in comparison to most modern smartphones. Its matte finish feels smooth in the hand, with some metallic detailing around the phone's edges, buttons and camera offering a bit of added pizzazz.
And, unlike most handsets in this price range, the Nokia 6.1 also sports a USB Type-C port for speedy data transfer and fast charging. That it also has a 3.5mm headphone jack is just the icing on the cake.
At $399, it's great value, though there are some caveats — system data alone takes up over 12GB out of a 32GB total of onboard storage, leaving you with less than 20GB before you've even downloaded or saved a single thing. Thankfully, the phone allows for expandable storage thanks to its MicroUSB slot.
Admittedly, its camera is nothing to write home about, taking adequate photos that probably won't blown anyone away. We also found that the Nokia 6.1 struggled to take decent low-light photos.
Still, at this price it's probably unreasonable to expect flagship-quality snapshots (though the Oppo A57 and Sony Xperia XA1 come quite close), and in terms of design and overall performance, the Nokia 6.1 is a real winner.
Read the full review: Nokia 6 (2018)
It's really, really difficult to fit an Apple phone on a best cheap phones list, but there has to be at least one that's inexpensive enough for iOS fans who refuse to try Android.
The cheapest is the iPhone 5S. The best deal we've been able to find through a carrier is Telstra, which has the 16GB version available for $369 on an pre-paid plan. Alternatively, you could buy it outright on the Kogan website for $429, no contracts required.
You're only getting 16GB, but then again, so are entry-level iPhone SE owners. It comes in space gray or silver, has Touch ID and a still-impressive 8MP camera and runs iOS 10.
Sony has aced this phone’s design in a few respects. It looks and feels slick, with metal used in the right places. This is also one of the cheapest phones you’ll find with a camera that wouldn’t have looked out of place on a flagship a year or two ago.
Inside, you get an ample 32GB of storage, and there’s also a microSD card slot (next to the nanoSIM) in the pull-out tray. Colour reproduction on the 720p screen is respectably rich and vivid, and the display is also super-bright with superb contrast.
Max out the backlight and outdoors visibility is excellent. In Geekbench 4, the Sony Xperia XA1 scored a solid 3,628 points, around 200 less than the 3,824 score the Moto G5 Plus achieved in our tests. Don’t read too much into that, though. This phone is very much in the same league as the Moto G5.
The XA1’s rear camera is among the very best at this price, using a 23MP sensor of 1/2.3-inch size, the same scale as some dedicated compact cameras, and produces images with great detail.
Often unofficially referred to as the ‘LG G6 Mini’, the LG Q6 takes that flagship phone’s design and shrinks it down slightly to deliver a much more attractive handset than its affordable price point would suggest. We’ve even seen it for as little as $299!
The Q6 offers an impressive 18:9 FullVision display with reduced bezels. Dual SIM support is also included, and you can easily switch between two cards right from the device’s navigation bar, so when you consider that huge screen, this is a great device for international travellers with a lust for watching movies.
It’s also quite capable when it comes to photography, with its 13MP rear camera producing some exceptional snaps under the right conditions. We’re also fans of the ability to switch between standard and wide-angle selfies.
The LG Q6 isn’t without its downsides, though — it lacks a fingerprint scanner, and it’s slightly less powerful than some other competing phones in this price range. Still, you’re unlikely to find a prettier handset for under $400.
Officially Australia's cheapest Android One phone (meaning it's as close to stock Android as a non-Pixel phone can be), this year's Nokia 3 (officially known as Nokia 3.1) is a great option for kids and first-time smartphone owners.
Even if you're neither of those things, the Nokia 3.1 is also great for those who want to check out the latest versions of Android soon as they're released (it runs Android Oreo right of the box, and is guaranteed to receive at least two full software updates in the future).
While it's not the snappiest budget phone out there, the Nokia 3.1 offers a quality build, a bright HD+ (720p) display with an 18:9 aspect ratio, a microSD card slot (allowing you to expand upon the 16GB of onboard storage that's included) and a decent 13MP primary camera with auto focus capability.
Priced at just $249, it's hard to look past the Nokia 3.1 as a budget smartphone that'll let you see what Android One is all about. It's also ideal as a first phone, particularly for kids.
- Check out how these cheaper models compare to our overall top Aussie smartphone picks