$324 at Amazon

Apple iPhone 11

Good all round, if you can still find it

The best phones under $500 include so many features that you want to see in an excellent phone, with sacrifices that you might not even notice. These are phones that include displays with high refresh rates, modern chips, good cameras and 5G. They even get several years of software and security updates. 

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These phones do make cuts that justify why they’re cheaper than phones that cost more than $500, but those cuts are increasingly in areas that might not raise any particular flag when you just want a reliable device. Apple’s iPhone SE along with Google’s Pixel 6A and 7A phones, for instance, have smaller screens, but all run on newer processors and software. Samsung’s Galaxy A series of phones often look just like the Galaxy S line, but instead run on a less powerful processor. And the Moto G Stylus 5G takes nice photos, provides a roomy 256GB of space and throws in a stylus, but Motorola doesn’t provide software support for as long as its competitors.

Photography and video in particular are areas where the phones in this price bracket take a noticeable hit in comparison to their more expensive counterparts. However, photo-processing software should help pick up some of the slack. For instance, while the iPhone SE has a single 12-megapixel camera that doesn’t support night photography, its A15 Bionic chip does allow for Apple’s Deep Fusion processing. It’s a similar situation for the Pixel 6A, which uses a 12-megapixel main camera and a 12-megapixel ultrawide camera, yet can enhance those photos with processing powered by the phone’s Tensor chip. However the new Pixel 7A offers a 64-megapixel main camera, which some might consider an upgrade from the Pixel 7’s 50-megapixel main camera.

You can see the pros and cons of each of these phones below, with more details available in our full reviews.

Watch this: Pixel 7A Review: A Step Forward for Google’s Budget Phone

What is the best phone under $500?

Google’s $499 Pixel 7A compares so closely to the $599 Pixel 7, that it’s now tough to recommend the more expensive option. The Pixel 7A includes the same Tensor G2 processor that powers Google’s Pixel-exclusive features, gets wireless charging, a 90Hz refresh rate and a 64-megapixel main camera paired up with a 13-megapixel ultrawide camera. My colleague Lisa Eadicicco said that the Pixel 7A does miss out on the Pixel 7’s battery share feature, the camera’s Action Pan mode and slightly faster charging, but none of those features feel like a major omission.

And if you want to save even more money, last year’s Pixel 6A has received a permanent price drop to $349 and still has a lot to offer. It runs on the Tensor chip, includes many of the same Pixel features like Real Tone for photography and Hold for Me for phone calls and takes crisp and colorful photos for a phone of its price. This is especially true when it gets discounted to $299, which it often is, making it the best phone for under $300 as long as it’s on sale.

Best phones under $500

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Google’s budget phone took a leap forward in 2023 with the Pixel 7A, which offers many of the same benefits as the Pixel 7 but at a cheaper price. Like the Pixel 7, the Pixel 7A runs on Google’s Tensor G2 processor, meaning it has many of the same photo editing and language translation features as its pricier sibling. The Pixel 7A’s 64-megapixel camera also takes excellent photos that rival the Pixel 7’s in quality.

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The Pixel 6A is still available, and at its permanently discounted price of $349, it still has a lot to offer. CNET’s Lisa Eadicicco said in her Pixel 6A review that the phone includes many of the Pixel 6’s best features, and that remains the case even as the Pixel 7A hits the market at $499.

Lisa Eadicicco/CNET

The Samsung Galaxy A53 includes many of the best features seen in the Galaxy S22 line, with a few tradeoffs to hit that lower price. The phone includes a 6.5-inch AMOLED screen with a 2,400×1,080-pixel resolution, 5G support and a long-lasting 5,000-mAh battery. The phone also comes with a 64-megapixel main camera, 12-megapixel ultrawide camera, 5-megapixel macro camera and 5-megapixel depth camera.

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The $429 iPhone SE is a mix of an older design with the latest smartphone features, including Apple’s A15 Bionic chip and 5G support. It’s also one of the few phones on the market that includes a smaller, 4.7-inch screen.

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The $500 Moto G Stylus 5G (2022) is one of the best stylus-equipped phones you can get right now, especially for the price. You get Android 12, 5G connectivity, a large 6.8-inch screen and a spacious 256GB of storage. Unfortunately, the phone is only promised one software update and three years of security updates, which is a much shorter timeline than the four years promised by Samsung for the Galaxy A53.

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With the launch of the iPhone 14 series, Apple discontinued the $500 iPhone 11, but it’s still widely available. It might be a few generations old, but this phone is still more than capable, handling gaming well and equipped with two superb rear cameras. It is missing 5G support, which is increasingly improving as wireless carriers invest in the network, but the phone will work fine on LTE and Wi-Fi. The iPhone 11 also does not support MagSafe accessories, which were introduced alongside the iPhone 12.

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The Nothing Phone 1 is technically available in the US for $299, but only through a beta program that is selling an international model with limited US carrier compatibility. While the company does plan to officially launch a future phone for the North American market, this phone is still worth a look in countries where it’s available. It offers a striking design and decent specs for the money, even at its higher £399 UK price (which converts to roughly AU$700).

How we test phones

Every phone on this list has been thoroughly tested by CNET’s expert reviews team. We actually use the phone, test the features, play games and take photos. We assess any marketing promises that a company makes about its phones. And if we find something we don’t like, be it battery life or build quality, we tell you all about it. 

We examine every aspect of a phone during testing:

  • Display
  • Design and feel
  • Processor performance
  • Battery life
  • Camera quality
  • Features

We test all of a phone’s cameras (both front and back) in a variety of conditions: from outdoors under sunlight to dimmer indoor locales and night time scenes (for any available night modes). We also compare our findings against similarly priced models. We have a series of real world battery tests to see how long a phone lasts under everyday use.

We take into account additional phone features like 5G, fingerprint and face readers, styluses, fast charging, foldable displays and other useful extras. And we, of course, weigh all of our experiences and testing against the price so you know whether a phone represents good value or not.

Read more: How we test phones

Phones under $500 comparison

Samsung Galaxy A53 5G vs. Motorola Moto G Stylus 5G vs. Google Pixel 6A vs. Apple iPhone SE (2022) vs. Nothing Phone 1 vs. Apple iPhone 11

Samsung Galaxy A53 5G Motorola Moto G Stylus 5G (2022) Google Pixel 6A Apple iPhone SE (2022) Nothing Phone 1 iPhone 11
Display size, resolution 6.5-inch AMOLED (2,400×1,080 pixels); 120 Hz 6.8-inch LTPS LCD FHD+; 2,460 x1,080 pixels; 120 Hz 6.1-inch OLED; (1080 x 2400); 60Hz 4.7-inch LCD; (1,334×750 pixels); 60 Hz 6.55-inch OLED display, 2,400 x1080 pixels; 6.1-inch LCD Liquid Retina; 1,792×828 pixels
Pixel density 405ppi TBD 429 ppi 326ppi 402ppi 326ppi
Dimensions (inches) 6.28 x 2.94 x 0.32 in. 6.65 x 2.98 x 0.37 in. 6.0 x 2.8 x 0.35 in. 5.45 x 2.65 x 0.29 in. 5.94×2.98×0.33 in.
Dimensions (millimeters) 159.6 x 74.8 x 8.1 mm 168.9 x 75.8 x 9.3 mm 152.2 x 7.18 x 8.9 mm 138.4 x 67.3 x 7.3 mm 159.2 x 75.8 x 8.3 mm 150.9×75.7×8.3 mm
Weight (ounces, grams) 6.67 oz.; 189g 7.58 oz.; 215 g 6.3 oz.; 178g 5.09 oz.; 144g 193.5g 6.84 oz.; 194g
Mobile software Android 12 Android 12 Android 12 iOS 15 Android 13 iOS 13
Camera 64-megapixel (wide), 12-megapixel (ultra-wide), 5-megapixel (macro), 5-megapixel (depth) 50-megapixel (wide), 8-megapixel (ultrawide/macro), 2-megapixel (depth) 12.2-megapixel (wide), 12-megapixel ultra wide) 12-megapixel (wide) 50-megapixel (main), 50-megapixel (ultra-wide) 12-megapixel (wide), 12-megapixel (ultra-wide)
Front-facing camera 32-megapixel 16-megapixel 8-megapixel 7-megapixel 16-megapixel 12-megapixel with Face ID
Video capture 4K 1,080p 4K 4K 4K at 60fps 4K
Processor Exynos 1280 Snapdragon 695 5G Google Tensor Apple A15 Bionic Snapdragon 778G+ Apple A13 Bionic
RAM/Storage 6GB/128GB 8GB/256GB 6GB RAM/128GB storage 64GB, 128GB, 256GB 8GB + 128GB, 8GB + 256 GB, 12GB RAM + 256GB 64GB, 128GB, 256GB
Expandable storage Up to 1TB Up to 1TB None NA None None
Battery/Charger 5,000 mAh (charger not included, does not support wireless charging) 5,000 mAh (10W wired charger included) 4,410 mAh capacity; 18-watt fast charging (adapter sold separately) Battery NA (20W wired charging — charger not included), 7.5W wireless charging) 4,500 mAh (33W wired charging, 15W wireless charging, 5W reverse charging) Not disclosed, but Apple claims it will last 1 hour longer than iPhone XR
Fingerprint sensor In-display Side Under display Home button In-display None (Face ID)
Connector USB-C USB-C USB C Lightning USB-C Lightning
Headphone jack None Yes None None None No
Special features 5G-enabled; IP67 rating; supports 25W wired fast charging, Samsung Pay 5G-enabled; OIS for main camera; NFC for Google Pay; 5G-enabled, 18W fast charging, Wi-Fi 6E, security updates for 5 years, Android OS updates for 3 years, dual SIM, IP67 water resistance 5G-enabled; supports 25W wired fast charging; Water resistant (IP67); dual-SIM capabilities (nano-SIM and e-SIM); wireless charging 5G, IP53, Three years of Android updates, Dual Sim, 120Hz adaptive refresh rate Water resistant (IP68); dual-SIM capabilities (nano-SIM and e-SIM); wireless charging
Price off-contract (USD) $450 $500 $449 $399 (64GB), $449 (128GB), $549 (256GB) N/A $499
Price (GBP) £399 NA but converts to £405 £399 £419 (64GB), £469 (128GB), £569 (256GB) £399 £489
Price (AUD) AU$699 NA but converts to AU$715 A$749 AU$749 (64GB), AU$829 (128GB), AU$999 (256GB) N/A AU$849

Phones under $500 FAQs

Are cheaper phones worth it?

For many people, a phone that costs less than $500 will likely have everything you need for communication, photography and entertainment. In some cases, the phones even provide some of the latest features seen on higher-end phones like smooth 120Hz refresh rates and multiple cameras.

Can you get a good camera on a cheaper phone?

Yes, you can find several cheaper phones that take great photos, whether it’s through the camera available on the device, photo processing software on the phone or — is most often the case — a combination of both.

What makes these phones cheaper?

Each company takes a different approach toward cheaper phones.

More phone advice

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