Look for the features you want in a cheap smartphone
Key to finding the best value smartphone is prioritising your needs. Most cheap smartphones offer one or two outstanding features while cutting back in other areas. Do you love streaming film? Look for a large, high-resolution display, and perhaps you can do without super long battery life. Are cameras top priority? Then maybe you don’t mind a plastic casing.
In our list of top budget smartphones UK, we point out which products excel in which areas. Take a look at the chart below for an overview:
Compare prices on budget phones before hitting “buy”?
Comparing prices does not just mean looking at the cost of one smartphone versus another, it also means finding the best value smartphone. Prices for shop offers for the same phone can vary widely. idealo provides consumers with an overview of shop offers listed in order of price, so you can see at a glance which shop is providing the best deal.
You also get a clear look at the different “variants” that are available for each model. The Xiaomi Mi A1 for instance is available in the colours, black, gold or pink/gold, with choice of either 32 GB or 64 GB internal storage. Here you can see how the price of one variant (the 32GB gold) compares to that of another (the 64GB black).
At the top of our price list, even more filter options are possible. See which shop offers are cheapest “including delivery”, choose products that are “ready for dispatch only”, or select those that you can send back “without return charges”.
Whether you choose to buy one of the best budget phones 2019 or opt for the latest Galaxy S from Samsung, our mission is to help you make the best buying decision – every single time.
What to look out for when buying a budget smartphone?
To get the best deal, you should be familiar with what specifications and features to look out for. Don’t be fool by marketing fluff by the phone manufacturers. Here are the key features you should examine before getting a budget phone.
How fast, snappy and responsive your smartphone is, depends on what processor or system on a chip (SoC) it uses. You may have heard of chips called Snapdragon, Kirin, Helio. Snapdragon is a very popular processor for budget smartphones as it provides excellent performance at a reasonable price. Currently, the latest smartphones will be carrying the Snapdragon 800 series chip. For slightly older and cheaper phones, you’ll find the Snapdragon 600 series chip.
If you are a heavy user, go for a budget smartphone that is slightly pricer but carries a newer chip, especially if you play graphic-intensive games. If you only use Whatsapp, casually browse the web, then a Snapdragon 600 series chip will be sufficient.
The Random Access Memory (RAM) of any smartphone has a high correlation with its effective performance. The higher the RAM, the better the performance. When using your smartphone, it is really common to keep many apps running concurrently. Spotify for music, YouTube for some funny videos and maybe Clash of Clans for some gaming. If your phone has low RAM, you’ll start to experience lag and sluggish performance.
So how much RAM should you get? If you are a light user who doesn’t use many applications, 2 to 3GB may suffice. For average users, we recommend at least 4GB of RAM. If you are a heavy user, get one with 6 to 8GB of RAM.
The most common operating system for budget smartphones is the Android ecosystem developed by Google. Android is the dominant force for smartphone iOS be it for budget or premium phones. It has over 85% in market share and growing. If you are looking for a phone with Apple iOS, we are afraid you won’t be able to find any below $1000. That is unless you are okay with an iPhone that is 2 to 3 generations old.
Depending on your smartphone brand and model, it may be running stock Android or a customised version. Many smartphone brands personalize the Android experience for their phones. For example, OnePlus has the OxygenOS, Xiaomi has the MIUI and Huawei has the EMUI skin. Fundamentally, there is little to no difference as both runs on the same ecosystem. You’ll still be able to access similar apps and functionality. The main differences are the visuals and user interfaces.
You’ll want to choose a smartphone brand that is prompt in updating its Android version to be able to access the latest features. Usually, big brands like Samsung, Xiaomi and Huawei have pretty regular updates. Sometimes, updates are a little irregular for budget phone models, but it will not affect day to day usage much.
Display screen and size
Do you like to watch videos on your phone? If so, a good display and large screen size may be the most critical factor when choosing a smartphone. There are 3 main aspects you should take note of.
Firstly, what is the resolution of the phone? The higher the resolution, the clearer and crisper the images and videos displayed will be. For budget smartphones, a 720P resolution display is the minimum nowadays. Most should come with a 1080P resolution display. For now, 2K and 4K displays are out of reach for the price range of budget smartphones.
Secondly, what panel your phone is using? The standard panels used on smartphones are LCD, OLED, AMOLED and IPS. LCD panels are not as common anymore because their display is not as sharp as the others. As long as your smartphone does not use an LCD panel, you should be pretty happy with the screen as they are all of high-quality.
Lastly, how big is the effective display size, excluding the bezels? Smartphones seem to be getting larger and larger over the years. That is because more and more of us are starting to consume video content on our phones instead of our TVs and computers. If that sounds like you, a larger screen display will suit your needs better. In our opinion, any screen display over 5 inches is good enough. Now, you can even find budget smartphones with displays of 6 inches and larger.
Do you like taking pictures and videos with your smartphone? If your answer is yes, then a good camera is essential. A budget smartphone can produce good quality images and videos. However, there will definitely be some quality differences when compared to flagship models which cost 5 to 10 times more.
Most budget smartphones come with cameras with megapixels starting from 12MP. For better quality phones get one with 16MP. If you like taking selfies, also take note of the MP of the front-facing camera. Anything above 6MP should help you take picture-perfect selfies.
Taking photos in portrait mode is also really popular. It allows you to focus on an item or person and blur out the background to stand out. For the best portrait photos, you should look for a smartphone that has dual cameras. Although the portrait effect can be achieved with software, having dual cameras is preferable.
This is one area where budget smartphones can sometimes outperform flagship models. Battery performance depends on two factors, the battery and how much energy spent. Batteries are relatively cheap. Therefore, phone manufacturers can afford to put larger batteries even in budget smartphones. Good budget smartphones have batteries that start from 3500MaH. When you combine the large batteries together with their lower energy requirements, you can expect a full day of heavy usage without any problems.
Price and budget
What is your budget? The price range for budget smartphones is quite wide. You can find models selling for less than $200 or more than $500. If you have the budget, we recommend getting one that is within the $400 to $600 price range. Phones within this range often have similar specifications and features to flagship models, at a fraction of the price. An example of this is the Xiaomi Pocophone F1 which is priced below $500. It comes with excellent specifications that are almost comparable to Samsung Galaxy S9 which costs more than $1200.
For budget smartphones below $250, they do offer decent performance for their prices. But do not expect their cameras and processor to reach the levels of flagship phones. For the average user, they are good enough.
When you buy a smartphone, you’ll expect to use it for a year or two at least. Having a valid local warranty ensures your phone repairs and troubleshooting will be covered. You’ll be happy to know that smartphone manufacturers do offer warranties of between 1 to 2 years even for their budget models.
Some budget smartphones do not come with a warranty. These are usually exported sets from overseas. The plus point is that they are cheaper than local sets, generally between 10 to 20 percent cheaper. It is up to you to decide whether you want a valid warranty or short-term saving. If it was up to us, we would go for the official local set so we won’t have to worry for a year or two.
Internal and external storage
If you are planning to install many applications or store music and video on your smartphone, having sufficient storage space is essential. You should get a phone with at least 32GB of internal storage with an external microSD card slot. With an external slot, you can expand your phone’s storage to 128GB or more. All or most phones that we recommend have external storage capabilities.
Having a phone that can carry two SIM cards means you don’t need to bring another phone around. This feature is also very convenient if you have to travel often. You can insert your overseas SIM card in without missing out on messages or important calls on your local number. Thankfully, more and more budget smartphones are starting to come with dual-sim functionality.
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