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While there’s significant pressure to keep up with the latest smartphone models and technology, the reality is that not all of us use our phones in such a way that calls for the fastest processors, the best displays or even the best cameras. For the basic user, top-of-the-line phones may feel overloaded with features and too expensive.
These days, it’s possible to get a great phone without breaking the bank. Shopping for a phone is much easier and more accessible, even if you’re in the market for a brand-new handset that’s more affordable by way of discounted models from previous generations. And you don’t have to worry about getting less bang for fewer bucks. You can still get an advanced, feature-filled phone with plenty of storage, fast processors, impressive battery life and wireless charging, fantastic multilens cameras, a fingerprint scanner and even 5G connectivity on a modest budget. And your options increase exponentially if you’re open to buying an unlocked smartphone.
This list below has the best phones under $500. Check back often, since we update it regularly, and check out CNET’S in-depth reviews of each product, to help you find exactly what you need, and what to look out for. Notice, we’ve attached links to unlocked versions of each phone on our budget phone list, so that you can meet your individual needs with the best phone under $500. Needs vary, so you’ll want the one with the flexibility you desire and the specific stats that you need. Unlocked phones run on most of the big four US wireless carriers, except for rare exceptions, which are specified below.
The $450 (£399, AU$699) 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 5,000mAh battery. The phone also comes with a 64-megapixel main camera, 12-megapixel ultrawide camera, 5-megapixel macro camera and 5-megapixel depth camera.
But a particular high point for this phone is Samsung’s pledge to provide four years of software support, in addition to shipping with Android 12 with Samsung’s One UI 4.1.
Read our Samsung Galaxy A53 5G review.
Apple’s new iPhone SE for 2022 is a mix of an older design with the latest smartphone features, including Apple’s latest A15 Bionic chip and 5G support, for $429. It’s also one of the few phones on the market that includes a smaller, 4.7-inch screen.
Yet it’s that throwback design, which continues the general shape that Apple has used since 2014, that could be what you will love or dislike most about this phone. If you want a larger iPhone in this price range, you can also consider the iPhone 11 at $499 in order to get a bigger screen and Face ID. But that phone, first released in 2019, does not include 5G connectivity.
Read our Apple iPhone SE review.
The Moto G Stylus 5G (2022) for $500 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.
Yet if you want a stylus-equipped phone, the next step-up option is the substantially more expensive Galaxy S22 Ultra at $1,200.
Read our Moto G Stylus 5G review.
The Pixel 5A is Google’s cheaper 5G phone, packing a decent set of specs all round into an affordable package. Its large screen and water-resistance means it’s capable of tackling all of your everyday essentials while its 5G speeds means you won’t be left waiting for your Netflix shows to buffer when you’re waiting for the bus. But if you don’t need a phone right now and are interested in a Pixel, you should wait for the just-announced Pixel 6A that will be released in July for the same price.
With the launch of the iPhone 13 series, Apple gave its iPhone 11 lineup a healthy discount meaning you can now pick up the base 64GB model for only $499. It might be a couple of generations old, but this phone is still more than capable, handling gaming well and equipped with two superb rear cameras.