Why You Should Never Spend Over $500 on a Smartphone Again

Jon Bitner
·9 min read

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Upgrading to the latest and greatest smartphone can be incredibly tempting. On top of the impressive hardware specs, there’s something undeniably exciting about being one of the first people to go hands-on with new, cutting-edge technology. However, if you look past the hype and instead focus on what you truly need out of a smartphone, you might realize the latest flagship isn’t a good fit for your lifestyle.

In 2021, paying upwards of $800 for a phone you’ll likely abandon within a few years doesn’t make sense for a large portion of the population. Even so, many choose to just go with whatever flagship device is newest and most powerful, as they can rest assured it’ll hold up to years of daily strain.

While this line of thinking definitely makes for an “easier” purchase, the convenience of forgoing research comes with an exorbitant price tag. This leads to many premium phone owners paying for features they never need or use.

Before pulling the trigger on the newest high-end Galaxy, iPhone or Pixel device, we recommend you check out today’s impressive lineup of budget smartphones. Many of them can be had for nearly half the price of their popular siblings but offer more than enough computing power to get you through your day.

Here are a few reasons to consider today’s impressive roster of budget smartphones:

You Don’t Need the Latest Processor

If you’re just sending text messages, surfing the web, streaming video and chatting with friends, you’ll likely never need the extra power offered by high-end flagship products. The speed of a Snapdragon 888 looks great on paper, but if you’re not constantly multitasking or running demanding programs, you’re just throwing away money on hardware you’ll never use.

In fact, many of today’s budget smartphones include chipsets that were used in flagship phones from just a few years ago, meaning you can still pick up a lightning-fast smartphone without breaking the bank. For example, the iPhone SE packs a powerful A13 Bionic chip—the same one used in the iPhone 11 Pro Max which retailed for $1,000+ in 2019. That’s more than enough to run the most demanding mobile games without breaking a sweat—or your budget.

Shop iPhone SE at Apple

If you’re not concerned about mobile gaming, you can save even more cash. Tons of reliable phones can be had for well under $800 if you’re just interested in using your phone for basic chatting and web browsing. After all, you probably didn’t have a problem scrolling through Facebook five years ago, and the chipsets found in today’s budget smartphones are lightyears ahead of those old bundles of silicon.

holding iphone
holding iphone

A Fancy Screen Isn’t Always Worth the Price

Take a look at any recently released top-tier phone and you’ll see its manufacturer advertising its high-resolution display. Whether it’s a 120Hz refresh rate or an increase in pixels per inch, you’re not likely to see an $800+ phone with a lower screen resolution than you did last year.

While the difference might be obvious when held a few inches from your nose, the average user probably won’t notice much of an improvement from one generation to the next. A phone like the OnePlus Nord N10 5G with a 90Hz refresh rate should offer a smooth enough display for any discerning eye.

Shop OnePlus Nord N10 5G

A standard measure of quality used to compare smartphone displays is pixels per inch (PPI). Many scientists – and even Steve Jobs – believe that a PPI above 300 is almost imperceptible to the human eye. You might see a few differences if you squint and look closely, but it’s doubtful the upped pixel count is worth the additional price tag.

There’s a lot more to display quality than PPI – such as brightness, black levels and color range – but nearly all of today’s budget smartphones offer a surprisingly robust viewing experience.

As long as your future phone boasts 300 PPI and an HD resolution, you should be plenty happy with its quality during daily tasks such as texting, browsing the web and watching a few videos.

Shop Pixel 4a at Google
Shop Pixel 4a at Google

Ditch the High-Quality Finishes

Let’s be honest, no matter how beautiful your new phone looks or how many high-end finishes it shows off you’re probably going to slap a case on it. Manufacturers love to tout their all-metal frames, glossy finishes and glass-wrapped smartphones. But how often do you ever get to appreciate that beauty?

Instead of paying for a premium design you’re never going to see, it makes more sense to opt for an affordable phone with a plastic frame, like the Pixel 4a. Plastic-framed smartphones cost a fraction of their flagship counterparts and can often be found with many of the same internal components. While it’s certainly tempting to splurge on a shiny new phone, the odds are slim you’ll ever see it outside its protective, rubberized case.

Shop Pixel 4a at Google

Best of all, there are plenty of stylish cases on the market that’ll give your budget smartphone both a premium look and protect it from accidental falls.

tcl phone
tcl phone

Are You an Avid Photographer?

While it’s true more expensive phones often take better pictures, most customers simply don’t need the additional firepower.

Cameras are often a focal point of the yearly upgrade cycle for smartphones. But if you’re not an avid photographer, you probably won’t take advantage of the new technology. Unless you’re trying to build an Instagram empire or capture film-quality footage, opting for a mid-tier camera can save you hundreds.

Today’s flagship smartphones often include multiple cameras on their front and back—inflating their overall price tags. If you don’t instantly see the advantage of a 108MP camera over a 40MP camera, it’s unlikely you’ll enjoy all the benefits of having it in your phone. And some budget phones, like the TCL 10 Pro, can even boast a 64MP quad-camera system.

Shop TCL 10 Pro

The iPhone SE and Pixel 4a are also more than capable of competing against flagship phones with 12MP, f/1.8 and 12.2MP, f/1.7 rear cameras, respectively. This equates to simple, point-and-click technology that will take clear images at all times of day (without the need to mess with any manual settings).

The Best Deals and Discounts on Budget Smartphones

If you’re still not sure a budget smartphone is right for you, we’ve put together a shortlist of the best affordable phones on the market. Whether you’re looking to snap high-quality photos or jump into some demanding mobile gaming, these smartphones are sure to fit the bill.

iPhone SE

iPhone SE 2020
iPhone SE 2020

With a powerful A13 Bionic chip and metal frame, the iPhone SE feels like a much more expensive device than it really is. It’s arguably the best affordable smartphone on the market, and one that will let you take impressive photos, play the hottest new games and stream videos to a 4.7-inch Retina HD display.

iPhone SE – Price: $399.99

Google Pixel 4a

Google Pixel 4a
Google Pixel 4a

Robust cameras, a crisp OLED screen and a Snapdragon 730G should let you perform all your daily tasks without any hiccups. That 730G is also good for a bit of gaming and – since the Pixel is built by Google – it’s the perfect fit to try out some game streaming with Stadia. And for $459, you can upgrade to the Pixel 4a with 5G capabilities and an improved Snapdragon 765G chipset for better performance.

Google Pixel 4a – Price: $349.00

Google Pixel 4a 5G – Price: $499.00

Google Pixel 5

Google Pixel 5
Google Pixel 5

Okay, this isn’t technically a budget phone, but if you don’t mind upping your price range a bit the Pixel 5 takes everything great about the 4a and makes it better. A nicer camera, a faster Snapdragon 765G processor and a 90Hz refresh rate make it incredibly well-equipped for a sub-$800 smartphone.

Google Pixel 5 – Price: $699.99

OnePlus Nord N10 5G

OnePlus Nord N10 5G
OnePlus Nord N10 5G

OnePlus is the champion of affordable smartphones, but the Nord N10 5G is among its best. For less than $300, you can get your hands on a 5G-ready handset that also comes with a 90Hz refresh rate and the surprisingly zippy Snapdragon 690.

One Plus Nord N10 5G – Price: $299.99

TCL 10 Pro

TCL Pro
TCL Pro

A vivid FHD+ curved AMOLED display, a metal frame and a fast Snapdragon 675 make the TCL 10 Pro a solid choice for anyone seeking a mid-range smartphone. It also features a 64MP quad-camera system so you’ll be able to take high-quality photos easily.

TCL 10 Pro – Price: $449.99

Tips for Buying a Budget Smartphone

While there are plenty of excellent budget smartphones on the market, there are also several duds. If you’re interested in a phone that’s not listed above, here are a few tips to keep in mind.

  • Don’t purchase a phone that’s more than three years old. Manufacturers eventually stop issuing software updates for their products, and you’d hate to pick up a new phone that’s no longer receiving official support.

  • Whatever you choose, check out its reviews. Nearly all smartphones on the market are reviewed by multiple critics. Our Slickdeals community is a great resource as well, with thousands of experts pooling their knowledge to let you know if a cheap product is worth your money.

  • Double-check its compatibility with your network if you’re purchasing an unlocked smartphone. This should be listed in the product’s description. If not, you can reach out directly to your service provider and ask them to check the specific model.

And be sure to set up a Deal Alert to get even more savings on a brand new smartphone.

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