Best budget Android phones in 2024

Written on 06/09/2024
Taylor Bell


Budget smartphones are no longer synonymous with poor performance and disappointing cameras. While the best Android flagship smartphones strive for extreme levels of performance to support the latest generative AI features, budget smartphones benefit from the trickle-down effect, with powerful mid-range chips that provide enough power for everyday use to meet your needs.

You'll be amazed at how much you can do with today's budget smartphones, whether you're surfing the web, checking email, scrolling through social media, or playing the latest games. You no longer have to spend a lot of money to get a phone with a vibrant display, long battery life, and a great camera system. Now, even the cheapest phones are promised years of Android updates, so you won't be left behind when Android 17 is released. Let's Get To It...


OnePlus 12R

The OnePlus 12R brings the company back to its flagship-killing days with its fantastic performance, powered by the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2. It also includes an impressive 6.78-inch OLED display, and a massive 5,500mAh battery for hours of use. It's a lot of flagship power at a firmly mid-range price.

Pros

  • Fantastic OLED display
  • Great performance
  • Fast charging

Cons

  • Oxygen OS takes getting used to

$449 at Amazon

$500 at Best Buy

$500 at OnePlus

OnePlus breaks the boundaries of budget phones with the 12R, offering great performance and top-notch build quality for $500. It's a little more expensive than the other models on our list, but you'll get even more bang for your buck. It's powered by last year's flagship chipset, the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2, which delivers incredible performance for apps and AAA mobile games. OnePlus pairs all this power with 8GB of RAM to ensure a smooth user experience. We love the bright and crisp 6.78-inch AMOLED display, which is perfect for watching content or playing your favorite games.

Curved displays are no longer in fashion, but the OnePlus 12R still looks and feels like a premium flagship with its Gorilla Glass Victus 2 screen protector. We also really liked the OnePlus 12R's fast and secure face unlock feature, which is better than what's currently available on Samsung and Google devices. While the camera isn't our favorite in this group, the OnePlus 12R can still produce images worthy of Instagram likes.

The OnePlus 12R boasts incredible battery life, giving you the flexibility of a battery that can last for days. When it comes to charging, OnePlus has equipped the 12R with 100W fast charging, which allows you to get a full charge in under 30 minutes, which is best-in-class at this price point. If you're willing to spend a bit more, the OnePlus 12R checks all the boxes you'd want in a flagship killer.


 

Google Pixel 8a

The best budget camera phone you can get

The Google Pixel 8a is the best camera you can get on a smartphone for $500 or less. Google's computational photography means it excels at taking the best possible photos, and while it cuts some corners from its pricier siblings, it still has the same powerful Tensor G3 chip, a great screen, and seven years of software updates.

Pros

  • Outstanding cameras for a $500 smartphone
  • Matte plastic back feels great
  • Seven years of Android updates

Cons

  • Unsightly bezels
  • Camera hardware remains the same as prior model
  • Slow charging

$499 at Amazon

$499 at Best Buy

$400 at Google Play Store

Google's A-series Pixel smartphones have always been our top pick when it comes to taking the best photos on a budget, and this year's Pixel 8a is no exception. While the camera hardware is the same as last year's Pixel 7a, it shows just how ahead of its time the Pixel's photography capabilities are. Google has slightly optimized the image processing and added more advanced computational photography features thanks to the new Tensor G3 chip, which unlocks new AI features like Best Take, which helps you capture that near-perfect group photo where everyone is smiling, with their eyes open and looking straight into the camera. What's more, we found the Pixel 8a to be able to take photos with the same vibrant, natural look it has become famous for.

But the Pixel 8a has a lot more to offer than just its camera. It has a bright, vibrant display for viewing your photos. The maximum refresh rate hits 120Hz, and it's in no way inferior to more expensive displays, at least in terms of quality. I'd be remiss not to point out that the bezels are much more noticeable, and the glass is Gorilla Glass 3 instead of Victus found on more premium phones, but at this price we think these are both sensible compromises. It also has a matte plastic back instead of glass, which some might consider a plus. It fits nicely in the hand, and you don't have to worry about fingerprints or fragility.

The Tensor G3 chip is the same one used in the Pixel 8 and Pixel 8 Pro, and it's a noticeable improvement over Google's previous silicon, though it still falls a little short in real-world performance, as it runs cooler and is more power-efficient. It does get too hot to the touch under normal use, but that's nothing to worry about. Admittedly, this is still no gaming powerhouse, and while there was at least one incident where the aluminum frame felt uncomfortable in the hand, that was an outlier, and overall performance was much better than the Pixel 7a.

More importantly, the Tensor G3 made a noticeable difference in battery life. Even during the break-in period, I had no problem getting through a full day with 30% battery remaining. While you might want to keep a battery pack on hand for busy travel days, most people will only need a charger before going to bed. This is a good thing, because if you use a standard wireless charger, you'll need to charge the device overnight, as the Pixel 8a only supports 18W wired charging and 5W wireless charging.


 

Nothing Phone 2a

The Nothing Phone 2a offers enough value at about $350, with good performance and battery life and attractive hardware and software. Its cameras are lacking, though, and you can't buy the thing in the US without jumping through some hoops.

Pros

  • Slick design
  • Nothing OS is great
  • Very nice display
  • Good performance

Cons

  • Not available at retail in the US
  • Iffy compatibility on US carriers*
  • Mediocre camera performance
  • Transparent plastic back gets nasty

$419 at Amazon

$349 at Nothing

*The Nothing Phone 2a only works on the T-Mobile network and all T-Mobile MVNOs including but not limited to Google Fi, Mint Mobile, Simple Mobile, Metro by T-Mobile and other carriers that use T-Mobile Towers and carrier services.

 

No one retails the Phone 2a in the US, where it's available through the company's developer program, but you can't buy the Phone 2a on Amazon. The version available through the developer program costs $350 and comes with 12GB of RAM and 256GB of storage. It's available in a black or "milk" (cream) color combination.

The phone will be more widely available in European and Asian markets in black, white and milk colors. Prices vary by region, but in the UK, the base model with 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage costs £319. The 12/256 version costs £349. In most of Europe, the same SKU is priced at €329 or €379. In India, it starts at ₹23,999. In Japan, it's ₹49,800. (It's available in other markets too, check Nothing's website if it doesn't mention your country.)

Compatibility with US networks is also less than ideal. The Phone 2a lacks many of the 5G and 4G bands used by major US carriers. In terms of 5G, the N2, N60, N71, N260, N261, and N262 bands are not supported. All of these bands are supported by one or more carriers. They are used by some of the big three providers (and therefore by all MVNOs that use their networks).

In terms of LTE reception, the Phone 2a lacks bands 2, 12, 13, 14, 17, 29, and 30. All of these are used to some extent in the US, so if you plan on using your Nothing Phone 2a in the US, make sure you check which bands you need to get reliable reception where you need it. We tested the phone over Google Fi (using T-Mobile's network) and didn't notice any noticeable differences compared to Google or Samsung phones. But it could be totally different for you.

The Nothing Phone 2a is a Nothing Phone through and through, and it offers all the extras we'd expect. It's distinctive in design, with a transparent back (plastic here, not glass) that hides the premium interior.

The company's proprietary Glyph lights are back; three LED strips surround the dual cameras, making it look as if the phone has eyes. A glyph lights up when a notification arrives, and you can define important notifications that will keep one of the glyph lights lit until you act on it, like a traditional notification LED.

I think the most useful thing about Nothing's Glyph light is important notifications. Setting the feature to highlight notifications that really need your attention helps you keep your phone face down when you need to concentrate and you don't have to worry about missing something important. I use it all the time at work.

Nothing's Android skin, Nothing OS, is also great. It doesn't add a ton of unique features and system apps like Samsung's One UI, but it manages to define an identity that's different from standard Android without being over the top or intrusive.

None has its own suite of stylized widgets, with a unique dot-matrix style to match the understated visual customization of the system menus. Nothing's system and notification sounds are also pleasant and buzzworthy. The software experience on a Nothing phone is polished and consistent in a way that you don't always expect from a smaller brand, and I really appreciate that. If you don't like that, you also have the option to use the phone on standard Android instead, which is a good thing. The

Phone 2a has a better display than I expected at this price point, a 1080p, 120Hz AMOLED. It's not LTPO, but the colors are vibrant and the panel looks consistent even at low brightness. The battery life of the

Phone 2a has been great for me. On one particularly busy day, I used it for a full 24 hours without a charger, getting 6 hours and 56 minutes of screen time, including 2.5 hours and about 30 minutes of cloud gaming with Xbox Game Pass (over Wi-Fi). That's GPS navigation. It also has 45-watt charging, so you can charge it up quickly. With a compatible charger, it takes about 20 minutes to discharge to 50%. A full charge takes just over an hour.

Business results were solid, too. With a MediaTek Dimensity 7200 Pro chipset and 12GB of RAM, my review unit had no problem with everything I put my hands on, from multitasking to casual gaming. The base model of the phone has a modest 8 gigabytes of RAM, but that's still enough for most mobile workloads.