UPDATE: We've made some big changes to our list of the best cheap smartphones in Australia for 2018, with five new handsets making the cut. Read on to find out which phones offer the most bang for your buck.
While handsets like the Samsung Galaxy Note 8, iPhone X, LG V30 and the Google Pixel 2 are stealing headlines around the world, there's a lot of intriguing (and cheap) stuff going on in the world of budget phones.
Sadly smartphone innovation isn't cheap – and most of it is reserved for high-end contract handsets. There is however such a thing as a good cheap smartphone, and ever so gently all those amazing features from the flagship devices are slowly trickling down to the budget phones.
That's why we have sorted through hundreds of inexpensive smartphones in order to rank the best options that you can buy unlocked without monthly fees and, importantly, without a two-year contract.
No, these aren't the best smartphones available in Australia, so you won't find the new Galaxy S8 or S8 Plus among them. Likewise, the new 4-inch iPhone SE is $599, so it misses the mark by about $150, as lovely as it is.
Here's a selection of our favourite budget and mid-range smartphones. If you're looking to pick up a decent handset for not much cash, these are the top cheap phones your money can buy – even on a budget.
Outperforming every phone we tested in processing power, graphics grunt and battery life benchmarks, the Y7 is a sleek and capable unit that pays close attention to the important details. This budget handset has some lower-level hardware — only 2GB of RAM and a 720p display are its weakest points, and it’s lacking a fingerprint reader — but at this price it works in its favour.
Many of the fingerprint readers we tested were unreliable, and the 2GB of RAM doesn’t seem to slow the beast down when it comes to everyday operation. Plus, the 720p display looks surprisingly sharp and helps squeeze more out of the impressive 4,000mah battery. its closest competitor in this roundup,
the Oppo A57, has identical internals with the exception of 3gB of RAM and still fell short across the board (albeit by a small margin most of the time). Round off the excellent performance with a capable camera and a seriously premium design and feel, and the Y7 is a steal for $249.
The original Moto G5 was a very impressive budget offering, its G5 Plus counterpart even more so, but is the special edition all that special? For comparison’s sake, the headline features of the G5s are a higher resolution camera, an all-metal unibody design, a slightly larger display, and a slightly bigger battery.
The aluminium body greatly helps with the premium illusion (despite the somewhat awkward shape of the phone) and the camera is definitely an improvement, but neither seem like enough of a step up to warrant the release of a new product six months down the line, especially considering the $50 bump in price.
It’s a testament to the first iteration, then, that the G5s still holds up against the competition — a 1080p display, fingerprint scanner, and performance that has little contest in the price range make it a pretty safe choice. However, if you’re happy to forego a fingerprint scanner and higher resolution display, the Huawei Y7 is a better performing handset for $100 less.
With a beautiful look and feel that looks almost indistinguishable from Oppo's higher end models, the Oppo A57 delivers premium styling without costing an arm and a leg.
Like all Oppo phones, the A57 has a magnificent camera that works well in low-light situations. It also has the benefit of carrying over Oppo's Beauty Mode for seriously flattering selfies (you know a smartphone is serious about selfies when the front-facing camera has a higher megapixel sensor than the rear).
Add to this a front-facing fingerprint sensor, expandable storage via microSD, a terrific build that remains slim and stylish, and what you have is a mid-range phone that's easy to recommend at $328.
Admittedly, we'd have liked a 1080p screen rather than the 720p one that the A57 sports, and ColorOS may be a little too close to iOS for many Android users' tastes, but it's still hard to overlook a phone of this quality at the price listed above.
It's really, really difficult to fit an Apple phone on a best cheap phones list, but there has to be at least one that's inexpensive enough for iOS fans who refuse to try Android.
The cheapest is the iPhone 5S. The best deal we've been able to find through a carrier is Telstra, which has the 16GB version available for $369 on an pre-paid plan. Alternatively, you could buy it outright on the Kogan website for $429, no contracts required.
You're only getting 16GB, but then again, so are entry-level iPhone SE owners. It comes in space gray or silver, has Touch ID and a still-impressive 8MP camera and runs iOS 10.
Sony hah aced this phone’s design in a few respects. It looks and feels slick, with metal used in the right places. This is also one of the cheapest phones you’ll find with a camera that wouldn’t have looked out of place on a flagship a year or two ago.
Inside, you get an ample 32GB of storage, and there’s also a microSD card slot (next to the nanoSIM) in the pull-out tray. colour reproduction on the 720p screen is respectably rich and vivid, and the display is also super-bright with superb contrast.
Max out the backlight and outdoors visibility is excellent. In Geekbench 4, the Sony Xperia XA1 scored a solid 3,628 points, around 200 less than the 3,824 score the Moto G5 Plus achieved in our tests. Don’t read too much into that, though. This phone is very much in the same league as the Moto G5.
The XA1’s rear camera is among the very best at this price, using a 23MP sensor of 1/2.3-inch size, the same scale as some dedicated compact cameras, and produces images with great detail.
Often unofficially referred to as the ‘LG G6 Mini’, the LG Q6 takes that flagship phone’s design and shrinks it down slightly to deliver a much more attractive handset than its affordable price point would suggest. We’ve even seen it for as little as $299!
The Q6 offers an impressive 18:9 FullVision display with reduced bezels. Dual SiI support is also included, and you can easily switch between two cards right from the device’s navigation bar, so when you consider that huge screen, this is a great device for international travellers with a lust for watching movies.
It’s also quite capable when it comes to photography, with its 13MP rear camera producing some exceptional snaps under the right conditions. We’re also fans of the ability to switch between standard and wide angle selfies.
The LG Q6 isn’t without its downsides, though — it lacks a fingerprint scanner, and it’s slightly less powerful than some other competing phones in this price range. Still, you’re unlikely to find a prettier handset for under $400.
Apart from its rather stylish design, with its smooth back, satisfyingly sharp edges and metal unibody, the Nokia 6 offers a standard Android phone experience – which some people might prefer.
Logo and boot-up screen aside, you’d be hard-pressed to know from use that this is indeed a Nokia phone, with it running an almost completely stock version of Android 7.0 nougat and avoiding any bells or whistles in the process.
This stripped-down approach to the OS leaves the Nokia 6 feeling serviceable. on the upside, Nokia has promised that new updates will be pushed through as soon as possible, and that’s tempting.
Fire the camera up and the Nokia 6 uses autofocus to take some reasonably good pics. We were also impressed by the sharpness, colour reproduction and clarity of its 5.5-inch 1080p display, and the front-facing fingerprint sensor is fast and reliable.
At a dollar under $400, though, we’d be looking pretty hard at the Motorola range, and it’s up to you if you want the square metal unibody here, or are happy with the unconventional shape of the G5s.
- Check out how these cheaper models compare to our overall top Aussie smartphone picks