With the launch of its iPhone 12 lineup this year, Apple has discounted a few of its older models, including reducing the 2018 iPhone XR to $500. That pricing tier has been popular of late, and many big-time phone makers are offering great new phones in that range. One of them is Google’s new Pixel 4A 5G, which joins the Pixel 4A from August.

Now more than before, people on a tight budget have more options to choose from. In addition to those new phones, there are plenty of reliable handsets from 2019 as well — and all of them cost about $500 or less. And despite their low prices, budget phones are getting more advanced and pack features akin to a premium phone, like amazing cameras, fast processors and modern-day software features. 

To see our top picks of the best budget smartphone, check out the list below of the best phones under $500 (which we’ll be updating regularly), and read CNET’s reviews. Note that we’ve linked to the unlocked version of each phone, and they should run on most of the big four US wireless carriers, unless specified otherwise.

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With a four-year gap between the 2020 iPhone SE and the previous one, Apple packed its latest budget phone with a bunch of upgrades. That includes wireless charging, better camera specs and water resistance. (Unfortunately, for wired headphone users, it doesn’t have a headphone jack.) If you’re looking for a new iPhone but want to save as much money as possible, the $399 (£419, AU$749) iPhone SE is your best bet for a cheap phone option.

Read our Apple iPhone SE (2020) review.

Angela Lang/CNET

If you want an affordable 5G phone, the Pixel 4A 5G is a worthy consideration. Available for preorder and shipping out Nov. 19, the  $499 (£499, AU$799) handset has a solid battery life, fantastic dual rear cameras and robust software support from Google. 

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In addition to its main Galaxy S20 phones, Samsung has a more cost-conscious A series line of phones. This year it launched the Galaxy A51 5G, which has four cameras including a selfie camera, an in-screen fingerprint sensor and expandable memory. CNET reviewed the non-5G version that goes for $399, though we’ve seen it go on sale for as low as $280.

Read our Galaxy A51 review.

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The $445 One 5G is one of the best, most affordable 5G phones available. This cheap smartphone option has a total of six, yes six, cameras, a 90Hz high-refresh rate display and fast-charing technology. It’s available now in the US on AT&T and on Verizon at a later date.

Read our Motorola One 5G review.

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Released in August, Google’s Pixel 4A costs $349 (£349, AU$599). The 5.81-inch Google Pixel phone only comes in one color (black) and one size (as in there’s no Pixel 4A XL unlike past years). This Google Pixel features a headphone jack, a slightly larger screen and a bigger battery than the Pixel 4 and 128GB of storage right off the bat.

Read our Google Pixel 4A review.

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The iPhone XR may be two years old, but second to the SE above, it’s one of the cheapest iPhones you can get new from Apple. Currently starting at $499 (£499, AU$849) off-contract with 64GB, it features a 6.1-inch LCD display, a 12-megapixel rear camera and the A12 Bionic processor. It’s also compatible with Apple’s latest iOS 14 software update.

Read our Apple iPhone XR review.

Angela Lang/CNET

Although the Galaxy A50 came out last year (and is the predecessor to the A51 phone mentioned above), it’s still a great phone for $350. This Samsung phone has a 6.4-inch AMOLED screen, an in-screen fingerprint reader, front facing camera for selfies and a headphone jack.

Read our Samsung Galaxy A50 review.

Sarah Tew/CNET

If you’re looking for a cheaper Note 20 alternative, the Moto G Stylus features a stylus that you can store inside the phone along with a built-in Notes app to help with productivity. Currently priced at $240 from Motorola, the phone also features triple-rear cameras, 128GB of storage and a robust 4,000-mAh battery.

Read our Moto G Stylus review.

Samsung Galaxy S9

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It’s been two years since its launch, but the Galaxy S9 is still worthy of consideration. Discounted at about $400 to $500 from Samsung and other retailers, the Android phone is water resistant, has wireless charging, expandable storage and a headphone jack. Plus, its curved OLED screen display lends the phone a modern-day look that still endures.

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The Moto G Power is a tad cheaper than the G Stylus at $200, but it packs a robust 5,000-mAh battery. During our testing, it lasted an impressive four days without a charge. The phone has three rear cameras (one of which is a macro lens), a 6.4-inch display and expandable memory.

Read our Moto G Power review.

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