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While there is significant pressure to keep up with the latest smartphone designs and technologies, the reality is that not all of us use our phones in ways that require the fastest processors, the best displays, or even the best cameras. For the basic user, high-end phones can seem overloaded with features and too expensive.
These days, it’s possible to get a great phone without breaking the bank. Buying a phone is much easier and more accessible, even if you’re looking for a brand new handset that’s more affordable thanks to discounted models from previous generations. And you don’t have to worry about getting less for less money. You can still get an advanced, feature-rich phone with plenty of storage, fast processors, impressive battery life and wireless charging, fantastic multi-lens cameras, a fingerprint scanner, and even 5G connectivity with a modest budget. And your options grow exponentially if you’re willing to buy an unlocked smartphone.
This list below contains the best phones under $500. Check back often, as we update it regularly, and check out CNET’s in-depth reviews on each product, to help you find exactly what you need and what to look for. Notice that we’ve attached links to unlocked versions of every phone on our budget phone list, so you can meet your individual needs with the best phone under $500. Needs vary, so you’ll want one that offers the flexibility you desire and the specific stats you need. Unlocked phones work on most of the big four US mobile carriers, with some rare exceptions, which are specified below.
The $450 (£399, AU$699) Samsung Galaxy A53 includes many of the best features of the Galaxy S22 range, with a few compromises to hit that lower price. The phone features a 6.5-inch AMOLED display with a resolution of 2400 x 1080 pixels, 5G support, and a long-lasting 5000mAh battery. The phone also comes with a 64-megapixel main camera, a 12-megapixel ultra-wide camera, a 5-megapixel macro camera, and a 5-megapixel depth camera.
But a particular highlight for this phone is Samsung’s commitment to four years of software support, plus it comes 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 to include a smaller 4.7-inch screen.
Still, it’s this throwback design, which continues the overall shape that Apple has been using since 2014, that might be what you’ll love or hate most about this phone. If you want a bigger iPhone in this price range, you can also consider the $499 iPhone 11 to get a bigger screen and Face ID. But this 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 upgrade. software update and three years of security updates, which is much shorter than the four years promised by Samsung for the Galaxy A53.
Still, if you want a stylus-equipped phone, the next advanced option is the much more expensive Galaxy S22 Ultra at $1,200.
Read our Moto G Stylus 5G review.
The Pixel 5A is Google’s cheapest 5G phone, packing a decent set of specs into an affordable package. Its large screen and water resistance mean it’s capable of tackling all your daily needs while its 5G speeds mean you won’t have to wait for your Netflix shows to buffer when you wait 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, which will be released in July for the same price.
With the launch of the iPhone 13 series, Apple gave its iPhone 11 lineup a deep discount, which means you can now pick up the base 64GB model for just $499. It may be a few generations old, but this phone is still more than capable, handles games well, and has great dual rear cameras.
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