With top-end smartphones in Canada costing four-figures these days, most people can't afford them without locking themselves into a contract with their phone provider or breaking out the credit card.

So what can you do if you want a great phone on the cheap?

Turns out, most people don't actually need the latest and greatest.

Last year's phones -- and even some from two years ago -- are still pretty awesome and will meet the needs of the average person.

With the right model, you can enjoy a huge piece of the top-tier experience at a fraction of the cost.

This roundup highlights the best options for anyone looking for an affordable smartphone.

We've highlighted options under $150, under $300, under $400, and under $550 to ensure there are great choices to fit any budget.

Editor’s Note: This post has been updated for 2020.

NOTE: The CoVID-19 pandemic has impacted industries around the globe. Online marketplaces and mobile phone makers are no exception. While we're doing our best to provide the latest information regarding pricing, prices listed below are subject to change as phone prices are fluctuating often based on supply, shipping costs, and demand.


A Quick Tip

Before we get into the picks, we want to highlight one important thing they all have in common:

They're all unlocked phones.

What's that mean?

Essentially, the phones will work on any network that the chips inside support.

Instead of being locked into a lengthy contract, you can move to another provider if you find better service or a better phone plan elsewhere.

But -- perhaps more importantly -- unlocked phones mean you can access bring your own phone or SIM-only plans for even greater savings month to month!

Want to know more? Check out our guide about the benefits of unlocked phones.

NOTE: Just because you a phone is unlocked, doesn't mean the hardware inside supports every network in your area. Different networks use different frequencies, and some phones can only use certain ones.

If you want to be sure the phone you pick will work with your mobile service, our phone compatibility guide will show you exactly how to check!


Best Phones Under $150

Alcatel 1


While the Alcatel 1 doesn't have the power to play the latest games at the best settings and it's less than snappy sometimes, it's pretty amazing that you can get a smartphone at this price.

The phone runs Android 8.1 Go and the 1.28Ghz quad-core processor keeps things moving along steadily enough. There's a fingerprint scanner on the rear of the phone and the screen features the newer, longer aspect ratio. But the screen is only 480-by-960 pixels. So don't expect to be blown away.

Battery life is one area where this phone shines. Reviews indicate you can hit two days with moderate usage on a single charge.

Learn More: Our Alcatel 1 Review
Price: $109.99 (At time of publishing)
Get it from: Best Buy, Bell Mobility

Samsung Galaxy J2 Core


This phone is nothing like the popular Samsung Galaxy S series of phones. The 5-inch 540p display won't win any awards but it gets the job done for texts, emails, and even gaming. A quad-core processor to keep things moving but expect delays loading apps. You'll also want to use a microSD card to complement the 4GB of free space on the phone.

But the weaker specs of the phone come with a silver lining -- battery life. Most reviewers had little issue lasting a full day on a single charge.

Learn More: Our Galaxy J2 Core Review
Price: $129.99 (At time of publishing)
Get it from: Amazon

Motorola Moto E5 Play


Offering a minimal Android experience, a solid design, a spacious 5.2-inch screen, an 8MP camera, and just enough performance to cover the daily tasks -- such as checking email, keeping up with social feeds, and playing the occasional casual games -- the Motorola Moto E5 Play is a great pick for anyone looking for an affordable smartphone who doesn't require all the bells and whistles of flagship phones.

Learn More: Our Moto E5 Play Review
Price: $139.00 (At time of publishing)
Get it from: Amazon


Best Phones Under $300

Motorola Moto G7 Play


The Moto G7 Play is the ideal budget-friendly smartphone for anyone looking for all-day battery life. The 5.7-inch display offers plenty of room for gaming or video watching while the fingerprint reader provides a touch of the premium phone experience.

Reviews found the performance good enough to zip between apps without much frustration and while the camera won't keep up with top-end options, it's one of the best in this price range.

Learn More: Our G7 Play Review Summary
Price: $295 (At time of publishing)
Get it from: Amazon

Motorola Moto E6 Plus


The Moto E6 Plus checks most of the boxes for basic performance and features. It won't win any benchmark tests and it's definitely not ideal for gaming. But the solid design and quality feel in the hand impressed reviewers. It also ships with a relatively new version of Android -- a rarity at this price point.

The 6.1-inch display and 13MP dual rear camera also meet most basic needs and can help you capture memories on the go.

Learn More: Our Moto E6 Plus Review
Price: $176.86 (At time of publishing)
Get it from: Amazon

Samsung Galaxy A10e


The Samsung Galaxy A10e offers most of the style of Samsung's loved Galaxy S series with scaled back performance. It's easily one of the most modern looking budget phones in its price bracket.

USB-C charging means you can top off your battery quickly while the large battery had no problem lasting the day in reviews. Performance was respectable as well. No -- it's not going to respond instantly and provide a top-tier experience, but reviewers found the software intuitive to use and apps quick enough to avoid frustration.

Learn More: Our Galaxy A10e Review
Price: $199.99 (At time of publishing)
Get it from: Best Buy


Best Phones Under $400

Nokia 6.1


As part of the Android One program, the Nokia 6.1 receives rapid software updates -- a rare find at this end of the price lists. But it also offers great performance and reliability for the price as well. Three gigabytes of RAM makes the phone more capable of multitasking, USB-C charging makes topping off quick, and the aluminum chassis offers a great feel in the hand. It's also one of the first 1080p phones in this roundup.

Battery life was the biggest complaint from most reviewers. While it'll make it through most of the day, you'll need to hit a charger before heading to bed.

Learn More: Our Nokia 6.1 Review
Price: $399.00 (At time of publishing)
Get it from: Amazon

Motorola One Action


The Motorola One Action offers a unique camera arrangement designed to help it compete with action cameras. If you're looking for a budget-friendly option for recording life's moments or starting up your own vlog, this is a great option.

But it also checks most of the other boxes people look for in a solid phone with a sleek design, all-day battery, ample performance, fast charging, and a 3.5mm headphone jack.

Learn More: Our One Action Review
Price: $319.72 (At time of publishing)
Get it from: Amazon


Best Phones Under $550

Google Pixel 3a


As one of the newest phone in this lineup, the Pixel 3a takes the majority of the innovative features and premium quality of the higher priced Pixel phones and crams them into a slightly smaller -- and much lower priced -- option.

Reviewers found very little to complain about. The phone performs like competitors costing twice as much, the OLED display offers rich color and plenty of detail, and the battery will last a day with ease.

If you plan to take pictures with your phone, the camera on the Pixel 3a is one of the best in this roundup. On top of the hardware features, you'll enjoy a near-stock Android experience with fast updates and a load of Pixel-only features such as Active Edge and Digital Wellbeing.

Learn More: Our Pixel 3a Review
Price: $549.00
Get it from: AmazonGoogle

Moto G8 Plus


The Moto G8 Plus is one of the largest phones in our roundup with its 6.2-inch display. While it doesn't have the fastest processor available in 2020, the 4GB of RAM make it a great option for those looking for a good multitasking phone on a budget. Pair that with 64GB of storage and a Turbocharge-enabled battery and you have a phone that is great for work or play.

The only noted weak point in phone reviews is the camera. But it still can take attractive images with proper lighting and a bit of patience.

Learn More: Our Moto G8 Plus Review
Price: $538.79 (At time of publishing)
Get it from: Amazon

OnePlus 6T


OnePlus built a reputation on making affordable "flagship killers." While the OnePlus 6T might now be the newest model in their line-up, it's still one of the most powerful phones in this entire line-up.

It checks nearly every box of phones two- to three-times its price with a spacious AMOLED display, snappy octa-core processor, 8GB of RAM, a fingerprint scanner, Android 9.0, and a respectable dual-lens camera.

Learn More: Our OnePlus 6T Review
Price: $419.99 (At time of publishing)
Get it from: Amazon


How We Picked

We selected the models in this roundup based on analysis of expert reviews from around the web, user feedback on retail sites like Amazon, forum comments on our site, social media discussions, and more.

When answering the question, “What are the best budget smartphones?”, we considered the following primary criteria:

 

Dependable Quality
A low-priced phone doesn't help you save money if you have to constantly replace it. We picked phones with a track record of dependability from manufacturers with solid reputations to help you save money both upfront and over the longer term.

 

Respectable Performance
Budget phones won't top the charts in terms of specs. But that doesn't mean you should have to deal with stuttering interfaces and crashes. You should also be able to run most apps at a basic level and maybe even play a few games. All the phones in this round-up are near the top of the benchmark charts for their respective price bracket and should offer a frustration-free experience.

 

Affordability
You can't have a roundup based on prices without considering them. We sorted popular models into common groups based on what we think the average Canadian is looking for when shopping for phones on the cheap.

 

Great Feedback
The way to find out what to expect from a phone is from the people using them every day. If there's a problem, reviewers will usually let you know in a hurry.

All of our picks feature a range of positive reviews across multiple sites to ensure that information is as accurate as possible.

We compared the things most people consider when choosing a budget-friendly phone.

In short, we did the research—so you don’t have to.


Recap: Best Budget Phones


Still Not Sure?

While there's not a single budget-friendly phone perfect for everyone, this roundup proves you don’t need to spend a fortune to find a phone that's enjoyable to use.

No phone under $550 will match the specs of top-end phones and many come with a compromise or two.

But for the average person, these top-end phones are overkill. You're often paying for power and features you won't use to their fullest.

By using this guide as a reference, you can find an affordable phone that makes the right compromises to keep you happy without breaking the bank.

You can also compare these picks and more side-by-side using our phone comparison tool. This makes it easier to compare options further without the hassle of jumping between sites and reviews.

P.S. If you're looking for more features or performance, buying a used phone is also a great way to enjoy some of the latest technology without the four-figure price tags of many of this year's most popular Canadian releases.

Disclosure: You should know that in some cases, we may receive a referral fee (at no additional cost to you) for products purchased through the links on our site. These links help support our work but they do not influence our content. Our editorial recommendations are always genuine and we try to feature only the best products and services. Why trust us?