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.
Best Phones Under $150
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 -- a special version designed for low-performance phones. This helps to keep the 1.28Ghz quad-core processor moving along steadily enough.
There's a fingerprint scanner on the rear of the phone and the screen features the newer, longer aspect ratio you'll find on a lot of 2019's hottest releases. But the screen is only 480-by-960 pixels. So don't expect to be blown away.
Still, reviews indicate it's plenty bright and while you can actually see the pixels on the display if you look closely, it provides enough detail to make reading emails and websites a breeze or to let you enjoy an episode of your favourite show on the go -- albeit not exactly in stunning HD.
Battery life is one area where this phone shines. Reviews indicate you can hit two days with moderate usage on a single charge.
If you're looking for a basic smartphone to cover your day-to-day phone needs, the Alcatel 1 offers options you won't find on many budget models and a modest spec sheet that is just enough to ward off frustration. Read Review
Before we get into the details here, we want to be clear about one thing -- this phone is nothing like the popular Samsung Galaxy S series of phones. That said, reviews indicate the Samsung Galaxy J2 Core is quite a nice phone for the price.
The 5-inch display is big enough to use with ease yet small enough to slip in your pocket. While the phone's chassis is plastic, reviewers thought it felt good in the hand and didn't look as cheap or flimsy as many other all-plastic phones.
Pairing a 1.4Ghz quad-core processor with a 540-by-960 pixel display means the phone doesn't have to push too hard to keep things running smoothly. While apps are slower to load than you might experience on a pricier phone, reviews indicated they run well once they're moving.
Weak points of the phone include the 8MP rear camera and the 8GB of internal storage. Even with Android Oreo Go on board, there's only about 4GB of space left for you to actually use. So you'll want to take advantage of the microSD card slot if you plan to load up more than a handful of apps or a few hours of music.
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.
Offering a basic but well-built design and just enough power to handle the day-to-day tasks, the Samsung Galaxy J2 Core is a great option for first-time smartphone buyers or casual users -- especially for the price. Read Review
Get it from: Amazon
If you're looking for an affordable phone with a design that looks and feels far better than the price would suggest, the Nokia 2.1 is a great choice. It's sleek lines and sturdy chassis received plenty of praise from reviewers.
The phone also offers one of the longest running times on a single charge of any phone in this roundup. Most reviewers reached two days on a single charge with moderate usage -- a task even some top-end phones can't pull off.
Its display is also the highest resolution in this price bracket with a solid 720p. So if you're looking for something ultra-affordable to stream movies and TV shows, this is a solid choice.
Unfortunately, if you're looking to play graphics-intensive games or multitask often, the phone might not be a great fit. Reviewers noted some sluggishness -- even in menus and while browsing the web -- from time to time.
Still, if you're looking for something stylish and affordable to cover the basics -- such as calls, texts, email, and a bit of streaming here and there -- the phone is more than suited for the job.
The Nokia 2.1 isn't a powerhouse, but it's 720p display, two-day battery life, and sleek design make it a great option for anyone looking for an affordable phone with plenty of endurance. Read Review
Get it from: Best Buy
Best Phones Under $300
While not without a few compromises, the Nokia 3.1 Plus is a great budget-friendly smartphone for those looking for a polished, well-designed mobile experience.
Reviewers loved the design of the phone, noting it felt great in the hand and didn't feel as cheap as most similarly priced options. The fingerprint scanner on the rear was also both easy-to-reach and accurate -- something not always guaranteed at this price point.
The 2Ghz octa-core processor provides plenty of power to jump between apps, stream video, play basic games, and keep you connected with family and friends while the 6-inch 720p display keeps things looking good and easy to read.
It even supports Android 9.0 Pie -- the latest version at the time of writing.
While the phone includes a dual rear camera, reviewers found it inconsistent. But otherwise, there were few complaints to be found for the price.
Combining a premium look and a great screen with a few well-planned compromises, the Nokia 3.1 Plus brings great value to the table -- as long as you're not looking for a strong camera. Read Review
Get it from: Amazon
Although the Moto X4 is a little older than many phones in this lineup, it's still a favourite budget recommendation in online reviews.
It offers some of the fancier features found in more expensive models -- such as a fingerprint scanner and a dual rear camera -- but costs a fraction of what today's top-end phones will set you back.
It's no slouch either. The 2.2Ghz octa-core Snapdragon processor chugged along just fine for reviewers. While you might not be able to play the latest games at the absolute highest settings, the phone offers a solid, smooth experience during common daily tasks -- such as checking email, surfing the web, or bouncing between social media apps.
As an Android One phone, it'll also receive updates for longer than most phones of its ages.
The biggest complaint we found was the slippery rear shell. However, that's easily fixed with a phone case.
With its excellent battery life, respectable camera, capable processor, and stylish design, the Moto X4 is a great option for anyone looking for an Android phone on the cheap. Read Review
Get it from: Amazon
Sporting the same thinner aspect ratio as the top-end phones of this year, the Moto G6 offers a super functional package at a price firmly toward the lower end of the charts.
Reviewers loved the 5.7-inch display with its punchy colours and detail. They were also pleased with the all-day battery life on offer. There's even fast charging and USB Type-C support -- something you won't find on a lot of smartphones under $200.
There's even a decent dual rear camera for snapping pictures.
That's not to say the phone is perfect. The Snapdragon 430 processor won't handle the latest 3D games well. But with 3GB of RAM, the phone jumps between apps with no issues and is more than up to the task of handling the typical daily needs of today's phone buyer.
The only major consideration is for those who want the latest software quickly. Lenovo -- the company producing Moto phones -- isn't quick about getting around to Android updates. And you might never see the next version of Android.
It's not a phone for power users, but between the respectable camera, the modern design, and good general performance, the Moto G6 offers to please anyone else looking for an affordable Android phone. Read Review
Get it from: Amazon
If battery life is important to you -- and you don't mind sacrificing a little flair to get it -- the Moto G7 Power is one of the best picks in this roundup.
Reviewers frequently hit a full weekend without needing to find a charger and they universally praised the endurance of the phone.
While the phone technically uses the same processor as the standard Moto G7, less RAM means it's not quite as snappy when dealing with large files or jumping between multiple apps.
The 720p display is a bit of a compromise as well. While it makes the game great for gaming and helps stretch battery life well beyond where most budget phones cannot go, it means that you won't have the ultra-sharp details you might find on other models.
The single rear camera also received lukewarm responses from reviewers. In good lighting, it did well enough. However, it never took shots that particularly wowed anyone -- even in the best situations.
Sporting a battery that can easily last you 2 days, the G7 Power is the perfect mid-tier Android option for those that hate hunting down a charger. Read Review
Get it from: Amazon
Best Phones Under $400
The Nokia 6.1 continues to impress reviewers -- even a year after its initial release. It features the sleek but solid design for which Nokia is known while including enough power to keep most users happy -- especially considering the price.
The 5.5-inch 1080p display provides plenty of detail to make video streaming a joy and emails easy to read. However, the phones uses the older 16:9 aspect ratio, so one-handed use might be difficult if you have small hands.
Equipped with an octa-core Snapdragon 603 processor, reviews were pleased with day-to-day performance -- though it's not going to match the power of today's high-end releases. Still, it's far from sluggish.
Also, as part of the Android One program, the phone receives rapid software updates. If you want access to the latest features or added peace of mind, the Nokia 6.1 is a rare find at this end of the price lists.
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. However, with fast charging, top-ups throughout the day are an option as well.
With an aluminum chassis, fast updates thanks to Android One, respectable performance, and a beautiful display, the Nokia 6.1 offers exceptional value in its price bracket. Read Review
Get it from: Amazon
As the latest release in Moto's popular G-series line-up, the Moto G7 is a capable phone that adapts to the latest design trends without costing an arm and a leg.
Reviewers were mixed on the phone's design. The thinner, longer screen makes one-handed use easier and makes the phone more pocket-friendly. However, the glass rear cover makes the phone more fragile and the notch on the front of the display continues to stir debate among reviewers.
Speaking of screens, the 6.2-inch display fills most of the front of the phone. So if you're looking to stream video or play games, you'll enjoy the visual experience. Just don't expect to play the latest games at the highest settings. While the processor is more than enough for checking email, browsing the web, and other common tasks, it's not going to keep up with top-tier devices for graphics-intensive uses.
Even the camera received decent reviews -- something that can't be said of many budget-friendly phones.
Offering a comparable experience to phones twice its price, the Moto G7 is an affordable phone with very few compromises. Read Review
Get it from: Amazon
Best Phones Under $550
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 colour and plenty of detail, and the battery will last a day with ease.
The biggest complaints were that it's not water resistant like it's pricier siblings and doesn't include wireless charging -- but few picks at this price offer these features either.
If you plan to take pictures with your phone, the camera on the Pixel 3a is easily the strongest in this roundup. It even does okay -- though not amazing -- in low-light conditions.
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.
With overwhelmingly positive reviews, the Google Pixel 3a sets the bar for quality and performance in its price bracket for 2019. Read Review
Get it from: Google
The Moto Z3 Play offers a trick no other phone in this lineup can touch -- modular add-ons. By sliding new accessories on to the back of the phone, you can turn your phone into a speaker, take better pictures, or double your battery life.
It's all about flexibility -- though some reviews note that while the phone can do a lot of things, it doesn't truly excel at any one thing either without the mods.
The screen is detailed with rich colours but it's a bit dim. The dual-rear camera takes good pictures but lacks any form of telephoto zoom -- a common feature found in dual-rear cameras.
It has more than enough power for daily tasks, but not quite enough to keep up with the latest games at full settings.
But all of this was when the phone released over a year ago and when put up against much pricier competitors. Now that the price has dropped, the phone offers a compelling option for those that are curious about modular phones and want to dive in on a budget.
While a decent phone for the price as-is, the Moto Z3 Play is an excellent option for anyone who wants to spend a little now with the option to boost various features later. Read Review
Get it from: Motorola
It's easily the most well-equipped phone in this line-up with a powerful processor, 6GB of RAM, and 128GB of storage space. All of this is paired with a spacious 5.97-inch 1080p display which includes an in-screen fingerprint scanner -- a feature still rare in top-end phones in 2019 let alone the mid-tier market.
The triple rear camera and 20MP front-facing lens are also some of the most powerful in this lineup.
And all of this is offered at a price lower than the insurance deductible of some top-end phones.
The Xiaomi Mi 9 SE proves there are some amazing values to be found if you're willing to venture outside the more commonly-known brands in the smartphone market. Read Review
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
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.
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.
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.
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
- Best Phones Under $150: Alcatel 1, Samsung Galaxy J2 Core, Nokia 2.1 (Compare All)
- Best Phones Under $300: Nokia 3.1 Plus, Moto X4, Moto G6, Moto G7 Power (Compare All)
- Best Phones Under $400: Nokia 6.1, Moto G7 (Compare All)
- Best Phones Under $550: Google Pixel 3a, Moto Z3 Play, Xiaomi Mi 9 SE (Compare All)
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.
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?