Best Phone Under $300 – CNET

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Best Phone Under $300 – CNET


Updated Nov. 29, 2023 2:30 a.m. PT

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Written by 
Mike Sorrentino

Our expert, award-winning staff selects the products we cover and rigorously researches and tests our top picks. If you buy through our links, we may get a commission.

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Mike Sorrentino Senior Editor

Mike Sorrentino is a Senior Editor for Mobile, covering phones, texting apps and smartwatches — obsessing about how we can make the most of them. Mike also keeps an eye out on the movie and toy industry, and outside of work enjoys biking and pizza making.

Expertise Phones, texting apps, iOS, Android, smartwatches, fitness trackers, mobile accessories, gaming phones, budget phones, toys, Star Wars, Marvel, Power Rangers, DC, mobile accessibility, iMessage, WhatsApp, Signal, RCS

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Sq. Feet of Lab Space

$200 at Amazon

Moto G Power 5G 2023

Best for a big media library

Moto G Power 5G (2023)


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$300 at Amazon

Google's Pixel 6A phone with app icons on the home screen

Best phone you should actually get — as long as it’s on sale

Google Pixel 6A


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Smartphones are expensive and getting more so every year, especially flagship devices. However, there are still some wallet-friendly smartphones out there that offer a taste of premium features for less than $300. These budget phones can make calls, send texts, and run most apps and games for hundreds of dollars less than the iPhone 15 or Galaxy S23. Affordable phones also provide access to 5G, which is important if you want to hold onto your device for a while, and some even come with a built-in stylus. If you’ve been looking for the best phones under $300, then keep reading.

I’m going to level with you, though: We have yet to use a phone in the $200 to $300 price range that feels like an excellent value. The absolute best picks in this category tend to be more expensive devices that are frequently discounted to $299 when on sale. For instance, Google’s $349 Pixel 6A is among the best phones for under $500, and it’s often discounted to $299. But there are some nice perks on phones that are regularly between $200 to $300 including more storage, faster charging and decent cameras. Many of these even come with a headphone jack and expandable storage — both of which are rarities in phones that cost $400 or more.

What is the best phone under $300?

The best phone you can buy for under $300, if the Google Pixel 6A isn’t on sale, is the OnePlus Nord N30 5G. The phone’s 50-watt charging is truly fast, able to refill its battery from 0% to 100% in 45 minutes. The phone comes with 128GB of storage with 8GB of RAM, and has a large 6.72-inch 1,080p display with a 120Hz refresh rate. The phone’s Qualcomm Snapdragon 695 chip is capable enough to run most apps. However even though the phone does come with a 108-megapixel main camera, the photos it takes are decent but far from impressive. That latter point is a big reason why the Pixel 6A is tempting when it’s discounted, since its Tensor chip and photo processing make its 12.2-megapixel camera take sharp, detail-filled pictures. But if the OnePlus Nord N30 5G ends up being what fits your budget, it’s one of the most feature-rich options you can get for under $300.  

Best phones under $300

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The OnePlus Nord N30 5G includes a lot of features for the money, but its 50W charging speed is a standout for this price range. The phone can charge from 0% to 100% in 45 minutes, and most other phones that cost $300 or less need 90 minutes to two hours to do the same thing. Its large 6.72-inch 1,080p display that runs at a 120Hz refresh rate also makes apps, games, websites and streaming video animate smoothly.

However it’s worth calling out that the 108-megapixel main camera — despite being an astounding megapixel number on a phone — takes photos that are only marginally better than what I usually see from phones in this price range. That means it can take good, detail-filled photos in outdoor settings with plenty of light. However photos taken in darker settings are a struggle for the N30, with indoor photos looking washed out or blurry.

The phone will also only get one software update to Android 14 along with three years of security updates — which is an average timeline for this price range yet still disappointingly short.

While the OnePlus does face stiff competition from Google’s Pixel 6A — especially when the Pixel is discounted to $299 — it does include a lot of functionality for its price.

Pros:

  • Truly fast charging
  • Large 120Hz refresh-rate screen
  • NFC for contactless payments

Cons:

  • Photos are a mixed bag
  • Short software-update timeline

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The Moto G Power 5G is currently the cheapest phone I’m aware of that has 256GB of internal storage space. It’s a lot of space, and is perfect for someone that downloads a lot of movies and music to enjoy when you don’t have a consistent internet connection. The phone’s 6.5-inch 1,080p display runs at a smooth 120Hz refresh rate too, making movies, applications, websites and games look especially nice.

If you need even more space, you can expand it further with a microSD card. And like many phones in the $200 to $300 price range, the Power 5G includes a headphone jack.

Whereas Motorola makes the Power 5G a media machine for its price, it does cut back in terms of its cameras. Like many phones in this price range, it’s good for outdoor photography but is quite bad at getting details in low-light environments.

But if what you need is lots of storage space above all else, the Moto G Power 5G is worth a look.

Pros:

  • Great screen for its price
  • 256GB of storage
  • Works on all three US carriers

Cons:

  • Camera is mediocre
  • Slow charging
  • No NFC for mobile payments

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Reviewing the $258 TCL Stylus 5G was a journey for me last year. Specs-wise, it has a lot that I enjoyed. The phone’s TCL NxtVision HDR setting provided enhanced colors when I played games, TCL made minimal changes to Android 12 and I especially enjoyed the magnetic stylus that fits securely into its own slot on the phone.

However, the big reason why my review took four months is because of repetitive software bugs that make the phone otherwise tough to recommend. I experienced frequent restarts while using the phone and Bluetooth connectivity issues, the latter of which was eventually fixed through a software update. This phone is also locked to T-Mobile completely, so it can’t be used on other carriers and is filled with T-Mobile apps that are challenging to remove.

Yet if you absolutely must have a stylus and your budget is under $300, this is one of the better overall picks. But be wary of software issues, and remember the phone is only getting one major software update along with two years of security updates.

Pros:

  • Big screen, with nice HDR mode
  • Clean version of Android 12
  • Magnetic stylus

Cons:

  • Software bugs frequently impact usability
  • T-Mobile bloatware
  • Fuzzy video quality

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The Light Phone 2 is a very different kind of phone. It’s meant for people seeking freedom from the constant stream of notifications, but still want a phone that looks nice. But despite its somewhat limited functionality, this phone still costs $299.  

The Light Phone 2 supports texts, phone calls, music playback, podcasts, mobile hotspot functionality and limited GPS support for directions on its E Ink screen. It does not have a camera, web browser, email access or other common apps like news or messaging apps.

My colleague Jessica Fierro gave life with the Light Phone 2 a try, and she enjoyed how the phone helped her stay more focused on the world around her. However she found the slower texting speed on the E Ink display to be challenging to adjust to, and could not fully make the switch because for work she needs some degree of social media access in order to stay up on trends. 

The absence of many modern features is the entire point of the Light Phone 2. It’s a device for people who intentionally just want essential communications on a screen that’s more like a Kindle’s display than the one you’d find on a Samsung Galaxy device.

The Light Phone 2 is certainly not for everybody, but it could be worth considering for someone who wants their phone to do less. Fans of conventional phones should consider the wealth of feature phones and flip phones that still exist first — which are often free with a carrier deal or available for under $100.

Pros:

  • E Ink display
  • Lacks cameras
  • Lacks internet connectivity

Cons:

  • Lacks cameras
  • Lacks internet connectivity

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Admittedly I’m cheating by getting this phone into the list, but Google’s Pixel 6A has been discounted to $299 a lot lately and is an easy recommendation when it’s been discounted into a budget phone range.

Regularly $349, the Pixel 6A won our Editors’ Choice Award last year. In her review, CNET’s Lisa Eadicicco praised the phone for its great camera, Pixel-exclusive features like Magic Eraser, its colorful design and being among the first to get new Android updates. 

Even though Google has since released the $499 Pixel 7A, the Pixel 6A is still getting two more years of software updates and four more years of security updates. This means it will continue getting new Android features and support from Google, and that remaining timeline is still more than you’ll see from new 2023 phones that cost between $200 and $300.

Pros:

  • Great camera
  • Affordable price
  • Premium design for a middle-tier phone

Cons:

  • Dim display
  • Not as many years of guaranteed Android updates as Samsung
  • Video quality isn’t as good as photos

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The $300 Motorola Moto G Power 5G is currently the cheapest phone with 256GB of storage. It’s perfect for someone who downloads a lot of movies and music to enjoy when they don’t have a consistent internet connection. The phone’s 6.5-inch 1,080-pixel display runs at a smooth 120Hz refresh rate too, making movies, applications, websites and games look especially nice. Whereas Motorola makes the Power 5G a media machine for its price, it does cut back in terms of its cameras. Like many $300 phones, it’s good for outdoor photography but is quite bad at getting details in low-light environments.

These cheaper devices tend to scale back significantly in one area or another in order to achieve those low prices. Most commonly, these drawbacks include limited software support, carrier support or bloatware (preloaded apps that you never asked for). These trade-offs often mean that these devices should not be used after two to three years, especially after security update support ends.

It’s also notable that while these phones retail for $200 to $300, many of them are often available at a deep discount — or even for free — as part of a carrier subsidy deal. If you are planning to stick with the same wireless carrier for two years, these phones could just become part of the cost of your service.

Every phone on this list has been thoroughly tested by CNET’s expert reviews team. We actually use the phone, test the features, play games and take photos. We assess any marketing promises that a company makes about its phones. And if we find something we don’t like, be it battery life or build quality, we tell you all about it. 

We examine every aspect of a phone during testing:

  • Display
  • Design and feel
  • Processor performance
  • Battery life
  • Camera quality
  • Features

We test all of a phone’s cameras (both front and back) in a variety of conditions: from outdoors under sunlight to dimmer indoor locales and night time scenes (for any available night modes). We also compare our findings against similarly priced models. We have a series of real world battery tests  to see how long a phone lasts under everyday use.

We take into account additional phone features like 5G, fingerprint and face readers, styluses, fast charging, foldable displays and other useful extras. And we, of course, weigh all of our experiences and testing against the price so you know whether a phone represents good value or not.

Read more: How We Test Phones

What about Apple’s iPhone?

Apple does not currently sell any iPhone options between $200 and $300. The cheapest new iPhone you can get is the iPhone SE at $429. That iPhone is a great value for its fast processor and great camera, but held back by its dated design that harkens back to the iPhone 6, 7 and 8.

If you don’t mind getting a preowned device and want something with a bigger screen, as of this writing Verizon sells a 64GB iPhone 11 for $275.

You can also get the 2020 version of the iPhone SE as a refurbished model between $200 and $300 on websites like Amazon and Best Buy, but beware of each store’s policies for refurbished devices. Especially make sure the refurbished device includes a warranty for repairs, since without one you may have to pay Apple or another retailer a high price for a screen repair or other accidental damage.

Best phones under $300: OnePlus Nord N30 5G vs. Moto G Power 5G vs. TCL Stylus 5G vs. Google Pixel 6A

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OnePlus Nord N30 5G Moto G Power 5G (2023) TCL Stylus 5G Google Pixel 6A
Display size, resolution 6.72-inch FHD (1080p resolution); 120Hz refresh rate 6.5-inch LCD display; 2,400 x 1,080 pixels; 120Hz refresh rate 6.81-inch FHD+ display (1,080 x 2,400 pixels) 6.1-inch OLED; (1,080 x 2,400); 60Hz
Pixel density 391 ppi 405 ppi 395 ppi 429 ppi
Dimensions (inches) 6.51 x 2.99 x 0.32 in. 6.41 x 2.94 x 0.33 in. 6.67 x 3.01 x 0.35 in. 6.0 x 2.8 x 0.35 in.
Dimensions (millimeters) 165.5 x 76 x 8.3 mm 163 x 75 x 8.45 mm 169.6 x 76.5 x 8.9 mm 152.2 x 7.18 x 8.9 mm
Weight (ounces, grams) 6.97 oz. (195 g) 6.52 oz. (185 g) 7.51 oz. (213 g) 6.3 oz. (178 g)
Mobile software Android 13 Android 13 Android 12 Android 12
Camera 108-megapixel main, 2-megapixel macro, 2-megapixel depth sensing 50-megapixel (main), 2-megapixel (macro), 2-megapixel (depth sensor) 50-megapixel (main), 5-megapixel (wide), 2-megapixel (macro), 2-megapixel (depth sensor) 12.2-megapixel (wide), 12-megapixel ultra wide)
Front-facing camera 16-megapixel 16-megapixel 13-megapixel 8-megapixel
Video capture 1080p at 30fps 720p at 60 fps 1080p at 30fps 4K
Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 695 MediaTek Dimensity 930 MediaTek Dimensity 700 5G Google Tensor
RAM/Storage 8GB + 128GB 4GB RAM + 128GB; 6GB RAM + 256GB 4GB/128GB 6GB RAM/128GB storage
Expandable storage Yes Yes Up to 2TB None
Battery/Charger 5,000 mAh (50W wired charging) 5,000 mAh (15W wired charging speed, 10W adapter included) 4,000 mAh; 18W charging 4,410 mAh capacity; 18W fast charging (adapter sold separately)
Fingerprint sensor Side Side Side fingerprint sensor Under display
Connector USB-C USB-C USB-C USB-C
Headphone jack Yes Yes Yes None
Special features 50W SuperVooc fast charging, 108-megapixel main camera, game mode, dual stereo speakers Estimated 38-hour battery life, Moto Gestures, stereo speakers Stylus with built-in storage, producitivity software, NxtVision HDR mode 5G-enabled, 18W fast charging, WiFi 6E, security updates for 5 years, Android OS updates for 3 years, dual SIM, IP67 water resistance
Price off-contract (USD) $270 $250 $258 $349 ($299 when on sale)
Price (GBP) Converts to £238 Converts to £240 £349
Price (AUD) Converts to AU$443 Converts to AU$445 AU$599





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