Gone are the days when you had to spend $1000 or more on a capable flagship-level smartphone. Nowadays, smartphones under $500 can get you a more-than-decent smartphone experience that checks all the important boxes. That’s the reason it has become difficult to draw a clear line between mid-rangers and flagships.
But before getting into the best options, we should remind you that you should always look for the unlocked version of a device. If you buy a handset that’s locked to a carrier like Verizon or AT&T, you’re going to be restricted to those carriers. Unlocked phones are free from these restrictions and you can put any country’s local SIM in them. They’ll work perfectly.
Here are our picks for the top smartphones under $500 that have been carefully selected based on the value for money they offer.
1. Samsung Galaxy Note10 Lite
The Samsung Galaxy Note10 Lite is a great smartphone that you can pick up for less than $500, mainly due to a better smartphone camera experience than its competitors. The Note10 Lite has a 12MP dual-pixel primary camera, a 12MP ultra-wide, a 12MP 2x optical zoom lens, and a 32MP selfie shooter.
It has a 4,500 mAh battery capacity and 25W charging. The device also comes with the S-Pen, which makes it a mobile productivity tool. It’s easy to recommend if you are specifically looking for a phone that has a stylus and checks all the right boxes minus stereo speakers, a 2018 SoC, and IP rating.
The Galaxy Note10 Lite is more affordable than the Note10/Note10+ and arguably has the best non-flagship camera setup. The silicon might not be the latest and the most powerful, but an older, top-tier chipset is still better than today’s best mid-range alternatives.
2. OnePlus 7 Pro
The OnePlus 7 Pro offers a premium feel and features that are hard to beat in the sub-$500 category. The OnePlus phone gets bonus points for the full-screen experience and a larger 6.67-inch Fluid AMOLED display. Massive 256GB internal storage, 8GB RAM, and a triple camera setup (main, ultra-wide, and 3x optical zoom) make the OnePlus 7 Pro a worthy alternative to much more expensive phones.
The phone has a fluid, fast, and simplified interface that results in butter-smooth performance, while the 90 Hz display takes it to another level.
Compared to other options, the OnePlus 7 Pro also has a distinct advantage of super-fast storage speeds, thanks to the more advanced and faster UFS 3.0 storage. It can deliver flagship-level performance without the cost, and its shortcomings (such as no official IP rating, no headphone jack) can be ignored considering how affordable it is.
3. Motorola Edge
The Motorola Edge falls in the category of premium all-rounders and marks the company’s return to the major league. With the Moto series designed for budget-conscious customers, the Motorola Edge tries to be a flagship killer without costing a ton of money.
As the name suggests, it’s an edgy smartphone that features a 25MP front camera and 90 Hz OLED display with an incredible screen-to-body ratio of 95.9 percent, making it the ‘real’ full-screen smartphone.
The quad-camera setup lacks OIS, but it’s still a pro model setup. A 4,500 mAh battery, stereo speakers, 3.5mm audio jack, Android 10 right out of the box, and guaranteed updates for two years make the deal even sweeter. The Motorola Edge packs the right silicon, display, and battery for gaming and content consumption and although it’s not without some shortcomings, the attractive pricing and edgy design help the phone stand out from the bunch.
4. TCL 10 Pro
Many of us might not be familiar with TCL, but the company is on the path to become an established smartphone brand that recently launched some interesting regular and foldable phones.
The TCL 10 Pro was launched to make a strong debut in the mid-range smartphone market. Competitive pricing, premium design, flagship-level display, and respectable battery life (4,500 mAh) makes it a compelling option for people who are driven by value and not just brand names.
Featuring a 6.7-inch AMOLED display (HDR), premium aluminum, and a glass finish, the TCL 10 Pro comes with Android 10 and the manufacturer plans on releasing Android 11 soon. It comes with Qualcomm Snapdragon 675, 6GB RAM, 128GB internal storage, and allows you to expand storage space by using a microSD card.
The camera setup includes a 64MP primary camera, 16MP ultra-wide, 5MP macro, and 2MP depth sensor, as well as a front-facing 24MP camera. You also get a 3.5mm audio jack and a few other nice-to-haves such as FM Radio and infrared. In addition to T-Mobile and AT&T, the device works on Verizon LTE in CDMA-less mode (you might have to contact Verizon to activate CDMA-less connectivity).
5. Huawei Mate 20 Lite (Budget Winner)
While you can pick up a used Huawei Mate 20 Lite for under a couple hundred bucks, a new device will only cost a little over $400. With the Lite version, you get a 6.3-inch LCD display, 1080 x 2340 screen resolution, and 480 fps shooting. On top of that, the Mate 20 Lite boasts a 24MP + 2MP dual front-facing camera and 20MP + 2MP dual rear camera.
The handset is powered by the HiSilicon Kirin 710 chipset for a smooth response and improved performance. It comes with one of the latest versions of Android OS and comes with internal storage of 64GB and 4GB RAM. From all of the available features, the camera setup is the device’s unique selling point.
Picking a Winner from These Smartphones Under $500 Is a Tough Call
When purchasing phones below $500, avoid the ones that come with an outdated OS out of the box. Manufacturers usually offer up to two years of updates, so a device with an old Android version might become obsolete in around a year. Also, make sure that the device supports the frequency bands of your network operator, so you don’t have to face any coverage or data speed issues later.
The Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Lite gives you a lot of reasons to choose it over the rest, including the S-Pen and a better camera experience. The OnePlus 7 Pro is comparable to higher-end phones and delivers a fluid, fast, and responsive interface, while the Motorola Edge has a unique design and is a decent all-rounder.
Picking between the Huawei Mate 20 Lite and the TCL 10 Pro mainly comes down to what you prefer between an AMOLED display (the TCL 10 Pro) and a more capable camera system (the Mate 20 Lite).
Each phone covered here has its own pros and cons. You have to consider your individual preferences and the features you want when making a buying decision, but regardless of which one you pick, all five smartphones under $500 covered here provide great value for the money.
If $500 seems a little steep, you can always check out more affordable options in our 6 Best Smartphones Under $400 buying guide or go down one more tier to the 7 Best Smartphones Under $300.