OnePlus Nord N20 5G review: The best phone under $300
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A capable and beautiful budget phone with some limitations
(Image: © Tom’s Guide)
Tom’s Guide Verdict
The OnePlus Nord N20 is a beautiful budget phone that looks like it costs hundreds more. It also has an AMOLED display, good battery life, and decent performance for the price. But you also have to accept subpar cameras and a bad software update policy.
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Very underwhelming cameras
Dubious monochrome and macro sensors
Comes with Android 11 and will only get Android 12
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OnePlus Nord N20 5G: specs
Android version: 11, Oxygen OS 11
Display: 6.43-inch AMOLED (2400 x 1080)
Refresh rate: 60Hz
CPU: Snapdragon 695
Storage / Expandable: 128GB / Yes
Rear cameras: 64MP (f/1.8) main, 2MP (f/2.4) monochrome, 2MP (f/2.4) macro
Front camera: 16MP (f/2.4)
Video: Up to 1080p 30 fps
Battery: 4,500 mAh
Battery life (Hrs:Mins): 11:20
Charging: 33W (charger included)
Size: 6.3 x 2.9 x 0.3 inches
Weight: 6.1 ounces
Fresh off the heels of the OnePlus 10 Pro, OnePlus has another phone targeting bargain hunters. The OnePlus Nord N20 is a $282 budget-friendly handset that has some features you usually see limited to more premium devices, such as an AMOLED display and 33W fast charging. And after debuting as a T-Mobile exclusive, the OnePlus Nord N20 is now available unlocked for those who want to use the phone with a carrier of their own choosing.
A beautiful housing wraps around all of that. Even though its body is plastic, the Nord N20 looks like it should cost a whole lot more. The gold accents around the two big camera lenses, the deep blue hue of the back, and the flat sides all come together to make for something that immediately catches your eye.
In this OnePlus Nord N20 review, I’ll walk you through why I think this is the best phone for those on a tight budget, despite some limitations typical of cheap phones.
OnePlus Nord N20 5G review: Price and availability
The OnePlus Nord N10 in 2020 clocked in at $299, while the OnePlus Nord N200 in 2021 came in at $239. The OnePlus Nord N20 sits right between them at $282. It comes with 128GB of storage (expandable up to 512GB) and 6GB of RAM. This is a lot of phone for less than $300.
When the Nord N20 first arrived in the U.S. You could only buy it through T-Mobile and Metro by T-Mobile. Availability has since expanded with the phone now available unlocked at Amazon, Best Buy and the OnePlus online store. The device will be able to work with carriers who use T-Mobile’s 5G network, which includes Mint Mobile, Google Fi, Ultra Mobile and Simple Mobile.
In terms of price, the OnePlus Nord compares favorably to the Moto G Stylus (2022), which costs $299. That phone sports a stylus, as the name implies, but it is overall similar enough to the Nord N20 that you might consider it as an alternative.
I love the OnePlus Nord N20’s design. The clean and, dare I say, professional aesthetic appeals to my sensibilities, especially the deep blue colorway. The two large camera lenses, surrounded in light gold accents, draw your attention right out of the gate. The smooth plastic back has a sparkly effect to it that makes the phone almost glitter in the sun.
(Image credit: Tom’s Guide)
The flat edges also contribute to a premium look. At 2.9 inches wide, the Nord N20 is easy to hold without those edges digging into your hand (unlike the iPhone 13 Pro Max that I use on a daily basis). One thing I like about plastic phones is the weight — the Nord N20 is just 6.1 ounces, which feels positively light.
(Image credit: Tom’s Guide)
The OnePlus Nord N20 also has a 3.5mm headphone jack and an in-display fingerprint sensor, which I love to see. The power and volume buttons all feel solid and clicky, too. But this is a budget phone, which means compromises. One of the most notable hardware trade-offs to me is the shoddy vibration motor, which is noisy and feels cheap. You can’t have everything at this price.
OnePlus Nord N20 5G review: Display
Measuring 6.43 inches, the OnePlus Nord N20’s AMOLED display certainly impressed me, even if it is limited to a 60Hz refresh rate. With an FHD+ resolution, content of all kinds looks great. Videos like Blade Runner 2049 and the Thor: Love and Thunder teaser trailer are vivid and vibrant, even in the Nord N20’s Gentle color calibration.
Here’s what we measured for the OnePlus Nord N20’s display.
Swipe to scroll horizontally
|Row 0 – Cell 0||OnePlus Nord N20||Moto G Stylus (2022)||iPhone SE (2022)|
|Display size||6.43 inches||6.8 inches||4.7 inches|
|sRGB (%)||179 / 103||128 / 84||115|
|DCI-P3 (%)||127 / 73||90 / 60||81|
|Delta-E||0.34 / 0.3||0.27 / 0.31||0.21|
The Nord N20 easily beats the Moto G Stylus (2022) in color reproduction, but both phones are right in line with each other when it comes to their max brightness. They are very visible in all but direct sunlight, where it becomes extremely difficult to see them, especially with sunglasses.
(Image credit: Tom’s Guide)
The Nord N20 had the lowest Delta-E color accuracy score (where 0 is perfect) compared to the Moto G Stylus (2022) and iPhone SE (2022). Both of those handsets use IPS LCDs, but the Nord N20’s AMOLED panel achieves deeper blacks.
OnePlus Nord N20 5G review: Cameras
With the OnePlus Nord N20, you get a triple rear camera setup. The 64MP main sensor does the heavy lifting, but its 2MP monochrome and 2MP macro companions are dubious at best. Around front, there’s a 16MP selfie shooter.
(Image credit: Tom’s Guide)
To test the OnePlus Nord N20’s cameras, I used the latest Moto G Stylus. Starting outside with this photo of some books, you can see that both phones produced a presentable image. To my eye, the Nord N20’s shot is a tad brighter than the Moto’s, but that comes at the cost of approaching overexposure. The colors still look vibrant in either picture, but I think I prefer the Moto G Stylus’ photo since it doesn’t appear to have as much of an overexposure near-issue as the Nord N20.
Heading inside to photograph the same set of books on their shelf, I see problems in both shots. The Nord N20’s focus is extremely soft, even blurry on some of the spines. The Moto G Stylus (2022) has brightness issues, making for a dim picture. I don’t think either photo is good, but at least the Moto offers stronger focus. On the spine of Where the Sidewalk Ends, I see the Nord getting right up to the line of overexposure again.
I headed into my basement to test both handsets in a low-light environment without their night modes. In this shot of my Mass Effect helmet, the clear winner is the Moto G Stylus (2022). You can see more details of the helmet, whereas the Nord N20’s image is dark and almost grim. The carbon fiber effect is not as easy to see in the Nord’s picture. Both devices struggled here, but the Moto came out on top.
For this portrait of me, the Nord N20 won out slightly. The Moto G Stylus (2022) produced a softer image that I do not like, despite its pleasant bokeh effect. The Nord N20 has a warmer and more inviting look to it, even if I don’t care for the overall shot. You can still make out my ruddy complexion, while the Moto applied too much face smoothing and beauty effects, making me look unnatural.
Wrapping up with the rear cameras, here’s how the two phones handled those books from before, but this time at night. Unsurprisingly based on its earlier low light performance, the Nord N20 fell flat on its face, with only one of the books being legible and discernible. The Moto G Stylus (2022)’s image is brighter, but the phone struggles with blurriness and noise. However, I can make out that there are five books there, and I can see the red towel I put down. Both photos are atrocious, but the Moto wins out again.
Finally, when it comes to selfies, the Nord N20 once again falls behind the Moto G Stylus (2022). The former ironed out the lines and wrinkles in my face, making me look unnaturally smooth. However, you can more clearly see the blue of my eyes.
The Moto’s selfie, meanwhile, is much truer to life. It captured the ruddiness of my face and beard, even if it has harsher shadows than the Nord. The background is also warmer, like with the red car behind me.
OnePlus Nord N20 macro sample (Image credit: Tom’s Guide)
Since the Nord N20 comes equipped with macro and monochrome sensors, I captured a few samples. The macro shot is bad, with terrible brightness and horrible focus. I attempted this image multiple times and this is the best the phone could do.
OnePlus Nord N20 monochrome sample (Image credit: Tom’s Guide)
As for the monochrome sensor, there isn’t a dedicated monochrome mode on the Nord N20, so I used the B&W filter. I suspect that the sensor is merely used for “details” to aid the main camera, as we’ve seen on other phones in the last five or so years.
OnePlus Nord N20 5G review: Performance
A Snapdragon 695 serves as the Nord N20’s brains. We hadn’t gotten a phone with the Snapdragon 695 in for testing before this one, so I definitely wanted to see what this chip can do. This is an octa-core system-on-chip with a max frequency of 2.2GHz and equipped with a X51 5G modem, which supports sub-6GHz and mmWave. You don’t get Wi-Fi 6 on this chip, so that’s a connectivity standard still reserved for the more expensive phones.
Here’s how the Nord N20 fared in our benchmarks.
Swipe to scroll horizontally
|Row 0 – Cell 0||OnePlus Nord N20||Moto G Stylus (2022)||iPhone SE (2022)|
|CPU||Snapdragon 695||Helio G88||A15 Bionic|
|Geekbench 5 (single-core / multicore)||696 / 1995||368 / 1324||1718 / 4482|
|3DMark Wild Life Unlimited (FPS)||7||4||50|
|3DMark Wild Life Extreme Unlimited (FPS)||2||1||12|
The Nord N20 smokes the Moto G Stylus (2022). And, in my experience, the Snapdragon 695 has far fewer performance hiccups than the Moto’s Helio G88, making the Nord N20 much more pleasant to use. But I brought out the iPhone SE (2022) to show you what performance you can get if you can spend about $140 more.
As decent as the Nord N20’s performance is, it still struggles with higher-end gaming. Not only did it stumble more than once on the 3DMark benchmarks, but I had to lower the settings considerably in Genshin Impact and Call of Duty: Mobile to have a playable frame rate. Simpler games like Dead Cells weren’t as taxing.
(Image credit: Tom’s Guide)
As the name suggests, the OnePlus Nord N20 sports 5G connectivity, but you just get sub-6GHz support. There’s no mmWave or C-band here. T-Mobile’s sub-6 network is pretty reliable (and C-Band is not really a part of T-Mobile’s 5G setup for now), so you’re not losing out on too much with the Nord N20.
OnePlus Nord N20 5G review: Battery life and charging
With a 4,500 mAh power pack, the OnePlus Nord N20 stands to last a long while on a charge. OnePlus’ flagship, the OnePlus 10 Pro, is one of the longest-lasting Android flagships in our best phone battery life list, so I went into this Nord N20 review with high expectations. And based on our testing, I wasn’t disappointed.
Here’s how long the Nord N20 lasted.
Swipe to scroll horizontally
|Row 0 – Cell 0||OnePlus Nord N20||Moto G Stylus (2022||iPhone SE (2022)|
|Battery size||4,500 mAh||5,000 mAh||2,018 mAh|
|Battery life (Hrs:Mins)||11:20||12:30||7:38|
|Charging percentage (15 mins)||31||10||31|
|Charging percentage (30 mins)||56||21||61|
We test phone battery life by setting the display to 150 nits and then tasking the device to endlessly reload web pages over a 5G connection. The Nord N20 turned in a respectable result, though still about an hour shy of the Moto G Stylus (2022). But at a whopping four hours longer than the iPhone SE (2022), the Nord N20 wins a gold star. It misses a spot on our best phone battery life list by just 20 minutes.
(Image credit: Tom’s Guide)
As for charging, the OnePlus Nord N20 leads the best cheap phones at 33W. That blows the Moto G Stylus (2022) out of the water. Just look at how much battery percentage the Nord regained compared to the Moto — 56% versus 21% after 30 minutes. (The new Stylus charges at a measly 10W.)
A 33W charger comes included with the Nord N20, so you won’t spend any of the money you save buying a separate charger.
OnePlus Nord N20 5G review: Software
Other than the cameras, the Nord N20’s other major failing is the software. The phone comes equipped with Android 11 with Oxygen OS 11 on top. Android 11 is a great platform, and Oxygen OS 11 was pretty stable in my experience, but the problem here is one of timing.
(Image credit: Tom’s Guide)
Android 11 is more than a year and a half old, and Android 12 has been out since last fall. I asked OnePlus to comment on its update policy for the Nord N20, and the company told me that the Nord N20 will only get to Android 12 with three years of security patches.
Phone makers had months of access to the betas in the months leading up to the Android 12’s launch. To that degree, I think OnePlus should be ashamed. I didn’t think any company could do as bad with updates as Motorola, but OnePlus sure tried. At least, your Nord N20 will remain secure for three years.
(Image credit: Tom’s Guide)
As for what the software can do, Oxygen OS 11 sports some nice customization options and a clean look. The improvements in version 12 that we saw on the OnePlus 10 Pro will hopefully come in due time. For example, I’d really like to see the Nord N20 get access to the three different dark mode options, something I’m quite fond of on the 10 Pro.
OnePlus Nord N20 5G review: Verdict
For $282, the OnePlus Nord N20 is definitely the best phone for the money. Even with lackluster cameras and the shamelessly bad software update policy, this phone is still a good buy if your phone budget maxes out at $300, especially now that you can buy the Nord N20 unlocked.
The Nord N20 and Moto G Stylus (2022) trade blows pretty evenly. The Nord looks and feels better, not to mention the stronger performance and better display. But the battery doesn’t last quite as long (a little more than an hour shy of the Moto) and the cameras are pretty bad — I didn’t think I could see cameras worse than the Moto in 2022.
And then there’s software support. Again, I didn’t think a phone maker could do as bad as Motorola, but OnePlus managed to. You’re only guaranteed to get a version of Android that’s already six months old. That’s pathetic.
However, if you’re strapped for cash and need a new phone, then the OnePlus Nord N20 should be at the top of your list. If you have more flexibility, then I’d suggest checking out the $429 iPhone SE (2022) or $449 Galaxy A53 as more fully featured alternatives. Otherwise, the OnePlus Nord N20 is the phone to get when money most definitely is an object.
Next: If you’re looking for phones below $300 we recommend checking out our guide on the best cheap phones under $300.
OnePlus Nord N20 5G: Price Comparison
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Jordan is the Phones Editor for Tom’s Guide, covering all things phone-related. He’s written about phones for over six years and plans to continue for a long while to come. He loves nothing more than relaxing in his home with a book, game, or his latest personal writing project. Jordan likes finding new things to dive into, from books and games to new mechanical keyboard switches and fun keycap sets. Outside of work, you can find him poring over open-source software and his studies.
Best Cheap Phone of 2023: Most Value for Money
The Pixel 6A (left) and the iPhone SE.
You don’t need to splurge on the iPhone 14 or Galaxy S23 to get the latest version of iOS or Android, or perks like multiple cameras, photography tools and access to your favorite apps and games. When it comes to the basics, the best cheap phones provide plenty of value but cost noticeably less than their flagship competitors.
This story is part of Gift Guide, our year-round collection of the best gift ideas.
Our top picks come as cheap as $160, while more advanced models will run you $500 — which is substantially cheaper than top-of-the-line models from Apple, Samsung and Google. If you have a specific budget in mind, you can also check out our best phones under $200 and best phones under $500 lists for other affordable phone options.
What is the best cheap phone?
Even without discounts, you can find brand-new phones for less than $200. But when a phone’s regular price is set under $400, you’ll start to notice concessions a company makes to offer a more affordable phone. That’s why the $349 Google Pixel 6A is our favorite best cheap phone. Google delivers all the big features that matter, such as a peppy processor, great cameras and years worth of software support. And to keep the price low, Google makes smart compromises, most notably a display that looks dim under direct sunlight.
The Pixel 6A accomplishes its intended purpose of providing a lot for less. Even though Google’s Pixel 7A, at $499, is also a very good value, the Pixel 6A still takes crisp and colorful photos for its price. You also get the same eye-catching design and Pixel-specific software features, like Magic Eraser and Live Translate.
Best cheap phones of 2023
How we test phones
Every phone on this list has been thoroughly tested by CNET’s expert reviews team. We 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 about it.
We examine every aspect of a phone during testing:
- Design and feel
- Processor performance
- Battery life
- Camera quality
We test all the phone’s cameras (both front and back) in a variety of conditions: from outdoors under sunlight to dimmer indoor locales and nighttime 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. We weigh all our experiences and testing against the price so you know whether a phone represents good value or not.
Read more: How we test phones
Best cheap phones FAQs
Watch this: Best Budget Phone Plans in 2022 (and the Fine Print)
Satellite phones (overview)
At first glance, satellite phones should be no different from the already familiar cellular phones. We buy a cell phone in any mobile phone store and confidently use our old SIM card or connect a new SIM card from any mobile operator.
Unfortunately, standardization has not yet reached satellite phones. Therefore, when buying a satellite phone, you should understand that you can use your phone only in one satellite network. Consequently, you become a hostage to the technical possibilities and technical limitations of one specific satellite network.
In this regard, we will conduct an overview of satellite phones at the same time as discussing the technical limitations and capabilities of existing mobile satellite networks.
Currently, 4 (four) satellite communication networks with personal telephony capabilities operate “legally” in Russia:
The word “legal” is the key here and it means that there is a licensed telecom operator in Russia, with which the subscriber must conclude an appropriate contract. This licensed operator is required to provide you with a SIM card and a phone number in the code +7(954)XXXXXXXXXXXX. It is this numbering code that has been allocated in Russia for use in satellite phones.
Iridium Mobile satellite communication, in terms of its technical characteristics in terms of telephone communication, is the most advanced. You can use Iridium satellite phones anywhere in the world without fear that your phone will not accidentally find a suitable satellite for communication. A low-orbit constellation of 66 spacecraft is guaranteed to cover the entire surface of the Earth.
Due to the relatively low altitude at which Iridium spacecraft fly (about 700 km), the user experiences little to no speech delay or echo effect.
The range of Iridium satellite phone models currently includes: 2 – IC-SAT 100
– Iridium GO
Satellite phone model 9505-A is no longer in production. However, it is still found on the secondary market and is actively exploited.
All Iridium SIM cards are suitable for this phone model.
Operational repair of this phone model is successfully carried out in Russia by a number of companies that carry out warranty and post-warranty repairs of Iridium equipment.
According to many experts, satellite phone model 9505-A to this day remains the best among all modern Iridium satellite phones in terms of voice quality.
Satellite phone 9505-A allows you to:
– make and receive phone calls to the public communication network (landline phones, cell phones, satellite phones of other satellite communication networks.
– send and receive SMS messages
The Iridium 9555 Spoon Phone is a budget option for the currently available Iridium phones. This is a proven, fairly reliable phone model without any frills.
Although the list of functions of this satellite phone model is quite impressive:
- Ability to receive and send SMS (more about SMS messages in the Iridium network …)
- Speaker volume control
- Ability to connect a headset to a satellite phone
- multilingual interface, including Russian (completely Russified menu)
- housing: classic, dustproof, waterproof, shockproof.
- notebook for 100 numbers
- Auto redial
- Call barring (“black list”)
- Call forwarding
- Last 10 dialing
- Ringer and voice volume control
- Keypad lock
- Call identification
- Call waiting
- Delayed call
- One-Touch Dialing
- 10 customizable shortcut buttons
- Edit dialed number (delete last digit or entire number)
- Display of missed calls
- Charge level indicator (always displayed)
- Keyboard backlight
- Low battery warning
- Speaker volume display
- Automatic display of call duration
- Automatic phone lock
- Information about dialed/received/missed calls
- Security phone against unauthorized access
- Enable/disable PIN code request
- Possibility to change PIN code
- View the status of enabled functions
- Call barring
- Maintaining the history of calls – outgoing, received and missed
- Customizable call cost counter
- Preset international codes for speed dial programming
- 8 preset melodies
- Voice mailbox and alphanumeric message box
- One button access to voice mail
Iridium Extreme 9575
and MIL-STD 810F.
This means that
(a) the phone case is absolutely dustproof (Dust protection level = 6).
(b) The body of the phone is protected against splashes and moderate water jets, but should not be exposed to sea waves or immersed in water (Waterproof Rating = 5).
(c) telephone electronics “stress-resistant” to:
- Solar radiation
- High and low temperature (including abrupt changes)
- High humidity
- Salt exposure
In addition to the voice functions inherent in the Iridium 9555 satellite phone, this model has a satellite tracker function and an SOS button.
Iridium Extreme 9 tracker feature575 allows you to geo-monitor the movement of an object.
Iridium GO is already more of a satellite terminal that includes the functions of a satellite phone and a Wi-Fi access point.
Via a wireless WI-Fi channel, you communicate via your own smartphone with the Iridium GO satellite terminal and only then the signal enters the Iridium satellite channel. Within a radius of 30 meters there can be up to 5 people with their smartphones, who will be able to alternately carry out:
– voice phone calls
– send and receive email messages
– send SMS messages
To further simplify the process of using Iridium GO, free mobile applications for iOS and Android devices have been developed: Iridium GO and Iridium Mail & Web .
The former is used to control and configure the Iridium GO, use voice calls, activate the SOS signal, post to the social network Twitter, indicate the status and charge of the Iridium GO battery.
The second allows you to send and receive e-mail messages, surf the web, view the weather on the Internet, compress and send photos. In addition, the Iridium Mail & Web application, thanks to its functions, significantly speeds up the loading of web pages, sending e-mail and viewing letters.
Unfortunately, since the speed in the Iridium satellite channel is quite low (9.6 kbps), the actual use of Internet applications in Iridium GO is inconvenient and has not found practical application.
Iridium satellite phone supporting Push-to-Talk (PTT) functionality or, in other words, walkie-talkie mode.
Iridium Extreme PTT operates in one of the modes:
– regular satellite phone;
In satellite phone mode, the model in question has all the features of its prototype – the Iridium 9 satellite phone575 Extreme.
In the radio mode, communication is carried out within the Group.
Group is a term used to describe a group of Iridium PTT tubes and the geographic region in which they operate. All new subscribers start with two or three handsets and one Group. The subscriber himself sets the geographical region and the shape (square, circle or rectangle) of the service area of his group. There may be several such zones. The total area of all zones will ultimately determine the size of the total Group.
Iridium PTT satellite handset service cost consists of three parts.
First – monthly payment for each handset.
Secondly – subscription fee for each Group, within which the handsets communicate with each other. Each tube Iridium PTT can simultaneously participate in 15 groups.
Third component – standard Iridium satellite communication services – prepaid voucher or post-paid SIM card with subscription fee
The latest model in the 2019 Iridium satellite phone line. More precisely, it’s not even
satellite phone and satellite walkie-talkie.
The IC-SAT 100 does not support the use of Iridium SIM cards and they only work in Push-to-Talk (PTT) radio mode.
The IC-SAT 100 satellite walkie-talkie went on sale in Q3 2019 and is comparable in price to an Iridium Extreme PTT satellite phone.
The developer of the satellite radio IC-SAT 100 is the world leader in the market of professional radio communication systems, the Japanese company Icom Incorporated.
Organization of communication between subscribers, as in the case of Iridium Extreme PTT satellite phones, by groups.
The principles of pricing and tariffs for communication services are uniform, adopted in the Iridium network for PTT modes.
Currently the radio mode in the Iridium 9 satellite communication network0045 is not allowed on the territory of the Russian Federation. However, outside of Russia, this mode can be used.
Satellite telephones of the Thuraya network
The Thuraya satellite network, unlike the Iridium satellite network, is a regional system. Its service area covers about 140 countries in Asia, Africa, Australia, the Middle East, Europe. Russia is also served by the Thuraya satellite network, with the exception of the northern regions located above 65 gr. NL
For all models of satellite phones of the Thuraya network, there are features of their use: when making calls from the territory of Russia, you must be sure that from the south side you are not disturbed by a forest, hill or other bulky object;
This is due to the peculiarity of the Thuraya satellite constellation.
Thuraya satellite phone range currently includes:
– Thuraya XT-LITE;
– Thuraya XT-PRO DUAL;
– Thuraya SatSleeve Hotspot;
– Thuraya SatSleeve+.
This satellite phone model has two main features:
is the cheapest satellite phone available; The
is the lightest and most compact satellite phone available.
On the other hand, it is the least protected from torture and absolutely easy to use.
In satellite phone Thuraya XT-LITE is a very modest set of additional functions: an alarm clock; Calendar; Calculator; Stopwatch; World. Time. It is very useful to have a universal DATA cable in the kit that allows you to charge your phone from USB.
Thuraya XT-PRO DUAL
sure that cheap does not mean bad
Not everything that is inexpensive is poorly assembled or made from the cheapest parts.
To reduce the cost of a smartphone, manufacturers often cut back on materials, parts, and features. For example, the screen may be bad, but the shell may be slow. But you can still find good models for 15,000 R.
I looked at what was on sale in stores at the beginning of 2023, noticed the best options and tested them to rank the best low-cost smartphones.
The smartphone market in Russia has changed a lot lately. According to M-Video-Eldorado, Chinese brands accounted for 60% of the market in 2022. The most popular manufacturer is Xiaomi, followed by Realme. Samsung, the leader of previous years, fell to third place. The top 5 also included Apple and Tecno, a new brand for Russians.
Current smartphones up to 15,000 R are designed for communication, music, video and browser. They are not suitable for amateur photographers or active gamers. Heavy games work stably on models from 23,000 R with more powerful processors, and only flagships from 40,000 R get really good pictures and videos.
In addition to the price, I recommend paying attention to several parameters.
Shield. Manufacturers of budget models often save on displays – they put matrices with a low HD resolution like 1650 × 720 pixels. The image on such panels is not very high quality, the picture is loose, individual pixels are visible. It is better to choose devices with Full HD + resolution – 2220 × 1080 pixels and higher. This is the gold standard for modern smartphones.
Processor. The comfort of use depends on the power of the processor: the stability of the phone, the speed of launching and switching applications. Most processors in budget devices are slow, but there are balanced options like MediaTek Helio G99.
It is difficult to understand the power in terms of frequency and number of cores – it is better to look for reviews or comparisons in benchmarks. The most common test is called AnTuTu, good budget devices get 250,000-300,000 points in it. If the rating of the device is below 200,000 points, it will work slowly and may slow down even in ordinary applications like navigator or social networks.
RAM. It determines how many programs can run simultaneously without interfering with each other. For a budget smartphone, the minimum comfortable amount of RAM in 2023 is 4 GB.
Expensive for a budget phone: Poco M4 Pro 5G review
But if possible, it’s better to pay extra for 6 or 8 GB of RAM. Such a smartphone will quickly switch between a browser and a couple of social networks, and you can safely keep a navigator or music streaming in the background.
Integrated memory. The minimum comfortable volume is now 64 GB. Apps and games take up a lot of memory space, as do high-resolution photos. If you need to store a lot of photos, music and movies on your phone, it is better to choose models with 128 GB or with support for microSD memory cards.
Camera. Quality camera modules are expensive and require a powerful processor. Therefore, budget smartphones shoot much worse than mid-range and top-end models.
Chinese brands are cunning by installing three cameras and declaring a resolution of up to 50 megapixels. The modules themselves are still budget, and the lenses and processing algorithms are primitive, so they don’t shoot very well. In addition, out of three lenses, usually only one is really useful – the main one.
Autonomy. Battery capacity is measured in milliamp-hours – mAh. The larger the value, the longer the smartphone, all other things being equal, can work. Now it is worth focusing on values from 4500 to 5000 mAh.
Screen brightness and resolution, processor power and the quality of software optimization also affect the operating time. Two different phones with the same batteries can differ in autonomy by one and a half to two times.
After studying the range of stores and customer reviews, I selected eight models that met the selection criteria:
- Infinix Note 12 2023.
- Poco M5.
- Poco M4 Pro 5G.
- Tecno Pova 3.
- Samsung Galaxy A23.
- Realme C35.
- Tecno Camon 19.
- Xiaomi Redmi 10C.
Of these, I chose five that fit the categories
- The best choice
- The most autonomous
- With the best camera
- Up to 10 00 0 Р
|Best choice||Most autonomous|
|Infinix Note 12 2023||Tecno Pova 3|
|Powerful processor and great screen – the most advanced phone in its class||Big screen phone with huge battery. Some can replace the tablet|
In “M-video” – 14 999 R;
on Yandex Market – from 14 186 R
In MTS – 16,990 R;
on Yandex Market — 14 490 Р
|With better camera||Entry level|
|Samsung Galaxy A23|
|Simple smartphone with a good set of cameras, optical stabilization and good performance||Similar to iPhone 12 but five times cheaper. Not suitable for active users, as it has a weak processor|
In “M-video” – 15 499 R;
on Yandex Market – from 14 389 R
In “M-video” – 12 999 R;
on Yandex Market – from 9990 R
|Best up to R10,000|
|Xiaomi Redmi 10C|
|Long battery life, no scratches and less than 10000 R. But slow|
In “M-video” – 9999 R;
on Yandex Market – from 9110 R
The best choice
Infinix Note 12 2023
Powerful processor and excellent screen – the most advanced phone in its class
M-video – 14,999 R;
on Yandex Market – from 14 186 Р
The most autonomous
Tecno Pova 3
Big screen phone with huge battery. Some can replace the tablet
V MTS – 16 990 R;
on Yandex Market — 14 490 Р
With the best camera
Samsung Galaxy A23
A simple smartphone with a good set of cameras, optical stabilization and good performance
In M-video — 15 499 R;
on Yandex Market — from 14,389 R
Similar to iPhone 12 but five times cheaper. Not suitable for active users, since its processor is weak
V “M-video” – 12 999 R;
on Yandex Market – from 9990 R
The best up to 10,000 R
Xiaomi Redmi 10C
Holds a battery charge for a long time, does not scratch and costs less than 10,000 R. But it works slowly
V “M-video” – 9999 R;
on Yandex Market – from 9110 R
But we do not distort or embellish the reviews. The choice of specific things does not depend on whether we receive a commission.
Product reviews in Tinkoff Magazine are independent. We make a verdict based on reviews of things and devices that we carefully studied, or how these things performed during editorial tests.
For reviews, we either request goods from the manufacturer for a test, or we buy them ourselves, or we study reviews in other publications and user opinions. Our reviews are subjective, but honest and expert: opinions are written by authors who have more than one review behind them. The editorial team of Tinkoff Magazine double-checks the texts, proofreads them and conducts fact-checking.
All prices are at the time of publication of the material, but we update them periodically to keep the reviews up to date.
The best choice – Infinix Note 12 2023
Infinix is a Chinese smartphone manufacturer that, together with Tecno, is part of the Transsion holding. The company produces models with good value for money. The latest Note 12 2023 is no exception – it’s the cheapest smartphone at this level of performance.
Powerful MediaTek Helio G9 processor installed here9. This is a mid-range chip: switching between applications is fast, heavy games run at medium settings. 8 GB of RAM is more than other models in the selection. 128 GB built-in storage. In all respects, the best option.
The screen is one of the best in the selection, using a bright AMOLED matrix with Full HD+ resolution. There is no increased hertz, the screen refresh rate is the standard 60 Hz, so jerks are noticeable when scrolling quickly through menus and sites.
Large diagonal – 6.7 inches. The back cover is semi-matte and hardly collects fingerprints. The camera block is designed in the form of a large round washer located in the left corner. In my opinion, it even looks too unusual.
5000 mAh battery – standard in the middle segment, enough for a day of active use. There is a fast charge of 33 W, which charges the smartphone in an hour. A powerful power supply is already included – it does not need to be purchased separately, unlike the flagships of Apple and Samsung.
Best Standalone Smartphones: 7 Successful Models with Big Battery
The camera consists of two modules. During the day, the main 50MP camera produces clear and bright pictures. In difficult conditions like twilight and darkness, a smartphone can blur the frame, but almost all budget devices sin with this. The second camera is needed to blur the background when shooting portraits.
Infinix Note 12 2023 has NFC for contactless payments, a separate slot for two SIM cards and a memory card, loud stereo speakers.
- in M-video – 14 999 R;
- on Yandex Market – from 14,186 rubles.
Alternative. The Poco M5 has the same processor as the Infinix Note 12 2023 but is otherwise simpler. It uses 4 or 6 GB of RAM, and the size of the internal memory can be 64 or 128 GB.
Instead of an AMOLED matrix, the Poco M5 has a simpler IPS screen with a refresh rate of 90 Hz and a diagonal of 6.58 inches. The black color on it seems grayish, viewing angles are worse, there is no support for Always on Display, and the brightness is one and a half times lower than that of Infinix. But on the other hand, the display is spared from high-frequency PWM flicker – for some susceptible users, it causes eye fatigue.
I like the material of the back panel – leather-look plastic. The smartphone does not slip in the hands, and the back side is not covered with scratches and fingerprints. You can carry your smartphone without a case and not worry about its appearance.
The 5000 mAh battery is enough for a day and a half of active use. There is no fast charging, the device will have to be connected to the outlet for two hours.
Of the minuses, I can single out the MIUI 13 shell: the interface is overloaded with unnecessary functions and ads, the system may start to slow down or give errors in unexpected places.
- in DNS — from 11 990 R;
- on Yandex Market – from 11 400 R.
The most autonomous – Tecno Pova 3
The main feature of the Tecno Pova 3 is its 7000 mAh battery. With such a battery, you can count on two days of active work. This is especially impressive against the background of individual flagships, which have to be charged every day, or even twice a day.
The huge battery affected the dimensions: this is the largest phone in the selection. Tecno Pova 3 weighs 230 g, it has a huge screen – 6.9 inches. It is worth taking a smartphone in hand before buying and checking whether it is convenient to use it. The display is good: a high-quality IPS matrix accurately reproduces colors, and with an increased frequency of 90 Hz pages in the browser and the interface scroll smoothly. But in terms of brightness and contrast, the screen is inferior to AMOLED.
Tecno Pova 3 looks catchy. In the blue version of the smartphone, the strip on the back panel glows and flashes when there are calls or notifications. In other versions, it is simply brilliant. The main body is made of matte plastic and hardly collects fingerprints.
The equipment for a budget employee is good: 6 GB of RAM, a 128 GB drive and a MediaTek Helio G88 processor. The smartphone does not slow down and does not freeze. The main camera here, although at 50 megapixels, shoots mediocre. During the day, the pictures are overexposed, with unnatural colors, and at night they are blurry, with an abundance of noise.
Tecno Pova 3 has a practical design: it has a 3.5mm headphone jack, a fingerprint scanner is conveniently located on the side, and the microSD slot is separated from the dual SIM tray. There is NFC for contactless payment via Mir Pay.
Tecno’s weak point is the proprietary shell of the operating system. It works rather slowly, the menu with applications opens with jerks. But the software can still be improved with updates. But there are many useful programs: call recording, a quick access panel, the ability to hide applications behind a password.
- in MTS – 16 990 R;
- on Yandex Market – 14 490 R.
With the best camera – Samsung Galaxy A23
Samsung budget smartphones are popular because of the well-known brand. They are often inferior to models from China in terms of performance, but the 2022 line turned out to be successful.
Samsung Galaxy A23 is an inexpensive smartphone with a good set of cameras. The 50MP main module takes decent shots with high detail and excellent HDR effect. It even has optical stabilization for better night shots. The ultra wide-angle camera is great for capturing large objects that can’t fit in a normal lens.
The Galaxy A23 is available in several versions with different amounts of RAM and storage. We are considering a model with 4 GB of RAM and 64 GB of internal memory, as it fits best in the budget up to 15,000 R. But this is not the best option: in this configuration, the phone cannot quickly switch between several applications. Galaxy A23 with 4 GB of RAM is only suitable for those who use the smartphone not very actively, it is better to take the version with 6 GB.
The 5000 mAh battery lasts for a day and a half. The device supports fast charging at 25 W, but there is no such power supply in the kit – you will have to buy it separately. There is NFC for contactless payments via Samsung Pay and Mir Pay.
Large screen – 6.6 inches, Full HD+ resolution. The PLS-type matrix is bright, with rich colors, but there is no perfect black here. Thanks to the display frequency of 90 Hz, the image is also very smooth.
Samsung has developed one of the most convenient Android skins – One UI. It has a well-thought-out and clear menu with settings, many useful features, and high-quality animations.
But the case is the main drawback of the Samsung Galaxy A23. It is made of glossy plastic and is instantly covered with streaks and scratches. It’s better to buy a case right away – unlike most Chinese brands, Samsung does not put it in a box.
- in M-video – 15 499 R;
- on Yandex Market – from 14,389 R.
Entry-level – Realme C35
Realme C35 is one of the most beautiful budget smartphones in 2022. It can be seen that when creating the model, the developers were inspired by recent iPhones.
Flat edges, slim body and neat camera setup make Realme look noticeably more expensive than it really is. The green version looks especially cool – this color is rare.
Provides a separate microSD tray, NFC, headphone jack and a fingerprint scanner in the power button. The 6.6-inch screen is large and clear enough. It uses an inexpensive IPS-matrix with a V-shaped cutout for the camera and a frequency of 60 Hz. There is a function in the settings that automatically reduces the screen resolution to save energy, but because of it, the image becomes unpleasantly hazy.
Realme C35 loses in power to most devices in the selection. But the Unisoc T616 processor and 4 GB of RAM are enough for the interface to work without noticeable slowdowns, and applications to run reasonably quickly.
Review of Realme 10 – “people’s” smartphone for 15,000 R
The resolution of the main camera of Realme C35 is 50 megapixels. But she shoots averagely at best. In modern smartphones, the quality of images depends much more on processor power and the quality of processing algorithms, and not on optics and the number of megapixels. A budget device with an entry-level chip cannot compete with more expensive models even with the same camera modules. Daytime shots are moderately detailed, with natural tones, but noise and blurring appear at night.
The shell from Realme is clear and convenient, without built-in ads. It does not load the processor with complex animations, it is well optimized. This is almost a pure Android OS: only the icons have been changed and a few features have been added, such as the black and white screen mode.
The phone works without difficulty for a day and a half with active use. There is fast charging, but in fact it is quite slow – at 18 watts. Realme C35 is charged from the supplied power supply in two hours.
- in “M-video” – 12 999 R;
- on Yandex Market – from 9990 R.
Best up to 10,000 R – Xiaomi Redmi 10C
If the budget is limited to 10,000 R, you will have to reduce expectations in almost all respects. Screen and performance suffer the most in this segment.
In my opinion, the most acceptable option within R 10,000 would be Xiaomi Redmi 10C. It has a simple 6.71″ HD screen. From a close distance, individual pixels can be seen.
The back panel and frame are made of plastic, which does not even try to disguise itself as glass or metal. But there are no fingerprints left on the body, the ribbed cover is difficult to scratch.
Three versions of Redmi 10C with different amounts of memory can be found on sale.