The best basic smartphones

If you just need a smartphone for calling and texting, you don't have to spend big bucks. We've found the best models for calling, ease of use and battery life, priced at $500 or less.

Family using smartphones

Not everyone needs the latest and greatest mobile. Some people are just looking for a simple phone that won’t break the bank.

The best at the basics

For some people, their mobile is their social hub. They chat to friends, work, and connect to the rest of the world from it. For others a phone is a necessary evil and all they want to do is call and text.

Considering only that, which phones come up best? From our full smartphone test, we used the scores for battery life, calling and ease of use (which includes texting) to calculate a simplified score.

We also capped the price at $500, then chose the top 10 using that system (without a price cap the $1599 Samsung Galaxy Note 10+ topped the list). The average price of these phones is $399.

These phones will do what’s written on the box – they’re good at making calls and texting but don’t expect them to be amazing at complex tasks, like playing music or games. The cameras aren’t always the best either.

Top 10 basic smartphones

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Two outstanding brands

In the top 10, two phone brands appear 4 times each. If you're looking for a bargain, they're a great place to start.


Xiaomi Redmi Note 9S

The Redmi Note series contains large, mid-range phones with exceptional value for money. The Mi series is mid-to-high range, with upmarket design and features. Even the cheaper Mi phones are reminiscent of something like an iPhone, but for an affordable price.

Redmi Note 9S:

  • Simplified score: 81%
  • Full test score: 73%
  • Price: $399


Oppo A9 2020

The A Series is the budget range from our Top Brand for mobiles, Oppo. These phones tend to punch well above their weight. Not only does the $399 A52 stand out in our simplified scoring, it also performs well enough to be recommended in our main test. When our reviewer looked at the AX7 in April 2019, she was impressed by the features packed into such a low-cost smartphone.


  • Simplified score: 79%
  • Full test score: 74%
  • Price: $399

Older models are still good

Alternatively, instead of spending more than a thousand dollars on a newly released model, look at last year’s version. The release of a new phone is usually accompanied by a large price drop for its predecessor. These phones are still good! You get 90% of the features of the latest phone for between 50 and 75% of the price. They may be a year closer to being out-of-date, but they’re certainly worth checking out.

Premium phones tend to enter the market above the $1200 mark (much more for Apple and Samsung). This is expensive for a product that’s potentially going to be superseded within a year. On the flip side, if you’re in the market for a high-end phone, you can get stuck in the loop of “I’ll wait for the next one”, because the next one will always be better.

The Nokia 2.3: a $200 special

The Nokia 2.3 showing front and rear of phone
The Nokia 2.3

The Nokia 2.3 is a basic Android smartphone that costs around $200. I say “basic”, but it has a 6.2” display, two rear cameras, 32GB of storage (upgradable with a memory card) and a quad-core 2GHz processor. It also runs Android One, Google’s bare-bones version of its operating system.

Basic ain’t that basic.

Advancements in the mobile phone market mean the Nokia 2.3 would have been considered a flagship model only three or four years ago.

The use of Android One as an operating system (OS) is a solid addition to this phone. Android One is a “clean” version of Android, which lacks “bloatware” (software that manufacturers pre-install on to a phone). This means you get extra storage space to use as you want. Android One also means the phone will get security updates for years and at least one full OS update. So, no chance this Nokia will be obsolete in the near future, which is a problem that can plague some cheaper phones as applications stop supporting them.

The processor is the biggest downside, so certain things will run slower. For example, scrolling through your photos may not be as smooth as you’d want, with a slight delay as each one loads.

The Nokia 2.3 would be good for anyone who wants a pared-back experience on their phone but needs a large screen. It can also appeal if you’re on a budget but don’t want to give up some of the bells and whistles available on more expensive phones.

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