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.
Looking for a basic mobile phone that won’t break the bank? Here are the best models for calling, texting and battery life, priced at $500 or less.
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. The average price of these phones is $369. Without the cap, mid-range phones costing between $599 and $799 have improved so much that they top the list over premium phones (which have shorter battery lives).
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.
Two outstanding brands
With our simplified ranking, two phone brands regularly appear near the top. If you're looking for a bargain, they're a great place to start.
Redmi is Xiaomi's series of entry-to-mid-range phones. Redmi phones offer exceptional value for money, especially the larger Redmi Note models. Xiaomi phones are available directly from the Mi Store in Auckland, or from PB Tech.
- Simplified score: 75
- Full test score: 66
- Price: $382
The A Series is the budget range from Oppo. These phones tend to punch well above their weight. The A96 performs better in both our simplified scoring and main test, but we think the A77 is a slightly better deal overall.
- Simplified score: 71
- Full test score: 66
- Price: $403
Budget phones are better than ever
These days, even a “basic” Android phone comes with a large display, multiple cameras, at least 64GB of storage and a decent processor. Advancements in the mobile phone market mean that even a $400 phone could have been a flagship model only three or four years earlier.
Processors are usually the biggest downside of budget phones, meaning certain things will run slower. For example, scrolling through photos may not be as smooth as you’d want, with a slight delay as each one loads.
Last year's model is still good
An alternative to buying in the mid-range is to look at least year's premium models. The release of a new phone is often accompanied by a price drop for its predecessor. You get 90% of the features of the latest phone for 75% of the price. They may be a year closer to being out-of-date, but they’re certainly worth checking out.
For example, our review of the iPhone 13 in November 2021 found it very similar to the iPhone 12 from 2020. That means if you need a new iPhone and find the 12 on discount, you won't be missing much.
Premium phones tend to enter the market above the $1200 mark. This is expensive for a product that’ll potentially 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.